The Parliamentary report on child protection, and a discussion of it.
One of the nice things about doing this blog is that some of my visitors will from time to time send me something that I might otherwise have missed. I knew that this Parliamentary enquiry had been going on, but not that the report had yet been published.
You can find it here:-
They seem, on the whole, to be broadly supportive of the system, which is no doubt a disappointment to many of my readers. They do recognise that there are serious problems within it, and make some recommendations. They particularly felt, as the mainstream media picked up, that the child protection system isn’t a great fit for adolescents and that they get marginalised by the process.
One of the topics they looked at was neglect (see also all of the blog posts I’ve done recently on the neglect and neuroscience issue)
Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in England. Having looked at both the criminal and civil definitions of neglect, we recommend that the Government investigate thoroughly whether the narrow scope of the criminal definition contained in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is causing problems in bringing criminal cases of neglect, but we have seen no convincing evidence that the civil definition is insufficient.
To get a better picture of the scale of neglect, we recommend that the Government commission research to investigate whether similar situations and behaviours are being classified as neglect in different local authorities.
There is evidence that children have been left too long in neglectful situations. To tackle this, child protection guidance for all front-line professionals should include an understanding of the long-term developmental consequences of neglect and the urgency of early intervention. Securing positive outcomes and meeting the needs of the child should come before all other considerations, and there needs to be a continued shift in culture so that there is earlier protection and safeguarding of the long-term needs of children. The Government must be prepared to act if there are signs that improvement in the responsiveness of local authorities to neglect is not being sustained.
In cases of domestic violence, the focus should be on supporting the abused parent and helping them to protect their children, but the interests of the children must come first.
It did seem to me (subject to rigour in how the research is done) that a piece of research on how neglect is managed throughout the country, and whether there are fluctuations in what is considered to be neglect in different regions, is a valid and worthwhile exercise. Child protection is a massively expensive and resource-intensive undertaking in this country, and if there are lessons that could be taken from the way certain local authorities tackle and overcome neglect, that would be useful information to share around.
They also looked at the issue of adoption, and in particular the competing current desires of the Government to speed up adoption and the campaigners against ‘forced adoption’
216. We endorse the Government’s current policy emphasis on increasing the number of children adopted, speeding up the process and facilitating foster-to-adopt arrangements. Adoption is clearly the preferred route to permanence and stability for some children. However, the same goal can be achieved by other means and it is vital that the Government and those in local authorities continue to concentrate effort and resources on prioritising stability in placements for all children, whether through longterm fostering, Special Guardianship or residential care. We would welcome greater debate on policies which might bring this about and greater encouragement from Government for these alternative solutions. In particular, while we recognise that an artificial limit on the number of times a child can be moved within the system would be unworkable, there should be increased emphasis in central guidance aimed at limiting the disruption and damage caused to vulnerable children by frequent changes.
217. We have listened with sympathy to concerns about widespread ‘forced adoption’, and to the very personal and moving stories that often lay behind them. It is evident that there are rogue misjudged cases with terrible consequences for those involved. This should not happen and those affected are right to fight against such injustice. Nevertheless, the weight of research evidence, matched by evidence to our inquiry, concluded that that the balance tended to lie with authorities not taking children into care or adoption early enough, rather than removing children from their parents without due cause.
We note that the Minister spoke of “work in progress” to look at “what further safeguards we might be able to institute whereby there is a sort of appeals mechanism”. This would have to be balanced against the further delay to a permanent solution for the child which would inevitably occur as a result. An appeals mechanism against “forced” adoption is an interesting idea and we look forward to examining the Minister’s proposals when they are published.
As do I.
I’m rather surprised that the Minister spoke to them about introducing a ‘sort of appeals mechanism’ given that there is already an actual appeal mechanism.
So either :-
(a) He doesn’t know that there is already an appeal mechanism
(b) He is planning to lower the test for appeals in Placement Order or adoption cases, from mistake in law or the Judge being plainly wrong to something lower
(c) He is planning to introduce a mechanism whereby the Placement Order or adoption order can be appealed at a different stage in the process (which would have to be later than at present)
(d) That there is a plan for an appeal mechanism for Placement Orders which will sit outside of the legal appeal process, i.e that the appeal would be considered by a body outside the judiciary, and contemplating different principles than at present.
I’m not sure which of those possibilities I find most problematic, but any of them without a lot of proper thought first is worrying.
I noted in the passage above that that the Committee touched upon the evidence of Martin Narey
215. The importance of permanence and stability is underlined by the shocking evidence we received of the number of times some children move in the course of their time in care.
It is clearly damaging to children to move from one form of care to another frequently; and yet we spoke to children who had moved multiple times—in one case up to 16. Martin Narey told us that he had “met countless children who have had 24 or 25 foster placements and 21 or 22 different schools”.396 He added: “We would never dream of doing this to our children and for some children the very best option for them is […] high quality residential care”.397
Well, I agree with all of the principles set out there, and I am sure that the Committee really did speak to children who had moved up to 16 times, which is an awful and horrific tragedy. I am also sure, sadly, that there have been children in the care system who have had 24 or 25 foster placements.
I am somewhat sceptical, to put it mildly, that Mr Narey has met “countless” such children. I think this is rather on a par with his comments about having asked to see a child’s social work files which were then literally brought into the room in a wheelbarrow.
I don’t think this sort of hyperbolae helps, when it comes from someone helping the Government form really important policy.
Every child who has multiple placements is a bloody tragedy. Those children who have had dozens or more are a huge tragedy. Every child who has had 24 foster placements is a disgrace (there might well be really strong underpinning reasons, usually connected with the child’s damaged behaviour but that doesn’t stop the outcome being disgraceful) and we really should learn as much as possible from it and stop this happening to any child in the future. But to suggest that it is happening to so many children that Martin Narey has met “countless” is I think rather disingenuous.
Or perhaps my concept of countless is more than Mr Narey’s – it depends on how good you are at counting, I suppose.
[All just my personal opinion, perhaps Mr Narey really has met over a thousand children, which would be around where I’d consider a number to be countless, who have had 25 placements. I guess if he is disputing my suggestion that he hasn’t met ‘countless children’, he would need to show that he had met a significant number, which would mean him counting them, so they couldn’t then be countless…]
Let me be plain, I consider that a single child who has 24 foster placements is a child too many. I just don’t care much for hyperbolae when giving evidence.
The Committee also talked about newer and more specialised forms of abuse and risk, they considered the technological side of things with paedophilia over the internet, child trafficking, child prostitution, forced marriage, and suggested that there was a need to build up specialist expertise in this area, and for those authorities who were encountering it to share their expertise with others
We recommend that the College of Social Work take a leading role in co-ordinating and promoting awareness of CPD training in specialised forms of abuse and in encouraging other disciplines to participate in relevant courses. For more general use, if the guidance on specialised forms of abuse is to be deleted from Working Together, the Government needs to make clear where such guidance will be found in future and how it will be updated and signposted to social workers and other professionals. (Paragraph 133)
17. We are also concerned that professionals faced with a specific type of abuse with which they are not familiar should have an identifiable source of expertise to consult in person. Local authorities should nominate a specialised child abuse practitioner to lead on such matters. Where an authority has a low incidence of a particular form of child abuse, they should be able to draw on the expertise of nominated practitioners in other authorities. (Paragraph 134)
I think the most controversial paragraph, and certainly the one which will provoke ire in some quarters, will be this one:-
We welcome the research by Cafcass into applications for care orders and recommend that this work be repeated on a regular basis. An assessment of the reasons behind the local variability in care applications is needed. We also believe that it is essential to promote a more positive picture of care to young people and to the public in general. The young people to whom we spoke were generally very positive about their experiences, including those who had spent time in children’s homes. This is backed by academic research on outcomes. Ministers should encourage public awareness of the fact that being taken into care can be of great benefit to children.
In the words of Bill Hicks – “it’s not a popular opinion, you don’t hear it very often”
Perhaps in that vein, the next Commons Committee will be on “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of using terminal ill people as stunt doubles.”
[And I know that makes no sense to you whatsoever if you’re not familiar with the work of Mr Hicks “I know to a lot of you this might sound a little cruel… ‘Aw Bill, terminally ill stunt people? That’s cruel’…. Well hear me out..”]