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The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

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New Social Work Regulator To Take Over In December

Social Work England (SWE), the new body set up to take over from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) which regulates social workers in the UK, will take over on 2 December.

SWE, (which is pronounced ‘swee’), will be responsible for ensuring that social workers are registered, regulating the social work profession and overseeing fitness to practice complaints.

Lord Patel, who is SWE’s Chair, told Researching Reform last year that he was concerned about the number of social workers inside the sector who were practicing without the necessary qualifications, and said the overwhelming majority of complaints received by outgoing regulator the HCPC came from the social work sector.

SWE has its work cut out. The registration process is not water-tight, and current loopholes allow individuals to practice as social workers without being registered, and without the necessary skills.

Because registration with SWE is not mandatory for every individual providing social care, the exact number of social workers engaging in care work in the UK is not known. This knowledge gap also dangerously affects the regulator’s ability to monitor the quality of social work being carried out.

Care workers can also exempt themselves from registration by avoiding the use of “protected titles” like “social worker”, and using unprotected titles instead. This phenomenon is hugely concerning because some of the titles which are unprotected include senior positions that require a deep knowledge of social care and years of experience.

Lord Patel addressed our concerns over the registration process when we interviewed him, explaining that he would like to see a more robust registration system for care workers inside children’s care homes. Patel also set out a list of initiatives he hoped to implement while acting as Chair for the new regulator. Patel said he would like the government to implement the following:

  • Engagement Officers in each town which service users could meet with to discuss concerns;
  • An online forum for service users to get and share information and offer SWE feedback on its proposals;
  • Thorough data collection across the sector, to better inform social work practice and raise standards across the country;
  • Raising the standard of social work through courses, university degrees and CPD training;
  • Monitoring and maintaining practice standards with a website or portal for social workers and local authority teams to set down what work has been carried out during the year;
  • Addressing the lack of complaints procedures relating to care workers, who engage in social work inside children’s care homes but who are currently not regulated by any independent body – Lord Patel is considering creating a sub-body to deal with these complaints and make sure they are recorded. At the moment, the law does not require regulators to respond to these concerns;
  • Finding a way to quantify care workers – Lord Patel estimated that there were currently over one million care workers.

We wish SWE luck.

Further reading:

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Children Suicidal After Being Denied Access to Birth Parents by Family Courts

Children’s requests to remain in contact with their birth families as they go through family court proceedings are routinely being ignored by the family courts, leading to children threatening to commit suicide.

This site was inundated by testimonies of children, and parents who said their children had consistently asked for some form of contact with their families, while others begged social workers to be returned home.

Speaking to Researching Reform, one mother said:

“My children haven’t been put first once. My 7 year old threatened to kill himself last month because they won’t let him come home. My 5 year old asks to come home at every contact. They’ve cut my contact, so I only see my boys 2 hours a week and my little girl 3 hours a week. I’m devastated. I’m a domestic abuse survivor. I’ve done all the courses off my own back but my social worker tells lies and bullies me. Cafcass still hasn’t been out to see my kids 8 months on. My children ask to come home at every contact.”

Another parent described a similar experience:

“My daughter tried to kill herself to get away from ongoing abuse. The Independent Children Lawyer refused to speak to the children. This has been going on for over 7 years in the courts. My daughter’s feelings were never recorded, and our child protection meeting took a grand total of ten minutes. She was ignored by the judge completely, despite violent incidents carried out by her father which had all been formally documented.”

Judges are currently not required to speak to children going through family law proceedings, even if a child requests a meeting with their judge. A Freedom of Information request by this site exposed the then coalition government’s failure to secure the right in 2014, despite pledging to implement a duty on judges to speak to children who wanted to talk about their case.

Guidelines were drawn up in 2010 by the former Family Justice Council’s Voice of the Child sub-committee, which allowed children to speak to judges. But the guidelines were heavily restricted, and only permitted the judge to explain the court process, denying children the right to talk about their feelings and express concerns about their case.

Discussions on implementing the right came to an abrupt halt in May, when the former President of the Family Division James Munby admitted that the government had refused to create a right to speak to judges because it had said the cost of launching the policy was too high. The government’s reasoning was widely criticised by child welfare campaigners and the public.

Instances of judges not listening to social workers in court who recommend contact with birth parents have also been uncovered by this site. One parent described an experience where the social worker had recommended contact but the judge had refused to grant it, despite the child having had positive contact with the parent for several years.

“No one ascertained my daughter’s views. She was nine at the time. We had racked up eight years of really good contact logs and the social services reports said my daughter very much wanted to remain in contact with me. All of that was ignored because the other parent had come off better in court.”

A leading study by British social workers confirmed that children in care need ties to their birth families, which are vital for healthy development. The study’s researchers called on the government to ensure that children retained contact with their birth families wherever possible and urged the government to overhaul the UK’s outdated child protection practices in this area.

A comment in the study said: “Adopted children denied contact can experience serious identity issues and when they are free to seek out their birth families at age 18, adoptive parents can be ill-prepared for the emotional consequences.” 

Professor Brid Featherstone, who co-authored the study explained:

“You should start from the assumption that direct contact with birth parents ought to be considered… Usually, adopted children go searching when they get to 18 and it can store up trouble if they haven’t had previous contact, enabling them to see their birth parents for good or ill.

They can stop having fantasies about these wonderful parents that they were stolen away from, or equally that they were absolutely terrible people. It’s about their identities. Adopted people told us that identity is a lifelong issue for them. Where do I come from? Who do I belong to?”

Children’s feelings are swept under the carpet throughout their lifetime in care, causing them serious harm. A study published in October by University College London, found that children’s voices were often absent from care records, causing them significant distress.

Adults who had grown up in care and who took part in the study criticised a lack of acknowledgment in their care records. Some said their voices were completely absent from their files, while others said words were put into their mouths by child welfare professionals. Redacted files caused a lot of distress too, with care leavers questioning the validity and usefulness of piecemeal information in piecing together their lives.

One father told us about his son’s experience of his Life Story Book, a record intended to log comprehensive details about a child’s life before, during and after care in a sensitive and compassionate way.

“The social workers just ignored the requirement to compile the Life Story Book. It was never done after over 6 years. By then the damage was done. He didn’t remember me. I felt like he had been conditioned to believe whatever he had been told.”

Some parents who have children in care believe that judges and child welfare professionals are intentionally stifling children’s voices to stem any potential obstacles or challenges to adoption orders.

One parent told this site that their 17 year-old son had written his wishes and feelings down on paper to give to the judge as he was concerned about the validity of his adoption – some paperwork was missing and some documentation looked as if it had been tampered – but the judge disregarded his concerns.

” I’d taken my son’s written evidence to the family court which outlined his wishes and feelings, and him wanting answers to the very serious concerns over whether his adoption had been registered. I though that perhaps this would make the court order null or void, as I also had significant evidence showing the anomalies.

My evidence was rejected – some were audio recordings from a court clerk which confirmed there were problems with my son’s adoption certificate – and the judge just set them aside and told me to ‘let it go’.

I really do think the judge must have heard the audio recordings, and now I feel as if there has been a cover up. I’ve since been restricted from mentioning specific names and places and my son has never got his answers, and neither have I to this day.”

Further reading:

Our thanks go out to Jane Doe, Tum-Tum,  and the many parents and children who shared their experiences with Researching Reform.

 

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We Asked You To Describe What Was Missing In The Family Courts In One Word – This Is What You Said

On Monday, in our regular Question It slot, we asked our readers to tell us what they thought was missing inside the family court system, using just one word.

The answers were overwhelming, and often featured the same word, multiple times, like ‘family’, ‘accountability’ and ‘truth’.

To make it easier to digest the answers, we’ve added them all in the image below.

Food for thought on a Friday.

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Coalition Asks Government To Place Children At The Heart of Politics

A coalition of more than 70 child welfare organisations and experts are calling on the government to transform children’s lives in the UK with a series of pledges they hope ministers will address during the general election.

The 30 pledges include ensuring children in care are not dislocated unnecessarily from their families, removing the ‘reasonable chastisement’ common law defence so that children have the same protection from assault as adults and incorporating the Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law.

The document, which is entitled Together For Children, is comprehensive and touches on issues faced by vulnerable children, care leavers, young offenders and families struggling with poverty and homelessness.

It is an excellent set of pledges.

The announcement was made yesterday on coalition member Article 39’s website.

In the press release, Carolyne Willow, Director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said:

“Children have no vote but what’s promised and delivered through this general election will have a massive impact on their lives, happiness and future. We want to see children and their rights at the heart of manifestos – not the odd mention here and there but a systematic strategy for making our country among the best in the world for children’s rights. Five years can make or break a childhood, so the weeks ahead really matter.”

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, also added a statement:

“Over the thirty years since we signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, government policy affecting children has been increasingly fragmented, and departments have struggled to co-operate on a shared, holistic vision for children’s wellbeing. These pledges set out a thorough framework that all departments can use to ensure children are at the heart of policy-making.”

Coalition members include Children England, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the National Youth Advocacy Service and the Association of Lawyers for Children.

Individual coalition members include Ian Dickson, Chair of the Conference for Care Experienced People (retired) and children’s rights campaigner, Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England 2010-2015, Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield and Dr Julia Brophy, Independent Research Consultant and Principal Investigator – Family Justice.

You can see the election pledges here. 

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Lord Chief Justice Publishes Report on State of the Courts

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, published his report on the state of the court system yesterday, but dedicated just one page to the family courts.

In the report, Burnett divides his comments on the family courts using private and public family law as sub-headings and gives a very brief outline of the Family Court’s current challenges and developments.

Burnett’s main concern in this section of his report is the ongoing rise in private and public family law cases, and he breaks down the number of applications since 2018:

The private family law sector saw 51,672 cases in 2018 and 13,687 cases in the first quarter of 2019, which represented an increase of 12% from the equivalent period in 2018 of 12,185 cases.

The public family law sector hosted 19,037 public law cases in 2018, and 4,460 cases in the first quarter of 2019.

The report mentions an update on the Private Law Working Group report looking at how to relieve the pressure on the court system and litigants. Burnett confirmed that the Group’s final recommendations would be published in early 2020 with a view to implementing changes as soon as possible, once the recommendations were released.

There is also an update on the Public Law Working Group looking at current workloads within the sector. Burnett said this Group’s final recommendations would be published by the end of the 2019, with the changes then being actioned as soon as possible.

At the end of the section on family courts, Burnett mentions an interesting project which aims to ensure that cases are managed and heard by an appropriate judge with the relevant knowledge and experience, but this pilot appears to be only for financial hearings, which is a shame.

You can read the full report here. 

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Dr Gary Clapton: Life Story Work For Adoptees “Riddled” With Birth Parents’ Failures

Dr Gary Clapton, a Committee Member of Birthlink, a service which connects adoptees with their birth families, said child welfare professionals’ records of birth families for adopted children were often written more like justifications for removal than a detailed history of a child’s life before their adoption.

The books are intended to hold sensitively written information about a child’s birth family, carers and their life experiences.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Dr Clapton criticised the current practice around record keeping, saying, “Often troubling is the lack of presence of the parent, or at least their side of the story. The records tend to focus solely on the child and their prospect of an adoptive family or the system requirements of a case to be made out for removal of the child from their parents – invariably the latter is an account riddled with all the instances of parental failure. In the files we read, it is difficult to discern the human presence of a parent who has lost their child.”

Dr Clapton, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Edindburgh focusing on adoption and fostering, fathers and fatherhood, children and families social work practice, and moral panics, and a Committee Member of the Fathers Network Scotland, also mentions the importance of keeping physical tokens from birth parents.

Concerns around whether or not these children are able to access tokens and keepsakes left by parents are also raised in the piece.

The article, published today, follows alarming research carried out by adoption agency Coram and The Hadley Centre at the University of Bristol in 2015 which found that Life Story work was not being prioritised by adoption professionals and that there were wide variations in the quality of the storybooks.

The national study noted that over 30% of adopters rated their children’s life storybooks as ‘terrible’, while around 40% said they were ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

The study also uncovered the following issues:

  • Many of the books were of poor quality, and often had to be ‘redone’ by their adoptive parents;
  • Adoptive parents reported that the stories were often not child-centred and lacked narrative and explanation;
  • Many adoptive parents also found that the level of detail in the books was inappropriate:
  • Some adoptive parents said there was either too much emphasis on one part of the story, too little detail or too much unnecessary detail;
  • Other concerns centered around a frustration that the books could not be updated as the children grew up.

BBC Radio 4 covered the research in their You and Yours series the year the study was published, interviewing Coram’s Director of Operations, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent on the findings.

Jeyarajah-Dent said, “Adopted children cannot start with a blank slate. Their past is significant and should be valued. Understanding life history becomes particularly important when young people reach adolescence and develop and define their sense of self.”

Ofsted has also repeatedly criticised Life Story work, and has noted that adoption agencies who needed to improve also needed to produce better life story books. As a bare minimum, Ofsted recommended that Life Story work should represent a realistic account of a child’s circumstances and that there should be a dedicated Life Story Worker in every adoption team.

LSB

The Buzz

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Buzz