ITV Exposé – Undercover: Our Kids In Care

On Wednesday 13th December, ITV aired a controversial documentary investigating Britain’s privately run children’s homes.

The programme, presented by child psychologist Professor Tanya Byron, looks at the vast amounts of money exchanging hands in these homes and tries to ascertain whether these sums are effectively used to provide children with the love and attention they should be receiving. The undercover investigation ran for a year.

An article in the Guardian offers a good summary of the programme. The piece explains that undercover reporters found serious failings, including evidence of understaffing, inadequate training, and closure of homes before Ofsted inspections were due, to avoid failing the checks.

The documentary also highlights dangerous social work practices and routine emotional and physical abuse of children inside the homes. The Guardian piece also tells us:

“Residential care does not come cheap. The filmmakers confirmed with Cambian Group that one home that employed their undercover reporter charges £4,800 a week. A Keys home that features in the film charged a council £5,100 a week. Meanwhile, care staff are told to keep to tight budgets: one worker quoted £5 a day per child for food. At a Cambian home, the budget per child was said to be £45 for activities, with £50 for meals. The two reporters employed by Keys and Cambian were paid £7.20 per hour and £16,500 a year respectively.”

Whilst this is happening, private equity firms are making large fortunes from failing care homes.  It’s not a coincidence that children in these homes are being short changed, both emotionally and financially.

Child rights campaigner, Jane Doe watched the documentary when it aired:

“I’m just shocked and saddened at how much these homes are paid per child, compared to what the child actually gets. It’s £5,000 a week per child – but each child gets only £119 for basic food, not even therapy or support of any kind. It made me cry.”

At what point is the government going to intervene to stop these practices? It really is time.

You can catch the programme over on ITV’s Hub.

Very many thanks to Jane for alerting us to this documentary.

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Important Child Welfare Stories

Several important developments have taken place over the last 24 hours, so we’re adding a summary for you:

Australia’s Royal Commission Into Nationwide Child Abuse Comes To An End

A landmark moment in Australia’s history, and for victims of child sexual abuse in the country, as its five year investigation into child abuse draws to a close. As you might imagine, serious failings were highlighted in the Commission’s report. Here are the key messages being featured by the media:

Report Urges Greater Scrutiny And Accountability Of Local Authorities

A Committee report has been published today, which urges the government to put proper review and scrutiny procedures in place for local authorities in England and Wales. This has important implications for the child protection services councils offer, and the way in which they deal with complaints about those services, which is notoriously poor.

This is what Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, had to say:

“Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services.

Scrutiny of those in power is a vital part of any democratic system and has huge benefits for all. We are calling on the Government to strengthen guidance to make overview and scrutiny committees truly independent of those they are charged with holding to account and to make sure the process is properly funded and respected.

Only by rebalancing the system and ensuring scrutiny is held in high esteem will we see better decisions and the outcomes that residents who pay for council services deserve.”

Useful links:

Ministry of Justice And Department Of Education, ‘Cause For Concern’

And finally, another report, this time produced by The Procedure Committee, has highlighted The Department Of Education and The Ministry Of Justice as poorly performing government bodies when it comes to their response rates to Parliamentary Questions. Those of you following these questions in the House will be aware that most of the time, these bodies just can’t answer the questions put before them in good time. And part of that it is to do with their inability to keep basic data.

Chair of the Procedure Committee, Mr Charles Walker OBE MP’s observations:

“The role of Parliamentary questions in the scrutiny of Government policies cannot be overstated, so it is disappointing that some departments continue to provide an unacceptably high number of late answers.

If these departments do not improve this session then our committee looks forward to the Ministers responsible providing an explanation and presenting a clear action plan to ensure improvements.

I am encouraged to see that some departments that have previously had poor response rates have improved their performance in response to the Committee’s scrutiny.

While the timeliness of responses is of importance to Members, the quality of those answers is just as vital. The Committee will be launching an exercise to monitor the quality of answers provided by departments, and we look forward to receiving the views of Members from across the House.”

Have a great weekend.

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New Video Bullies Parents Into Complying With Child Protection Professionals

A new video produced by charity Just For Kids Law, under the pretext that it is trying to support parents going through child protection proceedings is thinly veiled propaganda which includes dangerous child protection advice.

The video, which is just under three minutes long, follows a young girl who was once in care and who now finds herself going through child protection proceedings after becoming pregnant. Whilst the animation is really nothing more than an advertisement for the charity’s legal services, it is the way in which it treats young parents that is so offensive – and so wide of the mark that it amounts to bullying.

Entitled, “If I Could Talk To Me”, the story approaches child protection proceedings as if the mother whose case we’re watching has gone back in time to advise her younger self to do things differently. Right from the start, the assumption that’s being made is that this young mother has been difficult, or obstructive, or, god forbid, independent minded in her view of the proceedings.

It’s not a great start.

And using the woman’s older self to sell the ideas in this video is a manipulative tactic designed to give young parents the impression that they would give themselves this advice, and that they should therefore trust what’s being said – after all, ‘they’ are saying it.

As the story progresses, there are vague nods to the prejudices and assumptions child protection professionals may make that will lead to the young mother in the video being stigmatised – and unfairly treated – but these issues are brushed over and the young mum is asked to accept all of those injustices – and potential human rights breaches – as a matter of course. It’s a deeply disturbing three minutes of viewing.

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The video is also filled with dishonest rhetoric. At one point the young mum’s older self tells her, “It’s the process that makes it so hard – not the people.” We know that’s not true. There is an extensive track record today, of child protection professionals making the process unbelievably hard for parents, through all the prejudices the video makes references to – whether it’s assuming a mother or father is unfit to parent because they’ve been in care (how can this starting point ever be allowed in best practice?) or because they’ve been in an abusive relationship. Assumptions are dangerous, and this video unfortunately plays on care leavers’ worst fears, too.

At one point, the mum’s older self asks her not to take “the most personal thing in the world personally.” She is referring to child protection proceedings and the deeply invasive way they work. It’s a ridiculous request, and one which turns the clock back on new and progressive research which shows quite clearly that these processes don’t work if the emotional elements are ignored. Asking young, potentially vulnerable parents to shoulder all of the harsh realities of the system is a disgrace, and should never be part of child protection practice.

Another sentiment made during the film, which is narrated by the young mum’s older self, is that she will be “judged for things in her past that were never her fault.” Another, terrible reality of the system, which here is being openly acknowledged and accepted as the norm. It beggars belief.

It’s with enormous sadness that we write this post. Researching Reform has for a long while, been a passionate advocate of Just For Kids, but we no longer feel that way.

Watch the video for yourself and tell us what you think. Have we been unfair? Is it more balanced than we’ve given it credit for? Let us know.

 

 

 

 

Mandatory Reporting Of Child Abuse Becomes Law In Ireland

While England is still twiddling its thumbs over whether or not to make reporting concerns about child abuse a legal duty, Ireland has gone ahead and done it. 

The new law means that professionals in Ireland who work with children, including teachers, doctors, nurses and police will be required to report any suspicions of child abuse they have to the Child and Family Agency.

Whilst Ireland’s social workers are panicking about a potential reporting floodgate being opened, which they fear might overwhelm the system, the current research on mandatory reporting offers reassurance. To date, there has been little to no evidence of a mandatory duty to report significantly weighing down child protection systems.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s welcomed the move, and Ireland’s Republican Party Fianna Fáil went one step further, calling for the extension of mandatory reporting to cover suspicions of abuse relating to adults with disabilities.

Ministers, what are you waiting for – and when are you going to publish the findings from our consultation on mandatory reporting, which was launched over a year ago?

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FGM In England – Question It!

Welcome to another week.

New statistics released by NHS Digital on 5th December about the number of identified cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) suggest that whilst newly recorded cases of FGM have dropped slightly, the scale of cases identified is still cause for concern.

The research tells us that in the previous quarter, more than 1,060 cases in the UK were reported, including 20 cases where the procedure itself was undertaken.

Our question this week then, is just this: how can we further reduce the number of FGM cases?

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Justice Minister Side Steps Question On Legal Aid For Domestic Violence Victims

Minister for Justice, Dominic Raab ignored an MP’s request to allow victims of domestic violence the opportunity to claim legal aid retrospectively while the new measures have yet to come into force.

The tense exchange took place during a discussion in the House of Commons on 5th December, in which concerned MPs grilled the Justice Minister on the government’s efforts to help litigants in person.

Gloria De Piero, who is Shadow Justice Minister, asked Dominic Raab whether the government would consider allowing victims of domestic violence who had gone through or are going through the family courts and unable to access legal aid under the current restrictions, the chance to recoup their costs once measures to open up access to legal aid were implemented in the new year.

Frustrated by the government’s efforts to address the issue, De Piero takes a swipe at Raab:

“I note the Justice Secretary is advertising for a second speechwriter at a rate of £70,000. As there is cash to spare, will he commit to ensuring that domestic violence victims who seek legal aid, as of yesterday’s announcement, will be able to claim retrospectively under the new criteria?”

Sidestepping the question entirely, The Justice Minister tells De Piero:

“We will be laying the statutory instrument shortly and I think, beneath the political point-scoring, the hon. Lady welcomed it. It will make it easier to apply for legal aid in family cases where there has been a victim of domestic abuse. More broadly, wider personal support units provide trained volunteers who give free independent assistance to people facing proceedings in the family sphere and beyond. There are 20 centres in 16 cities. I hope she would welcome that.”

The discussion also highlights the government’s latest attempts at helping litigants in person (LIPs), including its Litigant in Person Support Strategy, which is designed to offer LIPs support, information, and either free or low cost legal advice. We would be interested to hear from anyone who has used this service.

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Government To Announce New Law Preventing Abusers From Cross Examining Victims in Family Courts

A discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday has revealed that the government will soon be announcing legislative proposals to prevent alleged and proven perpetrators of domestic violence from cross examining their partners in court. 

Criminal courts currently have legislation to prevent this from happening, but no such legal protections are offered in family courts. A sharp rise in litigants in person thanks to aggressive austerity measures, is partly responsible for an alarming new trend which features alleged abusers and proven offenders questioning their victims in court. The experience often re-traumatises vulnerable victims and can lead to severe mental health problems, with some victims even taking their own lives.

To date the only way a victim of domestic violence in The Family Court can prevent an abuser from cross examining them is by asking the judge to put Practice Direction 12J into effect, which invites the judge to step in and stop the cross examination from taking place. The Practice Direction however is only a form of guidance, and does not require a judge to stop the cross examination as of right.

A new law has been on the cards for some time, however Brexit and other matters being given priority have delayed things.

Justice Minister, Dominic Raab also confirmed the following on Tuesday:

  • Section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses will be extended to family law cases
  • Around £7 million has been allocated to 97 rape support centres across England and Wales in order to provide independent specialist support
  • That support will be available to victims before and after the conclusion of a trial, regardless of the verdict.

Expect to hear more details about the proposed legislation shortly. We’ll keep you posted.

If you’d like to find out how cross examination in this context affects victims in court, our article over at HuffPost has more information.

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Survivor Calls For Mandatory Reporting Of Child Abuse

A survivor who goes by the name of Gilo, has called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to implement mandatory reporting of abuse after the Archbishop failed to take a clear stand on the policy.

Gilo is part of a group of survivors who are campaigning for a review into compensation awards, and for mandatory reporting of child abuse allegations.

Gilo was sexually assaulted by the Reverend Garth Moore, a former diocesan chancellor, who died in 1990. After a long battle trying to raise awareness about his ordeal, the Church of England finally settled his claim for £35,000. The case spurred on the Elliott review, which set out important reforms to safeguarding procedures.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also issued a public apology to Gilo, after ignoring 17 letters Gilo wrote to him. In his reply to Gilo, Welby suggests that mandatory reporting is a “complex issue”. He also confirms that the task of looking at mandatory reporting has been given to the Bishop at Lambeth, the Right Reverend Tim Thornton.

At the moment clerics are required to report safeguarding concerns and could be subject to disciplinary proceedings if they do not, however there is no legal requirement in Egland to report such information. Welby tells Gilo in his letter:

“As you know, we are now in the middle of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse and I am keen to hear its views and wisdom on the subject of mandatory reporting — which is not as straightforward an issue as is sometimes suggested.”

Gilo’s criticism of the Archbishop stems from his view that mandatory reporting is a complicated matter, at a time when bodies of research are emerging which suggest that mandatory reporting is not, and is overall hugely successful in the prevention and detection of child abuse. Gilo has also gathered several high profile supporters for his campaign to implement mandatory reporting including Baroness Walmsley, a passionate advocate of child welfare reform and Dr Julie Macfarlane, a law professor in Canada and herself a survivor of abuse.

Baroness Walmsley’s response to the Archbishop’s letter included the following thoughts:

That mandatory reporting is a “very simple matter”, not a complex one and that “if you know or suspect that a child is being abused, or has been abused, you must report the matter to the correct authorities. To fail to do so is to collude with the perpetrator.”

You can follow Gilo on Twitterhe also has a blog, which he writes under his real name.

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