“Abolish what we now call child protection and replace it with a system that really promotes children’s welfare.”

A thought-provoking article in the Regulatory Review argues that the US’s child welfare state should be abolished, and replaced with a system that does not police, or discriminate against families.

The opinion piece has been written by Robyn M. Powell, a visiting assistant professor at Stetson University College of Law.

Powell argues that it is not enough to reform a system within its existing framework, and that in order to bring about meaningful change, the system’s laws and policies must be reviewed, removed where necessary and replaced with better laws which do not enable discrimination or injustice.

In the article she quotes a pioneering legal expert, professor Dorothy Roberts, who said that the United States must “finally abolish what we now call child protection and replace it with a system that really promotes children’s welfare.”

Powell also makes the following observations in her piece, which focuses on children and parents with disabilities and their representation inside social care:

“Each year, the child welfare system traumatizes and separates millions of marginalized families, including parents with disabilities and their children. Indeed, in 2019, the child welfare system investigated more than 3 million families and separated approximately 430,000 children from their parents.

Notably, two-thirds of the cases in which children were separated from their parents involved allegations of neglect, not abuse, which is often conflated with poverty. Thus, most of these families could have been spared child welfare system involvement if they had access to adequate supports and resources.

The disproportionate rate of child welfare system involvement in families headed by parents with disabilities is striking. Although children of parents with disabilities comprise only 9 percent of the nation’s youth, they make up 19 percent of the children in foster care.”

The piece introduces Powell’s research paper, “Achieving Justice for Disabled Parents and Their Children: An Abolitionist Approach,” which offers an in-depth argument as to why the child welfare state as it is should be abolished. The research is going to be featured in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism.

Powell’s 93 page paper is free and available to read.

As the UK’s child protection sector faces strikingly similar problems to the US’s own system, we thought this paper was important to share.

You can read Powell’s piece here.

Access Powell’s research paper here.

The Latest

Welcome to another week.

These are the child welfare stories that should be right on your radar:

Image of the month: Going Home – The Istol Fire Lion Talk

As part of our image of the month series, we are continuing to feature artist and adoptee Paul Brian Tovey’s deeply moving drawings.

Paul is an adult adoptee who was abused by his adoptive parents as a child, and now campaigns for adoptees to have the legal right to revert back to their birth identities.

Paul uses his art to channel and process his pain, and in doing so creates emotionally powerful canvases.

The featured image on Researching Reform’s banner is called Going Home: The Istol Fire Lion Talk.

Thank you to Paul for allowing Researching Reform to showcase his art.

You do NOT have to sign a “contract of expectations”

A contract of expectations, which is sometimes called a partnership agreement, a working agreement, or a written agreement, is used by local authorities (LA) to monitor parents where there are child welfare concerns.

Despite the use of words like “contract” and “agreement” in these documents, parents are not legally required to agree to the contract or sign it.

The agreement itself must be written in clear language. It must outline the LA’s concerns, and it must explain what the LA would like the parents to do to address those concerns. It must also explain what the LA will do to support the parents.

These agreements should only ever be used when there are genuine child protection concerns. They should also be properly drawn up, monitored and reviewed regularly.

A properly produced written agreement will include a clause which says that the document is not legally binding. This means that if a parent signs the document and then breaches one of the terms, the LA cannot sue the parent, or take them to court to enforce the agreement.

However the LA can mention the breach in court proceedings and may do so to try to show that the parent is not working with the LA and may even try to suggest the parent is behaving dishonestly.

If you are presented with a contract of expectations you always have the right to do the following:

  • To read the document in full, and in your own time without being harassed, forced or intimidated
  • To call someone who can explain the document to you, or attend your property to offer you support
  • To call a lawyer or advocate for legal advice about the document
  • To refuse to sign the form and ask the social worker to call you the following day to arrange a meeting at an appropriate time

In the event that you become involved with social services, we would advise organising the following in advance, so that you are prepared:

  • Arrange for someone to be your “Emergency Buddy” – someone who lives nearby and can come and offer you moral or practical support with a visit from social services for the purpose of getting you to sign a form (the person should be calm and polite).
  • Store a list of emergency numbers on your phone for local support services – a 24 hour legal helpline for legal advice, a 24 hour support helpline for parents involved in proceedings and so on.
  • If you have a lawyer already, ask them if you can call out of hours if there is an emergency.
  • Use this page to get familiar with your rights: you do not have to sign a written agreement, and you do not have to agree to anything you do not understand.

Steps to take if a social worker enters your home with a view to getting you to sign a written agreement:

  • Record the interaction. You can use your phone or any recording device to make an audio or video record of the event. It is good to tell the social worker you are going to do this, out of courtesy, but they cannot stop you from recording, as the law allows it.
  • Explain to the social worker that you are going to call your “Emergency Buddy” or someone who has agreed to be your support in the event a social worker comes to the house with a form to sign.
  • Explain to the social worker that you are also going to call a lawyer to make sure the form is proper and you understand it fully.
  • Ask the social worker to wait until your Emergency Buddy has arrived/ you have had a chance to read the document, at your own pace and until you understand it fully. The social worker may offer to explain the form to you: if you are not comfortable with this offer, you can say thank you but you would rather wait for your friend or lawyer to look it over with you.
  • Read the form. Check that it contains: a clause saying the form is not legally binding; an explanation from the LA about the child welfare concerns; what the LA want you to do to address those concerns; and what the LA will do to support you.
  • Decide whether or not you want to sign the form. If you don’t want to sign it, you have the right not to sign.
  • You can then ask the social worker to leave (politely).

If you are under 18 and social services are trying to get you to sign a written agreement, you have the right to support from a child advocate.

Written agreements do not have a good reputation, and have been criticised by social workers in the past. A Community Care Survey in 2017 found that social workers called these agreements ‘draconian’; ‘unsafe’; ‘knee jerk reaction’ and; ‘shoddy practice.’ You do not have to feel intimidated if you are presented with a contract of expectations and any social worker that presents you with one must be courteous, helpful and supportive.

Additional information:

Many thanks to Tum Mum, who alerted us to this topic.

Children’s experiences of family court proceedings

A review of existing studies on children’s thoughts on parental separation and/or their experience of court proceedings has been collected and distilled into six key messages by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO).

The NFJO examined UK and international research studies from the last 20 years (2000–2020).

While the research focuses on experiences within private family law proceedings which typically involve divorce and child custody (contact) issues, the messages will resonate with children and families who have experienced public family law proceedings, which usually feature child protection, foster care and adoption hearings.

The messages outlined in the paper themselves are not controversial or unknown to child welfare advocates or court-experienced parents but they serve as a good reminder about issues that affect children in family court proceedings and the current and significant gaps in addressing those issues.

The paper’s web page says:

“The family court has a role in resolving disputes between separating parents over child arrangements—known as private law. More than twice as many private law applications are started in England and Wales each year than public law applications. Yet little is known about the children and families involved in them.”

The six key messages the NFJO pulled out from the research were:

  1. Parental separation can be distressing, traumatic and confusing
  2. Good communication and access to information are important
  3. Being heard and understood in court can feel empowering
  4. Being properly involved and consulted in decision making is important
  5. Getting the right support makes a difference
  6. Thoughts and feelings on contact are complex and take time to process

The paper makes the following conclusions:

“Despite the limitations, the research clearly indicates that children are actively—not passively—involved in their parents’ separation and court proceedings. Decisions made by the court have a big impact on children’s lives, and children’s experiences of being left out of decision making can increase anxiety and upset.

Across the research, there was a clear need for children to be provided with greater support and guidance to adjust and cope in the context of these family changes, and for the court and other professionals to better involve children and communicate with them about the process.”

You can access the paper here.

The Buzz

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

“Repositioning the power of children and families”: parent-led event about family engagement with social services

An online event produced by staff at the London Borough of Camden will explore ways in which the local authority have tried to change the way it views child and family engagement with social services.

The Eventbrite page description says the online conference is family led, and will include “discussion circles” with local authorities who the organisers say are attempting to work with families and children rather than dominate them.

The background to the event is added below:

“Join colleagues from the London Borough of Camden (LBC) for a reflective morning exploring ways in which local authorities are surfacing and repositioning power of children and families in social work and family support practice, and how it’s helping children and families to flourish.

What is surfacing power? Put simply, it asks us to re-imagine how we think about power. It acknowledges that children, families and communities have power already and that the way we think, feel and act in children’s services can lift that power to the surface.

Co-led by family members, this event will explore examples of Camden projects that have helped us to re-imagine sharing and surfacing power with children, families and their communities. There will be discussion circles with a range of local authorities sharing their experiences of doing this vital repositioning work.

Workshops will give opportunity to dive deeper into the practice of surfacing power of children and families, explore the challenges and opportunities, and where this approach might go into the future.

Programme will include:

Co-design – Family Change Makers project; repositioning power by children and families taking the lead in service design

Systemic and Ecological Approaches – Right Balance project and Camden Model of Social Work; repositioning power by working alongside children and their families doing with and not to

Participation – Camden Conversations; repositioning power by empowering parents and young people to influence the child protection process

Family in the lead – 20 years of Camden Family Group Conference and families and communities leading their own solutions

Workshops to explore “In thinking about adopting the distributed leadership/surfacing power principle…..”

What works well /worked well in this idea of repositioning power and distributed leadership?

What are the challenges/gets in the way of distributed leadership/surfacing or repositioning power?

Examples of other projects/ways of thinking, being, feeling and working – what and how can we learn from each other to share practice?

An opportunity to share practice, problem solve, network and leave with inspiration.”

The event was shared on 16th October on Twitter by Becca Dove, a family worker and the head of family help at LBC.

The details for the conference do not mention whether social services experienced children and families are welcome, but as always if you would like to attend and find you have been turned down after registering for a ticket, let us know and we will look into this for you.

The seminar takes place on Friday 3rd December, from 9.30am to 12.30pm (GMT).

You can register for the event here.

Dissociative Identity Disorder and child abuse

Welcome to another week.

In order to raise some awareness about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and how child abuse can trigger the condition, we are sharing a powerful poem which we think describes the condition with grace and serious artistic brilliance.

Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder, is described by the Mayo Clinic as a mental disorder which involves “experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life.”

A person might experience DID as a reaction to trauma, in order to help block painful memories. It’s an incredibly sophisticated defense mechanism, but it is not without its challenges. Stressful events can make symptoms associated with DID worse, and it is not always the case that all of a person’s alter egos within DID are friendly or supportive.

Childhood trauma and child sexual abuse are routinely reported in patients with DID, as well as emotional abuse and intentional neglect.

Amber Estwick is a performance poet, and is the author of “Fragmented”, which explores the relationships between four alter egos who live inside the mind of a woman called Sarah. The poem’s themes include child abuse, neglect and adoption proceedings.

Here is a little about Amber and why she chose to write “Fragmented”:

“My name is Amber Estwick, I’m aged 34, almost 35. I started writing performance poetry from the age of 13 while living in England and had continued for a while in Trinidad. I then took a long break from writing, but on the 6 of October 2021 I decided to make a comeback. I chose to write this poem as I find it fascinating how the mind works to protect you.”

Fragmented

Ever been fragmented into 4 different people, all coming from different stages of your life when you need them the most to take center stage to engage in situations that you know you can’t cope with alone? Have you ever been the host, the system of alters that can instantly take over? They have been Sarah’s saving grace from all the situations she has to face.

Sarah has one backpack containing 4 outfits that all 4 hand pick and one baseball bat for Jake. Jake is the all inclusive one who doesn’t care for a clothes change but just needs a baseball bat, he is fine with just that..

Jake came when Sarah was going through a stage that everyone around her considered a phaze but that phaze never went away now that Jake is here to stay he just comes forward to support Sarah and has a beautiful relationship with a lady called Tracy, whenever he comes through to the front line Sarah’s hair goes up into a knot showing what she calls Jake’s under cut..

Jake doesn’t mind dresses but hates to go out he mainly stays inside where they hide but lately Tracy wants to take Sarah out so Jake takes his baseball bat to scare off anyone that wants to attack.

Alice is Sarah’s saviour from addiction, she has a strong southern accent and always says no sir, no maim, Alice is the name Sarah is not home today, she don’t need a line of coke, she don’t need pills, with the grace of the almighty Sarah doesn’t even drink no more and then Alice will close the door..

Marcie-Jayne has been with Sarah since Sarah was 16, Marcie is the part time artist because Sarah was told being and artist will never pay the bills and you will never be good enough to take your work far, so Marcie always paints and signs her name giving Marcie all the fame.

Sasha has took over being Sarah’s 4 year old son’s mum, because once Nate ended up in foster care, Sarah hated the social worker and the situation got harder to take so Sasha is now in charge of trying to bring home Nate.

Sasha is the no drama type she struggles to rewrite the wrongs that Sarah has made, every court paper Sarah attempts to write Sasha screams just let me do it, you can’t win back my child with a statement as crap as that…

Sasha loves Nate a lot more than Sarah, Sarah drifted off at the first hearing of the word adoption but Sasha saved that little boy and with the right medication Sarah can bring him home but Alice always comes to court and reminds them of Sarah’s addiction so it’s taking longer than Sasha thought it would because Alice won’t let pills touch Sarah’s lips, they always argue about this, two in the morning, two at night then Sarah wins the fight but Alice says no those 4 pills will turn into more.

Sasha and Alice are always at constant war..

The social worker wants the case to end but the thought of losing Nate makes Sasha wild but the social worker says Sasha, Sarah who ever you are today you are fragmented, separated do the right thing by Nate and let him be adopted, every time the paper comes out Sasha shows and says Nate is mine and Sarah will prove herself in time..

Then there is Lilly, Lilly has never grown since the day Sarah turned 6, Lilly is forever 6, she knows how to create the best hiding spaces, Lilly was the very first who came to stay within Sarah when Sarah was just 3..

Me is Lilly get away no shout at RaRa she used to scream at Sarah’s Abusive mother, hence why Lilly has grown a lot of un-wanted affection for Nate’s social worker and always whispers she wants to save us and Alice will then shout no she wants to take Nate then Lilly crawls away and hides, Lilly knows every hiding spot, Lilly loves every door that can lock. Lilly doesn’t like Alice because Alice shouts a lot…

Lilly never comes when Sarah is with Tracy come to think of it no one but Jake comes..

Tracy is the Calm within the storm, Tracy is Sasha’s worm place when the world considers Sarah wrong but Jake he stays to keep Sarah strong…

By Amber Estwick

You can follow Amber and read more of her poetry on her Facebook page.

If you have been affected by DID or need to talk to someone, you can contact the mental health charity MIND, which has a helpline (0300 123 3393) email address (info@mind.org.uk) and postal address: Mind Infoline, PO Box 75225, London, E15 9FS.

Additional links:

Amber performing at One Mic, Trinidad in 2013

Parents stage a protest about the state of England’s family courts

A demonstration in Worcester by parents who have experienced the family courts in England and Wales was held to raise awareness about the problems inside the child protection sector.

The protest was held this afternoon outside Worcester Crown Court, which holds the family courts for the city.

The parents wore masks at the protest to ensure they stayed within family court privacy guidelines which currently forbid parents from publicly revealing details about their cases in discussions which could identify them or their children.

Speaking to Worcester News, one of the parents at the protest said the guidelines were irrational and had turned the courts into secretive venues able to cover up and hide poor practice: “I can only see my children two hours a fortnight. But I can get arrested for talking about my case. Everything is done behind closed doors.”

“Hundreds of people support me but they’re afraid to speak out. They might get gagged and contact with their children might be stopped. We’re complaining about the courts and social services. They’re all together,” he said.

Another parent said, “These secret family courts are corrupt. There’s a hell of a lot of miscarriages of justice going on in these courts.”

Responding to the comments, Tina Russell, chief executive for Worcestershire Children First, told the news outlet: “Worcestershire Children First staff keep children and young people at the heart of everything they do and we take steps to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm where it is necessary.”

We understand at times people can be unhappy about the interventions of children’s services in their lives. Through our quality assurance programme we are always listening to and learning from the experiences of children young people, parents and carers and we use this information to develop and improve our services. Everyone has the right to express their view through peaceful protest and or use of the complaints process,” Russell added.

A growing number of family court judgments in recent years have revealed that children’s social care teams around the country are routinely breaking the law and trying to conceal malpractice.

Despite judges acknowledging these breaches, the family courts currently have limited powers to sanction staff who break the law in local authorities. Parents already under enormous strain and often deeply traumatised by ill-treatment inside the sector rarely launch claims against councils.

Many thanks to Tum Mum for alerting us to this development.