Social Workers, How Much “One To One Time” Do You Spend With Children?

The British Association Of Social Workers (BASW) is collaborating with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, to examine how much one to one time social workers spend with children and families during child protection investigations. In order to do this, they have created a survey, and they’d love to hear your thoughts.

This is what the introduction to the survey says:

“The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) and BASW are working in partnership to promote and enhance the importance of social workers spending quality ‘direct’ time with children and families, which is vital to developing trusting relationships and completing good quality assessments, decision-making and plans based on the wishes, feelings, holistic needs and interests of the child.

Children have a right to have their voice heard in any decision that affects their lives, to receive information and explanations in meaningful ways, and to have opportunities to explore their concerns and receive support. Any system change to delivery of services for children should also place children’s views and experiences at the heart of delivery. Children in research studies and consultations, such as with the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, have expressed their concerns about social workers spending less time with them and not seeing or hearing from their social workers enough. This is also a concern highlighted by numerous serious case reviews and public inquiries which highlight how the absence of engagement and communication with children compromises not only children’s right to a voice but to their safety.

We want to hear your views and gain enough feedback so we can lobby for social workers to spend more time undertaking direct work with children.”

Whilst the initiative is a good one, the questions are not as precise as we would have liked. Question 2 is particularly worrying, as it lumps face to face contact with phone contact, which are not the same at all when it comes to getting to know a child and building a trusting relationship with them. We would invite the BASW to edit this questionnaire so that these two elements are separated.

We hope the sector will remember that quantity of time must be combined with quality time, so that social workers not only sit face to face with children, but really listen to what they have to say, and most importantly understand what these children are saying.

At only five questions, which are very basic, it’s a short survey, and so quick to fill out. If you’re not a social worker, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this survey, too.

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ITV Exposé On Sexual Assaults At Boarding Schools Calls For Mandatory Reporting Of Abuse

ITV has produced what they are calling a shocking documentary on the scale of sexual abuse in UK boarding schools.

The investigation was carried out by journalist and author Alex Renton, who was himself sexually abused as an eight-year-old by his teacher at a top boarding school in England.

The documentary questions why there is still no legislation in place to make reporting abuse within settings like schools, compulsory and effectively calls for this duty to be implemented. The duty is backed by the NSPCC, the Independent Association of Prep Schools and the Independent Schools Council told Exposure, who support mandatory reporting for boarding schools. A duty to report is also supported fully by Researching Reform.

ITV Exposure made a Freedom Of Information request to every police force in the UK, which revealed some very disturbing information:

  • Since 2012, 425 people have been accused of carrying out sexual attacks at UK boarding schools
  • Not every force could provide further details but at least 160 people have been charged so far.
  • At least 171 of the total number were accused of historical abuse.
  • Since 2012 at least 125 people have been accused by children of recent sex attacks at boarding schools.
  • There are at least 31 ongoing investigations.
  • Just over half of the forces responded, meaning the total figure is likely to be far higher.

The documentary, entitled, “Boarding Schools: The Secret Shame – Exposure” airs tonight at 10.45pm on ITV. It will also be shown at 11.05pm on STV, 11.15pm on ITV Wales, and 11.45pm on UTV.

If you have any information you would like to share, you can contact Alex Renton and the Exposure team in confidence at alex.renton@itn.co.uk

For anyone interested in mandatory reporting, our piece for Lexis Nexis offers a quick overview. 

We also have quite a few posts on the topic, covering consultations, countries which have implemented a duty to report and survivors’ views on the issue. 

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A set of bills in the state of Michigan, in America, are being considered, which if passed would lead to the creation of a child abuse registry. The law would allow anyone convicted of child abuse in a criminal court to be placed on a child abuse registry for 5-10 years.

The proposed legislation, named Wyatt’s Law, would enable parents to search the registry to see if someone who has had contact with their child has a recent conviction for child abuse.

Wyatt was injured by abuse he suffered at the hands of his father’s girlfriend in 2013, when he was a toddler. Wyatt’s mother, Erica Hammell, had tried to access information relating to the girlfriend’s criminal record but wasn’t able to. Erica believes that if she had been able to get this information, she could have then gone to court to prevent contact between Wyatt and her former partner’s girlfriend.

Whilst the proposed legislation has received a great deal of support from several law makers, senators and lawyers, not everyone backs the idea. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a charity focused on protecting civil liberties in the US, is actively opposing the legislative proposals.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you think the UK could benefit from a child abuse register like this one, or, like the ACLU, do you feel this measure is a step too far?

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Investment Companies Are Delivering Therapeutic Services To Families

A new initiative to help vulnerable families through therapeutic support has been launched in five London boroughs. The aim of the project is to help keep families together, and save the government money. The project is being run by an investment company called Bridges Fund Management , which invests in what their website calls social challenges.

Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Bexley, Merton and Newham, which altogether have 1,350 children in residential care, are taking part in The Positive Families Partnership. Bridges has been contracted by the government through a Social Impact Bond (SIB) to deliver the project. There are currently 30 SIBs in place around the country, funding projects for social welfare programmes.

Heading up the project for Bridges is their investment director Mila Lukic, who has a background in management consultancy and not for profit crowdsourcing. The only other member mentioned on the Positive Families Partnership’s website is Amit Shah, though no other information on Amit is offered. We believe Amit may be an Associate Director at Social Finance. 

The lack of information about who is involved doesn’t inspire confidence, nor does the scant information on the set up of the scheme.

The financial structure for this venture must benefit the investment fund somehow, otherwise there would be no interest on their part, but without the exact details of their agreement we can’t comment on just how much Bridges stands to gain from this programme. It’s a point that’s clearly missing from the Guardian’s piece on the project, with Lukic mentioning all the advantages she feels the scheme offers to councils, families and government, but conveniently failing to mention how Bridges stands to benefit.

Finances aside, the model looks very much like the Family Drug and Alcohol Court set up, with experts on hand to offer one on one support and a measuring system in place to see how well the families are doing over time. The project offers a 5 step process:

  1. A young person is identified by a social worker/ other, who may be in need of support
  2. The child is referred to the programme through their borough
  3. An evaluation takes place, we assume, to decide whether the child needs Multisystemic Therapy or Functional Family Therapy.
  4. The therapeutic solution is delivered (the site uses the word intervention, which we don’t like)
  5. Outcomes are monitored and measured.

We hope this project helps families and most importantly children who are caught in often very difficult scenarios. Certainly a project to watch.

Very many thanks to Nicky Herron for alerting us to the Guardian piece on the project.

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One To Watch: Class Action In America Says Foster Care System Is Broken.

A law suit in Texas, challenging its foster care system, is being ferociously opposed by the state. The class action alleges that the system is broken, and violating children’s rights. 

The state is arguing, amongst other things, that a court of law should not be addressing these concerns and that legislation and policy as well as internal measures within their own departments should be handling the complaints.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by Children’s Rights, a New York-based advocacy group, and A Better Childhood, a spinoff group started by its founder, are arguing that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are not proactive when it comes to addressing the problems and that it relies to heavily on independent and private contractors which is causing further inequalities and human rights breaches.

At its heart, the case focuses on children’s ‘substantive due process’ right under the 14th Amendment to be free from unreasonable risk of harm while in state care.

These themes are eerily similar to our own in the UK. We predict that it won’t be long before a class action like this one is mounted in England.

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Image Of The Month: Children In War

Researching Reform offers its blog as a platform to children who are budding artists, as well as adult artists who produce child focused content. This month it gives us great pleasure to introduce this picture by a very talented young woman.

Karam Herbst is 15, and went to schools in Germany and Uzbekistan. Her hobbies are painting, volleyball, football and basketball. She painted this picture for an exhibition at her school entitled, “Children In War.”

Karam is passionate about expressing herself through visual arts, particularly as a way to raise awareness around serious issues. She tells Researching Reform:

“It is very sad that many people who are not directly impacted by war, see children of war only as a number on the news and don’t get the chance to have any emotional connection with them. I really hope my art will one day reach a lot of people in order to raise awareness and to inspire change.”

As children increasingly find themselves caught up in war zones, countries rife with conflict and occupation, this painting is not only timely, but a poignant reminder of how deeply traumatic these events are for children.

We would like to thank Karam enormously for allowing us to share her painting. We hope she will continue to paint, and develop her outstanding gift. A very big thank you also to Karam’s father, Peter.

You can view Karam’s artwork over on her instagram account @annakaramm.

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More Social Workers Question The Benefits Of Adoption

The last ten years have been sobering for the family justice system, and the social work sector. Fighting to stay afloat, government agencies for each have tried desperately to find ways to generate income, often through misplaced incentives and a heavy emphasis on fostering, as well as adoption. None of their efforts have worked. And now, courageous social workers are speaking up about the child welfare system and what really needs to be done to make things right.

Simon Haworth is a former social worker turned academic. He left frontline practice to become a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham, and whilst he doesn’t give a reason for leaving the sector, we did wonder whether the limitations within it were partly to blame. Simon joins a growing number of social workers questioning whether the system is really catering to children’s best interests by pushing adoption and by implication other forms of social care like fostering.

In an article for Community Care, Simon looks at the current child protection policies in place and talks about why he feels these policies are harming children, and society as a whole.

Simon makes several important points. He notes that phenomena like poverty and inequality are often at the heart of vulnerable children’s narratives. He goes on to mention that social work does not address these important grass roots problems or at least incorporate a deeper understanding of them in every day practice and that this in turn leads to decisions which are often not in the best interests of the children involved.

He also questions the care proceedings timetable with its 26 week limit and makes this insightful observation:

“It is explicit in government policy that there has been a drive towards more and faster adoption. We must ask whether this is taking place to the detriment of a social work model that favours family support and interventions to keep families together. Can we expect parents to address chronic difficulties within the 26-week time limit?”

There is also an interesting section in the article about dominant approaches to child welfare practice in the UK. This is the idea that dominant demographics are able to dictate process, policy and legislation which in turn lead to disadvantage and inequality, often for the most vulnerable.

Another important point Simon makes relates to the way we address underlying issues within vulnerable families. He says:

“We should ask ourselves how many children would have their legal rights to private and family life better protected through supportive and anti-oppressive approaches that address the glaring inequalities in our unequal society.”

What Simon is effectively saying, is that we need to be focusing on keeping families together, finding ways to support families and address the core issues they are dealing with, in order to improve society and reduce the enormous cost of social care.

The article finishes with an invitation to the sector to consider anti oppressive approaches which really place children and families at the heart of every decision.

Researching Reform has been saying these things for a decade, and so we are excited to see professionals inside the sector, and those who were once a part of it, coming forward to invite positive change. We very much hope more of you will join the movement.

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Response To FOI Request On Council Payouts To Families

Last month we sent a Freedom Of Information request asking for a breakdown of costs awarded to families who had suffered due to council failings. The response is unexciting. That’s not because there is no information available, though.

Here is what the Department For Education had to say on the matter:

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Our only option now is to contact councils directly. Will they share this information with us?

 

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A report just published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children of Alcoholics looks at the correlation between alcohol abuse by parents and child injuries. The APPG’s report concludes that 37% of child deaths and serious injuries through neglect are linked to parental drinking.

It’s a significant statistic, which should be on councils’ agendas to tackle, however a Freedom Of Information request revealed that over half of all councils still do not have a strategy to help children of alcoholics (COAs), almost all councils are cutting their budgets for alcohol and drug treatment services and in more than half of councils, referrals to alcohol treatment services are falling.

APPG Chair, Labour MP Liam Byrne has a helpful summary of all the relevant details on this report on his blog, including those involved in the document’s production.

The report has been published to coincide with International Children of Alcoholics Week which runs from 11th-17th February, 2018.

Liam’s web page offers key findings from the report:

  • Between 2011-14, ‘Parental Alcohol Misuse’ (PAM) was implicated in 37% of cases involving the death or serious injury of a child through neglect or abuse in England.
  • 18% of children reported feeling embarrassed by seeing their parent drunk, while 15% reported their bedtime routine had been disrupted as a result of their parents’ drinking.
  • 61% of care applications in England involved misuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Children living with alcohol-dependent parents report feeling socially isolated, and are reluctant to seek help due to feelings of stigma, shame and guilt about not wanting to betray parents: Calls to helplines reveal their chronic worry and fear.
  • Children may have to take on caring responsibilities for the affected parent or younger siblings which can negatively impact school attendance and homework.
  • ‘Parental Alcohol Misuse’ leads to inconsistent and unpredictable parenting.

Liam explains that the report highlights several other very serious findings relating to children in these scenarios, which tell us that parental alcohol misuse showed increased risks of obesity, eating disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, as well as a heightened risk of hospital admissions and injuries.

The APPG offers a nine point plan to tackle this issue:

  1. Create a national strategy for COAs
  2. Properly fund local support for COAs
  3. Increase availability of support for families battling addiction to alcohol
  4. Boost education and awareness for children
  5. Boost education and training for those with a responsibility for children
  6. Develop a plan to change public attitudes
  7. Revise the national strategy to tackle alcoholism to focus on price and availability
  8. Curtail the promotion of alcohol – especially to children
  9. Take responsibility for reducing rates of alcoholism

Given that 61% of care applications involve parents who have alcohol or drug dependencies and that a significant number of children involved are at risk of injury or death, our question this week then, is just this: what would your plan be to tackle this issue?

The full report can be accessed here.

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From Abused To Accused: Did ‘Fantasist’ Nick Get Too Close To The Establishment?

When allegations first surfaced about a paedophile ring made up of high profile politicians, the public didn’t find them hard to believe. The complaint, raised by a man known only as Nick, included accusations of rape and murder which he claimed involved a former Prime Minister, Home Secretary, army chief and politician.

At the time these allegations were made, there was already a deep sense of cynicism about government and Britons were angered by politicians’ constant abuse of power and a complete disregard for the British public. It wasn’t difficult for the country to entertain the idea that the Establishment was as cruel and depraved as it was greedy and despotic.

The Establishment in England also carries with it a dark history, where powerful groups with personal interests have done, and will do almost anything to protect their positions and their wealth. Over time, these groups have evolved and now include men and women from all sectors and classes of society, though historically the Establishment has been dominated by members of the aristocracy. It is this section of the Establishment, which still exists today, that has become synonymous with a culture featuring routine buggery at public schools and homosexuality as emotional and sexual outlets. Nick’s claims that he witnessed privileged men in powerful circles rape children and even kill young boys in the 70s and 80s seemed conceivable, and led to the creation of Operation Midland, a multi million pound investigation into alleged non recent child abuse within Westminster.

Nick’s claims have since been discredited, though we don’t actually know what that means in real terms. Was his story disproved through scientific fact? Did evidence come to light which clearly showed that Nick’s allegations were not true, or was it simply the case that no evidence one way or the other was found? The police themselves went on record saying that Nick was a credible witness and that his claims were true, so how did we go from a credible source who put himself forward as a child abuse victim, to a suspected offender charged with several child sex crimes, who the police now say is a paedophile himself?

The scant information fed to the media only tells us that Nick has now been charged with making and possessing hundreds of indecent images of children. He has also been accused of voyeurism. The crimes were alleged to have been committed during 2015 and 2016, with no charges relating to any other time period. This is a strange pattern, given that most mature paedophiles usually have a longer history of downloading exploitative content, and voyeuristic behaviour. It also seems highly coincidental that these alleged crimes appear to have taken place at around the same time Nick himself was filing his complaints and airing his case in the media.

Whilst the press are sharing as much information as they can on this latest development, no one is talking about whether or not the Establishment may have had anything to do with what is admittedly a very strange turn of events. In what could be seen as a vengeful act after former Tory politician Harvey Proctor, who was accused by Nick, lost his job over the allegations, Nick has now himself been fired from a school at which he was a governor. Research on paedophiles tells us that they often find work in places where they can access children, but the lack of allegations from school staff and students and any indication that Nick had made or accessed indecent images and even engaged in voyeurism before 2015 do not readily fit the behavioural patterns of a paedophile. Where did these allegations come from, and why did they only allegedly take place from 2015-2016?

It is impossible for us, or anyone, to come to a conclusion about this case based on the little we know, but the idea that these allegations may not necessarily be real needs to be aired, especially as the little information available makes those allegations, at this time, seem much less credible.

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