A new report produced by London based charity, Children & Families Across Borders (CFAB), urges greater cooperation between the UK and international authorities in cases where parents and children flee abroad to avoid child protection investigations. The call comes as the UK prepares to leave the EU, potentially reducing the ability of local authorities to locate children who leave the island after being classified as vulnerable by social workers.

CFAB is the UK branch of the International Social Service network and works with partners overseas in over 100 countries on cases that require cross-border cooperation. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which funded the report, is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK.

Parents leaving the UK with their children after social services raise child protection concerns is on the rise in Britain, as families claim financial incentives for adoptions are leading councils to remove children unjustly. The adoption and fostering industry, which has suffered under budget cuts, has also been criticised for unethical practices, including pushing incentives for adoptions and allowing social workers in councils to start their own agencies to recruit and place children.

Researchers and academics are also starting to question the effectiveness of social work practices in the UK. A newly discovered research paper, “Parenting Capacity Assessment as a Colonial Strategy”, looks at whether the current process of assessing parents’ capacity to parent is perhaps an outdated way of supporting vulnerable families.

The CFAB report, “Cross-border child safeguarding: Challenges, effective social work practice and outcomes for children”, is part of an emerging body of research looking at children’s social work.  The study was undertaken in 2017-2018 in order to better understand policy and practice related to cross-border children and social work cases involving families.

Here are some key stats from the report:

  • A total of 330 children were involved in the study
  • The researchers audited 200 cases, 100 of which involved children in need of protection who had travelled to another country or had come into the UK
  • More than three-quarters (157 cases) involved an outgoing case with a request from the UK to another country
  • The age demographic with the largest representation was 0-5 years (133 children)
  • The majority of children in the study were non-British EU nationals (142 children), followed by British nationals (102 children)
  •  It took an average of 45 days for an international child protection alert to be issued when a child deemed at risk had travelled abroad, perhaps due to an inability to locate the child’s whereabouts overseas

One of the most interesting facts mentioned in the report stems around what happens once a child flees the UK. The study says that a large number of cases involving a welfare visit following a child protection alert to another country or to a UK local authority resulted in no further action. Of the 53 cases where a welfare visit was completed following a child protection alert, the vast majority (70%) ended in no further action. The study is quick to suggest that this finding may in part be due to poor assessment standards in foreign countries, but does not consider the possibility that social services in the UK may have incorrectly assessed families in the first instance.

While the study claims to cover two areas – children crossing international borders, who social workers flag as in need of protection; and children in the social care system who can be placed with family in another country – the emphasis appears to be on families who leave the UK to avoid child protection proceedings. It also appears to focus on trying to retain control of cases once they go overseas by inviting the production of a new framework in which social workers in other jurisdictions agree to effectively hand over the reins to UK social services.

The authors of the report were CFAB’s CEO, Carolyn Housman and social worker Angela Wilson, who also works at CFAB. The Research Advisory Group were:

  • David Jones, CFAB Trustee
  • Marion Davis, CFAB Trustee
  • Brian Littlechild, University of Hertfordshire
  • Karen Lyons, London Metropolitan University
  • Dez Holmes, Research in Practice
  • Emily Halliday, CAFCASS
  • Helen Johnston, CAFCASS.

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