Over Half Of Social Workers Believe It’s OK To Search For A Client On Facebook

A new report published in April by child welfare professionals concludes that social workers find the internet useful for work, but are unclear about how it should be used in a child welfare setting.

Co-authored by social work professors Melanie Sage, Melissa Wells, Todd Sage, and Mary Devlin, the report recommends issuing guidelines for child protection and family professionals. This echoes what Researching Reform suggested in March, when we raised concerns about online methods used to track and trace families and children in care proceedings. In our post we urged the President of The Family Division Sir James Munby to issue a Guidance Note without delay. We also think UK based research like this report would be a welcome development to offer more insight here.

An extract from the paper tells us:

“This analysis examines the role of agency policy and supervision in the decision-making of child welfare workers about their work-related social media use. Data were collected using a mixed-methods internet-based survey of 171 child welfare workers and interns about their social media use related to their direct-practice work with child welfare clients. The study finds that supervisor approval and agency policy is correlated with worker’s social media use, and that workers find utility in social media use, but have poor clarity about how they should use social media in the child welfare work setting. These results suggest a need for agency policy and practice guidelines. Implications for child welfare agencies include an opportunity to consider the types of policy development necessary to ensure that multiple stakeholders are represented in policy and practice decisions, and that they reflect the possible benefits and risks of social media use.”

The information within this publication is astounding, both for its depth of knowledge – it cites the latest research and data available on the adoption of social media within the child protection sector – and its scope. From the risks social media poses to practitioners thinking about engaging online to the benefits of its use, such as the opportunities it offers for practice driven innovation, it is a must read for family professionals.

Some thought-provoking ideas from the paper:

  • “The utility-driven use of social media… offers the opportunity for practice-driven innovation, instead of the top-down agency-driven technology mandates which workers often find as disruptive to their practice.”
  • ” [A] study of the acceptability of videoconferencing via Skype for visits between children in foster care and their siblings or parents found that child welfare workers generally thought it was an acceptable practice, and some were already using it.”
  • “Another concern relates to safety and privacy issues… Factors for consideration include informed consent, confidentiality, verifying identity, and avoiding disclosure of confidential client identification.”
  • “Child welfare workers report that they access social media to aid in risk assessment, and sometimes generally to learn about clients.”
  • “Ethical issues also arise related to a client’s right to privacy… and potential relationship harm caused by this type of information use.”

More controversially, a significant percentage of those surveyed admitted to searching for clients online:

  • Over half of the workers (58%) reported that searching for a client on Facebook out of curiosity was acceptable in some situations and 43% reported that they had done this.
  • Over half of workers (53%) stated that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on Facebook that the agency would like to locate, such as a missing parent and about half (49%) had done this.
  • 61% of the child welfare workers stated that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on a site like Facebook when the information might give insight into client risk factors and close to half (46%) had done this.
  • About 65% of the child welfare workers reported that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on a site like Facebook when conducting a child welfare investigation or assessment and about a third had done this.

Whilst the research was conducted in America, there are clear parallels between the US and the UK: we know that child welfare professionals in the UK are using the internet to contact and even monitor families.

The use of social media within family work was broached by the British Association Of Social Workers in 2012, with an initial document outlining their stance on Social Media Policy  and Child Protection Practice. It’s a good basic working document which outlines the fundamentals of online content, privacy and professional conduct, however it doesn’t adequately address the evolving issues surrounding service users, and so input from the President is necessary to ensure that all topics are covered and clear guidelines are available to everyone.

We’ve added some articles below on social media use in a child welfare context:

The full report, which is called “Supervisor and policy roles in social media use as a new technology in child welfare”, can be accessed if you’re accredited or if you’re happy to pay the download fee. Essentially, the research calls for better guidance on social media use, guidance which would benefit social work practice globally.

A very big thank you to Melanie Sage for offering Researching Reform the report in full and to  Dennis North for alerting us to this publication.

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Heartbreaking ‘Wish List’ Written By A Child In Care.

If ever there was a story which highlighted everything that’s wrong with the fostering system in England, it’s this list of wishes from a child in care, published today.

The child, who wishes to remain anonymous, reflects on their life in care and the things they hoped would have happened differently.

In one of the paragraphs, the child asks foster carers not to leave foster children out. The example of biological children receiving easter eggs or advent calendars and foster children not being gifted the same items is heart breaking. What kind of foster parent would discriminate against a vulnerable child, or any child in that way? The kind that’s clearly not fit to be a parent, and most likely using the child as a means to extending their income.

In another paragraph, the child recalls being treated as if they had a lower level of intelligence for being in a wheelchair.

There are however some positive memories for this child as well, but not enough to mask the obvious disappointment and pain you can feel in the piece. The prerequisite that foster parents also have a genuine desire to understand a foster child’s culture, race or religious identity is also on the ‘wish list’.

The experience above is an extract from a new book, called Welcome to Fostering: A Guide to Becoming and Being a Foster Carer. That it takes a child to say these things, and that a book needs to be made to spell these things out, is deeply embarrassing for us all.

Foster Care


Forced Adoption Protesters Occupy Child Minister’s Home

Forced Adoption Campaigners have been protesting outside the home of former MP and Children’s Minister Edward Timpson for the last 72 hours in a bid to raise awareness about the practice.

Eugene Lukjanenko, who was in the news last year as he battled social services to get his son back after being placed in foster care, has climbed onto Mr Timpson’s roof to ask for his son to be returned to him.

Eyewitness accounts from real time video recordings suggest that Mr Lukjanenko was assaulted by Mr Timpson as he tried to remove him from his roof. It is also alleged that Mr Timpson then took Mr Lukjanenko’s phone after he was filmed assaulting him.

Campaigners wanted to ask Mr Timpson why he refused to look into forced adoption methods in England and Wales and have accused him of self interest. Timpson is alleged to have private financial interests in fostering and adoption agencies.

It is understood that Mr Timpson and his family have been moved to a hotel. Police are currently at the scene. Other reports suggest that members of the family are still in the home and have asked the police to remove the campaigners from their land.

Thank you to Forced Adoption Exposed for alerting us to this story.


Question It!

Welcome to Mental Health Awareness Week.

Often, when we talk about mental health we use familiar contexts like post natal depression, soldiers’ PTSD and the impact of modern pressures on children, such as exams and harmful online content, so we often miss the damage done in quieter corners of modern life.

This week, Researching Reform would like to highlight the impact of our current child protection system on families’ and children’s mental health.

Whilst family policies and legislation try hard to keep up with scientific advancements in the fields of psychology and child development, the lag combined with too many competing financial and management interests within child protection focused departments mean that what we have in place today to respond to vulnerable children and their needs is still not good enough, by a long way.

We already know that foster care can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children. In fact, according to a Harvard Medical School study, they are almost twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as war veterans.  Needless to say, this has long term implications for a child’s educational, and later on, career success.

One of the biggest factors which leads to PTSD in foster children is the number of placements they endure. As many as one in five foster placements break down, which leads to high levels of stress, anxiety and interrupted development. This research from the Social Care Institute For Excellence is still an important read – for the data on how often children bounce around from placement to placement to the excellent suggestions for stemming this phenomenon.

From foster care to forced adoption, and here the long term effects of the practice are well documented too. This research from Australia which looks at the removal of children from parents without their consent concludes that the psychological impact ranges from complex and pathological grief and loss to self-identity and attachment issues, anxiety and attachment disorders, personality disorders, and once again symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking child protection professionals and families to come together to raise awareness of the current policies in place which we could improve on to protect families’ mental health and really make sure we’re putting children and their wellbeing first.

Our question to you then, is just this: what aspects of the family justice and child protection system do you think negatively affects mental health and how can we make those processes more humane? 







Urgent Appeal: Can You Help This Mother Find Her Daughter?

Diane Berresford lost her baby through a forced adoption and is now looking to be reunited with her daughter, Sarah, who turned 18 three months ago, in February.

An article in the Derbyshire Times offers more details, not just about Diane and Sarah, but about the child protection process and is a must read for anyone working in the sector.

Far too often families inside the family justice system feel as if they’ve been badly treated, ignored and bullied. Of her personal experience with child protection professionals Diane says:

“A day after my daughter’s first birthday they came to remove her from my care. They wanted her to go into foster care. I said ‘over my dead body’ but they said if I didn’t co-operate, they would call the police.”

She also goes on to describe the assessment process and why its flaws can make it all too easy to remove children from parents who with a little help and support could take care of their children without losing them to foster care and adoption. This is how the experience of being assessed made her feel:

“When you have someone watching you constantly you feel like you’re doing something wrong when you’re not. They were like vultures over my shoulder. It was difficult to show them I could be a good mum when I was having the supervised contact.”

That she was only given six months to try to demonstrate better parenting skills and didn’t appear to have any kind of support from social services is also important, however Diane’s experience was almost two decades ago and although there is still a lot of work to do, awareness of the above issues has grown.

Diane was receiving yearly letters until Sarah turned nine, at which point the letters stopped. It is not clear whether Sarah decided she didn’t want her mother to receive these updates or whether the adoptive parents just decided they didn’t want to send them anymore.

Now that Diane’s daughter is eighteen she is legally able to try to make contact, and this is what she hopes to do. If you have any information that could help Diane, you can find her over on Twitter at @candeebabe1979

Diane and Sarah


Guidance Tackling Child Abuse ‘Longwinded And Simplistic’.

Recently published national guidelines for children’s professionals on how to address child abuse and neglect concerns have been branded bulky and unsophisticated by children’s services directors. 

The guidance is a hefty 581 pages not including annexes and crucially fails to take into account external factors such as poor quality housing, insecure employment and benefit sanctions.

Further criticisms of the draft National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidelines were raised over the links between sexual abuse and emotional or behavioural problems, which were also called into question by the ADCS for ignoring male victims.

This is not the first time guidance has been deemed too long for practitioners, so it’s surprising that government departments aren’t trying to do something about this. We blogged a little while back about an interesting research initiative, which hoped amongst other things to offer information in manageable portions for professionals. We wrote in to their consultation to suggest they took documents like these NICE guidance notes and turned them into accessible, compact guidelines which used only simple English and an easy to follow format.

Isn’t it time something like this became a cornerstone of the child protection sector?

Children SCR


Local Authority Child Welfare Assessments At School May Not Be Legal

In March, Researching Reform made a Freedom Of Information request asking the government to outline the law or policy which allowed social workers to go into schools and interview children regarding child welfare concerns.

It took a little time to get a response, however the person at the Ministerial and Public Communications Division who provided the answer did apologise, and even took the time to highlight the relevant information, which comes from statutory guidance entitled Keeping Children Safe In Education.   This is the relevant part of the guidance which can be found at paragraph 59:

“Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure that the school or college
contributes to inter-agency working in line with statutory guidance
Working together to safeguard children. Schools and colleges should work
with social care, the police, health services and other services to
promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. This includes
providing a coordinated offer of early help when additional needs of
children are identified and contributing to inter-agency plans to provide
additional support to children subject to child protection plans. All
schools and colleges should allow access for children’s social care from
the host local authority and, where appropriate, from a placing local
authority, for that authority to conduct, or to consider whether to
conduct, a section 17 or a section 47 assessment.” 

There are a few different points to make on this. The first is that the statement above comes from statutory guidance, which is not legally binding. So, whilst local authorities should follow the guidelines on offer, there is nothing which says they must follow them. By its nature statutory guidance is fluid, and whilst it urges government departments to abide by it, deviation from it is allowed – especially if there are competing interests at play.

This takes us to our second point. The very helpful FOI response also outlines another important fact. Ms or Mr J Radford tells us:

“KCSIE [Keeping Children Safe In Education] is clear that the best interests of the child must be at the heart of all safeguarding activities.”

In the wake of cases involving social workers arriving at schools to take children off the premises, and councils being rapped by Ofsted for seeing children during school hours, there is a growing need to look carefully at this guidance and at the very least revise it. Removing permission for social workers to interview children for the purposes of s.17 or s.47 assessments unless the child has specifically asked for the visit on school grounds, would be even better.

And so we now have competing child rights and human rights interests which affect this guidance.

Visits from social workers at school carry enormous stigma. Children already part of child protection proceedings are acutely aware that their childhood experience is different to their peers not undergoing the same investigations and it can be terribly embarrassing. Repeated school visits could even lead to emotional harm.

Ofsted’s gripe with the practice is that it also disrupts a child’s education, which is an important point.

This guidance then, sits at odds with the legal duty on government bodies to ensure that a child’s welfare remains paramount throughout child protection and child welfare proceedings. Given the spate of cases which have seen Ofsted pull up the policy on education grounds, and the Local Government Ombudsman criticise a council’s ‘ad lib’ deviation from the policy which was clearly not in the child in question’s best interests, there is also an argument that the guidance is leading to direct breaches of children’s right to education.

You can look at our request and read the reply, and attached documents here. 

SW school visits




Children And Social Work Bill Comes Into Force

The Children and Social Work Bill, now The Children and Social Work Act 2017 was given Royal Assent on 27th April.

The legislation raised some very serious concerns about its impact on child rights and the provision of family services within child protection generally, not least of all in relation to the now infamous opt out clause which would have allowed local authorities to do away with fundamental rights for families and children. (This element of the Bill was aggressively opposed by child welfare charities and campaigners, peers in the House of Lords and social work professionals, resulting in its removal from the Bill).

You can catch the text of the Bill here and more information about its journey and the discussions about it in Parliament.