I am grateful for this guest post from a parent who wishes to remain anonymous. She is worried about the way parents are judged on their ability to care for their child without being seen in context of the family’s particular circumstances. Why do parents appear to be held to higher standards than professionals, even though the latter are paid? She asks this question to those who work in this system – What kind of legacy will there be in years to come from what is happening here and now in the name of child protection?
Meaning: ‘a level of quality or attainment. Something used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations’
‘I’ve done the best I can for him. I’ve gotten the most resources I can for him.’ my son’s social worker said to me in what we both understood would be our last conversation together. I believed her and I appreciated her frankness as she went on to explain ‘You should be prepared for at least one crisis before he reaches twenty-one and you will need to be careful about what happens at that point – his package of support may tail off and you will may have a fight on your hands if so.’
She also explained to me that she had a close family member with his profile of strengths and difficulties and I knew she came from a country with a very different cultural approach to working with families to the one we found ourselves in. She was and probably still is, a good social worker working in a very flawed system in a very flawed world.
I thanked her for all her very committed work on my son’s behalf and her kindness and honesty to me.
Should I be able to ask for more?
As it happens the social worker’s predictions were 100% accurate. There was a truly horrible crisis that occurred as a direct result of poor local authority decision-making and yes, ‘his case’ was closed at 21. Good things happened too and I met more good people working in the system. I have to ask though – should I, as a committed parent who went looking for help from services for my son, be able to ask for more for him? Why is it acceptable that a system that sets itself up as ‘rescuing children’ can normalise young ‘rescued’ people experiencing extreme crises and being largely divested of support when they reach 21?
I suspect that Corporate Parenting Principles were articulated in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 in recognition of the low bar of what is and should not be acceptable. I also believe that there are many good people in the system like my son’s then social worker, who will do the best they can for the children and young people in their care and yet in many cases they will fail – corporate parenting principles or not. They will fail because not everything is fixable or the timescales are wrong – what is fixed may come unstuck, what is broken may be mended over time – or for a myriad of other reasons to do with complexity and resources.
…And by contrast
Just ask yourself – What parent who has need of social care help keeping their child safe could say ‘I’ve done the best I can for him’ and not expect to be challenged about why they haven’t ‘done x or y, engaged with a or b, sought help from c or d and tried m or n method of parenting.’ This is a completely different and much higher standard than the one parents can hold professionals to even though professional are paid to deliver, while parents are not.
High standards are good but they are also problematic
High standards are good but they are also problematic if they are based on poor understanding or inability to acknowledge underlying difficulties preventing standards being met. They are also problematic when they give a ‘get out of jail free card’ to one ‘side’ and ‘throw the book ‘at the other. These kind of ‘standards’ are of little value to anyone. Good people will still try and do good things and bad people will still keep doing bad things. Sometimes even good people will do bad things working in bad systems with bad cultures.
What will be the legacy in years to come?
Where the general public are affected by or come up against professionals with a ‘professional’ understanding of abuse and neglect (most often con-joined together as in this very problematic Health and Social Care NICE standard) who are told to suspect that anything that causes a child distress or to ‘malfunction’ could be seen as an indicator of bad parenting or frames every parent without enough material resources as deficient – people question what is happening. As Louise Tickle, a Guardian columnist, noted at the CPConf2018, they are at first confused and then outraged. I know I am and I also know there are risks around that outrage too – risks around professionals doing good work on behalf of abused and severely neglected children becoming thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the public.
My question to professionals who work in this system is one around ‘legacy’ -What kind of legacy will there be in years to come from what is happening here and now in the name of child protection? What will our children’s children judgement be of the standards used that for example ignore context including disastrous welfare policy, particularly affecting the disabled and poor and frame those affected by these policies as ‘abusive and neglectful of their children’? Will the response ‘We tried our best’ be enough?
I very much doubt it. Standards can and are likely to change. I think their question would be ‘How could you have been part of this and not fought against it? How come you saw it happen, knew it was happening and just went about your business as usual? How come you were not part of the solution, only part of the problem’.