Tag Archives: Care Crisis Review

A little less conversation – a little more action.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

‘A patient is the  most important person in our hospital. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our hospital, he is part of it. We are doing a favour by serving him, he is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so’

Mahatma Gandhi

I would like to consider a variety of reports that have come to my attention recently. These are

 

The Needs and Challenges of  Adoptive and Special Guardianship Families is a report produced by a group of parents who are either Special Guardians or who have adopted children. Their chair comments:

I can see deep systemic problems that affect adopters, and special guardians, which is why we have joined forces. These same problems seem to impact on families where a child has disabilities and special needs where services are required. Austerity has made support harder to achieve, and whether it is from health, education or social care, it so much more difficult to obtain from cash strapped local authorities looking to save wherever they can. We, who rely on services, bear the brunt of austerity, and at the same time can find ourselves victimised by a blame culture that makes us, and our children, extremely vulnerable when our children have behavioural problems and anxiety issues.

Key points from the report

In summary, the report considers the families needs and challenges and their experiences of working together with professionals.

  • Over 500 parents and carers were involved in providing information. Two surveys were conducted and four cases were chosen from group members where children had re-entered care to look at children and lives in context.
  • Over 700 children were  part of these families, many facing very difficult challenges; a high level of disability, numerous complex trauma related mental health problems and life-long conditions such as autism and FASD.
  • Parenting children with such serious needs can make family life difficult and respite was identified as ‘vital’ but often not available or hard to come by.
  • Parents had mixed experiences of working with professionals. Bad experiences deterred adopters and special guardians from help seeking and made them feel frightened of social services.
  • Parents felt that injustices are not adequately scrutinised by the Family Courts as their limited remit is insufficient for such complex cases. The adversarial court system cannot easily ‘problem solve’ and is unable to compel local authorities who do not allocate professionals with adoption or special guardianship expertise to the support of children and families.

The report identified no models, or good practice guidance to assist the safe rehabilitation and reunification of adopted and special guardianship and concluded that this does not seem to be a priority for local authorities.

The report recommends that

  • more ethical policies can be developed through the proper involvement of those with‘lived experience’ at a decision-making level in future.
  • setting up a Task Force to develop practice guidance for when a child re-enters care to enable relationships between family members to be better supported and develop models for reunification for children where family members are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The fundamental point, it appears to me is this:

it is certainly time to have dialogue with those who lives are affected by legislation when the courts cannot be ‘problem solving’ as they should be, when problems are very complex.

Report of the Children’s Commissioner

I do not think there is much, if anything, in this report from the Special Guardians and Adopters with which I disagree. I have been commenting for some time now on the particular pressures that come to bear upon the whole system of child protection which render it arguable ‘not fit for purpose’. See for example this post on ‘Forced Adoption’. 

Its broader concerns that the current system does not work well to support vulnerable children and families, are supported by the recent report of the Children’s Commissioner which sets out in stark terms what is being faced by the child protection system. This report found:

The 2.1 million children growing up in families with these complex needs includes:

  • 890,000 children with parents suffering serious mental health problems
  • 825,000 children living in homes with domestic violence
  • 470,000 children whose parents use substances problematically
  • 100,000 children who are living in a family with a “toxic trio” (mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol and/or substance abuse)
  • 470,000 children living in material deprivation
  • 170,000 children who care for their parents or siblings

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner said

Over a million of the most vulnerable children in England cannot meet their own ambitions because they are being let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them – a system that too often leaves them and their families to fend for themselves until crisis point is reached.

“Not every vulnerable child needs state intervention, but this research gives us – in stark detail – the scale of need and the challenges ahead. Meeting them will not be easy or cost-free. It will require additional resources, effectively targeted, so that we move from a system that marginalises vulnerable children to one which helps them.

“Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support can last a lifetime.

“We get the society we choose – and at the moment we are choosing to gamble with the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.”

About the same time as this report, the revised Working Together guidelines were published – this is a lengthy document of 112 pages. Small wonder its so dense, as it makes the clear point that there are a large number of different agencies/organisations who must be putting the child at the centre of their thinking and are under statutory obligations to do so. Under the heading  ‘Identifying children and families who would benefit from early help’ it says:

Local organisations and agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs of individual children and families. Local authorities should work with organisations and agencies to develop joined-up early help services based on a clear understanding of local needs. This requires all practitioners, including those in universal services and those providing services to adults with children, to understand their role in identifying emerging problems and to share information with other practitioners to support early identification and assessment.

Conclusion

We all know what we need to do. Children need to be at the centre of our thinking, while respecting the principle that children’s welfare must be seen in the context of their families and communities; families ought to be supported to look after their children rather than the first assumption being that they are places of sinister evil from which children must be ‘rescued’.  A stitch in time saves nine, for want of a nail the battle was lost etc etc so we ought to be doing what we can as early as we can because fire fighting is a lot more costly than dealing with problems prior to your house burning down.

But all of this requires time. Time for professionals to build relationships of trust with children and families so they don’t simply become troublesome units to be risk assessed and dealt with in a way that will save agencies from adverse comment down the line. And it requires money. To pay enough professionals to have enough time to be able to identify services and support that could actually help. To devise a coherent strategy of intervention that does not see children and family bounced from a variety of services and individuals.

It is really good that we are talking, and that more efforts are being made to cross professional boundaries. But I am still worried from what I read and hear about the debate around child protection that the compulsion to polarise, to find a ‘gang’ and be part of it remains very strong.  Social workers are either ‘corrupt liars’ or parents are ‘monsters’. I have written on many occasions about the dangers of naive or wilfully misinformed allegiance to a position at the expense of actual fact. See as just one example, Linda Arlig, her hammer and some nails.

But the mess we are currently in is not the product of just one profession or one political persuasion. its been building up over many, many years. It is becoming increasingly urgent to translate talk into action. It is particularly difficult when the court and legal system has become, since the Children and Families Act and the 26 week time limits, part of that framework of potential oppression.

Possibly hypocritically in light of the above, I hope that if you have read this far you will consider joining me and many others on September 15th at the Conway Hall in London to discuss the issue of ‘future emotional harm’ as a justification for removing children from parents. This has been for many years a particular bug bear of parents and not something I think is well understood, even by professionals. The focus of the day will be conversation between what I hope will be a large number of different groups – parents, lawyers, social workers, care leavers – with the aim to turn conversation into action.

 

Further reading

Abuse and neglect – how is it identified and what support is offered? Post from parent October 2017

Care Crisis Review 2018 Family Rights Group

The Adoption Enquiry BASW – their website is down! but you can read my post about it here. 

MP Tim Loughton, a former Tory children’s minister has blamed the government’s “woeful underfunding” of local authorities for a crisis in child protection that is putting the safety of vulnerable young people at risk. vThe Guardian, July 11th 2018.

Storing up Trouble – July 2nd 2018 report from All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) following September 2017  inquiry into the causes and consequences of varying thresholds for children’s social care. The inquiry found:

  • Vulnerable children face a postcode lottery in thresholds of support
  • 4 in 5 Directors of Children’s Services say that vulnerable children facing similar problems get different levels of help depending on where they live.
  • Children often have to reach crisis before social services step in.
  • Decisions over whether to help a child, even in acute cases, are influenced by budget constraints.
  • Children and young people in care and care leavers highlighted the difficulty they faced gaining insight into their personal histories. They called for better support in accessing and understanding information contained in official files.

Summary of the changes to the Working Together Guidance from the NSPCC

 

 

Care Crisis Review

Today, June 13th the Family Rights Group published the Care Crisis Review report. The email sending out the press release states:

The Review confirms there is a crisis in Children’s Social Care and Family Justice Sector, explores the reasons why and sets out 20 options for change.

Over 2000 people and organisations contributed to the Review, including the Local Government Association, Ofsted, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services, third sector organisations and alliances, the Offices of the English and Welsh Children’s Commissioners, members of the judiciary, lawyers, social care practitioners, young people and families.

For further information please contact Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group. cashley@frg.org.uk

Read the report here.

The 20 options for change

  • Immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child.
  • Approaches, including family group conferences, in which families are supported to make safe plans for their child.
  • Suggestions of ways in which statutory guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, can be changed in order to promote relationship-based practice.
  • Opportunities for revitalising local and national family justice forums and other mechanisms, so that all can become places where challenges within the system are discussed and solutions developed.
  • Proposals for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, in consultation with the devolved administrations, to examine the impact of benefit rules and policies, and the projected effect of planned benefit reforms, on the numbers of children entering or remaining in care.
  • A call for the Ministry of Justice to undertake an impact assessment of the present lack of accessible, early, free, independent advice and information for parents and wider family members on the number of children subject to care proceedings or entering or remaining in the care system, and the net cost to the public purse.
  • That the National Family Justice Board revises the approach to measuring timescales, including the 26 week timescale for care proceedings.
  • That there are improvements in exploring and assessing potential carers from within the family, when a child cannot live at home, and better support is provided to such carers and children so they do not face severe financial hardship.
  • That Ofsted and Social Care Wales in their inspections and research should take into account the duties on local authorities to support families and to promote children’s upbringing within their family.

The report also notes the £2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service and supports The ADCS and LGA’s call for Government to provide the cash, making the uncontroversial point that “Money and resources matter for families and for services”.

I don’t disagree with any of those 20 points. That there is a crisis in the child protection system is obvious and has been for a long time now. The President of the Family Division agrees.  Lord Justice McFarlane’s speech at the launch of the Review is now available online.

I first wrote this post about ‘Forced adoption’ in 2014. I have long commented upon and decried the frankly woeful state of the debate in our country about these vital issues and I have warned time and time again at the dangerous impact of those who profess to ‘campaign’ for parents.

However, I am sadly very pessimistic that anything is going to change. There can be little doubt what the problems are and little doubt about what is needed to fix them. Social workers who are not struggling under excessive case loads. Who have access to services and support for families who are struggling. That needs money. There isn’t any and there won’t be any because we have shown, collectively, as a society  – when we need to make a choice about the politicians we elect, we chose those who promise to cut taxes and hence services.

However, it goes further and deeper than that I fear. The only value children seem to have in our society is as economic actors; if they aren’t on track to achieve whatever grade is now valued in school exams, they are worthless. If they fail, its because they deserved to. Because they were lazy or didn’t try.  The culture of blame and shame which makes it so difficult for people to own and learn from their mistakes is enthusiastically promoted by politicians and journalists.

Journalists tell me that there is no point in trying to move away from sensationalist reporting and click bait headlines because ‘it’s what people want’. Even with easily available published judgments to the cases they write about, they will not provide their readers with a link to that judgment or even read it themselves.

I note with sadness that, for example, The Times offers a short comment on this review and can’t even be bothered print the correct name of the Family Rights Group.

We are really in a mess.

What’s the way out? Short of a magic money tree and shipping a boatload of politicians and journalists off to some hellish version of Love Island where they can simply rant at each other and leave the rest of us in peace, I have no clue.

All I can do is continue to operate in my sphere of influence. If we cannot make the fundamental changes to the system that I and many others think are needed, we can try and make parents and children have an easier passage through the system, to feel less brutalised by a system they do not understand or which is not well explained.

I think we do that by talking, listening and discussing. To find out what we can achieve to make things better.

The Transparency Project is again supporting #CPConf2018 and we are going to meet in London on 15th September to talk particularly about the issue of removal of children on the basis of future emotional harm. All are welcomed who have an interest – which really, should be all of us.