What you should expect from a competent Child Protection Social Worker
The fundamental principles of the Children Act 1989 clearly state that the welfare of the child is paramount
Child Protection is normally a term that is used to describe actions undertaken to protect a child or children who are suffering or likely to suffer from significant harm. In that respect, once an assessment has been conducted; A Child Protection Plan must be reflective of strategies to keep a child safe with clarity on preventive measures to keep them from harm or further harm. It should also create a balance between supporting strengths and adressing vulnerabilites to bridge the gap on the child s unmet needs with a view to promoting the overall welfare of the child in terms of health, safety and developmental milestones. For example, a parent may present with mental health problems but the assessment may reveal that the level of practical care in terms of providing basic care like food, hygiene etc is there although they may not be emotionally available to stimulate the child s mental development. In that situation, maximum support may be provided in terms of recommending for the local authorities to provide nursery school funding for the child and coordinating the case to other community support providers for the parent; for example local social clubs or other amenities. A competent Child Protection Social Worker s main role is to act as the Voice of the Child. It is also specified from a point of law, that any delays in the the system processes, are likely to have a detrimental impact on the child s welfare. Hence the need to involve all the the professional safeguards, as soon as such a situation arises, starting off with Child Protection Social services or the Police, in the first instance. Schools act -in loco parentis- for over a period six hours per day, of which they have parental responsibility of every child in their care. To that end, they should have clear policies and procedures that reflect the promotion of children s safety and well being. Safeguarding issues revolve around forced marriages, sexual exploitaion for example the grooming of children by individuals or organised gangs, bullying, physical assaults etc. Having said that though, the child protetion role extends to every other adult within a community, regardless of whether they know the child or not. What constitutes Child Abuse or significant risk of harm to a child varies and even the legal interpretation itself, is subject to dispute in some cases. The main focul points of this artcle are Neglect, Physical or emotional abuse.
A competent Child Protection Social Worker must be able to conduct a holistic assessment under Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act supported by Family Systems theory, a Sociological theory that locates the child in his/her immediate environment, extending on to the wider environment. The attachment theory psychological perspective, assists with gaining an understanding of emotional developmental issues. According to (Bowlby 1969); the attachment theory persperctive states that it is critical for a child's personal development to have a strong physical and emotional attachament to at least one primary care giver. The primary care giver acts as a secure base for the child to freely explore and learn from the world around her/him. To that end, environmental influences, play a big role in the development of every child. Furthermore, its arguable that every child is a different and unique being the hence the need for Social Workers to avoid stereotyping when conducting assessments. Biological factors, for example chromosomal abnomalites and other the genetic factors are also taken into account, but with advanced medical care in the UK such matters are normally detected before and after the child is born.
This also leads to the controversy on the 'balance of probability' approach that is normally adopted by Midwives as a standard measurement of development. You normally find a situation where a child from an ethnic minority community is assessed to be slow in developing in speench or other social skills yet the home language and other social etiquettes may differ. What may the norm for one culture may the complete opposite for other cultures. Although the balance of probability approach may be good for detecting issues that medical professinals might have missed out, it clashes with underlying concepts of diversity and inclusiveness as endorsed from a point of law and appears not to embrace diversity and individual uniqueness, therefore constituting a dscriminatory and oppressive practice in understanding of child developmental milestones when conducting assessments. Anti discrimination and anti oppressive practice encapsulates core social work values In order to complie a comprehensive, evidence based assessment in liaison with other professionals or safeguards like Mid wives, the nursery school or main schools, GP s and any other relevant third parties like support workers or Forster Carers. Partnership working with the child s parents is essential but the focus must always be on the welfare of the child and it is paramount to act in the best interest of the child from a legal perspective as well as a moral duty.
Contrary to the negative views that Social services grab people s children away. A social worker does not have the power to remove a child from his/her environment on her own. In any emergency, she must liaise with the police ; who will come in under section 46 1989 Children Act to remove the child to a place of safety giving the Social Worker time to get an Emergency Protection Order from a magistrate. The police can only keep the child for 72 hours after which, the way forward would be determined by the local authority, who may decide to share parental responsibility with the biological parents in terms of maximising support to enable them to cope or through a Forster Carer. With regards to adoption. Parental responsibility is passed on to the adoptive parents and that is a topic I will adress in a separate article. The question I keep getting from many clients is “ how do we stop child abuse.? PREVENTION is key.
In practice, as an integrative Psychotherapist, I work with clients from a whole diverse range of cultural and religious backgrounds. I have come across those with a cultural belief system that dictates that it is okay to give physical punishment to a child in order to reinforce positive behaviour. From a legal perspective, that would constitute child abuse and may trigger Social Services Child Protection intervention. You hear of stories about aunties or uncles coming from abroad, trivialising physical and emotional punishment as a cultural norm. It is wrong and they should be advised as appropriate, becuase if they are left to do that, they would be comitting a crime and charges may be pressed and any parent who allows or encourages such actions may be regarded as an accomplice. Some people may insist on their right to confidentiality and it should be acknowledged but there are exceptions to the rule when child protection issues are triggered.
Consent to share information must be requested from the parents or care givers but if there is public interest justfication or triggers action from a point of law; consent may not be required. Also, it would be careless and unethical if a professional is to prioritise obtaining consent over immediate action on a matter where children or young people are at risk of significant harm.
In conclusion; every parent or care giver must expect, a professional, anti oppressive and anti discrimination working relationship with their allocated social worker. They have a right to be involved and updated on all the stages of the assessment period. In that same way, they must be cooperative and honest, in order to protect and promote the best interests of child. On completion of a comprehensive, evidence based, assessment, the Social worker must act in a transparent way that involves, discussing the contents of the report including strengths and any identified shortcomings as well as recommendations that she would be putting forward. Should they be in dispute, they must discuss it there and then. Last but not least. A Child Protection Social Worker must focus on the best interests of their main client. The child.
I will publish more articles on this matter in response to specific questions that I continue to get from those who follow up on this topic