The ACP and BPC are looking to make a joint response to the Government's consultation on "Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse and Neglect":
Heather Stewart, ACP Chair, believes that it is laudable that the government is addressing this issue but worries that criminalising professionals for non-reporting may have an adverse impact on those working with young people and lead to over-reporting. This might risk subsequent pressure on already stretched children's services and also might have implications for trust within therapeutic relationships.
Professor Ray Jones, Professor of social work at Kingston University, who has overseen child protection improvement programmes and has been a social worker and a social services director, recently spoke at the APPG for Children inquiry on children’s social care: ‘Section 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989’. He said that the social care sector has been learning about child protection for over 40 years, and since 1973 it has been focused on child protection. Practitioners have also been refining child protection since the 1989 Children Act, when the sector thought hard about how to rebalance the sector’s focus, to make sure they were both helping families, as well as protecting children. Additionally currently social worker education is mainly based within universities which is important.
He said that the instances of child protection concerns are still too high, but there are now lower instances of child deaths in England than in most other parts of the world and emphasised the importance of holding on to this knowledge in the context of discussions about change. "Other countries often want to learn from how child protection is done in the UK".
He also reported that there has been an 80 per cent increase in child protection activities since 2008. The Department for Education statistics often use a two year timescale, and refer to a rise of 30 or 40 per cent. He also referred to an increased workload for local authorities as the key agency in relation to protecting children and a sign that more families are getting into difficulties as a consequence of benefit caps, and less help is available through the winding up of Sure Start and the closing of children’s centres and other services.
He described how these cuts don’t just effect social workers and children’s services, they affect professionals in the police, health services and schools. Right across the public sector the impact of an 80 per cent increase in child protection workloads is felt. The APPG discussing this, reflected on the increase in fragmentation, and a higher percentage of social workers and managers are intra-agency social workers.
Professor Jones also expressed concern that social workers and social work managers in local authorities can sometimes have very little knowledge about the private fostering agencies and the private children’s homes they are responsible for. These homes can be quite a distance away from where the social workers and managers are located. Children’s services have therefore left themselves exposed by not knowing what is happening to the children they are looking after. In this respect, there needs be a greater knowledge of these children and their carers, rather than only focusing on reporting.
Many ACP members provide psychotherapy for looked after children and young people and take time to gather information about their current situation and early history. An ACP member who specialises in working with looked after and adopted children and young people said: "The importance of understanding safeguarding within the framework of establishing meaningful relationships with children and their carers, is key in protecting the lives and mental health of children and young people. This important part of social care and mental health work could get marginalised when the limited resources available, are directed primarily on reporting."
A working party is being formed to explore these issues further, but if members of the profession have any thoughts, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, who will ensure that they are passed to the working group, which is likely to meet the week beginning 26th September. The consultation ends on 13th October.