Child protection is a world that most people in the UK thankfully never have to deal with. For those who do get sucked into the system, it is a very confusing and scary place to be. Though there are families who do not bond with their children in a normal way, for most people the threat of having their children removed is akin to having their arms or legs amputated. Children are part of their parents. Once more, no one adequately explains the path through the child protection system. Who do you trust? Who does what and when and for whom?
I am developing a website that aims to answer these questions. I seek to map the system in such a way that people entering the system will see what is happening now and what will happen next. If you are a professional who deals with children in any way I wish to speak to you for your experience in dealing with the child protection system. You may be a judge, barrister, solicitor, Cafcass officer, social worker, health visitor, policeman, nursery nurse, GP or teacher. Everyone in the public and voluntary sector who deals with children has a duty to report abuse of any kind to their local authority. I want you to tell me what your job is like from your perspective.
No matter what the parent thinks in what is after all an adversarial situation, the social worker is not always trying to take the child from them. They are in fact assessing what support may be required by the family to support the child and if no adequate support can be offered, where that child can be placed to receive ‘good enough parenting’ until they are old enough to leave home.
In my observations from being very close to a family that was in the system for 10 months last year, there is no impartial one stop shop online to explain exactly what is happening at every stage of the process. What is a Child Protection Conference? What is an Interim Care Order? What does the social worker do? When does one get a lawyer? Though professionals know all these answers, the family thrust into this will have no idea whatsoever.
This is not a ‘shop a social worker site’. The media is pretty good at that don’t you think? When professionals have been involved with a chaotic family yet a child is seriously harmed or killed, it is the professional who is often hung out to dry in the media. A Channel 4 Dispatches programme recently showed how social workers’ caseloads are huge and their jobs are ridiculously stressful. Given that they may be dealing with up to 30 cases on a weekly basis due to cuts in resources, it is no wonder that some fall through the net.
I used to contribute to Community Care Magazine, the social work professionals’ title. Shortly after the Coalition government came to power in 2010, it went online only because there was a freeze in recruitment and its advertising revenue dried up. That was the first warning to me that resources for the very important job of child protection were going to be sucked dry. Whatever you think of the Dispatches documentary that did over Birmingham social services, this showed the facts of what happens when resources are cut to the bone. At root the problems in Birmingham are not management or the frontline staff – it is the brutes in the Tory government who both say they value social workers yet cut their budgets to the point that one of the most stressful jobs in the world is almost unbearable. Mistakes will be made by the army of child protection professionals when there aren’t enough of them to do the job properly in much the same way as someone with short sight who can’t afford a pair of glasses cannot see the world around them.
I have a focus group of families who have been through the child protection system who have told me their side of the story. I have had a number of professionals speak to me about their stories – an Independent Reviewing Officer, a social work manager, two social workers and an independent social worker have all spoken to me. One of these is mentoring the website for factual accuracy and impartiality. They give the final say as to what will be published when the site goes live in autumn. I now seek your story as a professional working with children. You will be accorded the same anonymity given to everyone else who has told their story on the site. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!