Want to Share a Passion for Residential Child Care?
Gareth Wall writes:
“I have just started a new website www.residentialchildcare.ning.com that is dedicated to networking with fellow practitioners. There are many websites out there that give a lot of information but I have found nothing that allows collaboration between passionate people that are interested in Residential Child Care. The site is very new and it needs more members and thereby will have a greater knowledge to share amongst the network. There are areas for discussion that include reflective practice, an area for discussing practice issues, training, sharing useful websites and Social Pedagogy.”
We hope Gareth succeeds; the more passionate debate the better – as long as it leads to better understanding. We are happy if readers use our correspondence column too.
Warning Signs: 1
When people who were formerly children in care sue local authorities for negligence, one of the claims which they commonly make is that the local authority did not provide them with a social worker in whom they could confide.
This seems in part to be a matter of personalities and relationships. Local authorities can be expected to ensure that their social workers are qualified and have been selected properly, and that all the right checks have been made, but they cannot reasonably be expected to provide a professional whom the child (or other client) likes, gets on with and is prepared to trust. For a start, it takes time to build a relationship, and when there is only an occasional visit, it is not usually enough to establish real confidence.
However, it is for local authorities to ensure that the frequency of visits and the nature of those visits are satisfactory, and in particular whether social workers see children on their own without the parents or carers present. This was a factor in the recent case of Khyra Ishaq, the Birmingham girl who was starved to death by her mother and stepfather. She was seen on the doorstep, but was that enough? The social worker did not have right of entry to the home, and unless there were grounds for suspicion it would have been unreasonable to expect the authority to seek to obtain the Court’s permission.
The difference in Khyra’s case is that she was being educated at home, so that there were no teachers able to keep an eye on her. The incidence of education at home is not great, but in quite a number of the cases where former children in care sue authorities they were kept off school by parents or they truanted. Whatever the reason for absence from school, there is no protection offered by contact with teachers in such cases. Sometimes it is the education welfare officers who are their lifeline, identifying the problems which they are facing and alerting social workers.
There is an argument, therefore, that children being educated at home should be seen regularly by education welfare officers. In some cases this may be superfluous, but there is always the risk that dysfunctional families become defensively inward-looking, fail to offer their children a real education, deny them social opportunities, and leave them open to abuse.
Warning Signs: 2
While on the subject of social workers, the Serious Case Review has now been published on the Sheffield family where a father had nine children by his two daughters. Over a hundred professionals and twenty-eight agencies were involved in the case over the years, but no one took sufficiently decisive action to ensure the girls’ safety. The author, Professor Cantrill, said, “It only really needed one person with tenacity to actually keep pushing and pushing this and we might have had early recognition and action been taken.”
The report contains 128 recommendations and we have not read it yet, but ignorance provides sufficient detachment to encourage sweeping observations, so here goes.
We have noticed that in social work cases where there is a very powerful parent (either mother or father), they often not only cow their children and partner but also the professionals with whom they deal. Sometimes such people are violent and threatening; sometimes they are manipulative. While a social worker has a whole caseload of people to think about, the powerful parent can spend their whole day plotting how to see off the next professional. They are a challenge, and can be frightening.
Sometimes they use threats to the social worker or the social worker’s family or property; sometimes they use actual violence. Sometimes they pester incessantly by phone or visits to the office. Some make formal complaints or allege improper conduct. Some hang up if they are phoned, fail to turn up to meetings, or ignore letters. Indeed, it is interesting how far they can use the bureaucratic process to spin things out, ensuring that family case work is decelerated and ineffectual.
We do not know whether it is among the 128 recommendations, but we suggest that social workers need to be on the look-out for the powerful parent, and if they spot one they should scrutinise the case more closely for evidence of professionals being frightened off, outwitted or side-tracked. It is better for everyone to acknowledge such threats than to find devices for ignoring them, such as the “culture of having a quiet word” that Professor Cantrill described in the Sheffield case.
There are devices for facing even the most difficult parents – visiting in pairs, insisting that the parents attend the office so that they are off home territory, even asking for police support. But the main weapon is perseverance and not being put off if it is suspected that children are at risk. And there is more job satisfaction in getting a difficult job well done.
The Legacy of Jamie Bulger’s Death
There are several passages in the Old Testament where it is said that God punishes people for the sins of the fathers even to the third and fourth generation. This may sound tough, but it may be realistic. It was on 12 February 1993 that Jamie Bulger was murdered, but seventeen years later the strength of feeling that this tragic event engendered is still apparent in the public and media responses to the news that Jon Venables has been recalled to prison for breach of his licence conditions. People have long memories and the issues raised by the case will not go away.
The pressure on Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, living under assumed names in the community, must have been enormous – new names, new identities, new histories. It is fundamentally living a lie, and the reason is that a section of the public is unable to accept that the judicial process has made them pay a sufficient price. There is fear of vigilante action. A look on the internet quickly shows the retribution which some people still wish to inflict on the two.
This burden will be life-long for Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and their children will also be vulnerable to being identified as the children of murderers, and maybe their children’s children, even to the fourth generation. People have long memories, and unless the media are gagged, they will create a story if they can. The murder of Jamie Bulger was terrible, but the aftermath is not to the credit of our society.
Two Steps Back
The Youth Justice Board is apparently planning a 360-bed prison for young people on the Glen Parva site. Frances Crook of the Howard League has written objecting, both because of the split site and because, with the reducing numbers of young offenders, she believes that another prison for young people is not needed.
Message to politicians : if the country is having to save money, here’s an opportunity.
Build a Bear
This month’s News Views has been rather heavy, so here’s a lighter note. We believe in picking up child care ideas from other countries, and this one seems to have come from the United States.
If you go to www.buildabear.co.uk, you can find out where you can create your own bear in the shop. It’s described as “a great interactive experience” though we’re not quite sure who’s interacting with whom. From the bear’s point of view, we imagine that being stuffed is more of a one-way process. Apparently you stuff it, fluff it, dress it, name it and take it home. The types of bear – and other animals – are on the website, together with the prices.
From our Correspondence
We received a letter from the Area Businses [sic] Manager of a well-known staffing agency addressed to Miss David Lane. “The Big Move. I hope this letter finds you well”, she wrote. We would not expect them to know we had been married forty-four years, but how many female Davids do you know? Would you trust an agency that was so sloppy with individualised letters? Remember the reaction to Gordon Brown’s personalised letters to bereaved families? If a staffing agency intends to develop a trustworthy image, it should get basic things like this right.
From the Case Files
L was in a terrible moo today.