social work

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Impact of policy on practice

In order to maintain confidentiality the names used in this piece of work have been anonymised.

The purpose of this assignment is to demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of the impact that policy and specifically Child Protection (CP) policy has made on professional practice. I will identify and analyse an incident associated with child protection in practice which will enable a discussion to debate appropriate local, national and international perspectives. I will also consider the impact of policy on other professionals involved in the event. Furthermore I will use PEST analysis as a framework to explore the impact of policy on practice.

Pest analysis is described by Mindtools, 2009 as a simple, useful and widely-used tool that helps you understand the "big picture" of your Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural and Technological environment'. It is used by business leaders worldwide to build their vision of the future and likewise can be used by practitioners to attain best practice to achieve positive outcomes for individuals.

The practice placement that is the focus of this assignment is a mixed senior school of predominantly working class white students aged 11 - 18. The incident that occurred was discussed between a female pupil - known as Beth Jones aged 12 years and a student social worker (SSW). While in a 1:1 mentoring session Beth disclosed that her mother Elaine Jones had pushed her down the stairs in her home that morning. Beth was traumatised and stated that she was fearful to return to her home that day.

Recently, the views within the UK concerning the status of children have been wide-ranging and this has had some impact on policy and practice. At a socio-cultural level children are now viewed as having the capabilities to engage in building and constructing their own lives and opinions have swayed towards autonomy of women and in particular of children. In today's society, through the emergence of feminist writers especially on issues such as patriarchy and domestic violence, children are viewed as independents rather than being the property of men. This has been reinforced through changes in the political economy of welfare where society's perceptions of children have transformed towards children being independent service users whose wishes and preferences have been given greater importance. (Armstrong, et al 1991).

The introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 also ensures that children now have legal rights. (WHO, 1998). The term 'Gillick competent' is used to describe a child under the age of 16 who is judged to be of a 'sufficient understanding and intelligence to be capable of making up his own mind on the matter requiring decision' (Smith, 1996 p52) thus enabling young people like Beth to be heard. The practice implication for this is that when taking into consideration the opinions and wishes of the child, it must first be established what those wishes and views are and then whether those wishes and views are to be considered, or acted on, based on whether the child is deemed to have a full enough understanding of the implications of their decisions.

Every child living in this country is entitled to protection from abuse regardless of his or her background. With the help of the Children Act 1989, and the recommendations made by Lord Laming, (Every Child Matters, 2004), child services within the UK have been given the power to act when they feel a child is being abused. Victoria Climbié aged 8 died from 128 injuries at the hands of her carers in February 2000. The investigatory inquiry into her death conducted by Lord Laming discovered many instances where professionals including line managers had failed to fulfil their roles and numerous flaws where professional networks had failed to protect Victoria during the last months of her life. Laming criticised the lack of professionalism and cooperation between agencies (Laming, 2003 S.1.30) - the Laming Enquiry, lay the foundations for the 'Every Child Matters' Green Paper published in 2003.

In the U.K. the Children Act 1989 aimed to introduce key changes for practice by focusing on principles such as paramountcy of the child, partnership and parental responsibility as well as child protection and family support and the rights of the family against the rights of the child. This has lead to increasing pressures on social workers who have to prove that they have been empowering, anti oppressive and supportive to those involved in their cases. Within the U.K. these policies afford children considerable rights as individuals and these are considered primarily before those of the parents in child protection cases. This has led to a predominantly rights-based legal approach where social workers hold considerable amounts of power. (Archard el al 2002).

Farnfield (1998, p53) talks about 'children as consumers' and the difficulty which many social workers have in balancing the rights of the parents with the rights of the child. Given the drive towards working in partnership with parents in childcare and inclusion of all relevant parties when working within a social care field, it may be difficult, when working with families, to remain focussed on the issue of whom the client is and whose interests are best being served by any particular course of action. Trevithick (2005, p229) discusses a particular case where she was having difficulty in establishing a good relationship with parents in a child protection case. The issue of having the 'agenda' of protecting the children was identified as a stumbling block in the establishment of a rapport with the parents. Brayne and Martin (1999) however argue that, from a legal perspective, in child protection cases the primary client must 'always be the child'. This is borne-out by the policy document 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' which states that professionals should: 'work co-operatively with parents unless this is inconsistent with the need to ensure the child's safety.' This is also compatible with the ethos of child centred practice in placing the child first.

Article 19 of the UN convention on the rights of the child states governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents or anyone else who looks after them. The Human Rights Act 1998 is linked to the implementation of no-smacking policies and states that every child has the 'right not to suffer ill treatment or cruel, unusual punishment.'(Flynn, 2004. p.41). As Beth disclosed to the SSW that she has been physically abused, the SSW refers the disclosure to the Child Protection officer. In line with the Data Protection Act 1998 the information is kept confidential as it is not necessary that any other member of staff need to know about the case at that time. As a result of the deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in 2004 the Bichard Report was published and made recommendations about how information is shared and stored.Child protection information on a pupil is filed in a separate area to the school file and can only be accessed by the child protection officer and shared with other professionals in a 'need to know basis' a positive impact of policy to protect confidentiality of vulnerable children.

"Undoubtedly the most significant development in childcare policy in Britain over the past twenty-five years has been the preoccupation with child abuse" (Alcock et al 1998). Also it can be suggested that this increase in concern can be seen in all major European countries and constitutes a major key issue in this area of social policy. This concern has not only been emphasised through the formal and legal frameworks of society but also by the general public.

As stated above the rise in concern with child abuse has been evident from the late 60's and early 70's. It is from then that child abuse has become identified as a "social problem" (Alcock et al 1998) mainly through high-publicised cases of child abuse victims. The high profile case of Maria Colwell who died in 1973 after serious injuries were inflicted upon her at her home whilst under the supervision of social services demonstrates this point effectively. Even today 30 years on this case is still being analysed and discussed. When identifying the key issues within child protection it is important to consider the concept of 'balance'. This is a main concern for all countries who find themselves victims of either jumping in too quickly with overzealous assumptions, or on the other hand holding off too long and in the end delaying intervention until in some cases it is too late.

"Any major piece of legislation develops in response to a variety of influences." (Hill, M. and Aldgate, J. 1996). In the U.K. for example, the Children's Act 1989 was the result of a number of influential factors. One of the biggest influences, which have already been mentioned, is that of the wave of child abuse tragedies that occurred over the years. The public inquiries and the amount of media attention that arose because of these cases shed light upon the inadequacies of practice and previous policies. Cases such as Jasmine Beckford and Kimberley Carlisle and the Orkney and Cleveland inquiries impacted public perceptions and professional practice and shaped the responses of the U.K.'s policies to the problem of child abuse. The social reaction prompted those in power to reassess their protection schemes and to readdress the issues of evidenced based practice within their policy changes. According to Alcock et al. these high publicised inquiries, "led to the promulgation of extensive procedural guidance at central and local levels to social welfare and other agencies designed to avoid repetition of tragedy and scandal" (Alcock et al 1998).

Back to the scenario with Beth, after discussion with the child protection officer, a decision is made to make a referral to social services. Policy states that any disclosure of physical abuse results in steps that must be taken to protect the child. This may produce an emergency protection order as she is deemed to be at risk of harm if she returns to her mother's care. A social workers main aim in the U.K. is to guarantee young people like Beth's right to protection from harm and if necessary will battle with parents and other agencies to fulfil this.

In comparison, Europe and specifically France, children have not been accorded as many individual rights independently of their family. Their position is a result of the 'traditional' state and family perspective'. The French policies have adapted to this cultural opinion and have enforced that child protection work should be focused on the family and that children should be considered not as an individual but as part of the family. Traditionally the focus is that the parents are superior to the children giving them the rights of decisions, protection and care. This is the view of French society where their main concern is keeping the birth family together and taking risks is acceptable. It can be suggested that in France a 'humanistic model' (Parton ,cited in Armstrong et al 1991) is followed to a certain degree. The country's view that social factors are very likely to be involved in child abuse cases is evident in their policies, which apply preventative, counselling and therapeutic approaches. Examples of this can include the forcing of families to co-operate at the intervention stage, which is unheard of in Britain. One of the main concerns of this system is the fact that in most cases the Children's Judge does not hear the child's wishes and views, and if they are heard they are poorly represented. In the U.K. as stated the protective attitude of society is reflected in their policies that recognise the state as having direct responsibility for protecting children when the parents have failed. If Beth were in France she would not be given an independent voice and a right to immediate protection without a full family investigation.

The protective U.K. system appears to have disadvantages, Cooper proves this point by highlighting that in France there has never been any highly publicised cases of abuse as in Britain; therefore there has never been a lack of confidence in social work. The positive aspect of French child protection policy is a constructive public perception which eases tensions within the social worker and family relationship and also encourages co-operation of the family. It was also found that French social workers have a, "consistent, trusting professional relationship at the centre of their professional aims" whereas in the U.K. social workers are mainly concerned with "whether parents are guilty or innocent and with the task of collecting evidence" this impacts on UK social workers as they are on the receiving end of accusations and abuse and stereotypical blame. (Cooper, A. 1994 p59-67).

Effective communication is essential for organisations to be successful. It is the process by which information is exchanged between one group or person and another, by computer, telephone, letter, meetings, text, fax or face to face. The deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in August 2002 sparked the Bichard enquiry into child protection procedures in the Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary in the light of the trial and conviction of Ian Huntley for the murder of the two young girls. He had previously been suspected of committing sexual assaults on at least eight occasions and at the age of 21 Ian Huntley had sexual relationships with at least three 15-year-old girls for whom social services were aware but failed to communicate this information to the police. If the police had been aware of this information, this may have shown up when vetting checks were being carried out on Huntley and may have stopped him from getting a job at the school that the girls had attended. In December 2003 the Humberside Police said 'the main reason for this was because of the Data Protection Act'. Information about dealings with Ian Huntley had not been available to them during vetting checks. This inquiry also stated that the problem was due to the police not having been told about this legislation regarding information about the person being vetted. A report stated that police officers were nervous about breaching the legislation, partly at least because too little was done to educate and reassure them about its impact. Michael Bichard labelled it an inelegant and cumbersome piece of legislation and the judiciary stated that better guidance is needed on the collection, retention, deletion, use and sharing of information, so that police officers, social workers and other professionals can feel more confident in using information properly. This simply indicates the importance of effective communication. The information system may have been used to its full potential if the officers had been aware of the limits of the Data Protection Act. Ian Huntley's date of birth had been entered into the system incorrectly. If this information had been entered correctly then they would have been aware of his past behaviour. This would effectively stop him working in the school and the girls trusting him as a safe adult. The PNC (Police National Computer) only checked against the name Ian Nixon (an alias) and not Ian Huntley. An Information system can fail completely without accurate information from the end user, highlighting the systems reliance on good communication with its users. (Bichard Inquiry, 2004).

The Children Act 2004 empowered the Secretary of State for Education to create a database (or databases) of everyone in England who is aged under 18. In July 2007, the regulations that will bring this first national database of children into being were passed by Parliament. The government has announced that the database will be called ContactPoint. It was originally known as the Information-Sharing Index, but re-branded in February 2007 because of negative publicity about information sharing. ContactPoint is effectively a file-front that serves the whole range of agencies that may be involved with a child. It is intended to provide a complete directory of all children from birth, together with a list of the agencies with which s/he is in contact. It will not hold any case records, but will enable practitioners to indicate their involvement with a family and contact each other in order to share information. It will also show whether an eCAF (an in-depth personal profile under the Common Assessment Framework) has been carried out and is available for sharing. A response from teachers in local schools have indicated that agencies are finding the procedure confusing with long waiting times for an initial reply for services. Another negative criticism of this policy as stated by Searing, 2007 'the danger is that once social work has become more closely aligned with an inter-agency system of surveillance and monitoring of families most people will be less open and trusting towards social workers and this will make their job more difficult' thus further negative impact on the social worker role.

The Governments response to the Laming Enquiry was almost immediate with the production of the Green Paper 'Every Child Matters' 2004. In conjunction with Every Child Matters (ECM) is The Children Act 2004, which is in addition to the original Act 1989. The Act encompasses several components based on recommendations from the Laming Report and is responsible for promoting a partnership between agencies working with children including health, education and social care in a more cohesive manner (Allen, 2008). According to Smith the Children Act 1989 (CA, 1989) simplified all pre-existing legislation in relation to children and families. It imposed new duties on local authorities relating to the identification and assessment of 'children in need', and gave all Local Authorities new responsibilities for looked after children. The introduction of the Act also provided the Court with Emergency Protection Orders to protect children at risk of harm which replaced the Place of Safety Orders. Smith (2001) argues that the Children Act was particularly relevant because for the first time it placed more emphasis upon the importance of inter-agency collaborative working as a means of responding to the needs of both children and their families. This policy provided immediate protection to Beth, initiated within the school environment and in collaboration with social services, a good example of interagency working. If Beth had not been listened to or taken seriously she would be at risk of further abuse and may not disclose further abuse due to lack of support.

It is important that professionals and agencies co-operate and work together in child protection cases so that all the relevant and correct information is available, and accurate in order to help and support the child. In recent cases, specifically that of Victoria Climbie, this was not done and therefore Victoria was put at further harm, and subsequently died when she could have been saved if the agencies had worked effectively and shared information. This is why the Every Child Matters legislation came about, to try and prevent this in the future. Children at risk need coordinated help from health, education, social services and other agencies, including youth justice services. These professionals are required to work together in order to protect the children and keep them safe, and to help bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against children. As a result of Every Child Matters, now children known to more than one agency will have a single named professional to lead their case. This has proved to be an effective tool in Beth's scenario as guidance enables the professionals within the school to take action immediately to protect her as she was placed on an emergency protection order. Even though the policy is over five years old, when applied effectively stops a child falling through the net. Policy has shaped the care for this service user and had a significant impact on her outcome.

References

  • Allen, N. (2008) Making Sense of the Children Act 1989, 4th ed. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Alcock, P. Erskine, A. and May, M. (1998) The Students Companion to Social Policy Blackwell Publishers
  • Armstrong, H. and Hollows, A. (1991) in Hill, M. (Ed) Social Work and the European Community: the Social Policy and Practice Contexts. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 142-161
  • Brayne, H. Martin, G (1999) Law for Social Workers (6ed). London: Blackstone
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  • Children Act 1989- Section 47.
  • Children Act 1989 (c.41). www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1989/Ukpga w19 March 2009.
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Bibliography

  • Burton S., (1997) When There's a Will There's a Way: Refocusing Child Care Practice - A Guide for Team Managers London: National Children's Bureau
  • London Borough of Greenwich and Greenwich Health Authority (1987) The Kimberley Carlile Report
  • Cleveland Report (1988) Report of the Inquiry into child abuse in Cleveland 1987 London: HMSO
  • General Assembly of the United Nations (1989) The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 November 1989. (UN Convention) http://www.unicef.org/crc/text.htm
  • Parton, N. (1996) 'Social Work, Risk and "the Blaming System"' in N. Parton (ed.) Social Theory, Social Change and Social Work, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Trotter, C. (2004) Helping Abused Children And Their Families, London.

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