Child abuse and neglect are common social issues in differing degrees are prevalent in all countries of the world. This paper will discuss the case of Child L who is in an abused relationship with her mother. The paper will also focus on the issues faced by her mother as a single black parent with unstable financial and emotional history. It deals with the assessment of the situation with reference to the facts as presented in this case study and talks about intervention strategies to develop a care plan for Child L. Attention has been paid to interact with Child L and engage her in direct communication keeping in mind anti-discriminatory practices. Justification for interventions suggested has been included wherever necessary.
Until as late as a few decades ago, women's and children's issues were not given due consideration. Women were usually blamed for their powerlessness to look after their children and guard them from domestic violence. This was mainly because they were unable to walk out of their abusive relationships with their husbands due to societal pressures and not having independent means of income (Humphreys & Stanley 2006). Things have changed but slightly and single parenting has become more common. However, there is need to support single parents and provide them training in good parenting skills for them to be able to raise their children in a healthy environment.
Socialization of children begins in the family, particularly, with the parents. Children learn to form attitudes that determine how well they will be adjusted as adults in society. They learn life skills, relationships, conflict resolution skills, and communication by emulating their parents or other socializing agents. Hence, it is not enough to blame abusive parents for their bad parenting but support by way of training, counselling, advice needs to be provided to them so that they can learn to be good parents. When all efforts in supporting abusive parents fail to bring about any appreciable change in the parents attitude or behaviour other intervention strategies like placements in foster homes need to be considered. The child's protection and well-being is in the balance here.
Facts of the case:
Subject, Child L is a 2 year old black girl
Subject does not go to any nursery or play school
Mother does not take her to the hospital or to see any doctors
Subject does not have a father
Subject has an abusive mother
Mother suffers from personality disorder
Subject under child protection plan
Mother does not adhere to the child protection plan
Mother has history of violence and convictions
Mother was also a 'looked after' child
Mother is a school drop-out at 14
Mother does not have a permanent job
Comprehensive assessments of risks that Child L is exposed to:
Child L is isolated from the community as she does not go to play school and does not have any social interactions with people other than her abusive mother. The child needs to interact with others because social interactions create awareness and helps to build confidence; self -esteem and a positive attitude towards societal values, cultural standards and the willingness to accept authority of others and share responsibilities.
The child is an infant and is probably not able to communicate effectively with others or express her anxieties and stress. Parents need to spend quality time with their children to understand their needs and desires. Talking to children and listening to them is a good way of spending quality time and having a good parent-child relationship. This helps children to have positive self esteem and develop a healthy respect for others as well.
Mother is unable to provide a stable home for the child and the seventh floor "bedsit" accommodation is not conducive to proper child development. Living conditions have an important impact on health and development of children. The risk to proper child development is higher in low income homes (Ross and Roberts 1999). However, family income is not the only determinant of a child's proper growth and development.
Mother is not mentally or emotionally stable and has convictions for aggression and violence. Research shows that mothers who are verbally aggressive with their children were found to be controlling and gave directions even for their play activities (Wiley-Blackwell 2008). They demonstrated a tendency to restrain their children by grabbing their wrists or shoulders. It was also found that children with verbally aggressive mothers refused to accept their manipulations and orders, though their resistance was often weak, short lived and indirect. It is important to remember that a parent's verbally aggressive behaviour might damage the self confidence and self esteem of the child causing the child to have behaviour disorder in later life (Dwivedi & Harper 2004).
Child L does not have any one to intervene on her behalf in the event of her mother abusing her physically. The scene described in the case study when the mother asks her daughter to "piss off" is unfortunate. This scene took place in a public place, namely the GP's chamber. This is an example of the verbal aggression that Child L is exposed to with no one to intervene on her behalf. Physical and emotional abuses of this nature happen with many children in our society. Children are subjected to threats, commands, loud angry words, accusations and words full of mistrust directed towards them all the time.
Mother's behaviour has been termed as "unpredictable" not suitable for healthy parent-child interactions. Parent behaviour has a deep impact on children's emotional growth. The unpredictable nature of Child L's mother can cause her anxiety and apprehension. The child will grow up feeling confused by her mother's outbursts and alternate mellow behaviour. This will impact her self confidence and her trust in other adults and she will not know how to emotionally deal with different situations.
Mother does not have a support system and has very few friends or family members. As such she does not get much help in raising her daughter alone and she is impatient with her because she is over-worked and tired. In such cases the children are left pretty much by themselves and do not have much supervision or monitoring. The impact of being left unsupervised and unmonitored can have negative implications on young children, especially from poor families.
Mother does not have a steady means of earning with practically no education and does not have a steady paid job. Studies have showed that children of employed mothers tend to be better adjusted socially and do better in academics. Daughters of employed mothers are more positive and less shy. Children with employed mothers also fit into leadership roles quite comfortably. For poor or working class people a mother's employment status is important as that has a direct connection with the mother's sense of well being (Hoffman 1998).
Mother has a history of violent behaviour and the child is at risk of abuse. Instance of her verbal aggression towards the child has been noted. When a child is witness to violent behaviour at such a young age as Child L, the impression tends to be very deep and she may carry the scars of this fear throughout her life. Her faith in her mother will be shaken as she knows her mother to be her only care giver. In such cases children find it hard to have healthy attachments with parents, siblings or friends. Such children may develop depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood.
The child does not have proper medical attention as the mother does not allow her to interact with social workers or doctors. This may be a dangerous trend as all children must have medical check-ups to determine healthy growth. In case of abused children, like Child L in this case, it is important for a medical practitioner to examine her for physical injury that may have been inflicted on her by her unstable mother. The advice of the doctor or health practitioner is also valuable in determining whether the child needs psychological help as well.
Child L is lonely and this manifests itself in her reluctance to go away with her mother from the surgery where she is inclined to stay and play with the health practitioner. Isolation and loneliness only add to the burden of being abused by one's intemperate parents. Child L is isolated and does not have many relatives or friends to communicate with and form healthy attachments. This will increase her trauma and result in poor people skills in adult life.
The child belongs to an ethnic minority group and is at risk of facing discriminatory behaviour from others in the community. Black African women face racial discrimination, oppression and demoralization even today. However, anti-discriminatory practices need to be implemented and the social care worker needs to be well trained in understanding diversity and in getting appropriate and timely health care for Child L (Malek & Joughin 2004).
Under the circumstances it is very difficult to monitor the child's condition. It is difficult to reach the child as the mother is not inclined to allow her daughter to socialize and be friendly. The social care worker assigned to care for Child L needs to be able to mitigate the mother's hostility (Falkov, Diggins & Mayes 1998) and have access to the child at all times to be able to prevent her being abused. Monitoring Child L's physical and emotional condition is also important as that will allow the social care practitioner to assess the child's current needs and provide intervention when necessary.
Since the mother was also raised in a foster home she may not know how to cope with her child's emotional needs. Research shows that quite often parents who had been abused as children grow up to be abusive parents as they emulate the behaviour they had been exposed at a sub conscious level. As they were never given the opportunity to have responsible and caring parents they themselves do not develop good parenting skills (Saisan, Smith & Segal 2010).
Though the risk factors present in Child L's case are many, it may be helpful to mention here that not all children respond to the same risks and their causal factors in the same ways. There is no specific risk aspect that can be associated specifically with mental, emotional or physical hazard for a child (Nemours 2006). Different risk factors can affect different children differently and children may exhibit different symptoms after being exposed to the same risk. The symptoms Child L demonstrates should be noted and then plan for appropriate interventions should be developed.
Child L's Needs, Safeguarding and Interventions:
The Child Protection Plan is a means to help families and professional social care workers to interact and be able to establish the guidelines for parents to better safeguard their child's interests. The keys points of a child protection plan (Haringey's LSCB) entails that the child is to be kept in a safe and secure environment, the child's welfare has to be of foremost importance and the family should receive the support they need to raise their children in safety.
Protection against witnessing violence- Witnessing violence can be a terrifying experience for young children and can cause emotional trauma. The mother needs to protect her child and not be the cause of her distress. Child L needs to be kept under child protection plan to safeguard her from being physically abused. The mother needs to be counselled about her creating an extremely damaging environment for her child by her aggression.
Mother's untreated mental and behaviour disorder- Parents who suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, mental instability have trouble taking care of themselves, much less their children. As is demonstrated in the case study Child L's mother is mentally and emotionally not very balanced hence she is quick to anger and is aggressive with her daughter. Parents who are themselves traumatized and struggling to behave normally may appear be distant and withdrawn from their children. Treatment for the mother is important as it will mean better care for Child L.
Lack of proper parenting skills. Child L's mother was a "looked after" child herself and probably did not have the opportunity to learn good parenting skills. She probably has unrealistic assessment of her daughter's needs and the amount of care she deserves. The mother needs to be given parenting classes, support from community support groups and/or counselling therapy sessions to get over her own problems and learn good parenting skills. The plan should keep in mind the Children Act 1989 s 17(1) which says that it is the duty of every local authority to safeguard children and take care of their welfare within their area and provide a range of services appropriate for children's needs (DH).
Isolation and lack of support. As we all know that parenting is not an easy task and people need to spend a lot of time and effort to raise a child, especially, when the parent is a single mother. In this case study not only is the mother a single parent, but she has added problems of not having financial stability or a support system by way of friends or family. Child L needs to be protected from being isolated and in order to do that effectively, her mother needs to be supported to be emotionally and financially stable. Care must be taken to socialize the child and her mother.
Safeguarding against abuse and neglect. Since Child L is under child protection plan, she should be closely monitored and any signs of abuse or neglect must be reported and taken very seriously. Repeated abuse can have lifelong repercussions for the child and can impact her relationships in future and damage her sense of self-esteem. Monitoring closely will also help monitor her mother's behaviour which can be remedied by putting her mother through anger management programmes or good parenting lessons.
Scientific evidence proves that the family, school and community have a large role to play in the physical and mental health of individuals. Interactions with parents, peers and others in the community impact their behaviour beyond their normal genetic propensities. Child L, therefore, needs to be allowed to spend time with others in the community to be able to understand a wider range of behaviour patterns and be able to learn from them. This will help her to make correct choices as an adult.
Socializing plays an important part in the general growth and well being of a child. Socializing teaches a child life skills and peer interactions help establish self-esteem and self confidence. The risk of Child L being isolated and not allowed to socialize can render her incapable to handling conflicts in adult life. There are several positive outcomes of socialization and these prepare the child for an independent and responsible adult life. Interactions with peers and others in the school, neighbourhood and community helps the child to learn how to regulate emotions, think independently and adapt behaviour to suit the type of interaction (Berns 2010).
Research done by the National Institute of Child Health and Development shows that the quality of mother-child interaction, especially the mother's sensitivity to her child's physical and emotional needs was more important than whether or not the mother was employed as it determined the sense of security a child experienced, of attachment and love from the mother. The mother's employment status has little bearing on the child's behaviour but may be impacted if the mother is negative or insensitive to the child's needs.
Safety of the child comes first and the case should be handled by professionals. Instead of focussing on individual case by case basis legislation is passed as a broad spectrum measure to curb the increase in incidents of child abuse. However, since the dynamics of child abuse can be varied people need to report child abuse and get help from professionals (Gil 1971). The child should be protected against repetitions of abuse and alternative solutions must be considered, for example, putting child under protection plan where the child is monitored by professionals regularly or be put in foster homes where proper care will be given to the child.
Professional intervention in the form of direct communication with the child should be done by social care givers. While interacting with the child, the social work practitioner must ensure that the child feels reassured and relaxed. Since Child L is almost an infant the social worker needs to be very calm and friendly. S/he needs to reassure the child that the mother's aggressive and dismissive behaviour towards the child is not the child's fault. There is nothing wrong with her and she is just as lovable as any other 2 year old. Gaining the confidence of the child should be the primary objective so that the child feels free to come to the social worker if she needs help. Social worker must keep in mind that the child has limited language and cannot quite explain what she experiences. Observation is more important than interrogation (Saisan, Smith & Segal 2010).
Child Protection Plan
Data has to be collected at different levels with sampling from all strata of society, while focussing more on lower income families. Social care professionals need to be trained to identify (Beckett 2007) and classify children who are victims or at risk of child abuse. Monitoring and reporting at all community levels must be ensured. Parents need to be monitored to check if they are receiving their basic rights and support from the government. A round the clock response system has to be put in place to receive and deal appropriately with complaints from abused children or anyone reporting abuse. A prevention plan needs to be implemented to prevent children from being abused further.
Every Child Matters is a programme that helps to advance positive outcomes for children, young adults and families. It is an instrument of change and a tool to implement the Government's policy of elementary reforms for children and guidelines for safeguarding their well being. In this case study, as Child L is but an infant, the social care practitioner must involve the mother in this programme to be effective in this individual case. Every Child Matters draws its inspiration from the framework provided by the Children's Act 2004. The four key aspects of the legal framework are given below (Fraser 2007):
Children must be engaged in positive activities to bring about an attitudinal change. This can be streamlined by engaging experts in communication who will be able to provide the right motivation and remove barriers to learning.
Young people must be encouraged and motivated to join and volunteer for community service.
Creating awareness for young people to make the right choices about their own lives.
Support should be based on individual basis depending on the needs of the child.
Community groups need to be organized at different levels to work on child and family issues. Volunteers and social workers need to be able to provide guidance and counselling for abused children and their family members. A body should be set up to coordinate the work. Social programs should be introduced to raise public awareness on this issue and advise people on human and child rights to prevent children from being exploited and abused.
Social workers team must be multi-disciplinary and be trained to identify victims that need immediate safety and protection and be able to organize for their safekeeping. Social workers should carry out home visits and on the spot inspection and coordinate with child protection agencies. Government and community social work agencies are doing a fair amount of work in this field. We need to integrate the effort made by these agencies by organizing life skills training (Maennantharat 2010), self protection training, and raise awareness about domestic violence, especially amongst minority sections of the community.
A core group of professionals from multidisciplinary fields, including members of the community mental health team, will have to be involved in developing the plan further. The plan needs to include a continual assessment of the situation and check for adherence with the child protection plan and also include areas of concern as listed below (Haringey's LSCB):
Indentifying and addressing the root causes that may harm the child.
Being able to create a schedule that will have time bound activities for the social care givers and family members to stop the sufferings of the child.
Specific tasks that target short term and long term child focused outcomes with deadlines and consequences for not being able to meet the target.
A daily monitoring task for social workers for individual children to check the safety of the children on a day-to-day basis.
A contingency plan has to be set up if the child protection plan fails in delivering the required outcomes.
A regular reviewing system for the child protection plan has to be set up to check for efficacy.
If the parent fails to adhere to the child protection plan as in the case study and the child is exposed to significant harm, care proceedings have to be started in a family court (Family Justice Council 2010). The local authorities in collaboration with social care workers will try to work out the necessary changes required of the family before involving court proceedings. A full assessment is required with provision of services mentioned in the child protection plan. The parents, in this case the mother of Child L, should contact a specialist child care law solicitor in case the case needs to be presented before a court. Legal aid scheme is available to parents free of cost for their legal representation. Family group conferences should be organized that will include the wider family and community support groups to encourage the mother to arrive at a solution. A guardian has to be appointed till a decision is taken to allow the parent or relatives custody of the child or the child to be put in foster care.
It is important to be conversant with knowledge and awareness of normal family interactions and child development process to be able to identify children who receive inappropriate and less care. It will also help the social worker to assess a child's situation and understand whether the child is at risk of neglect or abuse. A thorough and logical assessment of the case will help to implement programs that prevent child abuse and neglect. It will be useful in assessing a child's current needs and whether these needs are being met. In the event of the child having to be placed in a foster home it will help to customize placements based on a child's individual needs (AAP Policy 2000).