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Social policy may be described in two ways. Primarily, social policy is seen to have a direct impact on individuals and groups of people. Secondly, Social policy is an academic subject to be researched. Social Policy may be defined as the “developing and implementing measures to combat social problems in society, and to the academic study of these measures and their broader social context” (Alcock, Erskine, and May, 2002:240). Baldock, Manning, and Bickerstaff (2007: xxi.) describe a ‘social policy’ as the states deliberate involvement to “redistribute resources amongst its citizens so as to achieve a welfare objective”. Social policies affect a wide range of people, whether it is at an individual level or regards to communities. According to Spicker (2008:1) social policies have to concentrate on several issues including housing, health, education, social security and employment.
The development of Social policies and their implementation have a direct impact on the social welfare of everyone in the society. Social welfare refers to the various social arrangements that are in place to meet the needs of individuals and groups in society, with the hope to tackle social problems. According to Fitzpatrick (2001:5) social policy aims to maximize welfare and minimize diswelfare and he states that there are six main perspectives on welfare: “happiness, security, preferences, needs, desert, and relative comparisons”.
There are numerous texts that exist around the issue of policy formation and its contested relationship with the effects of the policies implementation on the welfare of those it aims to target. This essay aims to provide an overview of the evolution of social policy, legislation and practice in relation to child welfare in Irleand.
Relation to an Aspect of Irish Policy
Hill and Hupe stated that “Implemenation inevitably takes different shapes and forms in different cultures and institutional settings”(2006:2). This section of the essay will examine some of the relationship between social policy and child welfare in Ireland from the 1940’s up to the present day.
Children Allowance and Health Care:
Perphaps one of the most signisifcant social policy developments regarding child welfare was in introduction of Children’s Allowance in 1944. However, the initial implemention of the Act included serveral discrepancies, thus it did not benefit the welfare of all the communitiy. For example, initially the payment was only availabe to families with three or more children. Means testing meant that many families were elimanted from the possible social welfare they deserved. Simliarly, in 1950, Noel Browne introduced the Mother and Child Scheme. He hoped that this would overcome many of the elements that infringed the rights of people in regards to the Childrens allowance. However, both the Catholic church and the medical profession opposed he’s scheme in fear that state run and free medical care would go against their hierachy. With Browns later resignation,the hope of his scheme being fully implented collapsed. Burke (2005:29) stated that “the controversy over the mother and child scheme has profound effecs on the developement of social policy in this country”. The power struggle between the church and the state most definelty lead to diswelfare among citizens.
Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse:
Society has a challenging task of protecting children. Societies need to employ several ways in which they can achieve this, for example, social, economic, moral, legal and environmental. In the mid 1990’s, The Law Reform Commission recommended the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse. The matter of mandatory reporting is one of complexity which has implications not only for children’s welfare but also families, workers and the state. One of the main advantages of the implemenation of such a system was the hope that it would empower proffesionals to report abuse. Above all else it was prodicted that this would secure consistency and would provide a basis for better statistical evidence. However, disadvantages included the danger of over reporting of cases using scarce resources.
There was great variety of options about the mandatory reporting of child abuse. Many argued for an “immediate introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse as it was seen as a means of protecting children”( ACT Legislative Assembly: nd) and their welfare. However, others believed it would divert the already scarce resources from programs that delivered assistance to families and “at risk” children. For example, Lipsky (1980) beleived that scarcity of resources leads to street- level bureaucracies being consistently criticized for their inability to implement policies which are related to the areas they work in thus leading to diswelfare in many cases. After much debate, the government decided against the introduction of mandatory reporting on the basis that it was not in the children’s best interests and welfare. The scarcity of resources combined with the complex relationship between proffesionals and clients made it unrealistic.
Legislative Framework Governing the Implementation of Childcare Policy:
The Children Act of 1908 and the Health Act 1953 and 1957 were replaced by the Child Care Act 1991 and the Children Act 2001 as the primary statutory framework for the care and control of children in Ireland. Among many provisions, the main aim of the Act according to O’ Sullivan (2009:251) is “the placing of a statutory duty on health boards to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection”. In the period following the passing of the childrens act in 1991, many attempts were made to standardise procedures and practises in the area of childcare services. For exmaple, the Report of the Killkenny Incest Enquiry in 1993 evidently highlighted that guidelines were not being used and many workers were not even aware of there existence. However, in 1995, new guidelines on ‘The Notification of Suspected Cases of Child Abuse Between Healthboards and Gardai’ were issued and aimed at standardising the cases between the two agencies. This was a step forward for maximising the welfare of children.
In 1999, in the Publication of Children First; National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children were introduced to improve proffesional practise and thus improving the welfare of children. It highlighted the importance of consistency between policies and procedures. Unlike guidelines before it, Children First was built upon a set of principles which included participation by parents/carers and children in conferences and the development of child protection plans. These guidelines were valuable as they provided a framework for practise, meaning that proffessionals are accountable for their actions. In 2002, Buckley made a warning of the dangers of an over regulated system, as she believed it may lead to discretion and therapeutical skills being replaced by adminstrative management and regulation. In 2003 The Social Services Inspectorate was asked to monitor the implementation of the guidelines, however, while some aspect of the report were postivie,it was concluded that the progress in realtion to “Garda/health board cooperation, the child protection committees and planning for family support services was inadequate” O’ Sullivan (2009:257) Confusion surrounding the implementation of this policy still exists.
This essay has attempted to summarise and give a critical analysis of certain social policy in Ireland and their relationship with childrens Welfare. As illustrated in the above examples, the in most cases policies may be developed with the hope to benefit and increase the welfare of children but unless they are implemented correctly the policies may lead to diswelfare.
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