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This essay explores how the identity Looked after child contribute to oppression and discrimination in two specific areas of Education and Health. The essay will analyse the role of legislation and policy in combating or promoting discrimination and oppression. The history, societal attitudes, views of the children and theories underpinning looked after children will also be discussed within the essay. Finally I will focus on the implications and relevance to Social Work practice.
For the purposes of clarity I will start by defining ‘oppression’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘stigma’. Thompson (1997) identifies oppression as the disregarding of individuals or group of people’s rights resulting in inhuman or abusive treatment with dominance and power by one group over another. For Thompson (2006), discrimination refers to a process of unfair or unequal treatment of individuals or groups resulting in undermining the interests of people from a less powerful category within society. From the two definitions of Oppression and Discrimination it can be deduced that the common elements are abuse of power and privilege associated with degrading treatment of the less fortunate individuals or groups of people in society. Apart. from discrimination and Oppression it is important to mention Stigma as another attribute that is prevalent and used as a tool for social exclusion.
Diversity in Society Assignment 1016433
Goffman, (1963), and Parker and Aggleton, (2003),’s theories of stigma help us to understand how stigma is constructed and its influence in people’s lives. Goffman (1963), describes stigma as “an attribute that is deeply descending within a particular social interaction, where the person possessing the attribute falls short of societal expectations”. Parker and Aggleton (2003) interpret stigma as a tool of preserving or undermining social structures. They view stigma and discrimination as functional systems which maintain boundaries between those in power and those without. Through such power, social inequalities are developed leading to creation of social norms. Social norms formulate stigma as they govern interactions between people and reinforce power structures that serve to isolate those that are regarded as outsiders. Both theories help us to understand the roots of stigma, prejudice, negative attitudes and its impact to Looked After children after Children.
The last three decades have experienced a huge overhaul and introduction of legislation and policies seeking to address the needs of children. The Children’s Act 1989 (CA 1989) reformed Law relating to children and in particular set out the framework for the provision of support for children and families and for the protection of children in England and Wales. This was in line with the the United Nations on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989) which was the first legally binding International instrument to promote the rights of children throughout the world. Burke and Parker (2007).
Diversity in Society Assignment 1016433
It is important to mention them following initiatives when discussing issues relating to the welfare of children: The Quality Protects 1998, Chidren Leaving Care Act 2000, Adoption and Children Act 2002, the Choice Protects policy, the Children’s Act 2004, Every Child Matters 2004, Care Matters (Green and White Papers) and The Children and Young Persons Act 2008. Some of these initiatives and legislation were introduced to reinforce Safeguarding children and also in response to reports of abuse, neglect and harm to children in different institutions of residential care in the UK with the most publicised individual cases such as the deaths of Victoria Climbe ( 2000). It was revealed that Staff working with vulnerable children were not adequately trained, rigorously checked on recruitment, no support and vigilance towards diversity and openness. A number of inquiries like Laming Report (2003) recommendations are also worth mentioning which revealed significant failings within the individuals and organisations which are meant to be looking after children. As a result there was a lot of media coverage and society as a whole questioned the role of government, laws and all individuals working with children and vulnerable people. The Children’s Act ( 2004) emerged in response to addressing these shortcomings and to improve services. In 2009 Lord Laming was also asked by the government to provide an emergency progress report on issues surrounding safeguarding children following yet another death of a child Baby P in 2007. He identified and reinforced that systematic and individual failures as the cause of death to a child whom they were supposed to look and care for. Laming report (2009)
.. Research has questioned how effective and how far the above initiatives reduced the discrimination of Looked after children. Examples of such research just to name a few: Children experience of the Children Act (1989), Discrimination Against Young People in Care: Remember my message (1993), The Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care in England Project (2006), Barriers to change in the Social Care (2000),Busting at the seams (2010) and the recent Panorama BBC programme on experiences of children leaving Care. The UK is a multicultural society and Diversity should be understood and be a tool for most of the policy makers and legislators to make laws which promote equality. Diversity according to Blaine (2007) is associated with the presence of differences in society in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class and sexual orientation. These differences are neither good nor bad but some of the differences are associated with inequality and disadvantage. Social work practice is concerned with empowerment, anti discriminatory practice, social justice and redressing inequality in line with human rights. Burke and Parker (2007)
Cocker and Allain (2008) identify Looked After Children and Young People as children in the care of the local authority, through a Care Order made by a court or voluntary agreement with their parent(s) to accommodate them. They may be looked after in a children’s home ,by foster carers, or other family members. All unaccompanied asylum seeking children are also Looked After Children.
Diversity in Society Assignment 1016433
According to (Dfes Statistics 2010) reveal that there were about 64,400 looked after children as at 31 March 2010, an increase of 6 per cent from 2009 and an increase of 7 per cent since 2006.. Mostly the main reason of being in care, was because of abuse or neglect (52 per cent.There were 3,400 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) who were looked after at 31 March 2010. This is a decrease of 12 per cent from 2009. As these statistics reveal there is an increase in the number of Looked after children to date although there is a decrease in the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Children (DfES 2010)
Hogg and Vaughan (2002) views identity as associated with the process an individual becomes who they are in the sense of personhood and other’s view of who they are. Furthermore a person has multiple identities and these needs to be seen as part of the whole individual as disregarding some aspects would be misleading and reductive of the individual’s identity. Graham (2000) further highlight that identities have different meanings and are not fixed but change over time as a result of environment, personal circumstances and outside influences. These influences will significantly affect the social experience and the self image of those defined, through, for example the experience of negative discrimination.
Diversity in Society Assignment 1016433
All aspects of a child’s identity needs to be recognised and acknowledged regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religion. By developing a positive identity children are motivated and their self esteem is enhanced for them to feel a sense of value, belonging and worth Blaine (2007). However Cocker and Allain (2008) argue that not all environments are positive in fostering this idea. When this occurs the child becomes withdrawn and shy to open up and engage. Having a looked after child identity endangers a child to be different, socially excluded, marginalised and denied equal opportunities in accessing services. Assessing Children in Need and their Families: Practice Guidance (2000) As such Social workers need to adopt and work with a culturally sensitive approach and apply the balancing act to enhance the resilience concept. Masten (1994) cited in Daniel et al (2002)
Burke and Parker (2010) further argue that the Social Work context and the involvement of a Social worker in a child’s life applies and identify the child as different. This is revealed by the bureaucratic and comprehensive paperwork, regular review and educational meetings, visits, contact arrangements and procedures and guidelines are associated with the looked after child but are not experienced by most children in normal life settings. However this arguement is dismissed by Garret (2003) cited in Burke and Parker (2010) when he affirms that paperwork and bereacratic procedures are essential tools for a social worker to use in helping them identify and address important developmental needs of the child but should however encourage more one to one contact with the child rather than spending time on paperwork.
In Education Research has revealed that Looked after children do not perform well and are likely not to have (GCSE) and most likely risk being expelled from School due to behaviour. Statistics show that a third of the 60 0000 looked after children obtain a GCSE and a further fifth obtain fewer than five GCSEs. Although these figures are lower than a few years ago, they are still much higher than for children as a whole: more than half not obtaining five or more GCSEs compared to less than one in ten children as a whole. this includes Black minority and white as well DfES (2010). Because of their identity as Looked after children they are disadvantaged and discriminated against at School and in matters related to education. The Social Exclusion Unit (2003) published a document ( A Better Education for Children in Care which highlighted 5 reasons for the low attainment levels ranging from Instability caused by insecure placements, bullying, lack of support and encouragement at home , time out of school due to expulsion, support and encouragement and emotional, mental or physical health. From the above five highlighted issues it can be summarised that the home environment plays a crucial role in enhancing education. Schofield and Beek (2009) suggest parents and people at home where the child lives need to be supportive and encouraging to the child learning success. School environment should promote learning that develops a child holistically to facilitate the self discovery method and accepting themselves as they interact with other children.
This is not always the case as children are disrupted of continuity in settling and making friends if placement breaks down. Sometimes bullying at school results in low self esteem Although most local authorities have put in place a number of inter disciplinary services looking at the physical, mental well being of children. However in Jackson and McParlin (2006) in their article (the education of children in care professionals are seen to be making assumptions and jumping into conclusions ending up giving labels and long prescribed long term solutions to short term problems unnecessarily. This is associated with neglect and discrimination. More training and awareness of diversity, anti discriminatory practices and individualised person centred approach should be reinforced.(Every Child Matters 2004)
Roger Morgan (2010) argue that the problem of poor school performance in looked after children lies in the care and education system not in the children. They argue that the care and education systems do not address pre care experiences of the child low attainment and also failure to address the aftermath or the impact of separation when children are removed from their families. The child may be suffering from undiagnosed post traumatic stress which can erupt in any confined environment such as school classrooms. They also argue that teachers have no knowledge of the child’s history. Teacher training does not equip teachers with knowledge of the care system and on addressing behaviour from Looked after children. There is also the emphasis on exaggeration of difficulties and the overuse of the term ( Challenging behaviour focuses to address the present problems arising from the child’s pre-care experiences and disappointments of being in care. The Authorities should rather focus on explaining and addressing the underperformance. They further highlight the study by (Jackson et al.’2005) where a research with students in Higher education who had a care background was carried out over a 5 year period. The respondents experienced a high level of trauma, abuse and neglect but were placed in foster homes that were supportive and valued education. The findings revealed that foster families who support education and celebrate the child’s achievements are more likely to compensate to some level the pre care experiences and promote higher attainment in education. It is important to place children in placements which are supportive to the child’s success in education, foster resilience and offer a safe place to grow and achieve. To support children’s wellbeing the government has put in place the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 with a commitment to promote the wellbeing of children and those who are involved in their care. Children Act (2008)
In accessing Health facilities Looked after children face difficulties with mental health issues. Mostly their Health needs are overlooked and not met as they are labelled. Axford (2008) in her article exploring social exclusion noted this difficulty as more prevalent among children from Black Ethnic Minority background who face a cultural, language and racism within organisations that are meant to support and look after them especially asylum seekers. There is lack of relevant and appropriate delivery of service in assessing the physical and mental wellbeing of children before placement and continuous monitoring of wellbeing through individual health plan. This can be attributed to lack of awareness and knowledge on the part of and role of carers and foster parents. This leaves the responsibility to the child who will most of the time ignore health issues and abscond appointments. (Young Minds )Training of carers and foster parents need to be promoted to improve delivery of service… In working with looked experiences of the Children Act (1989) highlighted that there are continuing myths about the Act which are still disadvantaging Looked After children. Also children still feel they are not fully aware of their rights under the Act as they face day to day regulations and successive barriers. Children still feel they do not receive what the law says they should. A typical example was in socialising with restrictions on risk assessments for overnight stays by teenagers in care. This has brought a sense of discrimination and marginalisation as it is for normal teenagers to do overnight stays. Prout (2000) cited in Glenny and Roaf (2008)further picked up another conflict and tension among within government departments and targets when he mentions that control and self realisation are both present in legislation and policy but in tension. On one camp there is the idea of viewing children as individuals with a capacity for self realisation within a safe societal environment while in the other camp there is the idea of viewing children as vulnerable and requiring control, regulation and surveillance. One example Youth Matters four challenges to help teenagers achieve the ECM outcomes.( DfES 2005, 2:12)
Social workers need to listen, engage and work in partnership with looked after children. In a research by Sally Holland (2010) Journal of Social Work to explore the Ethics of Care as being marginalised and not being implemented and recognised it was evidenced that lasting relationships are disrupted by placements and children often acknowledged their links to their past and significant people in their lives. This highlights the importance of their individual pathway in promoting their wellbeing and interpersonal relationships and future achievements. Clarke (2010) emphasises the need to sustain and promote lasting care relationships with formal carers and social workers to avoid the consequences of loss ,neglect and worthlessness by listening to their story, exploring and putting their needs and choices first. Oliver et al (2010) Briefing Paper Advocacy for Looked After Children when they unveiled that Reseach has also highlighted that there were some ambivalence within professionals as to what extent children must be involved in decision making to matters concerning their care as well as resource barriers. To overcome these constraints Winter (2009) suggested regular contact, feedback, advocacy and putting the needs of the child first need to be priority as children value being listened to and having their wishes fulfilled by active participation in matters concerning their wellbeing.
I also have personal experience when I was involved in a consultation exercise with Young Persons leaving care as part of my coursework.. The Young Persons highlighted that sometimes they did not receive any feedback from social workers when they contact them. Also they mentioned that there was a lot of bureaucracy which they felt treated them as different and treated them discriminatory for example social work visits at school and regular reviews or educational meetings. They felt they wanted to be treated as normal children not Service users. Barriers to Change in the Social Care (2000) suggest and support that there should be a Human rights approach in working with looked after children.
Glenny and Roaf (2008) suggested Early intervention is essential to support children and families before problems either from within the family or as a result of external factors, which have an impact on both the child and family. Government departments, statutory and voluntary organisations have an obligation to work in partnership for the success of early intervention agenda. These teams should work together establish protocols which will help to ensure early indications of being at risk of social exclusion are addressed and receive proper attention.
McLeod (1998) highlighted the need to acknowledge Child development stages. He mentions that children accept and discover themselves through stages and exposure to promote self awareness, confidence, self esteem and positive attitudes. McLeod highlighted Freud’s psycho-analysis theory (1859-1939), Erickson’s psycho-social development theory (1950) and Bowlby’s attachment theory(1969,1973,1880,1988). This view is shared in the literature review by Hunt (2003) cited in ( Charlotte Ritchie 2005 Critical Review) which highlights that although there is no concrete evidence of kinship care over non kin foster care there are indications that chances are the former promotes the child’s wellbeing and welfare than the latter. This shows how important it is for Social Workers to be aware of child developmental needs and how valuable family ties are. Schofield and Beek , (2005) cited in Shaw (2010) shares the same views that past relationships with family and professionals has an impact on the child’s wellbeing and ability to cope with life on their own. Active parenting focusing on the child’s needs and positive engagement with the child will help and promote skills to deal with difficult situations in life. It is also good to for social workers to promote resilience as a tool of empowering children so that they are equipped to face challenges and deal with their past and future. Daniel and Wassell (2002)
The importance of identity is further echoed by (Goerge, 1990;Testa et al., 1996; Testa, 1997; Wulczyn and Goerge, 1992) cited in (Charlotte Ritchie 2005) in her critical Paper of exploring the significance of Kinship care when she states that Identity, attachment, cultural heritage and self esteem are further maintained and consolidated when a child remains with their family and relatives than non relative placements. This will also go a long way in alleviating the Placement shortages currently experienced by ethnic minority foster placements and also reinforce the value of cultural sensitivity in Social Work. Bates et al (1997) suggests that assessment framework should foster identity and acknowledge diversity in order to promote a child’s perception of themselves and their environment. Social workers need to employ anti-discriminatory practice with a lot of opportunities and resources for self discovery. They need to support the child to discover and accept themselves. It is important to offer options to situations that promote identity in order to understand themselves and others as children need to have their own identity to mirror on.(:Assessment for Children in need Practice 2000) The Children and Young Persons Act (2008) also emphasise that its commitment to promote a child’s well being and the people involved in the care of the child.
Although there has been notable initiatives in addressing the needs of Looked after children for the past ten years a lot still has to be done in terms of societal attitudes, resources and safeguarding. To achieve the every child matters outcomes all the stakeholders need to work together by putting the needs and act in the best interest of the child. By listening and engaging with Looked after children practitioners, politicians and policy makers will be able to improve Children’s quality of life. Anti discriminatory practice, empowerment and equal opportunities practices are part of the answer. . 3624words
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