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Children are de¬ned as ‘in need’ when they are “unlikely to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development”; or whose “health and development are likely to be signi¬cantly impaired, or further impaired” without the provision of services under s.17(10); o are disabled as defined in s.17(11); or those who are in specific need of safeguarding under Part V of the (CA)(1989).
Ann had recently been separated with her husband due to domestic violence and is currently living in a women’s refuge with her 12 years old daughter. She had reported feeling depressed and lack resources. The development of a definition of domestic violence in Yemshaw v Hounslow LBC  UKSC 3 (SC), decision by the court set a precedent that was used in meeting the needs of families. Children witnessing domestic abuse have now been included in the definition of harm under s.31(9) of the CA (1989).
Section 17(1) of the CA (1989), places a ‘general duty’ on Local Authorities (LA) to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children within its area who are in need”. It is based on the presumption that so far as it is consistent with their duty, children upbringing should be promoted within the family with an emphasis on ‘parental responsibility’ as defined under s.3(1) of the CA (1989). This is complemented and reinforced under s.10(3) of the CA (2004), which requires LAs to have “regard to the importance of parents and other persons caring for children in improving the well-being of children”. LAs are directed through their “specific duties and powers” specified in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to provide services ‘considered appropriate’ to meet the needs of ‘children in need’ with the aim of avoiding the need for care proceedings . This includes homelessness, the psychological effect of witnessing abuse and disruption with school. Under s.17(6) the LA’s can provide accommodation, counselling or as in the cash of domestic violence, assistance in cash.
Social workers are charged with discretion in making ethical decisions and should therefore use case law for additional guidance (Brammer, 2010: 190). In R v Nottingham City Council  EWHC Admin 235, it was established that assessment is not a discretionary duty. Additionally, In R. (on the application of MM) v Lewisham LBC  EWHC 416, it was held that “the consideration given to the referral fell far below the standard required by law”.
The CA (1989) stipulates the legal framework within which Social Work practice with children in need is situated. Its child-centred approach is embodied in the welfare paramountcy principle s.1 and the welfare checklist s.1(3) states factors that must be considered with respect to determining the child’s best interest. This welfare principle is also evident in s.3(5) and s.17. It adopt the principle that any delay s.1(2); “in considering whether to make, vary or discharge” s.31 and s.8 orders, s(1)(4); is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare; and no order should be discharge except it is unequivocally in the child’s best interests.
The complexities and uncertainties of family life have brought about evolving policies and guidelines to complement the legislative framework (Davis, 2009). An understanding of children’s needs requires a multidisciplinary evidenced-based assessment, which is prescribed under The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH, 2000). This is conferred under s.7, LA Social Services Act (1979) and requires LAs to comply with their duties. The Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) led to the enactment of the CA (2004): it requires LAs under s.11(4) to “have regards of statutory guidance” to cooperate and make arrangements to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children”.
Working Together to Safeguard Children (DCSF, 2010) specifies how agencies should work together: it states unequivocally the proactive early identification of additional needs and the provision of appropriate services. The complexities and tension of multi professional perspective is recognised in The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) (DfE, 2009) and based assessment on consistency and coordination between agencies (Brammer, 2010).
There are potential dissonances between legislative framework and the ethical frameworks, which informs social work practice. Parton (2006) noted the complexities of balancing child empowerment and professional judgement, and suggested that Social workers should advocate for children through their active participation in accordance with s.17(4A and 4B). Graham (2011: 1541) highlighted a substantial cultural shift to include children in planning and decision-making through the construction of the “social model of childhood”. This principle sought to reconcile the concept of child autonomy and right, with professional accountability and responsibility (Williams, 2008). The concept of best interest and the welfare of the child set out in s.1(3) and A8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) is also embodied in decision-making (Butler and Hickman, 2011). In a speech at the Institute of Public Policy Research, Educational Secretary Michael Gove claimed that safeguarding children is inundated with “optimism bias” (Media, 2012).
The law confers both a discretionary and obligatory duties, and the prediction of impairment is given emphasis under s.31 and s.17. It is therefore critical for social workers to have an ethical consideration when discharging their powers and duties, and reflect social work values in their proportionality of intervention under the Human Rights Act (HRA) (1998) which is seen as “an additional scrutiny of practice” (Brammer 2010: 114).
The value of outcome focus needs analysis and multi-agency working is compatible with social work values. It recognise the complexities and sensitivity of domestic violence, and emphasis on the compounding effect of stereotypical assumptions and stigma faced by individual and families (Sheppard, 2006). Social workers’ conceptualisation according to Connolly, et al (2006) is invaluable in promoting social inclusion. This is particularly relevant to Ann’s situation.
Assessment should not be based on a single event; careful consideration must be given the long-term effect of domestic violence (Williams, 2008). It must be conducted sensitively with an emphasis on “respectful uncertainty”, flexibility, openness and honesty about professional involvement (Laming, 2003).
Strafford,et al (2010:13) locates the process of assessment in the context of a “Systems approach”. Social workers need to be aware of the likely impact of any intervention on the family. Social workers are required to adopt a principled approach based on negotiation and partnership.
The CA (2004) requires LAs to coordinate services with relevant agencies: this gained explicit recognition in the Working Together to Safeguard Children guideline and reflects an acknowledgement that disadvantage occurs within a context of multiplicity of interlocking factors and social dynamic of the family (Graham, 2011). Social workers must therefore, integrate best-known evidence to inform professional judgement to accounts for the uniqueness, uncertainties and potential value conflicts (GSCC, 2003).
Anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practices are integral to social worker practice and enshrined in law. The GSCC (2003: 1.5) code of practice stresses the importance of “respecting diversity and different culture and values”. Further, s.22(5) requires due consideration to be given to a child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background which is also encapsulated in A.14 of HRA (1998), the right not to be discriminated against. The amendment of parental responsibility by the Adoption and Children Act (2002) to include “adult with real relationship” accounts for value placed on recognition of diversity of families to combat social exclusion (Strafford,et al 2010: 16).
Millar and Corby (2006) highlighted the positive effect of a detailed assessment: Munro (2011) and Wise et al (2011: 95) are however, critical of the bureaucracy and the “prescriptive nature” of the Assessment Framework, which distracts social workers from their core therapeutic function. This presents a dilemma of balancing the need of a more rigorous assessment framework with the CAF (Crisp, et al, 2007).
Social inclusion and integration are intrinsic to social work, however, Palmer (2003) and Goldthorpe and Monro (2005) notes that there is concern amongst social workers that the high eligibility criteria have seen a shift from family support to reactive child protection practice thereby further excluding and marginalising families. This have led social workers to question the concept of ‘needs led’ service provision.
Stafford, et al, (2011) reports on the conflicts and complexities around issues of confidentiality and information sharing within multidisciplinary teams. This posed a dilemma between the welfare of the child and Ann’s right to confidentiality.
Domestic violence occurs within the context of both civil and criminal domain. This present are a wide range of shared and diverse models of knowledge and practice amongst professionals involved with children and families (Graham, 2011). O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin (2008: 41) noted the complexities of balancing the “rights and responsibilities of parents” and the “rights and needs of children”. This present a dilemma between a principled welfare approach and s.8 orders as highlighted in Debbonaire (2012).
Cleaver et al (2010) noted that whist children’s needs occur within the family and environmental context and often interlinked with those of their parent: It is crucial that practice is child-centred and needs considered separately through children’s “active participation” (Mullender 2002: 121). The complexities of parental contact from the perpetrator of abuse might expose the children to witnessing more abuse.
The legislative framework and policies have an enormous impact on social work practice. The complex interplay of skills, values and knowledge; the prevailing social attitudes; and the conflicting and overlapping imperative, have been analysed as the range of dilemmas and conflicts faced by social workers. What is most noteworthy, however, is the need for sound professional judgement and ethical consideration.
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