Child Protection Measures in the UK
By Migel Jayasinghe
The vast majority of children are born and brought up in families consisting of a biological father and mother. There are of course exceptions when children are adopted, fostered, or brought up in institutions. They are also increasingly being brought up by a single-parent, by one or both step-parents, and sometimes by grandparents. In most circumstances families bring up their children in a loving and caring environment which is necessary for their healthy and normal development until they reach adulthood. There are, unfortunately, occasions when the family becomes a noxious environment and the children suffer abuse. That is when the state steps in, as safeguarding the welfare of future citizens is held to be of paramount importance to the state. Indeed, 197 countries including the UK, signed The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in April 2000. As an antecedent to the Convention in 1990, The World Summit for Children proclaimed:
The wellbeing of children requires political action at the highest level. We are determined to take that action. We make a solemn commitment to give high priority to the rights of children. Notwithstanding such universal concern over child protection, recent media reports have highlighted the huge scale of child pornography peddled on the Internet. Vigilance in child protection has never been more compelling than at the present time. The United Nations Convention accorded certain rights to children and young people (birth - 18 years). The following rights are adapted from the ChildLine Information Sheet 10:
There are a number of government agencies charged with the care and protection of children so that they are not subject to maltreatment, abuse or neglect. Since June 2003 there has been a Minister for Children based in the Department of Education and Skills. Historically it was the Local Authority Department of Social Services which had the lead role in safeguarding children. The Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004, the newest legislation which aims to safeguard children, has expanded the remit for safeguarding children to a shared responsibility between local councils, police, and health organizations. Belatedly, following intense lobbying, such responsibility was extended to schools as well. There has also been appointed a Children's Commissioner for England 'to act as an independent champion for children (who is) required to report annually to parliament through the secretary of state'.
It is necessary here to examine the term child abuse and what it means in some detail. Although in the past, physical abuse and sexual abuse were regarded as the only examples of child abuse, it has now expanded to mean emotional abuse as well as neglect. The following are extracts from explanations provided online by http://www.childline.org.uk/Childabuse.asp
'Physical abuse is when children are hurt or injured by parents or other people. Hitting, kicking beating with objects, throwing and shaking ...'
'Sexual abuse is when children are forced or persuaded into sexual acts or situations by others'. Taking part in pornography is one nauseating example of sexual abuse.
'Emotional abuse is ... when children are not given love, approval or acceptance.
They may be constantly criticised, blamed, sworn and shouted at...'
'Neglect is ... when parents or others ...do not provide (children) with proper food, warmth, shelter, clothing, care and protection'.
Abused children or children at risk of abuse are placed on a Child Protection Register held by Social Service Departments. This is to be phased out by April 2008. Instead, minimal information will be held in electronic files in line with the 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' guidance published in April 2006. Up until recently, in every region there had been area child protection committees (ACPCs) to oversee child protection measures in the region. More recently these were transformed into Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) under Section 13 of the Children Act 2004 with statutory powers to coordinate activities in assessment and conference interventions affecting families with children recognised as being at risk. LSCBs have a much wider remit than its predecessor and a broader membership. The membership will include local authorities, health departments, the police, and children's charities etc.
As a consequence of the much publicised child abuse case concerning the 8-year old Victoria Climbie(2001), there has been a call for much better joint working practices and data sharing among all agencies involved with children at risk. All local authorities are required to have an information sharing and assessment system (ISA) which eventually will form into a national database. Because of concerns that children themselves voiced about confidentiality, this database would now contain only the most basic details although contact details of key professionals involved will be included. Every person who has contact with children (or vulnerable adults) in a work setting must be cleared by consulting the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). The disclosures are of two types, standard and enhanced, the latter applying for those working in an unsupervised role. Any convictions (even if spent), cautions, reprimands and warnings can be accessed on the CRB, and would be regarded as disqualifying an applicant for work with children. Other information sources for vetting applicants are listed under the Protection of Children Act 1999 (POCA) and List 99 under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
In addition to the Children's Commissioner and the Children's Minister, the government created a director of children's services post responsible for local authority education and children's social care. By April 2008 all local authority councils are expected to have an incumbent in this post. The government also initiated a Common Assessment Framework (CAF) so that information will be commonly accessible between and among agencies dealing with troubled children. 'The CAF is a standardized approach to conducting an assessment of a child's additional needs and deciding how those needs are met'. Because of the perceived requirement for an integrated, 'joined up' service, there will be one named individual from one of the agencies who would act as coordinator when more than one agency is involved in dealing with a child. Lead professionals:
-Could include (but is not limited to) personal advisers, health visitors, midwives, youth workers, family workers, substance misuse workers, nursery nurses, educational welfare officers, community children's nurses and support staff such as learning mentors working in schools. .
There are certain agreed standards or principles which all agencies dealing in child protection are required to subscribe to in carrying out assessments of children. In an exemplary document entitled 'Norfolk Minimum Standards for Implementation of the Framework for Multi-Agency Assessment of Children in Need and their Families', the Norfolk LSCB sets out the following guidelines which are expanded in Protocol 1.
The legal framework for such work extends to such pieces of legislation as the Data Protection Act 1998; Human Rights Act 1998 and Race Relations Act 2000. The Norfolk protocols also assume the appointment of an Assessment Coordinator to oversee the operations. Child protection activities must be:
-Child centred. It has been made abundantly clear that past mistakes in child protection occurred because of a lack of focus on the child while professionals had tended to concentrate on their relationship with other professionals and adults in the frame.
-Rooted in child development. There are well established psychological theories of child development and practices based on these. Interventions should take into account the child's developmental stages and exceptions to them. The capacity of parents and/or caregivers to respond to the child's needs must also be taken into account.
-Holistic (ecological) approach. There has to be an understanding of the child within the context of the family, the culture, or sub-culture within which he/she is embedded, and factors like ethnicity, disability or illness and various environmental factors which must be kept in the foreground.
-Equality of opportunity. Often vulnerable children are disadvantaged by the circumstances of their birth including poverty, gender, ability, race, age and similar factors impinging adversely on their development. Professionals must seek to minimise the negatives associated with such differences.
-Involve children and families. It is imperative that children are listened to and their parents and caregivers afforded due respect and kept informed. 'Decisions should ... be made with their agreement, whenever possible, unless to do so would place the child at risk of significant harm.
-Building on strengths and identifying difficulties. Professionals appear to have thus far tended to work on the basis of a deficit model where everything in the background of the child at risk was seen as negative. This is a dangerous assumption as there may be positive areas in the family background which can be tapped into for success and effectiveness of the intervention. Professionals are encouraged to foster a culture where families are happy to accept support.
-Multi- and inter agency approach. Even before birth there are organisations involved in the welfare of a child. The nursery, school, health care organisations and sports facilities all have an input. Linkages among these organisations must be kept at the forefront of any concerns over the child's welfare.
-A continuing process, not a single event. '...taking appropriate action(s) are continuing and interactive processes not single events. Assessment should continue throughout a period of intervention, and intervention start at the beginning of an assessment.'
-Providing and reviewing services. This is very similar to the principle stated above. 'It is not necessary to await completion of the assessment process. Immediate and practical needs should be addressed alongside more complex and longer-term ones.'
-Informed by evidence. Professional work with children must be seen to be based on evidence and sound judgment based on the professionals' knowledge and experience.
The above standards and protocols may be summarized as falling within the following domains of assessment:
-The child's developmental needs
-The capacities of parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to those needs, and
-The impact of the wider family and environmental factors on parenting capacity and children.
It is necessary here to point to some controversial issues in child protection. Although the Human Rights Act proscribes 'inhumane and degrading treatment' of others including of course children, there is a school of thought which sanctions 'reasonable chastisement' of children by parents and teachers in the interest of bringing them up to be responsible adults. In this context the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to 10 with the abolition of doli incapax has also aroused controversy as parental rights are seen to be compromised. The relevant legislation is encapsulated in Crime and Disorder Act (1998) and the Ant-Social Behaviour Act (2003). The current consensus is that government policy must concentrate on treating the underlying causes of social dysfunction including those created by children's developmental problems rather than resort to the criminal justice system.
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