So a referral comes in for neglect of a child, let’s say the home conditions are poor and the child’s presentation at school is also poor. We decide to do an unannounced visit, when we arrive at the home there is clearly someone there, but they do not open the door.
What can we do? Not much at this point, so we put a note thorough the door asking for the parents to contact us and then wait.
No contact is made by the parents, so another visit is undertaken with the same result, ignored at the door.
So from here a more formal letter is sent arranging a visit, with a warning that we may take action to ensure the welfare of the child if it is deemed necessary.
The visit is made at the time agreed and again there is a refusal to engage. Where do we go from here? The message from parents is clear, they are not interested in engaging and the reality of this is we write a letter warning that we may take further action and then we go away.
It’s not that we do not take neglect issues seriously, but without the cooperation of parents we have no power to gain entry to the home or even speak to the children. There is no way the concerns are at a level to take any kind of legal action so the case is closed. After all it’s not like we haven’t got enough ‘higher level stuff to be getting on with!
I suppose in an ideal world we could sit outside the home and wait until a parent emerges. But even then they could tell us to sling our hook and not engage with us.
How about a similar scenario but with higher level concerns? This time the child’s mother is associating with a convicted rapist, the child has low attendance at school and there is domestic abuse between the mother and her partner (who is not the child’s father). This mother engages early on, mother’s partner does not, mother indicates she wishes to continue her friendship with the convicted rapist but claims he has no contact with her child. Mother was unhappy when it was decided to take the case to an Initial Child Protection Conference and at this point she disengages.
Despite this mother not attending conference the decision is made to have a CP plan and this plan was formulated in her absence. The mother continues to avoid contact with all professionals and we are left with the slightly ridiculous situation of the plan being carried out without the mother even acknowledging it exists. No written agreement is in place regarding the child not having contact with the convicted rapist, but there is no new evidence that there is any contact. No further incidents of domestic violence are recorded and at the review conference the plan is removed.
This situation was not felt to be satisfactory by professionals but similar to the neglect case there were few further actions that could be taken. Despite the concerns being significantly higher that the neglect case they were not at a point at which legal proceedings could be issued.
Mr Gove would like us to intervene earlier and advocates removing children sooner rather than later (not a new concept I might add). But what he fails to realise is that most of what we do is by consent. Hopefully I have illustrated this with my examples.
To illustrate this further the overwhelming majority of children that I have accommodated have been with the consent of parents, I have never had cause to go to court to obtain an EPO. The only other way I have accommodated children is when the Police have taken them into Police Protection.
So do we need more powers, for example a power of entry, or a legal requirement to follow a child protection plan? Do we want these powers? Would more power improve our effectiveness or would that palpable fear that parents frequently exhibit at the merest whiff of Children’s Services involvement rise to such a level that it would become counterproductive?
If Mr Gove is serious about earlier intervention of the most severe kind (removal of a child) then there will need to be changes to the law and we will find ourselves more powerful. Alternatively a different agency or different type of social worker with the required powers would be responsible for these early interventions. Either way its makes me uncomfortable!
Courtesy of Updates from a Frontline Child Protection Team