A VCF-commissioned report offers a realistic approach to engaging children and families within child protection. Evidence from a pilot study suggests that more should be done to explore benefits for the sector from early help and prevention work.
‘Engaging children and families; the role of advocacy within child protection’ offers an evaluative overview of VCF casework. Based on a sample of 49 cases, a retrospective study of VCF processes and outcomes was undertaken. For most clients the processes lead to improved outcomes through improved communication with the local authority and the restoration of dignity, obtaining better resources ameliorating family difficulties, including better access to housing and better relationships between parents and children.
Supporting families in trouble
To genuinely protect and safeguard children, we need to engage with those around the child, not to overlook the child but to be informed by those with whom the child has contact on a day-to-day basis. If we continue to see families as simply the problem, rather than locating the circumstances that lead them to the point of requiring support, then we truly miss the point.
Our concerns stem from the continuing lack of effective engagement of families within child protection processes. A child does not always distinguish between a parent/carer that may be harmful or harmless, thus the involvement of family members must, yes, be challenged, yet in context such that we do not limit the opportunities for children to be supported within families, where possible, or removed where it is not.
VCF aims to get beyond the ‘presenting problem’ to understand the underlying issues. In individual cases, the aim is to identify the contexts that are impacting on the family, and this looks for common sense rather than reactive solutions. (Briggs, S. et al 2011)
Simplifying the child protection system
At the core of any abuse case is whether there is significant risk of harm or where harmful practice is occurring. All too often, conflicting agendas apply to the point that frontline teams are prevented from proceeding with known and considered approaches to practice, and common sense is removed.
At VCF, we find that practitioners can be unnecessarily distracted by the compartmentalising of themes such as FGM, Witchcraft and Spirit Possession, Honour Killing, Child Sexual Abuse, Child Trafficking and so forth, all of which can – and should – be addressed in the context of harmful practice through the wider safeguarding agenda, removing the need to focus disproportionately on culture or belief (leading to possible abuse of children’s rights) other than to aid understanding when conducting assessments.
It is our view that children in the UK, particularly from minority ethnic backgrounds, may be more at risk from abuse linked to faith or belief than FGM, for example. Of course the statistics make for greater impact in the public domain, and are cynically skewed to suggest that the reported 60,000 cases of FGM were performed in this country. Yet the numbers for child sexual abuse both past and present are staggering and we are still to learn – and share – lessons for the future.
Offering a fairer approach
The role of advocacy within child protection aims to offer a more holistic environment for the protection of children; the VCF approach caters for children across cultures, ethnicities, faiths, language, physical and mental disabilities, or other vulnerabilities, and support for families and professionals to achieve this aim – alongside an ethos that every child matters…