How many times do we advocate the oft-used phrase ‘Safeguarding Children is Everyone’s Responsibility’. Whilst at a basic human level this is indeed true, these words can often sound hollow when seeking to apply such theory in practice.
At VCF we sometimes struggle to find the right place for ad hoc referrals, and can be passed through a series of departments before finding someone who will take the relevant details and leave us with some sense of reassurance that matters are being progressed. So imagine if you are a member of the public wishing to raise similar concerns; where do you go, and who do you talk to?
Through our support to children, young people and families we see many instances of a parent or grandparent raising concerns about a child or children within their family structure. In our experience, as their calls of concern become ever more persistent and their frustration leads to complaint, they find that in taking their responsibilities to safeguard and protect their offspring, life cascades quite rapidly into a downward spiral of events, where the focus moves away from the child. Child protection tools are used to demonstrate non-cooperation of a parent or carer, rather than to support and protect the child.
In one such case, a costly psychiatric report determined that two young children should be removed from their mother, as they were exhibiting overly sexual behaviour, believed to be experiencing some form of sexual abuse, and the mother herself the victim of a sexually abusive relationship. Despite supporting evidence from the extended family and the children’s’ schools, the recommendations from this report were successfully challenged by the local authority and thus dismissed by the Court.
The ensuing tension between various members of this family is diverting attention away from the plight of these children, and the compromise is clearly not working; one of the children has since been removed yet the other child remains, and for both there are continued concerns. The paternal grandparents are now bankrupt and have given up on retirement to work to pay the court fees. They have vowed to continue to fight for these children to be protected, and yet every day struggle with the fact that the children face a bleak and uncertain future.
VCF is increasingly concerned about the lack of effective engagement with families in child protection processes. A child does not always distinguish between a parent or 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 the family, where possible, or removed where it is not. The process must go further than merely a damage limitation exercise.
If safeguarding is to remain everyone’s responsibility, then those paid by the public purse to protect our children surely have a duty to listen carefully and respectfully to those who are paying dearly for it.