VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK believes that a national campaign urging the public to report child abuse is unlikely to deliver on its stated aims, although cautiously welcomes what should surely be a positive and progressive step forward for child protection and safeguarding.
The Department for Education’s ‘Together we can tackle child abuse’ campaign aims to ensure support is given to all children and families who need it and to encourage the public to report concerns.
This aim is not new, although it is right that we seek to reiterate it!
The message, whilst welcome at a time of crisis for the sector – that has fallen gravely short of providing support to many children and families who need it, daring to hide behind austerity cuts to account for poor practice – will not bring the remedy that we desperately seek in the face of extreme public mistrust of authorities.
Victoria Climbié, Peter Connolly, Khyra Ishaq, Daniel Pelka, Keanu Williams, Poppi Worthington and many more highlight the deficiencies of a system that at its core is failing children and families. Across the country, there are pockets of good practice, outweighed by the not-so-good practice caused partially by budgetary cuts, although in the main by a simple lack of care.
To understand our critique is to understand the issues for so many children and families who enter the safeguarding arena. The work we do offers incredible insight into child protection and safeguarding work and the lack of effective communication between both parties; statutory and families with misunderstandings leading to children being placed in care, often inappropriately.
For many, struggling with life; language, mental health, domestic abuse, or disabilities, the wellbeing of their children is paramount as they seek much needed support.
When the required support is not available, their situation becomes ever more drastic and concerning, as they are often met with a host of inexplicable requirements or a hostile service from the local authority that failed to support them during their time of need, quickly leading to expensive care proceedings, with family members left to pick up the pieces beyond court and facing even less support thereafter.
Thus, VCF’s work continues to advocate for the rights, care and protection of children, through its advocacy casework service and approach that works for both families and professionals.
For every family that we meet, there are more that wonder why social workers are treated so negatively in the media. And for those who unfortunately enter the world of children’s social care, it becomes all too apparent. As the numbers of children being taken into care escalate, in circumstances that did not warrant their removal, the public begin to express dissatisfaction, for now it is not just the poorest of society that fall foul of the laws, there are increasing numbers of children and families that find themselves in similar situations, accused of neglect or emotional abuse where physical or sexual abuse cannot be proved.
Conversely, where members of the public have spoken out, as individuals or within institutions, their concerns have not been listened to or they have been silenced. Victims and survivor groups have been given an opportunity to voice their long overdue concerns; to a sector that seeks to react on the here and now, rather than preparing for what is coming. Is anyone listening, does anyone care?
The public deserve a service for which they pay, and there is no refund for non delivery.
Social workers are now speaking out after many years of being instructed to deliver a service that does not sit comfortably with their individual values or training, or worse goes against their own professional judgements. The good ones leave, or move to other areas of social care where they are listened to and supported. And those that stay, do so out of fear of losing work, or become hardened to a system that is self-serving, and of little or no benefit to children and families in this country.
Government schemes offer a different form of social work, yet do the newly-trained participants fully understand the errors of the system under which they will work, and the reality of the challenges facing so many social workers, not least their caseloads or lack of management support.
At VCF, we applaud all social workers who have strived to improve the situation for children and families, by opting out of any environment that does not deliver on these aims. However, we believe as social workers you can make the difference and within your various bodies we need you to rethink and step up and deliver a social care service, without fear or retribution, to regain the trust of a public that needs you.
Only then, will we be able to ensure support to children and families who need it, and increase public reporting of child abuse. Thus we welcome the sentiment, but the applause is currently… on hold.