Print Version: Do we really need new laws to protect neglected children
VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation is concerned by the continuing call for legislation to protect neglected children, amid fears it may deny support for vulnerable children and families. Does the child protection system not go far enough to protect such children, in what is increasingly becoming a complex issue? What appetite is there to prosecute families who may already be struggling to cope?
Clearly, as a nation, we are seeing too many cases of extreme and often wilful neglect, however as a child protection and children’s rights charity, we also see too many neglect cases where little or no support is afforded to vulnerable children and families in need.
As acknowledged experts in the sector, social workers must be aware of the impact of policy changes on children and families; for example, there has been an overwhelming shift in housing evictions, causing many to become homeless or forced to relocate to other parts of the country, away from known neighbourhoods, or schools and required to make a fresh start in unfamiliar locations.
Local authorities and health professionals across the country are seeing unexpected increases in demands on their services; as new families arrive, often with the help of local authorities who seek to push the matter beyond their boundaries without the requisite communication or information sharing, particularly where there may be safeguarding concerns.
At VCF we continue to hear from safeguarding professionals that some London boroughs are providing temporary housing in other parts of the country, in private arrangements allegedly unknown to the resident borough and thus no transitional plans in place for councils or newly-arrived families.
From our own anecdotal evidence, there has been an overwhelming shift in housing –and homelessness – to the point where families are living in temporary, and often inappropriate accommodation for their children’s safety, health or wellbeing, for even longer periods of time. You need only to look at the disturbing data from housing charity, Shelter on homeless households – an emerging trend we fear.
The housing crisis is one of a number of fundamental and underlying issues facing many families that distressingly brings about child neglect, whether in families who are suddenly finding it difficult to cope in such uncertain times, or for those families who over a period of time remain vulnerable, isolated and impoverished – and in dire need of support.
Increased legislation for neglect cases will undoubtedly bring greater numbers of vulnerable families into care proceedings, at a time when legal aid is diminishing, shift the focus from prevention to prosecution – and surely limit the opportunities to enhance the child protection system.
The current system allows for early help in neglect cases, to reduce the number of cases where the neglect becomes extreme.
We urge health and social care managers to help their frontline teams to provide the support and protection that neglected children both need and deserve, and for other agencies to assist in this aim.
After all, the public is paying dearly for this service.