There are few phrases more likely to invoke the ire of professionals working in children’s care, than ‘in the current economic climate.’
In just five words, we have encapsulated the fears of many people that economic conditions will be used as an excuse to make drastic changes to the way that things have been done over the past few years. Where we once might have expected financial backing to be found to support greater and wider initiatives, we are now facing a system that may be stripped to its basics. Any additional ‘niceties’ are unlikely to be implemented unless they can be justified as urgent and necessary. The question here is: what will be the quality of service delivery?
But that does not necessarily mean that we can only offer basic care.
The approach of VCF, the Victoria Climbié Foundation, is an example of how much can be achieved through the determination to improve/retain the quality of services with very little.
The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK emerged from the Victoria Climbié Family Campaign, set up during the course of the public inquiry led by Lord Laming to, firstly, structure the huge media interest in the case and, secondly, to raise funds to build a school in the Ivory Coast. Calls from the public and especially, families of BME communities, highlighted the need for assistance to receive appropriate services. Evidence from the interactions with BME families and children at the time suggested that large numbers of BME families lacked understanding of the roles and functions of social services.
Equally, the Foundation, through its involvement with statutory services identified the lack of understanding of culture and religious values when dealing with child protection.
It was also identified during the course of this public inquiry that there was a gap between statutory services dealing with child protection and the BME communities. At a presentation by the Metropolitan Police to Mr and Mrs Climbié (Victoria’s parents) about lessons learnt from the case, when dealing with issues of child protection, they were asked: “What could be done better to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated,” to which they replied: “For those statutory services entrusted to protect children to work closely with the BME communities”; hence the birth of a new independent organisation.
Over the past decade, VCF has argued for greater cohesive working between all departments involved in children’s care: the police, health, social services, and other related professionals. At time, this has been a tough ask. Whilst these agencies and professionals work towards a common goal, there was an absence of joined up working and inter related action. This meant that too often children monitored at one end, were being missed at the other end- a common feature in many recent child protection cases.
So great was the absence of joined up working, that it was a key recommendation by Lord Laming in the Victoria Climbié Inquiry- hence the introduction of ContactPoint and other measures. But as we’ve seen recently, many of those recently introduced measures, including ContactPoint, are to be stopped. It is not yet clear what will replace them, though we expect that to be set out by the end of the review led by Professor Eileen Munro.
Whilst we have called for greater cohesive working between children’s care professionals, we at VCF have also be been working to develop the way that Children’s Services interacts with families.
The Foundation’s work has been largely based on raising awareness of child protection within BME communities and working closely with children’s statutory services through LSCBs and directly through our advocacy support and casework.
Many families and grassroots community groups still don’t understand what social workers and Children’s Services departments actually do. In the absence of that understanding, social workers become little more than people who take their children away. Immediately, this places social work professionals at the disadvantage of trying to overcome that barrier when working with that family.
VCF has focused on addressing this through working directly with parents, families and community groups; actually speaking with them and helping them to understand the processes involved in child protection decision making.
This has made a huge difference in the understanding that families have of what is required of them, and how they can best meet the requirements set out by care professionals.
It may seem like a small step, but we have repeatedly seen families empowered by the knowledge that they know what is required of them and can take their own independent steps towards achieving such.
As we face an era of austerity, this is perhaps where we will see a sea change in the approach of care professionals as they have to find more creative ways of working with families.
Introducing a holistic support system is the first important step that we can all take to help children and families; and the good news is that it doesn’t have to cost that much.
First published in the ICHA newsletter, Autumn 2010