There have been some core challenges with MASH such as varying levels of commitment from different agencies, identifying suitable staff grades and levels of security / access to information, IT problems and how best to consolidate information sharing databases / secure wireless access, staff turnover and different languages relating to risk assessments and management. However, there have been remarkable benefits reported vis-à-vis information sharing and communication through bringing professionals together despite different ethos and professional cultures of practitioners who are coping with service reduction and large scale reorganisation across all services; with schools becoming increasingly autonomous and individual in their approach to safeguarding and partnership.
Children’s social care is struggling with budget cuts and the pressure which comes with these, often, unfortunately, reflected in raised thresholds. Social workers are required to adapt to a new way of working initiated by the Munro and Family Justice reviews, alongside the continuing failings highlighted in the public interest cases and locally.
The impact of health reform on the ability to safeguard children needs to be carefully monitored; to ensure that the capacity and competencies of the workforce, in health services, remains sufficient to support safeguarding, in both strategic and practice contexts. This requires very close working relationships between the DfE, the DH and the Home Office if the impact of major reform is not to pose a risk to good practice.
We have seen significant structural change within the Metropolitan Police in response to budget cuts; changes which saw the merging of SC & 05 into a new Homicide Command structure. A joint letter from The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK (VCF) and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) addressed to Commissioner Hogan-Howe (12 November 2012) sought to raise concerns and alert the Met to the dangers of taking this path. VCF and CCPAS are third sector partner agencies committed to the protection and safeguarding of children. Together and separately, we have been connected and partnered with the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command for a significant number of years. It is our fear that the reorganisation was completed with undue haste and without regard to statutory responsibilities for working together. When a child dies, particularly in inter familial circumstances the statutory and third sector responses are different to that of an adult in many respects. Apart from the immediate affect on a family and the connected community, the response also includes social services, health and education as well as voluntary services such as ours. The SC & O5 structure was extremely experienced at coordinating response by bringing appropriate agencies and individuals together, a specialised service which had been successfully developed over the last decade.
Without full and equal recognition of all partners, an institutional willingness to work together, and organisational responsibility and accountability for what is delivered, silo working will continue to be the norm.
We do not wish to see history repeated.
Protecting children across culture and faith
The Government has certainly considered minority ethnic issues during the course of the Children and Families Bill, in particular within adoption reforms. However, we urge that the multi-agency safeguarding of children is undertaken with a greater understanding of culture and faith for the increasing number of BME children in the system. Not only to deliver a more holistic and respectful approach, but also to ensure that lack of confidence does not mean that children are left to suffer while staff withdraw into political correctness. Unfortunately, we have seen a lack of regard to cultural heritage when placing children for adoption, including where mental health has informed the decision, and an increasing concern that children may be removed from, or remain with, BME parents as a result of cultural or linguistic misunderstandings; the subject of a forthcoming debate at Parliament.
VCF has a specialist role in protecting children across culture and faith, and leads on the National Working Group to tackle Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief. The working group’s Action Plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief provides a template for national use and focuses on four key themes – engaging communities, empowering practitioners, supporting victims and witnesses, and communicating key messages. It is important that we do not shift the focus from this type of abuse, and essential that we implement the plan, to enable us to put the necessary measures in place to prevent children from death or serious injury. Again, we urge professionals to adopt a more holistic approach with children, young people and families when dealing with abuse that does not fit the norm, as we continue to raise awareness within the community with a view to increase the reporting of harmful practices.
The role of the media within child protection
In 2013, we explored the role of the media within child protection, applauding the largely objective reporting into the tragic death of Kristy Bamu, who along with his siblings was subjected to appalling abuse linked to a belief in witchcraft. VCF provided support to family victims and witnesses at court and proactively managed the media interest in this case. At VCF, we believe that the media has a key role to play in raising awareness of the rights and protection of children. We welcome the willingness from across the sector to tackle safeguarding and child protection issues within the media to aid understanding of the system and its challenges. However the media best serves children and families when they report objectively; this has not been helped by the recent downplaying of poor practice by the rush from children’s social care to push good practice case studies through trade press. We hope that the sector will engage in a balanced way with the media to strengthen the key messages needed to keep children safe.
The need to reclaim child protection
We know that the UK child protection system is one of the best in the world; indeed it continues to attract positive international attention. However, with the recent public interest cases; Daniel Pelka, Keanu Williams, Humzah Khan, etc. we continue to see systemic and operational failings, with serious case reviews (SCRs) still sadly lacking in delivering useful learning; at best they deliver the same message, and at worst are not being conducted at all. It is our view that they need to be more inclusive and accountable. Victims’ families must be fully involved in the process together with front line professionals who deal with and manage these cases in order to have an effective child protection system that will work in the best interest of the child. Crucial opportunities to learn lessons from the murders of young people related to harmful practice and gang crimes are being lost. Cases which come to mind are those of Kristy Bamu in Newham (December 2010) and Zac Olumegbon in Lambeth (December 2011) because serious case reviews have not been conducted in either of these cases.