How safe are our children in a public protection system?

How safe are our children in a public protection system?

VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK believes that far fewer children could be removed than is currently the case, particularly from minority ethnic families which remains disproportionately high. With significant numbers of children on child protection plans, the question is whether they are the right children, based on a consistent, rather than targeted approach for the protection of children; anecdotal evidence would suggest not.

Whilst keeping children safe is paramount, and a right afforded to every child, agencies must deliver appropriately and effectively on their aims to safeguard and protect all children. Yet, the child protection system continues to fail minority ethnic children and families due to lack of consideration of race, identity and language, and more broadly, cultural and faith values which are often misunderstood or largely ignored.

VCF Co-Founder and Director, Mor Dioum is keen to see his organisation’s protocol for protecting children across culture and faith embedded within child protection policies and practice. “The suggestion is not to treat minority ethnic children and families differently, rather to treat them the same as the dominant community to ensure child safeguarding processes are applied objectively and that a similar approach is adopted for all”

It is well known that safeguarding thresholds differ across boroughs based on local issues, however it is the nature of such inconsistencies that is concerning and surely worth considering why this occurs – and more specifically, to whom.

Anecdotal evidence from our own cases suggests that the response by statutory agencies can be significantly different towards black and minority ethnic families who can often find themselves involved with children’s social care for actions that do not prompt a response for white British children in similar circumstances. Conversely, white children appear to be left far longer in environments that are dangerously unsafe, Peter Connolly being the most high profile example of a clear case for removal, yet despite 60 opportunities he remained in his family home.

There should be no space for racism in child safeguarding, and in our recent article, ‘We cannot continue to ignore race and identity within child protection‘, we began to explore the decision to repeal the ethnicity clause – in the Children and Families Bill which received royal assent in 2014 – to remove the requirement for children to be matched culturally with potential adopters despite fewer than 3% of minority ethnic children in the care system. The debate continues as the impact on a child of losing his or her cultural or linguistic heritage cannot be set aside so easily and ‘placing a child in a loving home’ is but a temporary solution and a somewhat lazy ideal.

In October 2014, VCF partnered with Mothertongue to take this debate forward to explore the impact of linguistic and cultural heritage in child protection work. Are we effectively considering the relevance of these themes when making decisions in the best interest of the child? A parliamentary roundtable event led to the creation of a multilingualism working group and white paper ‘My Languages Matter’ with contributions by other organisations, including BAAF and Birkbeck University in relation to the multilingual outlook for children in care.

Adoption reforms designed to quicken the process for children in care have reportedly led to lower than expected adoptions. Is there a correlation between this and the fast track approach for the minority ethnic child, through section 20 arrangements, apparently able to leapfrog section 47 investigations en-route?

Thankfully, we are beginning to see such discrepancies addressed through changes to the public law outline; children are better safeguarded at court where there is a requirement to demonstrate and evidence that due process has been followed with adoption as the last resort not the first.

The politics of balancing two sets of reforms can lead to more target-driven work leaving unsupported social workers little or no time to engage appropriately with families to understand their varying support needs vis-a-vis their children; as identified in our research paper ‘Voices from the Frontline’ in collaboration with HCL Social Care.

At VCF we offer an independent community-led perspective and intervention approach, aspects of which are documented in a pilot study ‘Engaging children and families; the role of advocacy within child protection’ conducted by the Centre for Social Work Research at University of East London.

To keep children safe requires a system that advocates and promotes children’s rights. The government has recently announced its intent to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, which many view as a retrograde step and threat to Britain’s international reputation. Whilst this particular commentary can be left to others to pursue, at VCF we will actively campaign and participate in the debate to ensure that the rights and protection of all children are upheld and that every child matters… in the work to keep our children safe!

Coming soon: Engaging children and families; the role of advocacy within child protection.
A pilot study in collaboration with UEL Centre for Social Work Research

My Languages Matter; the multilingual outlook for children in care 
A joint White Paper with Mothertongue to be formally launched November 2015

Voices from the frontline; supporting our social workers in the delivery of quality services to children
A research paper in partnership with HCL Social Care (July 2014)

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