24 February 2023
VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is concerned with the current direction for children, and consistent failures to support and protect children in accordance with their rights.
In our initial response to the government-commissioned practice reviews for children, we highlighted the lack of implementation of reforms and developments from Laming to Munro which together delivered a cross-party child protection system, recognised and admired across the globe.
What remains unclear is the current message for change and alternative solutions for child welfare, which may have been a partial reason for unprecedented delays to government responses to multiple reviews.
The system may want some children in care, but does every child need State protection?
According to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, published last May, the number of looked-after children in England could exceed 100,000 by 2032 unless changes are implemented (CYP Now, 17 Nov 2022).
Yet, academic research suggests that the number of children in care ‘for abuse’ has declined, thus skewing the numbers of children under the protection of this government for significant risk of harm, outside of increased neglect cases due to lack of legally identified support.
With proposed measures for children’s social care set to adversely impact already disadvantaged groups, we can anticipate an increase in referrals for ‘safeguarding’ support, and yet more children in State care. In effect, and without independent oversight (by which we mean transparent) they become this country’s hidden children,
Children and family social work teams have become disempowered and disillusioned in their work with families, unable to offer workable options for support and/or ethical practice.
Conversely, local authorities driven by market forces have remained chillingly silent to community concerns of discriminatory, harmful and unlawful practice.
Bridging the gap for Black and minority ethnic (BME) children and young people
In our many years of addressing child abuse across all ethnicities, we have remained consistent in our message for practitioners; to address harmful behaviours within standard child protection practice, not individual or cultural beliefs.
A social worker on Twitter, in a thread about the wider issues of working conditions and pay, sought to highlight the breadth of responsibilities for social workers across, and we quote, ‘other branches of abuse’.
“I, myself, am trained in spotting not only the 4 main types of abuse (sexual, neglect, physical and emotional) but also FGM, prevent (being aware of signs of terrorism), witchcraft (remember Victoria Climbié) county lines, breast ironing, the list is endless”
Yet, all of the examples provided can be assessed under one or more of the defined (‘main’) categories for abuse. By singling out themes as additional, and viewed incorrectly as belonging to specific cultures (note the absence of domestic abuse), inevitably leads to multi-agency responses (police, health, education, social care) being directed by a structural system that facilitates institutional racism and other forms of discrimination, driven by political will and agendas.
We mean no disrespect to this social worker or their seemingly valid employment concerns. We do however feel the need to ask who or what is driving a narrative that is nuanced for some and against others in the course of protecting a child.
In 2017, in the wake of the Calais crisis, we asked how this country would protect the rights and care of migrant children. Our response was to establish the BME-Migrant Advisory Group (B‑MAG) for the safeguarding of children and young people, to ensure effective delivery of quality services https://bmagsafeguardingcyp.com
Yet despite the heroic efforts of some local authorities, and various campaigns, this government is reportedly planning to move legal responsibility for refugee children to the Home Office. This proposed change, to be provided for by amendments to the Children Act 1989, is hardly a ringing endorsement following recent reports of children going missing from its hotels. leaving the fate of these children particularly uncertain, and indeed their rights.
Safeguarding and children’s rights
Amendments to the Children Act 2004 made ‘safeguarding’ everyone’s responsibility, thus moving away from the oft-requested accountability for regulated children’s services. Nor could ‘safeguarding’ be adequately defined by the sector. The government has regularly called for public reporting of child abuse, yet as can be seen from multiple public interest cases, concerns had been raised, and ignored.
Under the current child protection system, every child has been legally catered for, whether for protection or support, at risk of, or suffering harm. Yet these lines have become muddled under Safeguarding – a misnomer for many interacting with children and young people. The widespread rejection of independent advocacy has also played its part.
‘Safeguarding’ has become synonymous with support within, and outside of the child protection system, and has opened avenues to take children and families into wider processes that do not effectively identify their needs, rather, a missed opportunity for early help for children and families, to prevent the escalation of risk or concerns.
Recent campaigns have highlighted the emerging and current crisis for children and young people; particularly for families with children in education settings, or from certain communities who rightly feel betrayed.
Whilst we remain gravely concerned about the future of every child, we have hope that the help available through community partnerships offers invaluable support for young victims of crime or circumstance (and, where applicable, their families); from a child’s rights perspective and, increasingly, their digital rights.
We are confident
- that the principles of the ‘every child matters’ policy and early help can be further enhanced for children and families, with full statutory support
- that the universal rights of every child will be upheld and prioritised, within a system paid for by the public, to ensure their care and protection
- that Victoria’s legacy serves as a stark reminder of why we all do the work we do – to keep every child safe
The work continues…
- To embed aspects of culture and faith within child protection policies and practice – a VCF protocol https://vcf-uk.org/information/
- No to Schools Bill (and successive bill, subject to existing concerns) https://notoschoolsbill.uk/ Signatory to Open Letter to Education Secretary on CNIS Register and Attendance measures
- The People’s Review of Prevent https://peoplesreviewofprevent.org/
VCF advisory role and statement
- Independent, legally based advocacy service for families involved with children’s services; informs child protection reviews, policy and practice https://vcf-uk.org/services-vcf/
- A series of online training workshops for professionals working in formal and informal societal systems; starts March 2023 https://vcf-uk.org/services-vcf/training/