Social workers in the spotlight again.... where are things going wrong?
The case of toddler Ayeeshia Jane Smith’s murder has filled the news recently, not only because of the shocking circumstances of her death at the hands of her birth mother, but because she was well known to Social Services, who admit they were on the verge of issuing care proceedings.
A Serious Case Review of Derbyshire County Council has now been launched to try and ‘learn lessons’ but the pervading tone is of negativity and cynicism toward the likely outcome. One BBC News report includes comment from the NSPCC:
"A serious case review of the circumstances will shine a light on what happened but as with the hundreds of serious case reviews that have come before, it's doubtful it will really advance child protection."
Once again, social services are in a ‘no-win’ situation.
Consider the research published by the British Association of Social Workers at the end of 2015 detailing the ‘hidden population’ of birth mothers subject to the recurrent issuing of care proceedings. Lead researcher Prof Karen Broadhurst said there had been "a general trend towards taking more timely action" where children could be at risk, but the number of newborns taken into care was "disproportionately increasing".
It is further noted that "Some mothers are caught in a destructive cycle: their child's taken into care, because of neglect or abuse, they quickly become pregnant again without changing their outlook or circumstances." She added: "As you have more babies removed, the desire to replace the lost baby becomes stronger."
Is this really a revelation? The thought of having a child removed from your care for any period of time is clearly abhorrent to the vast majority of parents. The concept that it could be permanent almost impossible to fathom and the effect clearly ever-lasting. Here at Bakers we believe firmly that children are best in the care of their parents and families should be kept together.
That is not to say that we disagree with the removal of children into care. Not at all. In many cases, this is clearly and unequivocally necessary, and in fact, critical.
But the human fact of these cases can seem too easily forgotten. These families are not numbers in a report, or goods in a factory to be processed along a conveyor belt. People deserve more. We have represented many mothers and fathers previously advised their case has ‘no merit’, as if it is possible to quantify people’s lives with a simple assessment.
Rather than continuing to churn people through the system, sometimes repeatedly, and then criticise the agencies (such as social workers) involved, we should spend more time on humanising the process. More empathy. More investment in prevention, rehabilitation, recovery and the repairing of family structures and the people that form them, rather than pushing agencies to increasingly take them apart ‘to be on the safe side’ in preventing cases like Ayeeshia's occuring in the future.
There are no simple remedies to these issues, but that's not to say that we must not continue to fight for them, the way we must fight for the families affected.
i) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36013256 ii)http:// Bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/