British child welfare system
The Children Act 1989 The Act introduced new principles, powers and duties on local authorities:
· safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need (including disabled children) and so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families
· parental responsibility
· duty to investigate - if a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, 'significant harm'
· inter-agency co-operation
· 'welfare principle' in Court proceedings - the welfare checklist, including the wishes and feelings of the child
· 'no order' principle
· delay is detrimental to the child
· contact, consultation and the duty to rehabilitate looked after children
· child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background considered in reaching a decision about the child
FAMILY SUPPORT SERVICES
These include assessments of children in need and often the provision of support services for parenting and care, including for disabled children. Voluntary 'accommodation' comes within these services, whether for short periods of respite or a longer period, and the parent retains full parental responsibility.
Local authorities approve and register childminders, playgroups, nurseries and after-school care for children under the age of 8 years. This is an expanding area, especially with Government encouragement and financial support for these services.
CHILD PROTECTION SERVICES
These include the enquiries required by Section 47 of the Children Act, where children are suffering or at risk of significant harm.
There is a strong emphasis on inter-agency working, following the guidance in Working Together Under the Children Act 1989 - A guide to arrangements for inter-agency co-operation for the protection of children from abuse' (1991). This guidance covers inter-agency working on the management, strategic level and also in investigations of abuse in individual cases.
Allegations of child abuse, which indicate a crime has been committed, are investigated jointly by Social Services and the Police. Children's evidence is recorded on video under strict guidelines published in the 'Memorandum of Good Practice'. There are local variations in the way this procedure is used, but there is concern that it is Police led, with priority given to the collection of evidence, and yet ineffective in achieving prosecutions for crimes of serious child abuse.
'Working Together' prescribes the structure and use of Child Protection Conferences and the Child Protection Register. The categories of abuse for placing a child's name on the Child Protection Register are as follows:
The child protection register - categories of abuse
Neglect: the persistent or severe neglect of a child, or the failure to protect a child from exposure to any kind of danger, including cold or starvation, or extreme failure to carry out important aspects of care, resulting in the significant impairment of the child's health or development, including non-organic failure to thrive.
Physical injury: actual or likely physical injury to a child, or failure to prevent physical injury (or suffering) to a child including deliberate poisoning, suffocation and Munchausen's syndrome by proxy.
Sexual abuse: actual or likely sexual exploitation of a child or adolescent. The child may be dependent and/or developmentally immature.
Emotional abuse: actual or likely severe adverse effect on the emotional and behavioural development of a child caused by persistent or severe emotional ill-treatment or rejection. All abuse involves some emotional ill-treatment. This category should be used where it is the main or sole form of abuse.
Working Together' also gives the criteria for de-registration, outlining the ways risk may be reduced either by separation of the child and the abuser, or by assessment of risk and/or work with the family. The Child Protection Register aims to be 'a record of all children in the area for whom there are unresolved child protection issues and who are currently the subject of an inter-agency protection plan'.
'Working Together' is currently under review, and there is substantial consultation with agencies. It will be revised and published later this year, with an emphasis on reducing the use of the child protection systems unnecessarily, in favour of 're-focussing' to a family support approach.
In Southampton, the number of children on the Child Protection Register is just below the national average (26 per 10,000 children, compared to 27 nationally, on 31.3.98), but very low for our group of comparable authorities (average 37 per 10,000 children). There were high numbers of children placed on the register, and de-registered, indicating a high turnover. There are still wide variations in how different areas use the register so we are hoping for clearer national guidance in the revised 'Working Together'.
LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN
Children are 'looked after' by the local authority either by voluntary agreement with parents ('accommodation') or under Care Orders made by the Courts.
The number of children under care orders has risen steeply over the past two years, while the number of children accommodated under voluntary agreements has fallen.
Nationally, looked after children are placed in foster care while.
The 'looked After Children' materials, introduced by government in 1994, are used in most local authorities, including Southampton. These are a comprehensive set of materials to ensure that Children Act requirements and standards are met for the information sharing, planning, and reviewing of looked after children. The Assessment and Action records review progress and set goals and tasks in six areas of development, including health, education, emotional and social development, and identity including racial and cultural identity, areas we know from research tend to show poor outcomes for children in local authority care.
The Children Act 1989 introduced increased responsibilities to provide support services for young people who are leaving and have left care. This can include financial support.