This post follows on from a small discussion I took part in on twitter on June 2nd, itself emerging from a conference asking Is the Child Protection System Fit for Purpose? #CPConf2015 (Sadly one which I did not attend.) There are numerous write-ups of the conference available on line. The organisers have one here. You can read one from a parent who took part here.
This is about an issue that I would like to understand more as it effects real people (rather than in a theoretical way), and I’m relying on you all to help me: the use of section 20 placements (Children Act 1989) when parents seek support with an abusive child from Children’s Services. It seems to me that this would be an important part of a tiered response, and yet I hear very negative comments about the implementation. Through my own experience, through listening to people, particularly on twitter (but also “real life”) I have conjured up a series of statements and questions as a starter for debate. So here goes ….
- Section 20 lays out the duty of an authority to accommodate a young person where – for our purposes – the person who has been caring for the child cannot provide him with a suitable home, with the consent of parents, unless the child or young person is deemed to be at risk of significant harm. In that case the local authority should seek a care order through the courts.
- Parents experiencing abuse from their children frequently seek a solution from Children’s Services. This may include, as a last resort, and in order to protect themselves and other children, a request that the child be accommodated elsewhere for a period of respite, or for a more permanent solution.
- Generally speaking, parents hope that the relationship will be repaired and the child return home.
- I can’t have it both ways. I can’t argue that children hurting others are themselves at risk of significant harm; while at the same time advocating greater use of section 20.
- I am told that “parents start off desperately asking for help, but then when a placement is offered decide they don’t want that after all”.
- Social workers may be reluctant to accommodate older children, “because of the long-term costs accruing to the authority”.
- Social workers may be not knowledgeable about the effects of trauma and how this might be played out within the home, so may misread behaviour and relationships.
- Social workers may not be knowledgeable about child to parent violence.
- Parents of adopted children find the idea of returning a child to care particularly difficult, because of what it means to the child and also the messages they receive about their own worth.
- Sometimes parents and social workers have different ideas of what is happening, with diverging plans, which can sour relationships.
- Section 20 can be very helpful when parents and social workers are working in partnership. We are all being urged to adopt the partnership model more – listening to the service user voice and adopting an approach less focused on rescuing the child.
So for the questions …
- Is section 20 an appropriate tool to use when a parent seeks help in this situation?
- Is the problem that the provision is being misused? Is this because the CP system has fundamentally shifted its focus?
- Is the problem that social workers do not properly understand child to parent violence?
- What else is going on?
I really hope we can get a discussion going here. It would be good to hear other people’s experiences. Thank you!
You can find a useful explanation of section 20 here.