Category Archives: Policy

A Response to the Review of Children’s Social Care

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has been published less than a week, but there have already been many, many responses, analyses and commentaries. Most speak from their own particular interest angle, and that is what I will try to do, though I would like to make some general comments first. 

As a social worker I have thoughts on the whole report and – full disclosure – my first qualified job was within a patch team where we served a small neighbourhood, working to build protective relationships and activate community initiatives, as well as providing direct support and intervention; so I am all in favour of small, locally based teams working together across different disciplines in a way that is defined by the neighbourhood itself, intervening early on before difficulties are entrenched or crisis point is reached. 

We already know a number of things about the state of children’s social care, some of which receive the attention they deserve in this review. Social work is underfunded, social workers are under-supported, case-loads are too big, you may not receive help till crisis point is reached. Young and inexperienced social workers, with only basic training and minimal support, are often thrown in at the deep end to deal with complex and traumatic situations. Sometimes more experienced social workers are trying to make sense of complex family problems without adequate knowledge, supervision or resources. At the same time, there is a body of devoted, committed, amazing social workers carrying out exceptional, imaginative and creative work to support families in the direst of circumstances and with minimal recognition. Being able to hold both truths simultaneously has become an important part of the analysis and commentary on the state of social work. 

Much of the work that social workers undertake involves supporting families in poverty, experiencing poor mental health or the impact of domestic abuse. It is good to see this acknowledged. But how to rebalance supporting families early on, with the need to properly investigate and protect when it is needed, is the crucial question. It is clear that what we cannot afford to do is to tinker at the edges. McAllister calls this adding another brick to the Jenga tower. Responding to crises has brought us to where we are. A “once in a generation chance” is a phrase that sounds impressive and attention grabbing. “Radical overhaul” and “no more money” though do not sit easily together, as people have been saying for the last 2 years. McAllister proposes a way through this conundrum that others more qualified than me will now pick over. So I will admit that I was surprised to find there was more to like than I had expected; but other bits that rang alarm bells in the level of expectation on communities to step-up; and I remain sceptical as to whether there is the political will, bravery, consistency and commitment needed to make the changes necessary to demonstrate that the safety and wellbeing of children and families are truly valued. Time will tell. 

But from the point of view of families living with child to parent violence (CPV), and those working to bring about hope and greater safety for them, what does the review hold out for us?

The underlying difficulty has always been that CPV does not easily “fit” within any particular department, including within children’s social care. A responsibility to protect the child from, usually, the parent, has meant that families seeking help and advice from social workers have often been sent away, or have been offered parenting advice, or have been investigated for causing harm to the child which has brought about the violence and abuse towards themselves, or for failing to protect siblings. Thankfully this is changing as more and more authorities embrace an understanding of CPV which includes the many and varied contributory risks, and focuses on safeguarding the family as a whole unit. 

Listening to the voices of families as to what they find most helpful, and to those of practitioners who are now experts in their field, there are a number of things that are consistently raised, at personal and systems levels: a need for greater knowledge and skills, an understanding of the family as a unit and the expertise that parents particularly hold, the importance of wider community and peer support, more consistent post-adoption and post domestic abuse support, better access to mental health services, the value of early help and of good communication between professionals and agencies – particularly involving education, the centrality of contextual safeguarding; but above all, the importance of respect and a non-blaming attitude, and of offering help not just assessment. 

Did I expect CPV to receive a specific mention in the review? It is a question I have been asked. To be honest, no, though it would have been nice, given the amount of attention it has received as an issue of late. But each of the concerns listed above does get space as either valued components of the job or as areas for change and improvement, and if these fundamental things are right then all families benefit, whatever their difficulties. You might think they are pretty basic. They certainly look that way when listed like that. Is it disappointing that they have to be suggested as improvements? You bet! 

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A response to the Government’s Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan

Somewhat delayed because of family circumstances, but I thought it would be helpful to have a look at the Government’s recently published Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, and offer some thoughts.

Before I get started, a couple of caveats. First, the debate continues as to whether it is appropriate to consider child to parent violence and abuse under this umbrella. There are those who feel very strongly that it should be, because of the harm caused and the frequent links to the experience of intimate partner violence and abuse. (Academics such as Wilcox (2012) have made this case. PEGS literature is another case in point.) Others find the terminology and conceptualisation problematic, and shy away, preferring to focus on the age, the trauma and vulnerability of the children and young people themselves (for instance, many within the adoption community would feel this way). My sense from listening to people is that both views have merit, but that the circumstances around the harmful behaviour and family situation need to be taken into account in order to properly reflect each family’s situation.

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In July, the Government published the draft statutory guidance on Domestic Abuse with a consultation period ending on 14th September 2021.

The key objectives of the guidance are to:

  • provide clear information on what domestic abuse is in order to assist with its identification
  • provide guidance and support to frontline professionals, who have responsibilities for safeguarding and supporting victims of domestic abuse, for example through outlining relevant strategic and operational frameworks
  • improve the institutional response to domestic abuse by conveying best practice and standards for commissioning responses

The guidance extends to England and to Wales insofar as it relates to reserved or non-devolved matters in Wales. 

You will find links to various versions of the draft guidance and information on how to submit a response. 

Child/adolescent to parent violence is specifically mentioned on pages 20 – 23, including an illustrative case study; and there is discussion about age on page 36, the impact on a child of living with domestic abuse from page 59; and chapter 5 deals with multi-agency cooperation. However, there is real value in reading the whole document, with a recognition of the many different vulnerabilities experienced by families, and multiple points of discrimination and stigma. 

Whether or not CPV should be considered as a form of DA remains a contentious issue, but, nevertheless, it is contained within the Act and strong arguments have been made regarding the connections with DA. So regardless of whether you feel this is the right place for a response to be sited, please do take the time to read the draft guidance and consider whether there are comments you can usefully make to improve the document – and policy and practice – as it stands. 

Thank you!

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New VAWG consultation open

The Home Office has launched a Call for Evidence to help inform the development of the next Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy for England and Wales (2021 – 2024). The consultation runs for 10 weeks, closing on 19th February 2021. This will be the third iteration of the VAWG strategy, and although the first 2 have included mention of child and adolescent to parent violence, the content and resulting action has been disappointingly little so far. (See more in my blog posts about this here and here.)

There is a move to consider Domestic Abuse crimes specifically and separately in a consultation to follow Royal Assent of the Domestic Abuse Bill next year. However, it is recognised that this will also be included within the VAWG strategy. Views are sought from those with lived experience of, or views on crimes considered as violence against women and girls. This includes those involved in research, in preventative work, or in the development of and provision of services. The government is particularly interested to hear from those who feel under-represented in previous strategies, or whose needs are not currently supported.

This will be an excellent opportunity to attract further attention to the issue of child and adolescent to parent violence at higher strategic level, so please do consider taking part. While we would want to divert young people from the criminal justice system in terms of response, there are many instances where actions might be considered crimes, and parents choose to involved the police for their own safety and that of their young person. It is currently through police data that we are building a picture of the range and prevalence of behaviour; and with ongoing work training police in recognising and responding to C/APV it is arguably even more important that it gains greater recognition at government level.

There are a number of ways to submit evidence, which are all outlined on the relevant Government website pages, but the easiest way is to complete the public survey.

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#APVA: Change prompted by a Domestic Homicide Review

I am pleased to bring you this post from Neil Blacklock, Development Director at Respect, who has been following recent developments in Northumbria.

 

In November 2015, in Northumbria a mother was murdered by her 16-year son. The resulting Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) reported that safeguarding structures designed to identify and protect victims of domestic abuse were not attuned to pick up and respond to Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) and that agencies had not fully understood the risk that her son posed. Continue reading

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VAWG Strategy: Lack of Progress update for CPV

The Home Office published its latest VAWG Strategy papers this week, with the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls 2016 – 2020 Strategy Refresh, and the Ending Violence against Women and Girls Action Plan 2016 – 2020 Progress Update. Once again, I was disappointed to see that there was no mention of children’s and adolescent’s violence and abuse towards their parents, though not entirely surprised since it is has not featured as a specific issue since 2014, and only one line mention in 2016. The irony is that, at a local level, many areas are now developing their own strategic response; but by omitting this aspect of violence and abuse from central government documents – and thinking – it remains invisible, unconsidered, and unimaginable for too many people. Continue reading

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Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: HM Government Consultation

The UK Government is consulting on proposed changes to the law on domestic abuse. The consultation runs from March 8th to May 31st, 2018, and you can access the consultation documents, published by the Home Office here. As well as the full version, a shorter document can also be viewed. Continue reading

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Safeguarding Adolescents in London: survey for professionals

I am very happy to support the dissemination of this survey from the London Safeguarding Adolescents Steering Group, developed to inform improvements to the safeguarding of young people aged 10 – 17. If you are engaged in work with young people in London, please do read this letter and complete the survey.

Please note that this survey is now closed, but I have kept the links here for the interest of those involved in work in this field. Continue reading

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Call to Action – Knowledge Inquiry: Children who come into the care system under a voluntary arrangement

I have blogged in the past about the use of section 20 of the Children Act 1989 with families experiencing violence and abuse from their children. I know that this is an area of practice that is fraught with disagreement and potential misuse; and it has been the subject of legal discussion too of late (see here for example).

Your Family, Your Voice, an alliance of families and practitioners that has been developed by Family Rights Group to counter the stigma and negative presumptions about families whose children are subject to or at risk of state intervention, have launched an inquiry into the powers and duties which exist under section 20. You will find information about the aims of the inquiry, what form it will take, an invitation to take part – including information about focus groups – and full briefing notes on the NIROP pages linked below. Please do check it out, and contribute to the inquiry if you are affected by any of the issues.

Source: Call to Action – Knowledge Inquiry: Children who come into the care system under a voluntary arrangement

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Royal Commission on Family Violence, 2016

Of course I knew it was a very serious and extensive problem, but I don’t think I realised the dimensions and the scale of it“, the words of Justice Marcia Neave, who was the head of Australia’s first royal commission into family violence, which reported at the end of March, after a mammoth 13 months, during which the commission heard evidence from more than 200 stakeholders to come up with a final list of 227 recommendations. The commission was set up by the government of Victoria specifically, but the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, promised to accept every recommendation, and it is hoped that the federal government will also act in areas over which they have jurisdiction, such as the Family Law Act. Continue reading

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