Imagine a Scotland where no child faces poverty, a Scotland where children don’t have to live in over-crowded, or poor-quality housing, where children are safe in their neighbourhoods, and they don’t have to face interrupted educations. Imagine the impact that that has on those children and their families. But also, how does that impact on the professionals who are assessing their welfare and their risk? As long as adults have been involved in protection of children, that this has been something that’s linked with their protection. Dr. Barnardo in the late 19th century is quoted here as saying that, “parents are my chief difficulty everywhere. So are relatives, generally, because I take from a very low class.”
So we can question the partnership within that statement, but we certainly can’t question the links between class inequality and poverty.
And it’s important, I think, to put child protection and child maltreatment in the context of history. As we can see that, with a recognition of the impact of structural inequality on child welfare. And 60 years ago, that wasn’t recognised. 60 years ago it was believed that child maltreatment happened in the context of psychopathic parents, and parents who had organic health difficulties. Brown and Sake writing in Wilson and James, categorised the causes of maltreatment, and they started with this idea that it was psychopathic parents who maltreated children, and then moved onto an understanding of an integrated model, where economics, environment, social factors, and psychology all impacted on the protection of children.
And social policy then followed that with the Social Work Scotland Act 1968, which brought services for children, and for all adults, as well, closer to their communities with community social work, with importance of welfare rights officers, and we had social work delivered within area-based teams, often in very vulnerable, multiply-deprived areas. However, child protection moved in a completely different direction, and in quite an antagonistic direction. The focus for child protection based on the lessons from inquiries into child deaths– Maria Colwell, Jasmine Beckford, and later, Victoria Climbie and Kennedy McFarlane.
They forced us to look at actual or significant harm in children. They moved us away from community social work to look at the most serious and the children who are at most risk. Often that was to control demand for these very expensive services, but it really forced social workers and other professionals, particularly the police, into a very formalised way of dealing with children and families. So that different direction caused a real antagonism within the service, and within services that deliver support to children. And this quote from Banks elicits that.
Banks says, “To regard child welfare and protection purely as a technical exercise ignores the ethical questions about how much abuse society is prepared to tolerate, balanced against how much interference in family life is thought to be justified.” Banks goes on to say that, “social workers major role becomes one of surveillance and collecting evidence, rather than therapy with families.” So you can see the antagonism in there, and that exists to date. We have legal challenges, for example, against the Children and Young Person’s Act, where some sections of society are not happy that we don’t have a named person for all children, rather than just vulnerable children.
However, the evidence linking structural barriers with child maltreatment is very strong. We have, in a study by Gibbons who looked at all children on child protection registers in England and Wales, Gibbons found that over half of those children were dependent on state benefits. And in less than a third of those cases, they lived in homes with only one natural parent. And those statistics will have become more stark over the last 20 years. In a Scottish context, there’s a really strong correlation between the levels of deprivation in local areas, and the percentage or ratio of children who are looked after. And that’s particularly acute within Glasgow, as we know.
And while child abuse and child maltreatment happens in all sections of communities– urban, rural, rich, poor– we do find that children do less well in poor urban areas, and they recover less well from child harm.
I would like to move on to the current strategies that are put in place by the government and by local areas, in order to reduce and mitigate against those factors of structural inequality. We have children’s community partnerships, which support and force local services to work together, to meet needs of children. So any service that supports children and families, or is relating to those services, has to work together, and produce a children’s services plan. And they’re then inspected by the care inspector to make sure that’s being adhered to. There’s a real focus on the early intervention. We have initial referral discussions or the like in almost every local area.
So we have police, social work, education, and health all talking together, sharing vital information on the point of child protection, but also very often at much earlier stage than that. Early years is a real focus for the government, and for local partnerships. There’s a focus on the very young. And that comes at a financial challenge for local services, at the same time as having to deliver high-quality, early intervention services. And they also have to focus on the risk that children face at any point in their lives. But the Early Years collaborative, which allows good ideas to be shared amongst one another. And we have the universal profession of early years care.
We have nursery provision, which is provided universally for– or will be provided universally for all 2-year-olds, if they wish that, if their families wish that. Also many areas have targeted those services. They’ve looked at providing extra support for looked after children, through nursery provision. And all of these ideas are both linked to and connected to GIRFEC, Getting It Right For Every Child. My argument is that the well-being indicators, and other tools linked to GIRFEC, the My World Triangle, they both force and they support practitioners to look at the wider world for that child. They’re not just looking at how I grow, and what I need from my carers, but they’re also looking at these structural factors.
And none of that eradicates poverty. None of that takes away the difficulties that some children will continue to have, in relation to structural inequality. But they can mitigate those factors, and they’re at least taken into account in the assessment, the care planning, and the action that takes place to support these young people. Thank you.