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The reality of caring for vulnerable children

Watch John Paul Fitzpatrick as he talks about the effect of poverty, options for vulnerable children and what factors would bring about true change.
Hi and welcome to today’s session, which is exploring the reality of caring for vulnerable children. We’re going to look at some of the issues and challenges. One of the first issues is that of poverty. We’re going to explore the impact of poverty on families, and the services in and around the child. Let’s look at the context of poverty though and what it actually means. There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the United Kingdom today. That’s 27% of children, or more than one in four. That’s a huge amount of young people, and children, and families that are living in very difficult situations, day in, day in, week on week.
People end up here for a whole variety of different reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drugs and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worthlessness, are not necessarily supported by the research base and the facts. They do however make for very good strap lines and sound bites in terms of the politics. How many people are living in poverty in your country, and in your neighbourhood? Do you know? If not, have a look, try and find out. There’s an expectation that these statistics are actually only going to increase. There’s been research done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which supports this.
The upward trend is actually expected to continue, with 4.7 million children projected to be living in poverty by 2020. That could have a potentially devastating effect on social care, and social services, and community cohesion, and infrastructure, and leads to an increase in child neglect and deprivation. There is strong correlation between the impacts of families living in poverty, and the increases and uptake of social service support, and the need for support, and intervention, around neglect and deprivation. The converse of all of this, of course, is as the numbers of children and young people living in poverty increases dramatically, then so does the amount of people requiring support.
And at the same time, the budgets and finance available to support social care and social service infrastructure is diminishing. And is often cut and reduced because of austerity. And we are living in times of global austerity, which have an impact on countries infrastructure and abilities to support social services. And difficult political decisions have to be made and are being made. How much has the effects of poverty and cuts to social service budgets impacted for your state and in your country context? It would be worth having a look to find out more.
The actual sum of the impacts of this austerity on families means that there’s less time available, and usually increases in caseloads, for social workers, residential workers, youth and family support workers, and often paperwork. The bureaucracy that requires service becomes hugely increased. And actual staff time for spending quality time with relationships with children and families diminishes. In fact, quite often our own mental health services, for example, children and young people in a United Kingdom context, and here in Scotland, spend a lot of time waiting for referrals to mental health services that they desperately require. And that’s just one example of many.
And I think, actually, you should have a look at some of your local media to find out some stories about where these types of issues arise. And these are the issues which often result in tragedy, which creates a lot of media attention. Which then actually, conversely, has an impact in terms of becoming a political priority briefly, and then some action is spent. Money is diverted from elsewhere to address that particular problem, and the cycle continues. And actually part of the challenge about social services, and social care is that it is so linked the political agenda, that long term decision making doesn’t necessarily take place. Which means that in terms of planning for services, it is not as efficient.
And actually the desire for good quality outcomes for children can suffer as a result. And actually what you face is the situation where there is a risk of budget led decision making taking place, based on the amount of money you’ve got available, rather than what is in the best interests of the child at that particular time. And that’s something that should be professionally guarded against and resisted. And actually I think we all have an ethical responsibility, and a duty, to lobby and to advocate for the highest standards of care. And to make sure that families of vulnerable children, families are supported at the point of needs. And actually earlier intervention.
So given the situation in terms of global austerity, let’s look at the role of family support, and community development. And what that can contribute to supporting families in need. There is a need for earlier intervention. The statistics show that in terms of the plasticity of the brain, and we’ve spoken in previous sessions around attachment and resilience of children and young people, that the earlier you intervene, the more effective that intervention is likely to be. So there is a need for whole family support. All of the evidence shows us that there is no point in working with children in isolation, but we should be working in the context of communities, and families, and supporting parents.
And also there’s a real need to identify particular transition points for children and young people, when they’re experiencing difficulties. Anticipating when those transitions are likely to be, and providing the intervention at that point of, or before the point of transition, that’s critical, because quite often intervention occurs when the situation has reached crisis point. Yet, if we know when difficult transitions for children young people are likely to be, these are at points, it may be from transition from primary to secondary, it may be moving home, it may be transitioning from a home supervision placement to a residential care placement, it may be about difficult transitions into throughcare. So there needs to be effective support and earlier intervention.
But actually the way around all of this, is to look at better investment and community development to build stronger, resilient communities, and support for families. There’s a need for better investment in community, to build communities to support for families. Actually investing in alternate educational programmes, youth work facilities, youth clubs, infrastructure support, nursery programmes, parenting programmes, adult education programmes, and actually encouraging communities to get involved in their own local areas, and making decisions in the issues that affect and impact them. That is the way of building community cohesion. In some of the poorest neighbourhoods, the young people and families report that there is less of a feeling of community infrastructure.
Where do you stay, for those of you that are staying in bigger cities? Do you actually know your neighbours, and do you have a sense of the issues that affect your community at a particular time? Are you involved in a group or organisation? Because this is the way that we can create and affect change and empower ourselves, and make for stronger, resilient communities, to try and– one part of the jigsaw of solving the poverty challenge and problem. So I would compel you to try and find that out. So without all of this, without early intervention, without the family support, without anticipating difficult transitions and intervening, we are setting children and families up for a fail.
So we really must, and actually the stuff that we can do as individuals, both by wearing your professional hat, for those of you that engaged in child and youth care in some shape or form, but also in terms of exercising your democratic rights, in lobbying and in campaigning and getting involved. So it’s good that you’ll be agitated, when you’ve been thinking about this and your journey through the course. But actually, here’s a question for you. What are you going to do about it?

This talk is presented by guest speaker, John Paul Fitzpatrick.

John Paul is an Honorary Research Fellow within the School of Social Work and Social Policy, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and Director of TeachMindset Ltd.

In this talk we consider the impact of poverty on the lives of children and their families and the direct correlation between poverty and vulnerability. Whilst this is a global phenomenon, with cuts to social services budgets being evident in many settings, particular examples are drawn from Scotland and Glasgow. The impact of these cuts on services are considered and suggestions made as to how a more long-term, community development based approach is required to tackle effectively some of the ongoing issues faced by vulnerable children and their families.

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Caring for Vulnerable Children

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