Case study: about poor social work assessment

A poor assessment of vulnerable children and their families has attracted considerable attention now and then. For effective intervention to be achieved, a comprehensive assessment has to be carried out when dealing with children in need and their families, keeping in mind that any decisions made will change the lives of the children and their families respectively. Past serious case reviews such as Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter, as well as this case has shown that assessment can be complex and challenging. This essay considers the assessment of the needs of child B and D and their family. It also seeks to critically examine the barriers that prevented meeting their needs. And, finally this paper seeks to consider how effective social work interventions could have been applied so that their tragic outcome could have been prevented.

The Children and their family’s problems and difficulties could have been improved very dramatically with early intervention and appropriate assessment. London Child protection procedure states that ‘early assessment and intervention is vital because incidents of neglect and abuse within families are on a continuum and situations where abuse is developing can at times be resolved by preventative services outside the child protection procedures’ (London child protection procedure, 2010, p.262) complying this guidelines would have reduced the difficulties faced by the children and their parents. The case review suggests that there had been ‘substantial contact’ between the parents and different agencies in Bromley, and these various agencies were aware and concerned about the plight of the family and about neglect of the children in particular for more than five years’. (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.3) Yet, the family and children in particular were not assessed by the local authority. The duties and powers of the local authority to assess children in need and families are laid down in Part III of the Children Act 1989. The Act states that ‘It shall be the general duty of every local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need…. (Children Act, 1989).

Furthermore, according the case review, the children were seen as in need, and not children in need of protection and no assessment or investigation took place (Children D & B SCR, 2011). The Local authority should have carried out their statutory duties and should have considered making enquiries to find out what is happening to the children, and whether further actions should be taken to protect them. London Child protection procedures guidelines requires that local authorities ‘to assess, plan and provide support to children in need, including those suffering or likely to suffer significant harm’ (London child protection procedure, 2010, pp.p,37) despite these clear guidelines it is clear as stated in the case review that agencies particularly Bromley children’s services failed to carry out their duties and had not ‘responded adequately’ to the needs of the family (ibid) Working together states that ‘initial assessment should be carried by local the authority children’s services and is to be discussed with the family’ (Working together, 2013, p.146). However, this was not done as the children’s services underestimated the situations and decided not to have any contact with the family (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.8 para 5.1.2). During our role-play regarding this case review we talked about how we are going to tackle this case and after numerous discussions come to the conclusion that there is a child protection issue here, and that we should inform the parents that our concerns and the steps we need to take to promote the wel-lbeing of the children and the subsequent feedback given seemed to be consistent with our conclusions.

The parent’s lack of cooperation with the agencies and the fact that Ms. Q colluded with her partner to distract and divert professionals from investigation concerns about the children should have been challenged, this is not only a barrier to meeting the needs of the family and children in particular, but a professional dangerousness. Because some professionals allowed themselves to believe that ‘all is well for the family and the children, even when neglect and abuse were clear’ (Davies, 2014) It was clear that the lack of cooperation and secrecy that characterised the family had significant consequences for the children. However, professionals should have challenged this and insisted to see the children and to look around the condition of their accommodation. There were concerns about the children as early as 2006, when they ‘displayed signs of faltering growth’ and a number of ‘professionals identified developmental delays’ yet agencies misjudged the situations and chose not to carry out immediate steps to safeguard the children (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.7 para 4.7)

Ironically, the case review finding also shows that some of the greatest barriers to intervention were presented by the parents themselves, because they made it very difficult for agencies to gain access to the children. These barriers might be linked to stigma and labelling fears that surrounds Mr G’s epilepsy condition as well as the condition of the house becoming visible to professionals such as social workers. (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.11 para 5.5.3) Another barrier would be the family might have thought that their behaviour would be seen as harmful to the children, and therefore they devised plans for covering up any problems in the care of the children. ‘This may be mirrored by professionals avoiding contact with the family’. (Davies, 2014)

Reflecting on a role-play based on this case which I have participated led me to question whether some professionals felt helpless to take action due to legislative constraints and to avoid not to be seen as oppressors. For example, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Right to Respect for Private and Family Life) might seem to hold back or restrict non voluntary involvement with this family. But, then I realised that this is not a valid reason when it comes to safeguarding a child. As the Article 8 rights is not absolute and it is allowed if it is to: safeguard a child and protect his/her health, ‘morals, rights and freedoms’. (Human Rights Act, Articel 8, 1989). Furthermore, there was non-compliance with statutory procedures, for example London child protection procedure states that if there is a ‘reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer, significant harm’, including neglect and emotional abuse, then there must be an ‘immediate provision of child in need to promote his or her well-being’. The guidance also states that strategy meeting must be instigated to discuss whether a child protection enquiry should be carried out. If these procedures were followed, then the children would have been safe. Liz Davies (2014) states that Inquiries commonly report that legislation, policy and practice are sound, but professionals fail to comply with their implementation’ this is exactly what happened in this case. (Davies, 2014)

Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which the UK is a party) is also relevant to this case. The convention states that ‘in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, …… or legislative bodies, the best interests’ of the child shall be their primary consideration’ (OHCHR.ORG, 1990). In complex cases such as this one, where various agencies involved, attention can be diverted from the children to other issues which the family may be facing for example the family used Mr G’s Epilepsy condition to ward off closer scrutiny of their condition. This seems to me a deliberate attempt by the family to shut out professional intervention (Children D & B SCR, 2011). During our role-play, we discussed the best way to find out what is happening with the children and came to the conclusion that since the parents are shutting themselves off from professionals; a social worker should see the children at the school where the children attend. However, we later learned that parental permission is required and the only time we can do this, is if a child is at risk of significant harm. I was dissatisfied with this feedback as I felt the children needed an urgent protection and neglect and emotional abuse are categories of significant harm. NSPCC has found that “Neglect often co-exists with other forms of child maltreatment and boundaries between abuse and neglect can become blurred’ (NSPCC, 2012)

Continuity of social work support is vital for this complex family and prevention and early interventions are key to preventing tragic cases like this happening again. ‘Preventative services can do more to reduce abuse and neglect than reactive services’. (Munro, 2011, p.74) Agencies and professionals should have addressed the needs of the children and their parent and this should have involved both children and adult services. According to the case review Mr. G ‘had reported that his health was causing increasing problems for him’ similarly Ms. Q was also said to have some psychosocial condition and learning difficulties. It should have been important to assessed their needs and provide support for both parents and Ms. Q in particular as early as possible. Professionals should have been particularly concerned about the mother as she was suffering mental disorder and had learning disability. Parents with learning disabilities are no more likely to harm or neglect their children than any other parent, ‘but it is essential to always assess the implications for the children’ (London child protection procedure, 2010, p.216 para 5.33.1) There should have been initial assessment when the family was referred by Bromley charity to determine the nature of any services required by the family and whether more detailed Core assessment should be carried out. Section 47 enquiries should also have been considered as there were grounds to suspect that the children were suffering impairment of health and development as stated on section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.74 para 4.7) London child protection procedures states that assessment must be initiated when a professional has concerns that a child’s development and well-being are at risk, and the findings of such assessment should have rung the alarm bells.

‘Fundamental to establishing whether a child is in need and how those needs should be best met, is that any approach must be child centred’ the case review suggests that this was not the case. Although many agencies and professionals were involved with the family, their involvement lacked a holistic child centred perspective. Similarly a good relationship between professionals and service users are central to the success of an effective intervention. Social workers empower services users to find a solution that work for them based on their circumstances and to have control of their lives, thus, a person-centred approach should have been considered for this family. This perspective seeks to understand the needs of the service users, what do they need and how can this be accommodated. The perspective requires that Professionals to explain what support is available for them and how they can get access to such support. These include counselling, information giving, and financial support, advocacy budgeting and other support that can best meet their needs. In addition, professionals need to develop good relationship with the services users (in this case the family) based on empathy and none oppressive. One element of anti-oppressive practice is to make sure that the people’s rights are not violated. (Dalrymple & Burke, 1995, p.57)

However, the implementation of person-centred planning ‘relies heavily on a shift in thinking among professionals’, Bromely’s children and family services in particular about the way in which support should have been delivered to this family (Woodrow, 1998). Unfortunately, they decided that they have nothing to do with the family as the level of concern was not sufficiently serious. (Children D & B SCR, 2011, p.9 para 5.1.2) During our discussion in this issue, I felt the children’s services decision not to have contact with the family was an oppressive. Professionals needed to indentify oppressive practices when working with this family; instead I felt they were judged as trouble family, I have also felt the family’s chaotic life style was accepted as normal and ‘chronic neglect is often ignored because of this attitude’ (Davies, 2014). Dalrymple and Burke (1995) state that social workers should acquire knowledge and understanding of their own selves and challenge oppressive practices (Dalrymple & Burke, 1995, p.57)

Early intervention should have made real difference to this family and this would have in turn safeguarded the children. However, without the family’s cooperation good outcome would be difficult to achieve and as clear in this review the parent did not respond positively to attempts to help them and this itself was a challenge and a barrier that hindered any effective intervention and support for the family. Furthermore, as mentioned in the case review, very little was known about the background of the mother, thus, there should have been a multi-agency strategy meeting to discuss what is known about her past and to examine her parenting capacity. Similarly a child protection conference to bring together all professionals and the family including their extending family members should have taken place, and plans to keep the children safe from harm should have been drafted. In addition, using wide-ranging assessment processes that place the children, and parents at the centre from the outset would have encouraged the active involvement of parents and their extended family members in identifying solutions to address the problems the family was facing .By carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the family’s’ needs would have allowed the professionals to have a good understanding of the issues the family was facing and how best to support them, sadly as clearly shown in the case review none of these steps was considered.

In conclusion, the role-play and the module content allowed me to more aware of positions of power and how such power can impact child protection. For example, parents, social services or even social workers abusing their power when dealing with children and families. This essay argues that, the children and their families’ problems and difficulties could have been improved very dramatically by early intervention and appropriate assessment. And complying the statutory guidelines such working together and London child protecting procedures would have safeguarded the difficulties faced by the children and their parents. The paper also suggests that the children’s social services failure to have contact with the family was oppressive. The essay acknowledges the lack of cooperation by the parents was a barrier, but suggests that the professionals should have challenged this as they have duties to protect the children. And finally, the essay suggests that if strategy meeting and child protection conference had been held, this tragic event could have been avoided.

Bibliography

Children Act, 1989. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/part/III. [Online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/part/III [Accessed 25
April 2014].

Children D & B SCR, 2011. Child D and Child B: A Serious Case Review Executive Summary. Bromley, Kent: Bromley Safeguarding Children Board.

Dalrymple, J. & Burke, B., 1995. Anti-oppressive practice: Social care and the law. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Davies, L., 2014. Professional dengerousness. London: available at : https://bblearn.londonmet.ac.uk.

Davies, L., 2014. Professionall dengerousness, lecture notes; on safeguarding children and adutls module. London: London metropolitan university.

Human Rights Act, Articel 8, 1989. www.legislation.gov.uk: Human Rights Act 1989. [Online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1 [Accessed 26
April 2014].

London child protection procedure, 2010. London child protection procedure:Strategy meeting / discussion. London: London safeguarding childrens board.

Munro, E., 2011. The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report. London: The Stationery Office Limited.

NSPCC, 2012. Neglect: Research Briefing. [Online] Available at: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/briefings/childneglect_wda48222.html [Accessed 26
April 2014].

OHCHR.ORG, 1990. Convention on the Rights of the Child. [Online] Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx [Accessed 26
April 2014].

Woodrow, P., 1998. ‘Interventions for confusion and dementia:changing cultures’. British Journal of Nursing, 7(21), pp.1329–31.

Working together, 2013. Working together to safeguard children:A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote welfare of children. london: The Stationery Office. HM Government: Department for children, schools and familes.

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