Divorce and the cost to children

Posted on September 23rd, 2010

There has been some interesting discussion this week about the damage caused to children in private law divorce proceedings.   Sir Nicholas Wall reportedly stated that in his opinion it is ‘intelligent’ parents who cause the most damage to their off-spring when they separate; using their children as weapons when a war rages on between the two estranged parents.   Sir Nicholas Wall has indicated that in light of the current review of family law it might be a recommendation that there will be a, “…presumption of shared residence for the children”.   Something that will no doubt please those groups who have been campaigning on behalf of ‘marginalised’ fathers for years on the issue.

In a retort to Sir Nicholas Wall’s statement about it being the ‘intelligent’ parents who are causing the most damage, Zoe Williams in The Guardian suggests that its not intelligent parents but the adversarial legal system that causes the damage.    The battles played out in the Court room are where the damage is exacerbated and Zoe Williams asserts that due to the costly nature of such proceedings (they can be anywhere in the region of between £15,000 – £100,000) the parents are more likely to be pre-disposed to wealth than intelligence.

Avocet Independent Social Workers are often asked to ascertain the wishes and feelings of children in separation and divorce disputes and from our experience the issue about using the children to get at one another is one that surfaces time and time again regardless of the intelligence, wealth, gender or personal circumstances of the parents.  If time is called on legal aid funding in such cases then it will indeed be the wealthy who are more likely to engage the Court system to ‘sort out their battles’.

However as Resolution, an organisation that advocates for mediation and facilitates courses in ways to avoid rancour to resolve issues of residence and contact believes, it is a failing of the parents and their respective solicitors if a case ends up in the Court room at all.

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The Reality of TV

Posted on September 13th, 2010

Coronation Street currently has a story line that involves a young child, Becky’s nephew Max being taken in to care and placed with a foster carer.   As I understand the soap intends to cover the story of the care proceedings and a Children’s Guardian has already been appointed!  There seems to have been an accurate portrayal of the Children’s Guardian’s role in so far as she has clarified that she is on the child’s ‘side’.  It will be interesting to see how the proceedings are conducted in tonight’s episodes the first of which starts at 19:30 and the second at 20:30.

TV soaps and dramas often have story lines that include state intervention where a child is concerned and the portrayal of Social Workers varies; for instance one visiting a home in Hollyoaks is unlikely to be given the same credentials as one going in to the house of a client on Shameless (the watershed plays a part in there too)!!

What the Social Work profession needs at the moment is some good press and real positivity and I don’t mean glossing over the realities.   It would be great to see Coronation Street give a fair and balanced portrayal of legal proceedings that are frequently the subject of great intrigue and media and public speculation.   And I am interested to see if an Independent Social Worker is required to undertake an assessment of either Max’s mother or Becky and Steve.

Watch this space…

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Connaught’s Demise Could Impact on Social Work

Posted on September 8th, 2010

Construction firm Connaught has hit financial difficulties which could have an impact on social housing. One source of the company’s income was from the construction and maintenance of social housing and the loss of ten thousand jobs will make fulfilling contracts difficult.  There could be a hidden consequence to Social Work from Connaught’s situation, relating to the Framework for Assessment. One of the areas highlighted on the assessment triangle is housing and poor maintenance of accommodation is seen as an indicator for a child to be in need of a service or protection by a local authority.  If housing repairs are not being completed by building firms windows may remain broken and rats may infest buildings through cracked brickwork – all affecting a child’s physical health and well being.

Does this mean that Social Workers need to alter their assessments and expect service users to learn DIY skills relevant to general households? Should professionals make allowances because a home is damaged and repairs are not being made, encouraging pests into communal living areas?  Should the Framework for Assessment consider the economic climate which will see an increase in child and family poverty?  The cost of maintaining social housing may fall more heavily on the shoulders of low income households, taking income away from being spent on food and on to replacing broken glass. This may lead to concerns that increase Social Work intervention and subsequently increase the spending of local authorities and their already cash-strapped Social Work departments.

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Football Players Are Poor Role Models for Young People

Posted on September 8th, 2010

Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are without doubt two of the most talented football players in the world.   Rooney and Ronaldo feature on lots of advertisements for clothing, computer games and endorse many more products. Their fellow professional Peter Crouch was an almost constant feature on the television during the 2010 World Cup promoting a brand of savoury snacks and presenting himself as a prime example of a ‘nice young man’.  These young men are hailed as heroes by many young men, with plenty of young women wanting to be their wives, girlfriends or partners for the evening – paid or unpaid for the privilege.

A closer look at these young men’s life styles suggests that their role modelling is not a great lead for young people to follow as examples of positive parents or partners. Ronaldo allegedly fathered a child by an ‘unknown’ American waitress; paying her a sum of money to remain silent about their encounter, then allegedly celebrated becoming a father for the first time by leaving his new baby with family members in order to take a vacation with his model girlfriend.

At Avocet we undertake parenting assessments with young people, highlighting the importance to young fathers of demonstrating a commitment to their child and involving themselves in daily activities to develop and sustain a secure bond. Young fathers are encouraged to participate in feeding and bathing a child which is difficult if like Mr Ronaldo you are physically absent.  Ronaldo is a sporting superstar who came from a disadvantaged background that many of our young people can relate to. He could be a useful source of inspiration for positive parenting if he declared publicly that his lifestyle needs to change in order for him to prioritise the needs of his new born child.

Peter Crouch’s alleged drunken encounter with a prostitute, charging £800 a night in Madrid during a friend’s Stag Do further demonstrates that rich men can buy women both as an accessory and as a means to an end.  The fact that Mr Crouch has a ‘model girlfriend’ at home appears not to have stopped him fulfilling an ‘urge’. In our assessments of a young couple we would consider issues relating to self-esteem of each partner and would question the affects on a young woman’s self image if she knew her partner was visiting prostitutes. There would of course also be an impact on the emotional development of a child living with parents that distrust each others behaviour when one is absent for periods of time.

Wayne Rooney has admitted in his autobiography that he has visited prostitutes in the past and now there are fresh allegations that he was indeed somewhat distracted during this year’s World Cup tournament.  Rooney and his wife have sponsorship deals that project a family image and the current picture of Rooney’s activities is not one that we would support as a positive indicator of a protective parent.  Mr Rooney’s son will know at some point in his life that his father paid for the services of prostitutes whilst in a relationship with his mother.

Incidentally, the women Rooney visits do not receive all the money for the service that they provide.  There is usually another male or female benefiting from their work, taking a percentage of the earnings and perpetuating the abuse of women.  Allegedly Rooney’s latest indiscretion occurred when his wife was pregnant.  An Avocet assessment of a young couple would consider whether the father attended anti-natal classes, his level of emotional and physical support to his partner during her pregnancy and if informed that the father visited a prostitute during this process this negative behaviour would be presented to the Court.

The image that Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Peter Crouch project as role models to young men is that you can behave in a such a disrespectful manner towards women if you have enough money.  These men certainly don’t stop to consider the emotional impact on their children when their activities are splashed across the front pages of the Sunday newspapers.

A great opportunity to represent themselves as positive parents is lost when a professional footballer’s antics make sordid tabloid headlines.

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Imploding Justice System Hurts the Poor

Posted on September 7th, 2010

In October Independent Social Worker rates will be capped, this action will undoubtedly cause some experienced practitioners to leave the profession or decline to undertake work at the new reduced rate of pay.  The children most affected by this decision will be those who have been neglected and abused by their adult carers.  The standard of Social Work intervention these children receive will be further affected by whether they are ‘poor’ or not.  Poverty is not necessarily an indicator of abusive parenting, but it is link to poor health and education. The children from families less well off may now not have access to expert Independent Social Work due to lack of funding.

The Legal Services Commission has set in motion a tendering process that will leave 1,300 law firms offering legal aid work to the poorest families, compared with the 2,400 that currently provide a service to children from vulnerable families. These families may vary in ethnicity, disability and religion, but generally the majority of these children will be from poor, working class backgrounds. This seems to suggest that money now buys a child suitable housing, healthy foods, higher standards of education and the right to a swift access to legal representation.

Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, told the Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission that he had been “inundated with expressions of serious concern” from Judges regarding the tendering process. The tendering process has seen experienced law firms unable to secure a contract and new inexperience firms filling the void.  The impact for poor children is that their short term and long term life chances will be protected and championed by a legal system that is looking to save money.  Sir Nicholas Wall believes that the system will become ‘unworkable’; more parents will be left to represent themselves creating a delay in cases. These families living on low incomes will be forced to seek legal assistance further afield, possibly causing them to travel distances to seek representation.

The tendering process may reduce the cost of the legal aid expenditure at the expense of poor children by slowly down decision making processes.  Children will be left to drift in the care system, creating ‘bed-blocking’ in foster placements, with the potential answer being found in the form of large residential children’s homes. The Legal Services Commission appears to be driving services towards an archaic ‘Oliver’ style provision of care for poor children, in large community homes, whilst they wait the outcome of legal proceedings.

The decision of the Legal Services Commission may also cause children and women from poor families to live longer in an environment of violence if they can not seek legal protection quickly in cases of domestic violence due to a limited number of law firms dealing with such cases.  Will the Legal Services Commission be held accountable for a ‘poor’ child being injured or killed due to being forced to live in an atmosphere of violence because his/her mother can not secure services of a law firm. The likelihood will be that an individual professionals will be blamed for failing to protect a child, not the hidden faces of the Legal Services Commission.

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Daybreak teams up with Social Work association

Posted on September 7th, 2010

The British Association of Social Workers and the flagship ITV breakfast show Daybreak are joining forces to undertake a survey of Social Workers.  The timing of the survey is reportedly said to coincide with the much awaited report by Eileen Munroe in to how Local Authorities can cut down on bureaucratic processes to allow front line Social Workers to spend more time actually working with families.

The survey is anonymous and will literally take you five minutes to complete (I know because I have just completed it myself)!

It is an opportunity for Social Workers to get some quality news coverage and reporting based on the facts provided by Social Workers themselves.  So click on the link and take the five minutes!!

www.basw.co.uk/daybreak

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Cuts to children’s services begin…

Posted on September 6th, 2010

Barnet’s children’s services face ‘financial Armageddon’
By Stuart Derrick
Children & Young People Now
3 September 2010

The London Borough of Barnet’s children’s services are preparing for “financial Armageddon”, with cuts to grants of up to 50 per cent forcing a fundamental rethink of provision. The Tory-run authority, dubbed “easy council” for its philosophy of supplying basic services and charging individuals for additional requirements, is facing cuts to its £12m of children service grants of between 25 and 50 per cent. The figures were revealed by head of children’s services Robert McCulloch-Graham, who said that the department was also facing cuts of 20 per cent to its core budget over the next three years.

Speaking to the council’s budgetary scrutiny committee, McCulloch-Graham likened the department’s financial position to “Armageddon”, with a doubling of referrals to the department in three years combining with lengthy court cases to put children’s services under great strain. He said that the department would be completely reshaped in the next 12 to 18 months.

“In the reshaping of services we will be doing much more targeted early intervention work, enabling families to support themselves and reducing the demand on the acute specialist and more expensive provision,” he said. “In order to achieve this, we will absorb the reduction of resources in our more universal and general services.”

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Sterilisation to prevent child abuse!

Posted on September 2nd, 2010

There have been many murmurings over the comments made by Professor David Marsland of Brunel University, who on Radio 4 last week suggested that the only way to prevent parents with mental health problems and drug and alcohol issues from abusing their children is to sterilise them, irreversibly!
Marsland spoke about Social Workers and the Police recommending the force-able and irreversible sterilisation of adults who they deem to be ‘incapable’ of looking after their children.
I wonder how many of today’s Social Worker’s would grapple with the notion of being given the power to apply to the Court for such a procedure to take place.

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Reducing the barriers for foster carers

Posted on September 2nd, 2010

Tim Loughton, Children’s Minister last week asked that all Local Authorities make it easier for foster carers to make decisions about the day to day care of the children they are looking after.
It is fair to say that getting consent for say a hair cut or a sleep over at a friend’s house is often something that is fraught with restrictions and obstacles and bureaucratic processes.
The difficulty lies in balancing the rights of the parents and the local authority exercising its responsibilities and duties to the children in it’s care and then delegating these to the foster carers.
Interestingly a period of consultation is currently in operation to consider proposed changes to the Children’s Homes and Fostering guidance and regulations. Views and recommendations on how to reduce bureaucracy for instance and change systems to improve the outcomes for children are welcomed by the Department of Education.

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850 Children in Birmingham lack Social Work support

Posted on September 2nd, 2010

Community care this week revealed that Birmingham City Council does not have a qualified Social Worker allocated to a quarter of its children in need. 852 children under the Local Authority’s jurisdiction are unallocated, along with 232 looked after children also unallocated to a Social Worker.
Philip Measures, a retired front line Social Worker uncovered the information, “It’s absolutely criminal. You just can’t have cases unallocated like that,” said Measures. “The local authority is supposed to be the corporate parent and yet no one is accepting responsibility. Birmingham has had a succession of high profile child abuse inquiries – Khyra Ishaq being one of the latest – and still there is no national initiative to put right the severe ills.”
Chris Cooper, children’s services representative for Birmingham Unison added to the City Council’s woes by revealing that one third of new cases coming out of Social Work duty and assessment teams are being passed on to Family Support Workers or Senior Social Work Assistants. Cooper said, “It’s a very scary idea, but it’s better than having nobody working the case at all. It’s very unfortunate, but I think it’s inevitable until vacancy levels come down.”
The Department for Education is very direct when it comes to unallocated child care cases. “Local authorities have a legal duty to allocate a Social Worker to every looked after child and they should be providing all vulnerable children with support to address their needs. The statistics relating to Birmingham’s provision for children in care are worrying” a spokesperson said.
Community Care’s research also found that Birmingham had 16% of its Social Work posts vacant, making the average caseload between 24 and 25.

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