Oranges and Sunshine

Posted on March 17th, 2011

At last it looks like there could be a film coming to our cinema screens that features an effective Social Worker!!

Oranges and Sunshine is a film based on the 1994 book, ‘Empty Cradles’ a true story written by Margaret Humphreys.    Margaret is a former Social Worker from Nottingham who in 1986 uncovered information about the organised deportation of more than 150,000 children in care to Commonwealth countries including Australia.    Margaret learned that the deportation was about reducing the cost of caring for children whilst at the same time addressing the labour shortages abroad.  The shocking elements to Margaret’s findings were that the children had been sent as recently as 1968, their parents were not informed and the children were led to believe they were orphans and many of them went on to suffer abuse at the hands of the people in whose care they were placed.

Margaret set up the Child Migrants Trust in 1987 and she recently received a CBE in recognition of her work.   In 2010 Gordon Brown apologised to all those who had been affected by the deportation policy and this year David Cameron echoed the apology.

The refreshing aspect of this film is that the Social Worker is not being portrayed as stereotypically slightly scruffy or worn-out looking, unlike Mariah Carey in Precious she wears suits and gives the appearance of ‘meaning business’.

On the whole I try and avoid work related books and films but on this occasion I might just find myself at the cinema in the queue for Oranges and Sunshine – comes out April 2011.

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Compensation Culture

Posted on March 17th, 2011

It was reported on BBC News today that there is an increasing number of young people suing local authority Social Workers for failing to remove them from harmful living situations.   Young people who were in care are taking legal action against Social Workers who they feel were negligent and failed to protect them from abuse.   The legal process is a lengthy one and there is no guaranteed satisfactory outcome; in fact for some people the financial compensation they receive approximates what someone would receive from a ‘minor traffic accident’. This news runs parallel to one of our recent blogs about the increase in calls to Childline from looked after children suffering harm in foster care placements.

Whilst I agree that the threat of legal action might encourage accountability for Social Workers in terms of their decision making and that it is an opportunity to learn from situations and improve practice I would be concerned about there being further emphasis on the ever-developing blame culture.  It is absolutely the job of the allocated Social Worker to visit children in their placements, to speak to them alone, to give them the opportunity to state if they are unhappy or if anything untoward is happening to them.   Social Worker’s are trained to identify abusive homes and through regular visiting and monitoring of placements the potential for children to be abused in care should be greatly reduced.   However they are undertaking this work within a climate of government cuts and high volume vacancy rates – all of which impact on the effectiveness of individual Social Workers.

It will be interesting to see if taking legal action extends to young people suing their abusive parents and family members who were responsible for them entering the care system in the first place.

A crucial aspect of this issue is that often young people just want to receive an apology and to have their experiences acknowledged and validated.   This too could go a long way towards ensuring young people don’t feel the need to engage in adversarial processes with no guarantee of a satisfactory outcome.

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Operation Rescue

Posted on March 17th, 2011

There has been much news coverage about Operation Rescue, a world wide operation that included the involvement of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre – Ceop. Police from around the world set up convert Internet teams who were able to infiltrate networks of paedophiles accessing a website called boylover.net.   The operation took place over three years and eventually led to the arrest of 184 people, 121 of whom were based in the UK. The Police were able to identity 230 children who were at risk of child abuse and exploitation and involvement in child pornography and take steps to protect them from further harm.

Operation Rescue found that there were thousands of adults, ranging from 17 – 82 years of age involved in the illegal Internet activities.    Incredibly, or is it brazenly, these adults had registered using their true identities, providing personal details including their occupations which included police officers, scout masters, teachers, youth leaders, taxi drivers and IT consultants.

Ceop is one of the quangos named in the list that the coalition government has identified to be ‘put on the bonfire’.   Ceop is a public body funded by taxpayers money and surely this latest successful operation demonstrates that the continuously developing world of Internet child abuse and exploitation requires such a specialist level of monitoring and infiltration.

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Childline Raises Fears for Children in Care

Posted on March 6th, 2011

I was so dismayed this week when BBC News reported that the number of looked after children contacting Childline to report abusive situations has risen.
An article by the Press Association includes the following information about the Childline report, ‘One in 26 of these “looked after” children contact the service about failings in the care system, a ChildLine report revealed.   Director of ChildLine Peter Liver said: “Most children in care are well looked after by dedicated carers and professionals.  But a minority continue to be failed by the care system. When this happens, children need to know there is someone there to speak up for them who is independent from the local authority.”  In all, 3,196 looked after children – some as young as five – contacted ChildLine over 2009-10 with problems about being in care. Many were suffering physical and sexual abuse and neglect and felt lost and helpless in the care system.  The report calls on local authorities to make sure fostered and other looked after children always have an adult to speak up for them when they need help. Mr Liver added: “Every day, looked after children talk to us about lives filled with pain and hurt. After the trauma they’ve been through, children need a special quality of care – at least as good as a good parent can offer.  Instead, we hear from children who have been beaten or sexually assaulted while in care. Others feel abandoned in care or unloved by their new carers. Some are intimidated by other children. Many have reached crisis point. ChildLine highlighted the plight of these children in a report published 16 years ago and some of the same issues persist. These failings go back at least a generation”‘.
This report came out the day after I had been made aware that a child placed in foster care had not been visited in the placement for over a year!  How can this be?  I know that being an Independent Social Worker removes you from the realities of front line practice but it doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten the fundamentals – an allocated Social Worker has a statutory duty to visit a looked after child every 28 days or every 12 weeks, depending on the length of time the child has been in placement.
The professionals involved all knew the child had not been visited but did not seem to know how to deal with the situation.  There are mechanisms in place to deal with these circumstances and it is saddening and unacceptable that children are turning to Childline and not their corporate parents when they are in need of protection.

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Big Effort From Dolly!

Posted on March 6th, 2011

It was reported in the BBC news today that children in care in Scotland are going to get a helping hand with their literacy development.  None other than the renowned Dolly Parton is providing looked after children with a book a month until they reach the age of five.

One wonders whether this is one of the tentative steps that the country needs to take as we prepare for a new world in ‘The Big Society’.   Dolly’s gesture couldn’t have come at a better time; just when many local libraries are facing threats of closure which many feel will impact on the literacy levels of the young.

Is this what we are going to be reliant on from now on – hand outs by the have-lots to the have-nots?  Dolly’s idea is commendable and as I understand it is not just Scotland that benefits from this initiative  – it is in operation in some areas in England.

Our country is in trouble right now; it seems that our leaders are concentrating their efforts on trading arms with Egypt and devising ways of turning us all into entrepreneurs so we can employ ourselves!!

Whilst The Big Society builds momentum maybe the rest of us should take the opportunity to snuggle up with one of Dolly’s bedtime stories and hope for the best.

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