Daniel Pelka

Posted on September 17th, 2013

Today sees the publication of the Serious Case Review regarding the death of Daniel Pelka.

The report, as have many previous Serious Case Reviews, highlights the limited interactions between the professionals and the child.  The fact that there are no records of any actual conversations with Daniel is not only a tragedy but incredible when considering the focus in child protection and safe guarding should be the child.  The child should have been the focus of Police intervention each time they were called to the home to deal with incidents of domestic violence. Daniel should have been the focus of health and medical services each time he was seen by a consultant with an injury and of course Daniel should have been at the centre of any Social Work assessment.  However it seems that time was not spent with him, he was not spoken to, his views were not ascertained and he never got the opportunity to say what was actually happening to him.   The fact that Daniel has been described as ‘invisible’ is indicative of the fact that his mother and step-father became the focus of professionals and between them they were able to deflect concerns about Daniel.

I am not suggesting that it is simply the case that professionals were not doing their jobs properly. There were contributing factors, such as a reported language barrier brought about by the fact that English was not Daniel’s first language which would have had an impact.  However within a school environment it would be assumed that the teaching staff have developed strategies of working with young children who do not speak fluent English.   There were also the supposedly plausible explanations from Daniel’s mother each time he sustained an injury to his body or with regard to his undernourished appearance.

Daniel has shown how easy it is for children – who do not present with behaviours that are disruptive and challenging for adults – to slip under the radar and go unnoticed.    Whilst we would all like to think that an untimely death such as Daniel’s will not happen again it will at some point; indeed the Serious Case Review makes the point that it could not have been predicted that he would die such a brutal death.

Much will be said about the lessons to learn from Daniel’s short life and speaking as part of an organisation that prides itself in its ‘child focused’ approach to working with children and their families, future direct work with children has to be high on the agenda.   Children can be resilient and they can manage, cope and survive in all sorts of circumstances.  We come into contact with children with disabilities, children who have been adopted, children whose parents are foster carers and children who have caring responsibilities within their families.  All of these children have a story to tell about their own experiences and we must listen to them.

Whether it is the frustration of the child with a disability who is engaged in a dispute with their local authority because they cannot have the school place that best meets their needs, the birth child who is fed up with the verbal abuse they encounter in their own home from the children their parents are fostering or the young carer who can’t go out to play because they have to do the housework that their terminally ill parent does not have the energy for. These children are all living these experiences and as adults we need to remember this.  It’s no good shying away from what we feel are the difficult topics; we need to ask the questions, find out what is happening and how the children feel about it. Then we will be in a position to support these children, make their lives better and protect them from tragic endings.

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What Judges think about the role of ISWs

Posted on September 11th, 2013

Reported in Community Care 11.09.13.


Oxford University study finds most family court judges believe independent social work reports are of good or excellent quality and prevent delays in care cases.
Family court judges believe independent social workers prevent rather than cause delays in care proceedings, according to research by Oxford University.

The study, which canvassed the views of 23 family court judges in England and Wales, found many judges felt independent social workers (ISWs) made up for deficiencies in the quality and timeliness of local authority assessments.

The finding is at odds with the Ministry of Justice’s view that the use of ISWs by family courts leads to unnecessary duplication of local authority work and delays decisions about children’s futures.

Most of the judges questioned said ISWs were usually called when local authorities had failed to deliver an assessment, had produced inadequate assessments, lacked the necessary expertise or could not meet the court’s timescales.

Important findings at critical time for ISWs

Just over half of the judges felt ISWs produced reports of good or excellent quality. All but one said they had been involved in a case where an ISW’s assessment had “changed the direction of thinking and the order or placement proposed for a child”.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and bodies representing ISWs, CISWA-UK and Nagalro, said the findings demonstrated the importance of ISWs in care cases at a time when many feel forced to leave the profession.

“This research shows clearly the formidable expertise and experience that independent social workers bring to often highly complicated family court proceedings,” the three organisations said in a joint statement.

“These professionals don’t duplicate the work of local authorities or Cafcass; they provide high-quality robust reports that help judges move forward quickly and ensure children spend as little time as necessary waiting for their futures to become clear.”

In light of the findings, the organisations urged the MoJ to reconsider its stance on the use of ISWs in care cases.

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Overcoming adversity

Posted on September 11th, 2013

I read a thought provoking piece in The Metro yesterday about former Dragon’s Den millionaire Richard Farleigh who spent his childhood in foster care in Australia.   He does not have a good story to tell; after being subjected to abuse by his father who was violent and an alcoholic, Richard and some of his 11 siblings were removed from home and placed in an orphanage and then further separated when they were placed in different foster placements.  Richard was then subjected to rejection by his foster carer.

Richard explains how he was placed with foster carers with his younger brother who their foster carers went on to adopt whilst continuing to care for Richard as a foster child.   Richard describes feeling that his foster mother treated him remarkably different to his foster father who called him ‘stupid’ and who made him feel as if he shouldn’t be there.

Although Richard survived his childhood – finding school a place where he could achieve and excel – he suffered further trauma in adulthood when he made contact with his birth parents and found that they had remained together and gone on to have three more children – one of whom did not remain in their care.  Richard describes how for many years he thought there was something wrong with him for his parents and then his foster carer to reject him  and that it was not until he went on to have his own children that he realised that it was not about him, he had not done anything wrong it was about the adults.

There is no question that Richard has overcome early adversity and has gone on to become hugely successful in life; he is extremely intelligent and attained a degree at university, he had a particularly successful career in trading and financial investments including the management of a hedge fund in Bermuda and according to Wikipedia he is personally worth £66 million!

There is never just one reason why people react the way they do to their life circumstances and it is indeed the case that others who have undergone experiences similar to Richard’s will have not been able to continue their life in the same way.   They might have misused drugs and alcohol, they may have developed debilitating mental health issues and they may have gone on to have their own children, been unable to parent them and then continued the cycle of children being cared for outside of the family.

Whatever the driving force for Richard it is to his credit that he has not just ‘survived’, he has succeeded beyond the realms and more than proved himself as an inspiration to looked after children in a system that has the ability to turn lives around.

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