The job with unlimited hours!

Posted on January 28th, 2014

Picture credit: Fran Orford

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Supreme Courts rules that children’s mindset must be considered in international custody battles

Posted on January 21st, 2014

As reported in Community Care on 15 January 2014 by Tristan Donovan

Cafcass hails judgement as a “positive step” towards creating a truly child-centred family court system

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UK courts must consider the mindset of the children in custody cases where there is a parental dispute about the country the children should live in, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision follows a case where the British father and Spanish mother of four children aged four to 13 disagreed on whether their children should live in England or Spain.

After the end of the parents’ relationship in early 2012, the children moved to Spain with their mother for five months but after a holiday in England that Christmas they did not return to Spain.

The High Court ordered the children to be returned to Spain pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980.

The Court of Appeal then reversed the decision in relation to the eldest child, but in recognition that this could mean returning three of the four children to Spain ordered the High Court to consider that issue.

Before the case could be heard again at the High Court, the father and eldest child went to the Supreme Court arguing that the children had not acquired ‘habitual residence’ in Spain as they had only lived there for five months.

In its decision the Supreme Court said that the ‘degree of integration’ expressed by a child should be a consideration when UK courts assess whether habitual residence has been acquired.

The judgment brings English courts into line with European courts.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “This approach accords with our increasing recognition of children as people with a part to play in their own lives, rather than as passive recipients of their parents’ decisions.”

Cafcass, which represented three of the children in the case, welcomed the decision.

“It is pleasing to see that more consideration is given to the mindset of the child when making decisions on habitual residence – particularly in international cases,” said Melanie Carew, head of Cafcass legal.

“The determining of habitual residence is a complex legal concept but one that is becoming increasingly relevant in the work of family courts as families move across borders.

“Evidencing a child’s state of mind may prove difficult, particularly in younger children, but the fact that its importance is being recognised through this judgment is a positive step forward in delivering a system that truly has the child’s wants and needs as its focus.”

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Message from Edward Timpson reported in Community Care

Posted on October 21st, 2013

Social care must “fundamentally rethink” the way children are protected, says minister

Edward Timpson MP announces children’s services innovation programme to drive up standards in social care

by  on October 18, 2013 in Child safeguardingChildrenLooked after children
Edward Timpson (Credit: Steve Back/Rex)

Edward Timpson (Credit: Steve Back/Rex)

Social care must “raise its game” to improve services for vulnerable children, children’s minister Edward Timpson has said.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Harrogate, Timpson announced an innovation programme to help drive up standards. ”The programme will act as a catalyst for developing more effective ways of supporting vulnerable children,” he said.

Clive Cowdery, an entrepreneur who made a personal fortune from the insurance industry and founder of the Resolution Foundation, will work with Timpson “to identify the sharpest, most inspirational thinking in the field”.

“I want all your most ingenious and dynamic ventures,” Timpson said. “Whether in social work practice or social pedadogy or be it in better approaches to supporting returns home or alternatives to residential care for adolescents. From next year, we’ll develop, test and share those with the most potential.”

While Timpson recognised some of the excellent work done by councils, he said the terrible cases of Daniel Pelka, Hamzah Khan and Keanu Williams showed, “we must do better by children so badly in need of our protection and support”.

He called for a “fundamental rethink” in how children are protected. ”I want to support and liberate you to improve faster, get better value for money, do the job you came into the profession to do. But to do this, I need you to demonstrate to me what you have to offer. And looking at the sparks of innovation in children’s services, I believe there are real reasons to be hopeful,” he said.

Examples of innovation the minister cited included the partnership between Kent and the children’s charity Coram, which has boosted adoption rates by 110%.

Timpson did not announce any new money for the improvement programme, but said: “Instead of letting cost pressures blunt our ambitions, we need to dig deep creatively to make the money we do have work harder than ever for those who most need it.”

He called on the sector to “confront head on any systems and structures that are getting in the way of innovation and better outcomes”.

“Ask yourself the question and then tell me: what stops me from doing things differently and better? We need a fundamental change in approach – or rather, approaches – if we’re to really raise our game,” he added.

At his keynote speech to the conference earlier in the week, Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, warned that the children’s social care system is “unsustainable” and obsessed with targets.

Webb told Community Care: “We can’t do more with less, that much we know. We need to do things differently and re-focus all our attention on need and finding creative ways to identify and meet need. It’s a challenge to our imaginations and our practical abilities.

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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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Funny but so true…

Posted on August 9th, 2013

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The concept of child predator

Posted on August 9th, 2013

The term ‘sexual predator’ is often used to describe a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically ‘predatory’ manner – hunting down its prey or sex partner.

Judge Nigel Peters along with prosecuting Barrister Robert Colover descried a 13 year old abuse victim in such a manner, with the Judge even commenting that ‘she looked a little bit older’.  The adult perpetrator of the abuse, a 41 year old Nigel Wilson received an eight month suspended sentence and then walked free from Court.

The abused young girl left Court after being labelled as ‘sexually experienced’.  I wonder how this conclusion was reached. How does a child become ‘sexually experienced’ compared to the acquired experience of a 41 year old man?  Did Mr Colover not consider that ‘if’ she was behaving in a manner that led him to deduce she was sexually experienced in all likelihood her childhood had already been exposed to sexual content beyond her years thus making it likely that she was vulnerable and in need of increased protection from an adult male?

How old did Judge Peters think this child looked? And did he not think that her behaviour and level of maturity might indicate that she was a young girl only just into her teens?  This child visited the perpetrators home where he abused his position of power and trust to make extreme pornographic images of her, with the potential to share with other likeminded individuals thus increasing the risk of further abuse.

The Judge described the child as ‘egging on Mr Wilson’.  Reportedly the child arrived at Mr Wilson’s house in her school uniform.  Was this not a clue to Mr Wilson that the girl was a minor and should have not gained entry into his home without even considering whether he should be taking inappropriate photographs?

How did the Judge reach the conclusion that a 13 year old girl egged on an adult male?  This finding clearly places all the blame on to the child, who will also be burdened with being sexually abused and without doubt emotionally abused by an adult male.

How does this child start to heal when she is being seen as the instigator? Any therapy offered would need to deal with her experience of sexual abuse and now the opinions of a Judge and Barrister who blame her for triggering the abuse.  There is no doubt the legal system has further abused a child in this case.  The additional devastating impact of this case is that it will cause other child victims of abuse to not disclose for fear that they are also considered responsible for their abuse and labelled perpetrators.

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What is the future for ISWs?

Posted on July 25th, 2013

Article in Community care 25.07.2013

Fears for independent social workers as 80% consider leaving the profession

Research by Community Care finds two ‘disastrous’ events have potentially sidelined hundreds of the most experienced social workers at a time when children’s services are ‘in crisis’

ISWs say they're working in conditions that are 'dangerous' to childrenISWs say they’re working in conditions that are ‘dangerous’ to children

Camilla Pemberton
Wednesday 24 July 2013 18:09

The controversial fee cap for expert witnesses has forced 80% of independent social workers to find alternative sources of work or consider leaving the profession altogether.

Research by Community Care found 80% of independent social workers (ISWs) have seen their family court work decrease, in some cases dramatically, since the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), formerly the Legal Services Commission, capped the fees paid to experts who give evidence in the family courts.

The unpopular move, which came into force in October 2010, hit independent social work experts the hardest, with their fees capped at £33 an hour in London and £30 outside the capital. Other expert witnesses, such as doctors and psychologists, are still paid around £70-£100 per hour.

Two ‘disastrous’ events for independent social workers

The family justice review (FJR) also recommended that expert witnesses should be used more sparingly in the family courts, while research by the family courts body Cafcass, published last month, found courts are now calling fewer experts. The fee cap and FJR have been disastrous for ISWs, one said, admitting, “it’s just not feasible for me to continue this work”.

Nearly all respondents (98%) said they are currently working on fewer than five LAA-funded cases, which marks a significant drop from their workloads before the fee cap and FJR. At that prior time, a third of respondents (33%) were working on between six and 10 cases, while more than a fifth (23%) held 15 or more cases.

ISW workloads before the fee reduction and family justice review:

Current ISW workloads, as revealed to Community Care

The nature of their family court work has also changed, with 63% of ISWs noting differences, including requests for quicker, shorter, less thorough reports and more kinship care assessments and special guardianship orders.

What independent social workers say:

“I recently gave up the contact/family assessment premises as I could not afford to pay overheads from the new rates. I have been repeatedly told by local families, courts and solicitors that this is a loss to family services in this area. I am very seriously considering stopping altogether and returning to local authority work, or to work outside the profession.”

“I have other sources of income so I am able to make a stand regarding this work. I make it clear that it will not work for 30 an hour and maintain my professional charge, sadly this means at times the work is withdrawn.”

“If the LAA seek to limit the time it takes to undertake an assessment I will almost certainly give up being a court appointed expert and look elsewhere for work, even if it means I leave social work altogether.”

“It has been ridiculous to impose such a harsh cut in fees to court professionals who were earning far less than expert witnesses from other professions. The result is that it has potentially sidelined 200-300 of the most qualified social workers in the country at a time when there is also a growing crisis developing in children’s services.”

The survey by Community Care, of 152 ISWs, also found people are concerned about the impact of the FJR’s 26-week target for care cases. More than half (53%) said the deadline had affected their work, with many asked to file reports to much tighter timescales.

Nearly 70% are refusing to work on cases with restricted hours, complaining the hours allocated for assessments are “unrealistic and simply too dangerous for children and the ISW”.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said the findings reflect the experiences of BASW members acting as expert witnesses and “could not come at a worse time for children”, considering care applications continue to rise to unprecedented rates, while Cafcass and local authority teams are stretched beyond capacity.

Mansuri said: “Julia Brophy’s invaluable research has clearly demonstrated the vital contribution ISWs make to complex proceedings – so rather than squeezing them out the Ministry of Justice should be doing everything in its power to ensure the work is economically viable so we do not lose their input altogether.”

Concerns over ‘risky’ 26-week care case target

BASW also remains extremely concerned about the 26-week target, which Mansuri described as “risky to sound decision making for children in the current climate”, adding that the focus “should not ultimately be on speed, but on quality”.

Phil King, co-director of the Independent Social Work Association, said the reduction in expert social work evidence could put children in danger. He said: “The public rightly expect that children who have suffered will be afforded high levels of safety and care when their cases come before the courts.

“The public expect that judges, who make the most fundamental decisions, will be afforded the best available evidence to allow them to make safe and just decisions for their future.

“Sadly, this is no longer the case and mistakes will inevitably be made leading to children either being placed in dangerous situations or adopted when they could be well cared for by a family member.”

The second stage of Dr Julia Brophy’s research into the work of ISWs in the family courts will be published on 5 September.

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Power Relationships in Schools

Posted on July 5th, 2013

When does power enter into a relationship between two people?  Is it when they first meet with one person having more desire than another to form the relationship initially?  The school teacher Mr Jeremy Forrest established a relationship with a pupil, who openly stated she had a crush on Mr Forrest.  At that point she might have wanted the relationship with Mr Forrest more than he did with her, we don’t know.  The fact that he was her teacher and she his pupil starts to tip the balance in one person’s favour.  The school teacher/pupil relationship is always a mismatch of power and Mr Forrest abused that power by engaging in a relationship with a pupil he taught.  However, consider further the power dynamics of pupil/school teacher relationships which for centuries been the bastion of self-government.  In this case there were pupils clearly raising the alarm to their teachers about another teacher’s relationship with a pupil; these teachers were accountable adults ‘in charge’ of their pupil’s educational development and responsible for safeguarding them.  These teachers decided to speak to Mr Forrest, who denied his relationship with his pupil and this created another power imbalance. Who to believe, a colleague, denying the relationship or the pupils raising concerns about the conduct of a male teacher with a female pupil he taught.  Mr Forrest’s status as an adult in authority overrode the credibility of the pupils in the school.  The power dynamics in the school again worked in his favour.

Mr Forrest was an adult, twice the age of his student, with a degree education, demonstrating he has the ability to think through complex problems and offer a solution.  Instead of thinking how he could avoid the situation with his female pupil who he knew had feelings for him Mr Forrest used his knowledge to arrange meetings with his pupil and eventually to leave the UK and travel with her to France.  The thinking, planning and the financial cost of organising the travel and subsequent overnight stays in hotels were beyond the capacity of a 15 year old girl.  Mr Forrest’s education had not enabled him to view ‘right from wrong’, but rather seems to have plunged him into believing himself to be some kind of romantic character, certainly not a predator.

Did Mr Forrest really have the power to convince all these other adults that his behaviour was acceptable?  Surely a colleague could have suggested that she sit with the 14 year old pupil, holding her hand on the turbulent fight from America rather than allowing a 30 year old man to comfort a vulnerable girl.

Mr Forrest is an adult, he was an adult when he held the hand of a child and he was an adult when he started a sexual relationship with a child, the power bestowed through his adulthood led him not to protect.  The choice Mr Forrest made as an adult was to abuse a child over a significant period of time in an environment where most relationships are usually known by several people, leading me back to the point about other teachers ignoring the warnings pupils raised.

Mr Forrest reportedly mouthed the words ‘I love you’ to his pupil across the Court without stopping to think he was interacting emotionally with a child, so continuing to block out the fact he was an adult teacher and she a child pupil who had been exploited.

Mr Forrest is now ensconced in prison.  His future for the next few years decided.  But what about the girl, returning to school, a place where her identity will be fully exposed.  Where it is likely that male teachers will be conscious of her company in private and male pupils may target her knowing that she has been sexually active by her own admission with Mr Forrest.  Other boys and girls may refer to her with ridicule or aversion indirectly or directly.  The outcome is that this young person is likely to be seen as ‘a problem’ in the hierarchal environment of a school, further betraying the unequal power imbalance within relationships that is active in schools. This is without even considering that the action of one male teacher could lead this young female pupil into more relationships with men in power positions, be it physical, emotional or status.  This young person will need assistance to manage relationships in school and outside.  She needs to be offered help to build trust and confirm boundaries so she is able to grow into a strong young woman, achieving her goals. Where will she get this support – in her school?  The very place where her uneven, power imbalance relationship began and was allowed to flourish.

In this case there are more people guilty of an abuse of power than just Mr Forrest, who inappropriately crossed a line.  Others enabled this abuse to occur and they need to look at the part they played in the systematic failure to protect a young, vulnerable female child from an abusive adult.  School pupils sought to protect a fellow child pupil from an abusive teacher, only to not be believed by his adult colleagues.

Certainly training is required for the teaching staff, but there is also a need for attitudes to change, so safer, more open environments can be established. Transparency in power relationships enables people to challenge situations that don’t seem right without disturbing the equilibrium.

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