Place more children in care, says Barnardo’s Chief Executive

Posted on June 28th, 2010

Martin Narey, Chief Executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s has entered the debate over Children’s Services by stating that 1 in 3 children who should be taken into care are being left with inadequate parents.

Narey, whose previous position was Director General of the Prison Service said the conventional wisdom of ‘social services’ was, “…outdated and placed too much premium on keeping the birth family together”.

Narey has called for greater early intervention, saying that leaving the child with the parents, only to intervene later costs Children’s Services up to an extra £33,000 per child per year.

Narey also called for more looked after children to be placed in residential care as opposed to fostering.  Almost 75% of all looked after children are in foster care, with only 13% in residential settings.

Think-tank Demos published a report commissioned by Barnardos this week which corroborated many of Narey’s statements. The report called for earlier intervention, fewer family placements and upping the age of leaving care from 16 to 18 years.

The report also warns of the dangers associated with the budget cuts faced by care services.  According to Demos,   “The temptation to intervene later and cut frontline spending for vulnerable children would be a counter-productive cost cutting exercise”.


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Social Workers Criticised by High Court Judge?

Posted on April 13th, 2010

Lord Justice Wall will be sworn in today as president of the High Court’s Family Division, and The Times heralded his arrival with an interview that criticised and undermined Social Workers across the UK.

The Times’ creative reporting skills showed a quote from Lord Justice Wall with ‘Arrogant Social Workers’ in the headline, somewhat misrepresenting the original sentence. Lord Justice Wall’s statement did indeed criticise the actions of Social Workers, but the comment in question appears to have been taken out of context.

Lord Justice Wall said that Social Workers are ‘Perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process.’ Taking the sentence as a whole gives a different insight into the personal views of Lord Justice Wall, who it seems, was actually making an observation of public perceptions.

Lord Justice Wall did precede this however with the startling comment, ‘What Social Workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role is not a happy one.’  In our role as Independent Social Workers we come across others in our profession on a regular basis, and have found that Social Workers are acutely aware of the public’s perception of their work.

The comments from Lord Justice Wall, coupled with those by Lord Justice Aikens in recent days, in which Lord Aikens likened Social Workers in Devon to ‘Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China’ can only be of further detriment to those already demoralised Social Work professionals.  Recent months have seen Social Workers criticised and ridiculed for not acting and removing children from their families, and now criticised for doing the opposite. If Lord Justice Wall is to make a difference in his new role then it might be prudent for him to offer some support to Social Workers, rather than providing ammunition for the media to continue their battering of Social Workers in the UK.

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How alcohol affects children and young babies

Posted on February 4th, 2010

Community Care magazine published an interesting article on 28th January 2010 on the affects of alcohol, particularly the link between alcohol consumption by women during pregnancy and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The article highlights the difficulties identifying the cause of low IQ, learning disorders, attention problems, speech and language and behaviour problems. The issue for all Independent Social Workers is whether these ‘symptoms’, to use a medical model, are caused by the affects of mothers drinking alcohol or if they are linked to medical conditions and neglect during the early stages of childhood.

Avocet Independent Social Workers are encouraged to assess the impact of alcohol on a mother and unborn child from a holistic approach. Through work with teenage girls, Avocet Independent Social Workers are aware that excessive alcohol use may lead young females to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, leading to pregnancy and/or the contraction of a sexually transmitted infection. The use of alcohol by young women creates the risk of them engaging in risk taking activities. Avocet Independent Social Workers take the approach within our assessments of trying to understand a woman’s attitude to alcohol. We ask whether the woman drinks alone, with friends or a parent; is the use of alcohol everyday or in binges, brought about by happy or sad feelings? For example does the mother consume alcohol before she drives the children to school, creating the risk of a potentially fatal accident? Does the mother drink alcohol with her partner, contributing to the root cause of incidents of domestic violence, creating additional risk to the unborn baby or small child, who could be injured during the alcohol fuelled arguments?   This information provides Avocet Independent Social Workers with an understanding of the mother’s thought processes in relation to drinking alcohol and enables a Social Worker to analyse the risk to an unborn baby or young child from their mother’s pattern of alcohol consumption. The social aspect of a mother misusing alcohol with her partner will almost certainly make it harder for her to alter the behaviour and protect her children from the risk of long term harm.

Avocet Independent Social Work assessments also focus on the financial impact of a parent misusing alcohol as it may create a lack of money within the family to purchase clothes and food or inclusion of children in social events, such as school trips. The family income may be spent on alcohol rather than rent, increasing the risk of families moving house or living in temporary accommodation. These issues create additional risks to a child with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder if appointments for speech and language therapy are sent to the wrong address or the child is not seen consistently by the same doctor to assess their needs over a period of time.

It is clear from the article in Community Care that alcohol can have an affect on an unborn baby’s development through Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which along with other aspects associated with alcohol misuse is considered in Avocet Independent Social Worker assessments.


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Government to offer Fathers Guide to Parenthood

Posted on January 26th, 2010

In The Observer newspaper on Sunday 17th January 2010 it was reported that new fathers will be given a ‘dads guide’ to fatherhood that will cover an explanation of breastfeeding and tips on how to support their partner. Avocet welcomes the news that the government will announce this useful tool for Independent Social Workers and new fathers in their green paper to be published later this week on families and relationships.

Avocet agrees that some government policies can focus on mothers and note that this attitude can be reflected in some Independent Social Work assessments. The green paper echoes the views of Avocet that involving fathers in their children’s early years care is productive for their child’s development as well as helping the couple’s relationship to be more stable.

The guide for new fathers has been written and published by the Fatherhood Institution and could be a useful tool for Independent Social Workers. A manual is also being written for midwives so they can offer support to fathers. Once the pamphlet is published it will be considered in Avocet assessments ensuring fathers know their role in raising their children and ascertaining whether fathers are committed to providing ‘good enough’ parenting to their children thus avoiding the risk of significant harm. A concern of Avocet in relation to the pamphlet is that fathers of all academic levels will need to access the information and it also needs to be aimed at fathers with a learning disability or who have difficulty reading and may not understand the material.

Avocet supports and encourages the inclusion of fathers in all of our assessments, particularly Core Assessments and Section 7 reports. There is research available that demonstrates that children do better at school if their fathers are involved in their education and that children who have contact with a positive role model are less likely to commit criminal offences. Avocet Independent Social Work Parenting Assessments seek to understand and assess the behaviours of both mothers and fathers.

Teachers are also being asked to engage more with fathers, including sending them school reports if a pupil’s parents are separated. Avocet Independent Social Workers would support this action and incorporate working in partnership with teachers whilst completing multiagency Core Assessments and Section 37 reports for Local Authorities and the Court.

Avocet Independent Social Workers are committed to working with mothers and fathers during assessments to consider the best outcomes for children. Avocet deems working equally with father and mothers as an important part of its equality and diversity policy.


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