Family Rights Group
The stated intention of the second stage of the inquiry was to
learn the lessons from Victoria’s death. Many of the agencies
giving evidence have stated their commitment to learning the
lessons. Yet at the same time that agencies are giving these
statements we are aware of families who are knocking at the doors
of social services departments asking for help. Many people present
themselves in circumstances not dissimilar to Victoria’s. They are
newly arrived in the UK, homeless, have no money, no school, no GP,
will often speak little or no English, are likely to have
encountered racism, often appear withdrawn because of their
experiences and are often in need of counselling. Yet they are
regularly turned away without even an assessment.
During the past 10 years there has been a series of legislative
amendments, which have resulted in most newly arrived communities
being excluded from some aspects of the welfare state. Most
publicity around these changes has been in respect of asylum
seekers, but these rules affect a much wider target group.
The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 excludes a person who is
defined in the act as a “person subject to immigration control”
from access to most social security benefits and from housing under
the homelessness provisions. The act also places restrictions on
access to support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 but
only where the family are asylum seekers and receiving support
under the asylum support provisions.
People subject to immigration control include asylum seekers,
people admitted to the UK with limited leave as a spouse, visitors
and people with work permits. One case highlighted by Family Rights
Group as typical was that of a woman with a three-month-old baby
who had been forced to flee the family home following a
particularly violent outburst from her husband. As a “spouse” she
could not access housing or social security and as she had only
lived in the UK for a short period she had no friends or family to
rely on. She sought help from the local social services department
but was simply turned away with no offer of help and no
There now appears to be a culture within many social services
departments that such applicants are not eligible for any support
because of their immigration status. They appear to be treated as a
group apart from other families seeking help for children in need.
Anecdotal evidence is of social workers adopting the media-led
approach of “bogus” asylum seekers, or of making judgements about
them not looking “poor” or “destitute” and therefore not
“deserving” enough if they present themselves with clean and smart
appearance in order to preserve their dignity.
There is a danger that the current demonisation of asylum
seekers will make it even harder for vulnerable families and
children to gain access to the services to which they are entitled
unless positive steps are taken by social services to respond to
requests for support. We believe it is essential that all
families and children must be entitled to the full range of
provisions under the Children Act 1989. Our submission also called
for locally available and accessible advice and advocacy services,
a requirement on local authorities to provide family group
conferences, and local authorities to listen to the views of their
In our submission to the inquiry, Barnardo’s stressed that child
protection is everyone’s business. We must encourage everyone to
“think the unthinkable” and to recognise that children are most at
risk when in their own homes from those supposed to be caring for
Barnardo’s advocates a significant public awareness campaign to
encourage everyone to recognise tell-tale signs of neglect and
abuse of children – and to explain where people can go to ensure
their concerns are taken seriously, investigated thoroughly and
acted on where necessary. Our submission also stressed the need
for a children’s commissioner for England, in a dedicated,
independent role with the power to pursue improved protection for
all children and young people.
We believe that this role is vital in providing an independent
voice for children and we are concerned that the government may
give the title children’s commissioner to a role that is not in
fact independent and is charged with other functions. That will not
bode well for the successful implementation of the inquiry’s
Turning to staff and systems and structures, we stressed the
need for a well-resourced and well-trained workforce, believing
that it is more important to address the problems of recruitment to
social work and the training of social workers than to change the
We must recognise that child protection work is skilled, highly
stressful and requires years of experience. The current situation
of staff shortages and many departments operating with high numbers
of overworked, inexperienced and locum staff will need to be
resolved to make any structure work well. We would like to see
national minimum standards for child protection qualifications and
practice to cover all professionals who are regularly in contact
Establishing existing area child protection committees on a
statutory basis, with significant ring-fenced funding, could be a
cheaper and more effective option than introducing all the
infrastructure required for a new child protection agency.
We also noted that the new Police National Plan 2003-6 has child
protection listed under “other policing responsibilities”. Unless
it is given much greater priority it will never be allocated the
resources required to make the police an effective arm of child
protection authorities. This is particularly true in relation to
the increasingly complex field of internet abuse.
Whatever the recommendations made by the Laming report, we very
much hope that all the detailed evidence and examples of good
practice collected during the course of the inquiry will be
effectively disseminated to provide learning and practice
development that enables a better service for all children.
Association of Directors of Social
The main and, in a way, the simplest expectation the ADSS has
had of Lord Laming’s report is that it should be a testament to the
memory of Victoria herself and the sadness and loss that her
parents have suffered.
Amid the debates about the future of child protection services,
it is sometimes painfully easy to forget who and what lies at the
heart of the matter. Lord Laming will not. And his report will be a
lasting and important tribute to the child, her life, and her
family’s dignity. Within that context, the ADSS has focused on some
key issues. They include:
– The problem of inter-agency collaboration. One of ADSS’s
principal recommendations has been that area child protection
committees should be placed on a statutory footing, a move that
would substantially increase the priority with which social
services and partner agencies would deal with child protection
issues. They should be better resourced, and the relationships
between the partners governed by service level agreements.
– Key child protection workers sharing the same workplace.
Directors have argued consistently and persistently that many of
the problems of information-sharing that occur will be overcome if
key health, police and local authority staff share the same
– There should be national standards, thresholds and procedures
for child protection, and the new arrangements for safeguarding
children should be inspected on a multi-agency basis.
– Social workers should not be harassed and pilloried in the
media. They are making difficult judgements on behalf of us all as
to whether it is safe for a child to remain in the family or needs
to be removed. Research shows that there are no reliable indicators
on which to base this decision. The context is often intimidation
and threat. We need more people prepared to do this job and we
should give them our support and backing.
Meanwhile, the association has long argued that creating a
separate agency for child protection, and thus separating it off
from family support work and services for children in need would
not be an intelligent way of restructuring local authorities.
Families with children move in and out of the different criteria,
and a separate agency – as well as creating a further boundary to
negotiate – would make sharing information even more complicated
than it is already.
And not least, the report will do all our children a service if
it reiterates their need to be listened to with care and respect.
All professionals should never forget that their focus should be on
those children, even when parents or carers try to persuade them
that the opposite is the case.
Fourth World has worked alongside families living in long-term
poverty for more than 25 years. Most of them have children in the
care system and many were in care themselves. Our submission was
based on their in-depth knowledge of the care system.
ATD Fourth World argued that Victoria’s tragic death should not
lead to a rush of court orders as soon as a family is referred to
social services. Rather, this was the opportunity to think how to
build-up trust with users. As one family member told us: “The best
way to know if children need to be protected is to get to know the
The worry is that fear of what may happen if this approach is
taken, could lead to social services practices moving even further
away from the preventive, partnership-based family support which is
so desperately needed by the poorest and most disadvantaged
families. The priority in terms of human and financial resources
towards child protection, as opposed to family support, puts
families directly into conflict situations at first point of
contact and can prevent the building of partnership-based practice.
The danger of this is to isolate the family, putting the children
in more danger, rather than less, creating mistrust and disrespect
on both sides of the client and social worker relationship.
Our submission also stressed that as a way of achieving the best
possible outcomes for children, the use of family group conferences
should be encouraged to look for possible care arrangements within
the family before seeking care options with foster carers or
prospective adopters. There are many thousands of successful
kinship care placements, which form an integral part of the formal
and informal child care system, and also support the child’s
ability to cope with being separated from their birth parents.
Almost all child protection policies and procedures currently
used were created with no input from service users. Positive change
in this area can come from involving people with direct experience
of the system in the policy-making process and in the monitoring of
performance. Their insight is often undervalued, despite evidence
that input from children and their parents can bring a greater
understanding of what works and what does not. Recommendations from
the inquiry will be strengthened and more likely to succeed if they
incorporate the voices of those with direct experience.
With the possible setting up of a new child protection
structure, the input of users, especially those experiencing
poverty who are vastly over-represented as a client group, is all
the more crucial if we wish to prevent future failures of the child