Leaving Haringey social services shortly after the Victoria Climbié tragedy, Pauline Bradley found a Scottish system far more focused on child welfare
I was working at Haringey social services at the time of the death of Victoria Climbié in 2000. During those bleak times, many social work staff left the department. I became a full-time Unison social services convenor but then decided to go back into social work practice elsewhere.
In the aftermath of the Climbié case, I received valuable support from workers in Scotland, who told me about the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration (SCRA). This is the system that makes most legal decisions regarding children’s welfare. Inspired by Lord Kilbrandon’s Report of 1964, its aim is to tackle “needs not deeds”. It has the genuine welfare of children at its heart, which the English system may be losing.
Any child who comes to the attention of the police is referred to the SCRA, which is run primarily by lawyers who specialise in children’s law. Anyone can refer a child to the SCRA, including parents and social workers. The SCRA reporters then ask for reports from professionals to decide whether a children’s panel hearing is required.
If a children’s panel is called, decisions are made by three trained volunteers from the local community, with a reporter giving legal advice. The child, family members, a social worker, a representative from the child’s school and an educational psychologist are among people who attend these hearings. The reports are considered: the child, the parents, and the professionals are questioned in this safe and informal atmosphere. A plan is agreed for the child and a legal order is usually agreed.
In England I held cases where legal orders were sought from court. The proceedings were adversarial and acrimonious – in one case there were five sets of lawyers all representing different individuals in the family.
The rituals in the court seemed unwieldy to me and completely alien to the family. When the case was over, it was very difficult to repair my relationship with the family.
Social work reports for the SCRA are written in a less adversarial way, which is mindful of the continuing professional relationships. In the Scottish system, I have been able to maintain healthy, trusting working relationships with clients because of the more honest system. I have worked with parents whose children were on the child protection register.
In one case the registration was emotional abuse of four siblings due to the parents’ severe domestic violence and alcohol abuse. When the children were de-registered a supervision order was put in place with statutory monthly visits. Although the process was difficult for the parents, my relationship with them was always honest and never broke down.
The welfare of children is also upheld by the education system. Every child in Scotland has a guidance teacher and there are pupil support units in every school to help pupils and families who are struggling. Each week there is a joint assessment team meeting in every school teachers, social workers, health professionals, police and other relevant professionals attend to discuss children who are causing concerns in schools.
There is a genuine concern for the welfare of all children and a desire to make continuous improvements to the system.
Pauline Bradley is a social worker in Scotland
This article is published in the 31 July issue of Community Care magazine under the title England should take a lesson from its northern neighbours