by Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London
If you actively wanted to undermine the safety and welfare of children and young people, you could not do better than this government and its politicians.
As child protection workloads increase by over 50% since 2009, the government reduces funding for the police and children’s social services so frontline professionals have to cut corners and ration their time with children more heavily.
In relation to child sexual exploitation, they oversee the demise of youth services and allow academy and free schools to disengage from local child protection partnerships.
Blame and punishment
And when horrific abuse takes place, they ensure those who give their professional lives to protect children are blamed and now to be punished.
There is then the predictable consequence that it is increasingly difficult to recruit social workers, paediatricians and others at the frontline, or appoint directors of children’s services experienced in children’s social work and child protection.
This government also ensures it is only public sector workers who can be blamed, fined and imprisoned, while at the same time opening up children’s social work and child protection to the market place – and to private companies, which causes fragmentation and confused accountability.
Mr Cameron has a history of grandstanding and playing to the gallery on child abuse. In 2008 he tucked in behind Rebekah Brooks and The Sun to seek political advantage following the terrible death of Peter Connelly.
Playing to the gallery
He is at it again, with the cutter-in-chief, communities secretary Eric Pickles, at his side along with health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is overseeing increasing disruption and chaos in our health services.
And shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper – the wife of Ed Balls who was complicit in the The Sun’s ‘Baby P’ blame game – wants mandatory reporting of child abuse. This is crazy.
To protect themselves, anyone with any concern about a child would have to define it as child abuse. Thresholds would tumble, triaging would stop, families needing help would be caught in child protection assessments and conferences. And children’s services would be overloaded, at increased risk of collapsing under the weight of even bigger workloads.
Police and social workers have learnt a lot over the past six years about child sexual exploitation. They are identifying and tackling more criminals, exposing and prosecuting networks of abusers and protecting more young people.
More time and capacity would certainly help them to act on the learning. It is a pity that senior politicians seem not to have the same capacity to reflect and learn, and seem unable to resist playing to the gallery.
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