news analysis of NSPCC job cuts, a new HIV report and adoption rights for unmarried couples

As the NSPCC celebrates the expansion of its national helpline, projects
around the country learn their fate. Lauren Revans asks if children will
end up missing out.

(see below for news analysis of Terrence Higgins Trust report and the issue of
co-habiting couples adopting)

"I don’t agree with robbing Peter to pay Paul," argues Steve
Anslow, general secretary of the British Union of Social Work Employees
(Buswe), following the decision by the NSPCC to announce the expansion of its
national helplines just hours before confirming which of its 18 local projects
would be scrapped.

The children’s charity insists that the closures of the projects up and down
the country are "absolutely not about saving money". Indeed, it is
keen to point out that its "alignment process" will actually result
in a net gain of 112 jobs, and therefore a net increase in spending on services
to children.

But Buswe says is difficult to imagine how children in areas where projects
are closing will end up anything other than worse off. It claims that although
children and concerned adults may have improved access to the NSPCC website and
a range of 24-hour helplines in various languages, an e-mail or a voice on the
end of the line is unlikely to offer the same comfort and protection as a
face-to-face meeting with a local project worker who knows and understands the
local community.

The NSPCC denies that the closures will lead to gaps in service provision.
"In most projects affected, the NSPCC will still be providing local project
services nearby and, in one or two areas, certain service provision will be
supplied elsewhere in the wider area such as in a county," the charity

But staff members and Buswe – which represents a third of the NSPCC’s 1,500
employees – remain unconvinced. Concerns about the charity’s alignment tactics
have been rising, particularly since the circulation at the beginning of
October of the list of projects up for closure, which included several
"shock" entries.

"If you start to look for geographical answers none of it really makes
sense," Anslow claims. "You have to look for money answers. We know
they have over-reached themselves."

One employee, shocked to find her project on the confirmed closures list
last week, also rejects the "alignment defence" on offer, insisting
that her project was given positive signals throughout the audit process and
qualifies for all sections of the alignment criteria.

The result of all this, Buswe fears, is that the NSPCC is in danger of
creating the impression that it is "moving away from child
protection" and dispensing with direct services for children.

The story from the frontline offers little in the way of reassurance. One
employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardising her
redundancy settlement, claims the charity is going out of child protection and
into "vague and peripheral services", and is focusing on campaigning
rather than service delivery.

Another believes the original principles of altruism and helping children
"are all gone". She claims the charity is wasting valuable resources
and skills by moving people into posts that neither require, nor put to good
use, social work or therapist qualifications.

The disappointment at the NSPCC’s latest decisions is aired on the in-house
staff chat page, where employees have discussed the "appalling" way
in which they have been treated and their grave concerns about the direction in
which the charity now appears to be heading.

But the charity denies allegations of poor communication about the alignment
process, and insists that the blow of the anticipated 88 redundancies will be
softened by the "extensive redeployment" on offer.

"Following the alignment process, the NSPCC will be filling some 200
vacancies," the charity argues. "Undoubtedly, there will be some
staff who do not wish to move or work in a different role although it is
envisaged that a significant number will."

However, some staff have decided against daily commutes or a new role and
instead leave the NSPCC behind for good. "I think the charity’s work is
being dumbed down," one staff member says. "If that’s the direction
it goes, I don’t want to be part of it. The NSPCC doesn’t appreciate what it
has got – but other people do."

So, as the charity celebrates the 10th anniversary of its first national
helpline, many teams will begin to wind down their operations and close their
list to new referrals.

By February 2002, the NSPCC promises that helpline child protection officers
will answer 80,000 calls a year – twice as many as they do now. But, with
redundancies across the country coming into effect at the same time, it remains
to be seen whether there will be enough services on the ground to respond to
these additional pleas for help.

projects set for closure:

– Cornwall Child Protection Centre

– Rugby Family Support Services (closure date extended to Sept 2002)

– Midlands and West strategic development officer post

– Wiltshire Child Protection Centre (except domestic violence, which is

– Lancashire West Team

– Merseyside Child Protection Team (one of two teams)

– North Cumbria Child Protection Team (considering retaining therapeutic

– Oldham, Rochdale, Bury & Tameside Unit (except Ashtree project,
Ashton-under-Lyne; extra staff member for Oldham team)

– Stockport and Tameside Child Protection Team

– Alderwood Project, Northern Ireland

– Belfast Day Care Management/Admin – Family Support Services, Northern

– Colchester Child Sexual Abuse Project (merging with young abuser team)

– East Sussex Family Support Services

– Farnborough Family Support Centre

– Isle of Wight (considering retaining therapeutic services)

– Milton Keynes Child Protection Team

– North Hampshire Child Protection Centre (considering retaining therapeutic

– South London Youth Project with Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (no staff


A new report finds that prejudice against people with HIV and Aids is
alive and well in social care – and calls for action and training to deal with
it. Clare Jerrom reports.

Social care and health organisations may have anti-discriminatory policies
and practices and should, in theory, be bastions of equal opportunity but the
reality does not always live up to the ideals.

A report from HIV and Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust1
says that employers need to ensure their anti-discrimination policies are acted
on, particularly in relation to workers who are diagnosed HIV-positive.

Whereas life-threatening illnesses or physical disabilities usually provoke
feelings of support, compassion, or concern in family, friends and colleagues,
the report provides evidence of loved ones turning their backs on people
diagnosed as HIV-positive.

The stigma is similar to that of people with mental health problems, says
Lisa Power, the report’s author and the trust’s head of policy.

Unsurprisingly, many people choose to conceal their HIV-status, leading to
anxiety, lack of access to information and services, and misdiagnosis of health
problems, says the report.

Approximately 33,200 people in the UK are HIV-positive, and last year there
was a 14 per cent increase in new diagnoses on the previous year.

"Discrimination is often out of ignorance not malice," says Power.

Lack of training fuels further discrimination, she adds. "Some social
care services are coping well, especially in areas of high prevalence of people
diagnosed with HIV. But there is a real need for support and training in areas
with low prevalence of sufferers such as domiciliary care," she says.

Power wants all general care workers to be trained in anti-discriminatory
practice to ensure they respond appropriately when caring for someone who is
diagnosed as HIV-positive.

But the new social work regulation body, the General Social Care Council,
says that while it provides an over-arching framework for the DipSW programme,
it is down to individual training providers to specify the detailed curriculum.

Under the DipSW frameworks candidates should have "the knowledge and
skills to counter unfair discrimination, racism, disadvantage and injustice in
ways appropriate to their work".

In addition, DipSW students must also demonstrate they can "practise in
a manner that does not stigmatise or disadvantage either individuals, groups or

However, there are currently no systems in place to monitor the framework’s

Power’s report makes a number of recommendations. The department of health
should provide information and training on HIV to all relevant staff and social
care organisations so that support systems can be developed, as well as funding
a national awareness campaign to challenge prejudice around HIV.

The report also wants the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 extended to
cover medical conditions from the point of diagnosis, rather than the onset of
illness – a move backed by the Disability Rights Commission.

As a commission spokesperson says: "By including people with HIV, it
puts their rights on the map."

l Terrence Higgins Trust, Prejudice, Discrimination and HIV,
available from 020 7831 0330.

Case study:

"they broke every promise of equality for people with HIV…"

Ben (not his real name) experienced discrimination while working in a client
support role at a national disability charity.

Diagnosed HIV-positive in 1997, Ben chose to inform just two close friends.
But one was the partner of the union representative at the charity. Learning
about Ben’s status, the representative spread rumours about his health, refused
to accept drinks from him at the residential home where they worked, and did
not let him use kitchen equipment.

Ben lodged a complaint, but feels the case was totally mishandled when he
was forced to work shifts with the representative and received no legal or
moral support from the union.

Eventually he left both the union and charity, but still feels cheated and
backed into a corner.

"My union had a large handbook on HIV … and broke nearly every single
promise of equality and respect for people living with HIV," he says.

Ben believes the completely supportive and flexible attitude given to a
colleague suffering from cancer demonstrates the perceived differences between
the illnesses.

"It is ironic that it was a charity that lobbies for the rights of
disabled people," he adds.

Ben now has a new job where his employer recognises his HIV status and
values his work and commitment.


Most agencies disagree with the government over adoption rights for
cohabiting couples. Jonathan Pearce reports.

One of the many issues exercising the House of Commons special standing
committee on the Adoption and Children Bill currently before parliament is
whether unmarried couples should have the right to adopt jointly.

The department of health has decided not to change the current position in
which an application for an adoption order can be made by a "married
couple, or one person". That one person can be either single or in an
unmarried, cohabiting relationship. But if in an unmarried relationship, then
only one of the partners can apply to adopt.

It has argued that the legal basis of marriage is more likely to provide the
stability and security an adopted child needs, but health secretary Alan
Milburn wants to hear the committee’s views. The difficulty for unmarried
couples is that the adopted child is denied the legal security of being adopted
by both partners, a problem which becomes more acute if one partner dies or the
relationship breaks down.

The world has moved on since the last overhaul of adoption law 25 years ago.
Families no longer conform to the supposed ideals of married parents and 2.4
children. Single parents are common, same-sex relationships proliferate, and
unmarried couples with children comprise one-third of families with children,
according to Edinburgh University emeritus professor John Triseliotis. In
another 15 years, unmarried couples with children will outnumber married
couples, he claims.

"The quality of the relationship is the main thing," he stressed
in his evidence. "Whether they’re married or not is neither here nor

In his evidence, Family Rights Group chief executive Robert Tapsfield said
the bill needed to reflect the realities of today’s families.

Most adoption agencies and campaigners want to see the right to adopt
jointly extended to unmarried couples. Given the policy aim behind the bill to
increase the number of adoptions by 40 or 50 per cent by 2005, there are
concerns that denying them the right will significantly reduce the pool of
available adopters.

Committee chairperson David Hinchliffe MP has also raised the potential
conflict of the current policy with the welfare principle inherent in
children’s law, so that it might not be possible to place a child with an
unmarried couple, even if that is the best decision for the child’s welfare.

However, Catholic Children’s Society director Jim Richards does not agree.
He points to a higher prevalence of relationship breakdowns in unmarried couples.

"I believe there is a qualitatively different nature between
cohabitation and marriage," he said in his evidence to the committee. He
feels that adopters are expected to make a lifelong, public commitment to
parenting a child and that commitment should be mirrored in the parents’
relationship to each other.

But the other agencies repeatedly stress "the quality of the
relationship" as the defining factor. Just because someone is married, it
does not mean he or she does not have a history of broken marriages and
relationships. Adoption assessments need to look into all the factors behind a
relationship – be it married or unmarried – to see if it is "strong and

Or as Adoption UK director Philly Morrall neatly put it in her evidence:
"The needs of the child come first and not the status of the adults."

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