The central principle of the Children Act 1989
is that the child’s interests must always be paramount. It did not
confer specific rights upon parents; rather, it introduced into law
the concept of parental responsibility.
Since then, social care professionals have
inched society towards a sometimes grudging acceptance by policy
makers that children’s rights must be clearly stated, enshrined and
There is a long way to go, however. The
physical punishment of children is still condoned, and the courts
still present often insurmountable hurdles to child witnesses and
victims. These two examples make it obvious that children’s rights
have not gone far enough. Yet parents – particularly fathers – have
lobbied strongly against the Children Act since its implementation
and have met with considerable success.
It is generally accepted among many opinion
formers, including those in the media, that children’s rights have
gone to extremes, and are now used by children as a stick to beat
their parents and professionals. There is a widespread view that
allegations of violence made by children or their mothers against
fathers – particularly when relationships between parents are
breaking down – are frequently false and malicious.
Thanks to the NSPCC and the Women’s Aid
Federation for England, we now know beyond doubt that many children
whose parents are given the benefit of the doubt, despite previous
incidents of abuse or other violence, suffer further abuse because
of contact or residence arrangements.
The Children Act’s central principle has been
undermined, and the government must urgently strengthen the act.
Most importantly, this would protect children who have already
suffered at the hands of their parents from further harm. It would
also restate the principle that children are not subject to their
parents’ rights. Being a parent is tough – not least because the
rights of children come first. CC
– See News, page 14
Mental health warning
Mental health problems emerged this week as a
likely contributor to the professional failings surrounding the
death of Victoria Climbie. The Laming Inquiry heard evidence that
Haringey team manager Carole Baptiste’s mental health in the period
leading up to eight-year-old Victoria’s death “would have had an
impact” on her social work. A psychiatric report suggests that she
had begun to develop “a serious psychotic mental illness”.
No one should pretend that this is the whole
answer to what went wrong, but Baptiste is an example, albeit an
extreme one, of worryingly poor mental health among front-line
managers and practitioners. Research shows that mental health
problems in the form of depression are prevalent.
A new study, carried out with support from
Community Care and published by us last week, found
three-quarters of respondents claiming their depression had started
after entering social work. Forty two per cent said that they had
received no workplace support.
The failure of managers to deal with mental
health problems among their staff can only deepen the crisis of
morale in social services. In Baptiste’s case, the consequences
were tragic – she was responsible for supervising Victoria’s
allocated social worker.
Elsewhere, the consequences may be less stark;
but prolonged sick leave, inefficiency and impaired performance
should all get swift managerial attention. The alternative is
– See News, page 10