Strict eligibility criteria for children’s services contribute to social exclusion

The majority of children’s services are
provided in response to problems and then only if users pass
stigmatising eligibility criteria, child protection experts told
the first seminar of phase two of the Victoria Climbi‚
Inquiry last week.

The 25 representatives from health, social
care, police and the voluntary sector agreed this helped contribute
to social exclusion rather than reduce it by ensuring services were
not universal.

They felt front-line social workers were
obliged to take an inquisitorial role with potential new clients in
order to assess eligibility and meet managers’ demands for
statistics. This was threatening and off-putting to service

Professor of psychiatric social work Colin
Pritchard described the under-resourcing of children’s services
that lay behind stringent eligibility criteria as a “professional

“Why are social workers sometimes apparently
hostile to their clients? Because they feel their managers are
demanding and their systems are equally hostile,” Pritchard

“You have three victims here: the child, the
damaged and disrupted parents, and the poor front-line social
worker trying to hold the whole thing together. Very often, that
frontline social worker does not feel [managers] are looking after
them. They are feeling that they are the next people to be quizzed
and judged. That, I hate to say, is about resources.”

In order to make services more responsive
social workers should instead take their lead from voluntary sector
groups such as the Samaritans and ChildLine and ask fewer
questions, take more time to listen, and develop relationships of
trust, the inquiry heard.

Dr Howard Baderman, a retired accident and
emergency consultant, told the inquiry: “If one of the things we
want to achieve is inclusiveness and encouraging people to seek
help, we just have to bear in mind that pressing for too much
information puts people off, raises the spectre of where it is
going to go, and issues of confidentiality.”

Immediate past president of the Association of
Directors of Social Services Moira Gibb said social workers no
longer had time to reflect on their work, and that supervision
sessions had effectively been reduced to an opportunity for
managers to check the correct forms had been completed.

Gibb added that the sector had failed to take
advantage of the opportunity afforded by the Children Act 1989 to
take a more strategic approach to children’s services, choosing to
continue to respond on a case by case basis rather than devising
services to meet the wider needs of local children.

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