No substitute for continuity

The real protectors of children, and the promoters of their welfare
in “good” families, are their parents. This may seem obvious but it
is overlooked when considering the right model to protect children
at risk. We attempt to supplement or replace inadequate, absent or
dangerous parents with a range of unjoined-up institutions and
professionals. It is hardly surprising that children fall through
the gaps, as everyone passes the buck or hopes that someone else is
putting effective protection in place or ensuring that children’s
educational, health and welfare needs are met.

So what does a good parent bring that a range of institutions and
professionals cannot? The answer is a long-term focus on the whole
child and a determination to fight for that child’s interests in
every sphere all the time. The current focus on adoption recognises
the value of this model. But adoption is often neither appropriate
nor feasible.

I propose that every child who is judged to be at risk should be
matched with a guardian, who would be paid to take on long-term
advocacy and support, potentially until that child reaches
independent adulthood. This guardian could be a social worker,
probation officer, teacher, nurse, grandparent, uncle, aunt, foster
parent, childminder or other appropriate adult, trained to become
the guardian for one child or a few siblings.

Recruitment, selection, training, empowerment, pay and support
would focus on providing an adult who would take a continuous
personal interest in a specific child, and who could take measures
to support and protect that child’s interests. This adult would
liaise with social services, health, and education as appropriate,
and would be privy to all confidential information.

The guardian would aim for a positive relationship with the parent
or other care provider, but would provide an independent view. They
should be appointed by, and answerable to, an agency that is
independent of other care and service providers.

A guardian would differ from the child’s main carer – parent,
foster carer or institution – in not providing day-to-day care.
Their relationship with the child should not, therefore, be subject
to the breakdowns that often occur in care. The aim would be to
provide continuity, and should carry on when their job or personal
circumstances change. Only exceptional situations should lead to a
change of guardian.

Judy Weleminsky is a management consultant in the voluntary

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