Letters to Community Care 24 September 2009

Scalding tap analogy tells us so much about the state of child protection

Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme recently covered a story about a company where a washroom’s hot tap was identified as the cause of scalding. The company decided that the tap needed a warning sign placed above the basin. This proved successful in that the number of scalding injuries decreased significantly.

A few weeks later a manager decided that all hot taps in the building required the same warning. The number of reports of scalding increased. Investigations revealed that people were becoming so accustomed to the signs above every tap that they ignored the warning when they used the one that had caused the injuries.

For me this captured so precisely the problems now being experienced in the areas of children in need and child protection.

Since the implementation of the Every Child Matters agenda we seem to be asked to identify every child as “in need”. This can be seen daily from the sheer volume of innocuous referrals from the police – every child being identified as a “scalding tap”. Because the child protection process seems to want us to record every referral of a harmed child as child protection, irrespective of circumstance, severity or degree of risk posed, so we make them all scalding taps too.

I would urge all professionals to adopt this analogy.

As a country we seem to want “agencies” to take responsibility for everyone. Most children will not need professional agencies to become involved in anything more than one-off insignificant occasions in their lives. Most are not “children in need” to anyone other than their parents.

And most allegations of children being harmed can be dealt with by way of advice or education and do not need the full might of the child protection process being applied.

Steve Kemp, practice manager, London

How widely shared is Mencap’s optimism?

I wonder how many carers and practitioners who have already become victims of Valuing People and Valuing People Now’s richness of rhetoric – but paucity of clear strategic guidance concerning day time occupation and service provision – share Mencap’s cautious optimism about the government’s “ambitious” delivery plan (“Mencap praises Valuing People Now progress”).

If Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy, David Congdon, considers that the government has made “significant progress” with its publication in June of Valuing Employment Now, he clearly has not digested the overall conclusion of the report that considerably influenced the publication of this strategy – A Review of the Research Literature on Supported Employment.

It concludes: “at present, funding arrangements and policies are not in place, as they are in some parts of America, to support a large scale increase in the numbers employed, nor to promote a move away from traditional day activities.”

Is any further comment needed?

Charles Henley, Bournemouth

Champions for the innocently indebted

Gary Vaux urges the lower paid and working recipients of disability living allowance to forgive the “shambles” characterising the early years of the tax credit system, forget their fears of recoverable overpayments and “make a claim for what is rightfully theirs” (“People put off by the tax credit system should think again”, https://www.communitycare.co.uk/112243).

Vaux bases his recommendation on how the initial reluctance of Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to accept “official error” in favour of blaming victims for their lack of in-depth knowledge of the tax system and failure to spot mistakes which so-called experts could only uncover years later has yielded to a “softer” stance.

HMRC now supposedly takes into account circumstances such as a claimant’s mental health, vulnerability to domestic abuse, and household costs. But our specialist user-led organisation, founded by social care workers, has qualitative evidence that recovery remains largely ruthless and scant regard is given to the claimant’s vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, in the user lobby group Tax Credit Casualties the innocently indebted now have free representation within the tax credit system from peers, all victims or former victims of this capricious system. They will advise tax credit claimants of their rights, steer them through the labyrinthine stages and offer support through an often terrifying, overly bureaucratic process.

As Vaux urges, may readers and their social services clients continue to claim their rightful entitlements, secure in the knowledge that, should it blow up in their faces, if HMRC does not tell you how to dispute any non-fault overpayment which arises, then http://www.taxcc.org will.

Alison Myers-Ward, social worker and tax credit casualty

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