Child development should be incorporated as a key element in social worker training to give professionals a fuller understanding of children’s emotional needs and family dynamics, England’s children’s commissioner has recommended.
In a submission to the Munro Review, seen exclusively by Community Care, Maggie Atkinson said social workers’ relationships and communication with children would improve, and the impact of abuse and mistreatment would be better understood.
Her report, commissioned to the University of East Anglia and published today, also recommends that, when the relationship between the parents and social services breaks down, a second social worker should be brought in to focus on the child only.
The recommendations follow a series of interviews by the Centre for Research on the Child and Family at UEA, with 26 five- to 18-year-olds, split evenly by gender, all of whom had child protection plans.
Some children said their siblings were the main sources of fear and abuse, prompting Atkinson to urge professionals to look beyond parents as the only possible source of mistreatment. There was also concern that social workers did not see the entire picture of the child’s life. Some of the children interviewed said they had never been seen individually, were asked inappropriate questions when their parents were present and were never told the reasons for social services’ intervention.
“The children and young people talked not just about their worries but about what options they had for sorting them out,” the report says. “The strategies some children adopted, such as fighting back against bullies, shutting down emotionally, missing school to avoid trouble or trying to intervene in domestic violence, might be harmful for the child.
“It is important for professionals to be aware of the child’s view of what might help, to support the child to strengthen existing positive strategies and to help the child develop alternatives where their strategies are harmful.”
The report added: “It is important that when social workers decide what information is appropriate to share with the child that they take into account not only the child’s age and understanding but also the dynamics within the family. In some cases the parents or older siblings provided information to the child anyway. This might make a child feel alienated from the social worker if they feel that they have not been fully informed.”
Thirteen of the children and young people described good relationships with their social workers. Only six did not, saying they would not confide in their social workers at all. Five children gave a mixed response.
Many said they wanted their social workers to be in touch and accessible but on their terms, saying they hated being bombarded with questions. One child suggested social workers should give children their mobile numbers so they could text them.
Another said: “Let me have a diary that only the social worker and I can see. Every time the social worker visits she could look through my diary and see what my family did.”
The Children’s Commissioner’s report was given to the Munro review alongside a formal submission.
GOOD PRACTICE: LARA, 15
Lara was staying away from school because of bullying. Her social worker phoned the school to explain the reasons, an act much appreciated by the 15-year-old. Lara also values the fact that her social worker speaks to each member of the household individually as well as together a family.
“She’ll also do everything she can to try to solve a problem,” Lara says. “Then she’ll tell us what’s been said and what she’s going to do and if they refuse anything she’ll keep going at them.”
The social worker shows Lara the reports she has written and, after speaking with her, will either amend them or explain why she will not. Lara may not always agree with her social worker, but she still trusts her.
BAD PRACTICE: JASON, 8
Jason has a child protection plan under the category of emotional abuse.
His mother has been clear that she is angry about social services’ intervention and is now making a formal complaint. It appeared that the relationship between the social workers and parents had broken down.
Jason says he is taken to meetings, but sits outside while his mother goes in. He is unable to identify any way in which social workers are helping his family. He says he does not like the social worker because “when mum’s talking, she interrupts”.
Jason says he always talks to the social worker with his mother and father present, never on his own. He does not identify any other professionals whom he spoke to about his family.
Source: Children’s Commissioner’s Munro submission
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