Professor of social work at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and author of ‘An exploration of how social workers engage neglectful parents from affluent backgrounds in the child protection system‘.
Professor of social work at Huddersfield University and member of the Child Welfare Inequalities project.
Is there a link between neglect and the socioeconomic status of a family?
Key points from Brigid Featherstone
- As part of the Child Welfare and Inequalities project, we did an international evidence review, looking at the literature and research on the links between poverty, socioeconomic status and child abuse and neglect, so neglect as part of a broader category.
- This is an under-researched area, but we found that there was a link between poverty and neglect and socioeconomic status, both indirectly and directly. So poverty impacted upon children. The poorer you were, the more likely you were to become involved in the child protection system, but also the more likely you were to suffer neglect.
- Poverty makes parenting much harder. And it’s not just poverty as in lack of money. It’s also all the associated issues that occur linked to poverty, like poor housing, debt, unsafe neighbourhoods. It makes parenting much harder. It adds to stress. It also means that, according to our research, you are more likely to be involved with the child protection system. So you are more likely to experience difficulties but you’re also more visible.
- It affects people directly. And we’ve seen this with austerity. People don’t have the money to give their children what they need. That adds to stress in families where children and young people become unhappy and are bullied at school and parents experience a great deal of shame about being in poverty, and that affects their parenting.
- It also affects people indirectly in terms of the levels of stress that occur as a result of worrying and struggling and trying to manage to make ends meet.
- Our system as well compounds poverty. We expect people to turn up to meetings. We don’t always give them bus fares. We expect them to travel long distances to take their children to and from school, and our child protection plans aren’t always poverty-aware.
How can social workers manage the balance of power with affluent families?
Key points from Claudia Bernard
- One of the messages I say very loudly to managers and practitioners, and particularly to managers, is that there needs to be conversation about social class privilege and how power manifests itself very differently when social workers are involved with families who have power and education and the resources to garner legal advocates behind them.
- Managers need to think about, ‘Well how do I support my worker if when they’re going out to do an assessment, the first meeting with the family, the family has their lawyer sitting in the room?’ That’s if the parents are not lawyers themselves. And those are the sort of encounters that social workers are having with affluent families.
- When social workers are working with poorer families, often the social worker might be the most powerful person in the room. When they’re working with affluent families that relationship is turned around, and social workers need skills and practice wisdom to be able to navigate that.
- In my research it showed that it was the social workers who had the most confidence and experience, practice wisdom, who were able to navigate that relationship very well.
- We have to talk about social class and privilege and power as it relates to affluence in the social work context, as well as talking about social class in relation to families from low socioeconomic background because I think some different issues emerge in terms of the relationship. For relationship-based practice, some very different issues emerge when we’re talking about privilege and power.
Community Care Inform Children subscribers can access further in-depth guidance on neglect and child protection:
Bernard, C (2017)
An exploration of how social workers engage neglectful parents from affluent backgrounds in the child protection system
Goldsmiths, University of London
Bywaters, P; Bunting, L; Davidson, G; Hanratty, J; Mason, W; McCartan, C and Steils, N (2016)
The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: an evidence review
York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Department of Health (2000)
Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families
London: The Stationery Office
Featherstone, B et al (2019)
‘Poverty, inequality, child abuse and neglect: Changing the conversation across the UK in child protection?
Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 97, pp127-133
HM Government (2018)
Working Together to Safeguard Children