Upon a social service department receiving the initial referral a decision will be made by the manager whether to act upon the information received. In the case of Samantha and her children the referral offers enough information to meet the criteria for a social worker to undertake an Initial Assessment. Local Authority (Social Services) Act (1970), places a duty on authorities to provided social services. It sets out a legal framework for local authorities and social work responsibilities in a statutory role, this being continually updated. In the case of Samantha and her children the authority in which the family reside in have a legal responsibility to undertake an assessment and a corporate obligation to provide services to children in need and adults, if necessary. Powers grant Local Authorities to act in certain ways but there is no obligation to do so and there is a degree of discretion of how powers are applied. In relation to the case study, the social worker would have the power to initiate contact with the family and other professionals they felt may provide valuable information to assist in the assessment process (Brammer, 2010).
When carrying out the assessment, the social worker would refer to legislation which governs what they can do in order to safeguard children. The Children Act, (1989) sets out that the welfare of the child is paramount, the child being the primary client (Brayne & Carr, 2010). The Act provides the legal framework within which social work practice with children and families is situated and promotes the family as being the best place for the child to be brought up in, where it is safe and possible to do so. The Act also includes principals with regards to welfare, children’s rights and introduced the concept of parental responsibility (Children Act, 1989, s.3, Brammer, 2010). The Act states that the local authority is required to provide services for ‘children in need, their families and others’ (Children Act 1989, sec.17) and investigate if ‘they have reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering or is likely to suffer from significant harm’ (Children Act 1989, sec.47). It also gives the authority the power to apply to the court if they ‘believe the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, placing the child in local authority care (Children Act, 1989, sec 31).
The Children Act (2004) was introduced following an enquiry into the death of Victoria Climbe by Lord Laming. The Government responded by producing a green paper ‘Every Child Matters and Wales ‘Rights to Action’, this led onto pass the Children Act 2004. Its main focus is to highlight the importance of multi-agency working placing a duty on local authorities and their partners including health, schools, and the Police to work responsibly and collaboratively to promote the wellbeing and safety of children. A common assessment framework was introduced so that social workers and partner agencies could provide better preventative support for families deemed not to reach child protection thresholds. The introduction of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) considers a holistic view of the child and their family, incorporating the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors (Brammer, 2010). In relation to the case study there have been concerns regarding Callum and Claudia from their school. The Education Act 2002 also includes a provision requiring school governing bodies, education authorities and further education institutions to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (NSPCC, 2012). Using the CAF will also allow the social worker to explore family issues concerning the children’s father, older siblings and immediate family. The CAF will also consider the families identity and promote any welsh language needs in accordance with the Welsh Language Act 1993 (CCW, 2002, 1.6). In response to the Children Act, 2004 the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) produced, Safeguarding Children; Working Together under the Children Act 2004, providing local authorities with guidelines and descriptions of roles of partner agencies and focused on working responsively and proactively (WAG, 2004). The All Wales Child Protection Procedures, 2008 were also introduced upon recommendations from Lord Lamings report requesting that governments strengthen their child protection procedures (WAG, 2008).
The Human Rights Act 1989 also plays an important role in the social work assessment. Professionals are required to uphold and defend the rights of individuals whilst seeking to meet their needs. The Act has also heavily influenced the Disability Discriminations Act, 2005 and Equality Act, 2006 & 2010 (Brayne & Shoot, 2010). Wales have also implemented their own introducing The Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007 (BASW, 2011). This legislation will be relevant when taking into account the needs of Samantha in relation to her historical mental health problems.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC), is an international agreement that protects the human rights of children under the age of eighteen and recognises children as possessing rights on equal footing with adults. This along with the Human Rights Act 1989 is instrumental in the CAF as it requests that the child is to be seen and a consideration of their needs and wishes recorded. The children, along with Samantha have the right to have their wishes and feelings known in relation to any assessment or intervention undertaken (Children Act, 1989 sec. 22 Human Rights Act, 1989, UNCRC, 1989 article 12).
There are also national bodies that provide social care professionals with common guidance on their practice. These are the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the General Social Care Council (GSCC) and in relation to Wales the Care Council of Wales (CCW) and the National Occupational Standards of Social Work (NOS).
The legislation and guidance discussed will assist the social worker in undertaking an initial assessment of Samantha and her children. Using the CAF will help to establish what support if any the family requires. The assessment should show the strengths, difficulties and impact of the situation on the family (Parker & Bradley, 2008). The social worker will need to determine from an analyses of the assessment whether the children are children in need (Children Act, 1989 sec. 17) or children in need of protection (Children Act 1989 sec.47). The worker will be required to work alongside other professionals in a multi-agency approach in particular education, possible mental health agencies and recognising that the children, in particular Callum maybe a young carer (Children Act, 2004, Disability Discrimination Act, 2005, Equality Act, 2006 & 2010, Carers Recognition & Services Act 1995). The social worker would also be abiding by statutory bodies codes of ethics in recognising and promoting services users rights, working open and honestly and respecting their views and wishes (BASW, 2012 CCW, 2002, CCW, 2003 GSCC, 2002).
Upon receipt of this further information from the Health Visitor, the Local Authority would have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to initiate Sec.47 enquiries. The Children Act 1989 Sec. 1b states that, ‘If the local authority have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives or is found in their area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. The authority shall make or cause to be made such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should safeguard or promote the child’s welfare’.
Following this legislation the social worker in consultation with a senior manager would undertake a strategy discussion at the earliest opportunity. Information would be gathered from the referrer and also the consultant paediatrician and discussed with the police; this can be done via telephone (WAG, 2008). Any other relevant information about the family should also be shared during this time. Information should be given to the Police regarding Samantha’s partner David and checked against the police national database, although this should have been done as part of the Core Assessment process. Pertinent questions should be raised regarding the consultants assessment of the alleged burn marks; How did the hospital visit come about? Why did the consultant not make the referral themselves? Was Claudia sent home after the examination? The strategy discussion should agree the course of action to be taken; if a medical examination is needed, whether the investigation would be a single or joint agency response (social services alone or in conjunction with the police) and what information should be shared with the family at this time. It should also take into consideration the needs of any other children who may be affected, in this case Claudia’s brother Callum (WAG, 2008).
As part of the Sec.47 enquiries it is a statutory requirement for the social worker to see the child unless there is enough evidence and information to proceed (Children Act, 1989 s47.4). It is important that any discussions with children are done in a way that minimises the distress and maximises the likelihood of them providing clear and accurate accounts (Brayne & Carr, 2010).
Due to the seriousness of the information regarding Claudia and Callum and the presence of a potential non accidental injury, the decision needs to be made whether emergency action is needed. This may be because access to the child is being refused; parent is refusing a medical examination or deliberately delaying enquiries. Legal advice should also be available through the local authority’s legal service (WAG, 2008).
Following this there are a range of options available to the local authority for securing the protection of Claudia and Callum. Samantha may agree to David leaving the household and sign a safe-care agreement for him not to have contact with the children. Although this may not be possible as there are allegations of a non-accidental injury with no reasonable explanation to the cause. Claudia and Callum may be cared for be extended family subject to safeguarding checks (WAG, 2008). The children may be looked after by the local authority with parental agreement (Children Act, 1989, sec. 20). Social services can also make an application to court for an Emergency Protection Order, allowing them to accommodate the children for up to eight days without parental consent. The last option is Powers of Police Protection whereby the Police have the power to remove the children (WAG, 2008, Williams, 2008).
Although there must be no delay in safeguarding children who are at risk, it is important to be aware of the possible trauma and disruption such proceedings may have on the children involved and every effort must be made to minimise this.
Under the Human Rights Act 1998, Claudia has the right to respect for a family life and privacy and local authorities have to justify any interference in family life with any involvement being necessary and proportionate (HRA, 1998 article.8). This is also supported by the UNCRC 1988. These rights can be compromised when there are concerns regarding child welfare and child protection. Local authorities exercising their legal duties and functions must do so without violating the rights of children and their parents. In relation to Claudia and the escalating concerns for her welfare and safety, social services are legally justified in intervening in family life if it is to protect her health and wellbeing (Laird, 2010). This must only happen in accordance to the law, Children Act 1989 and must not interfere with the convention law, ‘beyond what is absolutely essential to prevent some kind of harm’ (Laird, 2010, p150).
The case study highlights incidents of escalating seriousness with regards to Claudia, she has suspected non accidental injuries and her brother Callum has alleged that David has slept in her room on occasions, this alongside on-going issues of neglect. This information would be sufficient to trigger compulsory measures by the local authority under sec.47 Children Act 1989. Section 47 enquiries and powers of police protection to remove children in an emergency do not require a court order. A court order ensures that there is a forum in which the rights of those who are involved and what is needed in order to safeguard the child can be considered by a judge, this ensures that in most cases compulsory measures will not normally breach Article 8 ECHR (Williams, 2008).
In situations of extreme urgency where the child is at risk of significant harm, relating to the case study and the non-accidental injuries to Claudia, the local authority can apply to the court for an emergency protection order (EPO) which can be granted by a single magistrate without the prior knowledge of the parents (Laird, 2010). Courts must regard Claudia’s welfare as paramount and must be satisfied that making an order is better than making no order at all. Local authorities must look to identify family placements for the child before opting for foster care.
Laird (2010) uses an example of X Local Authority v B (Emergency Protection Orders), whereby the local authority where the children lived did not take into account the viability of placements with extended family members before applying for an EPO. This contravening article 8, as removing the children from all their relatives into foster care is the most extreme interference in family life. In relation to Claudia, if she was to be removed from the care of her mother, into foster care and possibly separated from her brother, without giving prior consideration to any immediate or extended family may breach her rights under article 8 or the Human Rights Act 1998 and UNCRC 1989.
Working in partnership with professionals during child protection procedures is guided through legislation and agency roles, powers and duties. The difficultly can be working in partnership with parents especially when they are not in agreement with the process. In child protection work the relationship between parent and social worker can be fraught and tightly directed by legal and procedural requirements (Pinkerton & Devaney, 2009). If Claudia was to remain in the care of her mother, she would be the subject of an Initial Child Protection Conference. WAG (2008) states that where possible parents and others with parental responsibility should be invited to attend and helped fully to take part. They also have the option of bringing an advocate or legal representative. Family members and professional should be able to share information in a safe and non-threatening environment and for family members to speak to the chair in the absence of other relatives, especially if there is a risk of violence or intimidation (Brammer, 2007 CCW, 2002, 1.3, 3.1). This could be apparent in relation to Samantha if Claudia’s father having parental responsibility also attended the conference. The social worker should also meet with the parents beforehand to share the report which highlights the concerns bringing them to conference. The chair should also meet before the conference to ensure that they understand the procedure and purpose of the event (Brammer, 2007). At six years old, Claudia is able to voice her wishes and feelings and this should be done through direct work with the social worker, not to obtain a disclosure about possible abuse, but to build a trusting relationship between worker and child with the child being able to feel safe and secure whether they remain at home or in placement (Milner & O’Byrne, 2009, CCW, 2002 1.2, 2.1 UNCRC, 1989, article 12). Studies show that children are capable of understanding complex situations and are able to construct ways of dealing with them, so an honest explanation of the situation is more productive, however young they are. However issues can arise when the child knows only too well the seriousness of the situation. Claudia may hesitate and feel unable to talk freely as she may worry how the information discussed will be used. If she is to return home to her mother, she may be questioned over what she has said (Milner & O’Byrne, 2009). Although the worker will respect the confidentially of Claudia, it is not wholly guaranteed and this should be explained to her in an age appropriate manner, ensuring her understanding (BASW, 2011, CCW, 2002, 2.3, Children Act 2004 sec. 12). Any disclosures from Claudia which could potentially put her or others at risk will require compulsory action under sec. 47 Children Act 1989.
Whilst working with Claudia and her family the social worker will be guided by legislation and statutory guidance which will on times conflict with human rights and ethical values. The very nature of child protection work can be oppressive with a distinct power imbalance. The power and status is firmly with the worker who is advantaged by being someone of the authority. It is also likely to be reinforced by the parents and children being disadvantaged by gender, class, race and age (Pinkerton & Devaney, 2009). Children’s rights to protection are clearly laid out in international and domestic law (Human Rights Act, 1998, UNCRC, 1989, Children Act, 1989/2004) and promoted in national and international codes of ethics and practice guidance (International Federation of Social Workers, British Association of Social Workers & Care Council of Wales). In relation to Claudia the Human Rights Act 1989 and UNCRC 1989 article 8, supports her right to remain in the care of her mother. In contrast to this article 19 ensures that Claudia is protected from violence, abuse and neglect by her parents or anyone else who looks after her. Article 9 goes on to support the removal of the child for their own protection but promotes contact with parents if safe to do so (UNCRC, 1989).
The social worker would encounter ethical dilemmas during her work with Claudia and have to balance her needs and interests where they may conflict with those of others, especially other professionals, and child protection issues in regards to her safety (CCW, 2002, BASW, 2011). The worker would apply the relevant codes of ethics and practice around issues of information sharing and confidentiality (CCW, 2002 2.3, 6.5, 6.7). However in relation to child protection and the law, the welfare of the child would always be paramount over any rights of confidentiality (Children Act, 1989). The social worker would need to give due consideration regarding Claudia’s life-skills and knowledge and promote her participation in the process that concerns her (BASW, 2011, 2.1, CCW, 2002, 1.1, 1.2, 3.1). Although consideration of a child’s wishes and feelings does not impose a duty to act upon them (Brayne & Preston-Shoot, 2010).
Overall this assignment highlights the complex nature of social work in one of the most demanding areas, child protection. The need to follow legislation and statutory guidance and to balance that with the individual’s human rights, taking into consideration ethics, non-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice can, on times be a highly contentious process but one that hopefully has the desired outcome, the child has been protected and is safe from harm. Children have a right to live in this world and be protected from violence, abuse and neglect and child protection should be the business of everyone. There have been incidents when things have gone wrong and unfortunately children have died as a result, lessons have been learnt and law and policy nationally and internationally has been changed to hopefully prevent this in the future.