When researching the changes that have taken place in the last decade, it is notable that law, guidance and application to practice are constantly under revision. The aim of this project is to identify and assess the impacts of the recent changes in child protection as well as public opinion and awareness of them.
Evaluating changes in child protection is challenging as defining the rights of children has never been particularly straightforward. Once, in Victorian times, they were considered the property of parents who can treat them in whatever manner they like. Fortunately, most people today believe that children should be emotionally safeguarded and should receive protection from government agencies from physical and sexual abuse. In examining how child protection has evolved during the past ten years, this project will also be discussing the facts and misconceptions about class and sexual abuse. Different types of data were used to identify those – secondary research section underlines previous studies, findings, evaluation of government and voluntary agencies actions in order to come to a conclusion, whereas in primary research data was collected by using a questionnaire to summarise public opinion and trends about the subject. Feasibility study was conducted to identify any possible difficulties in completing the project and methods used are evaluated in methodology section.
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Whilst assessing the changes in policies, the research will give an insight into public attitudes and government legislation regarding child protection which is of interest to students who are hoping to progress onto a Social Work degree course and pursue their future career working with children. For students who are hoping to work with adults, the research might provide base for understanding the problems of paedophilia and an insight into recent Acts of Parliament. This was the reason why the research topic was selected.
Secondary sources of information, such as journal articles and government publications, will be selected to identify recent changes in the system. Even though these are widely attainable, the terminology used in selected journals is exclusively directed to professionals who work with children and some additional research will be essential in order to understand the topic and some legal terms. Whilst secondary data will be obtained from books, journals and government publications, the primary data will be obtained from an interview with a child protection professional and questionnaires which will be completed regionally and anonymously by adults. Therefore, time will need to be designated for designing the questionnaire and interview questions. Questions will need to be written so that answers provided will be easy to analyse. However, primary data will not be obtained from children due to the sensitivity of the topic. Basic computer skills, forward planning, determination and patience will be necessary in producing the following.
Methodology Study: Analysis of the Methods Used to Complete the Project
The project is structured according to the requirements of the grade descriptors and it is outlined to meet the standardised criteria. In addition, the methods used in gathering primary and secondary data were suggested and encouraged by the college tutor. The research for the project involved gathering primary and secondary data and its cogency relies on validity of those sources. The information is independently generated using the methods which are briefly evaluated in this section.
In terms of secondary data, validity was assured by using a variety of sources, such as books, newspaper articles and web pages which demanded patience and persistence. However, it provided a fundamental base for the project and most significantly, it subsequently led to a greater knowledge of the subject. Application of this knowledge allowed the critical evaluation of the issues relating the child protection. This broad approach to secondary research imposes time limitations and requires excellent understanding of the terminology.
In addition, primary data was gathered using the questionnaire and an interview with a child protection officer, employed by the NSPCC in Manchester. The interview with the social worker provided an excellent insight into the issues related to child abuse and poverty. However, the preparation for this was time consuming and difficult due to the limited availability of the interviewee and even though she tried and stay objective, some subjectivity as well as a degree of interpretation might have influenced the findings. Measures were taken to enhance the reliability of the findings generated by questionnaire by using a public sample from various age groups, genders and occupations and similar results enhance validity of the findings. However, the questionnaire was completed regionally and with a relatively small sample (36 people took part) which does not allow generalisation. Unlike interviews, using questionnaires does not require prior arrangements and information can be collected from a large number of people relatively easy.
Qualitative data used in the research covers a very broad area of different aspects to child protection. This is gathered from secondary as well as primary sources. Though information is brief comparable to that gathered by quantitative approaches, it poses difficulties when measuring it with reliability. Qualitative data found in secondary research such as in numerous books and journals require intensive reading and analysis in order to determine appropriate sources of information, e.g. finding and recognising the objective data in newspapers articles. Qualitative data is descriptive and this method was used to gather information using an interview. Nevertheless, the qualitative data poses risks in terms of written work as it is easy for a researcher who is still learning about the subject to express it in a descriptive rather than analytical manner. In this project, a degree of critical analysis was maintained by constantly questioning why findings are in a way as they were found.
Quantitative data was obtained by counting and coding the information gathered by the questionnaire in primary research. The information was transformed into numerical data and represented by using charts and graphs in the primary research section. This was further used to numerically measure the public opinion of child protection as well as to support the qualitative data and evidence found and analysed in secondary research. However, quantitative data in this project is not an infallible indicator on how people actually feel about child protection. The questions which were left unanswered in a questionnaire might be interpreted as the information which could not be limited to numerical descriptions and due to the sensitivity of the topic, some socially desirable answers are expected.
Secondary research: Changes in Child Protection During the 2000s
Law and guidance which regulates the child protection is constantly under revision. Nevertheless, the twentieth century featured the shift in attitudes when the family moved on from Victorian times where “Children were seen and not heard (Morgan,1985, p.89)”. Fortunately, most people today believe that children are not property of their parents and that they should be emotionally safeguarded and when necessary receive protection from government agencies from physical and emotional abuse. Therefore, when a report is made, the child is usually taken from the parents and put into care. Many sociologists believe that this is primarily associated with the lower socio-economic classes because poverty is believed to be related with increased chances of instability in the family (NSPCC, 2011). Although that is statistically correct, children in more desirable neighbourhoods may be more vulnerable if there is a general belief that childhood abuse could not possibly happen in these areas as poor children appear to be the easy choice for the sexual predators of the world. In examining how child protection has evolved during the past ten years, also the secondary research section involves analysis of the facts and misconceptions about class and sexual abuse.
Child Protection Reforms
Every society has an interest in protecting its children, not only because they are the stewards of the future, but because one of the merits which grades the level of development of civilisation is how well a particular culture treats its children. In England, there have been some arguments about reinforcing social values of the English way of parenting on people from foreign cultures. However, the tragic story of Victoria Climbie had influenced politicians to discuss the ways to improve the law in place with regards to child protection in the UK. The Labour government also analysed how the holes in the system could be closed and systematically, the media had played a role in informing the public of what was regarded by the journalists as a ‘ blinding incompetence’ of government agencies (Lonne, 2009). The inquiry into the case discovered that a number of agencies such as the police, NHS, NSPCC and local churches that Victoria attended all noticed the signs of abuse, but had done nothing to assess the situation. As a result of the ‘blinding incompetence’ in which way this case was assessed, Parliament passed an amendment to the original 1989 Children Act to the ‘updated’ 2004 Children Act (The National Archives, 2011). These amendments to the Act gave much greater discretion to child protection agencies and power to react when protecting children and the new principle of ‘every child matters’ led officials to not dismiss certain cases because of the social or cultural background of the child in question.
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The Home Secretary appointed a review of safeguarding children in June 2007 and measures were put in place to ensure better communication and cooperation between the agencies and the government agencies are exchanging data regarding sex offenders in England and Wales under the guidance of ‘multi-agency public protection arrangements’ (MAPPA). In a controlled way, information is also made available to various people, such as teachers, employers, landlords and parents. The extent to which information is reviled involves regional variations and is further stimulated by a campaign for sex offenders disclosure scheme, commonly referred to as ‘Sarah’s Law’. This scheme was piloted in Hampshire, Cleveland, Cambridgeshire and Warwickshire over a one year period in 2008 and it allowed members of the public to attain information from the police about any sex offending convictions of an individual, for example, a family friend or a neighbour. However, the scheme does not mean that information is unreservedly made public. During the pilot period a total number of 585 enquiries were initiated, 315 of which were preceded further and resulted in a total of only 21 criminal disclosures being made. Also, 43 disclosure applications prompted other safeguarding actions such as referral to social services (Almandras, 2010) which indicates the scheme’s useful application in practice.
The Home Office carried out the research which concluded that criminal justice agencies had benefited from ‘Sarah’s Law’ which resulted in increased intelligence as well as in an improvement in a way which public concerns are handled. This led to an announcement in August 2010 that the scheme would expand to twenty more police force areas and remaining forces were invited to consider the introduction of the scheme by March 2011. However, even though police seniors feel confident that information which is disclosed under the scheme will remain confidential, organisations such as NSPCC have stressed that criminal disclosure might encourage violent attacks.
When evaluating this extent of information disclosure, it is important not to forget that it only involves the information about individuals who have been convicted for a sexual offence. This does not eliminate the need for public awareness to safeguard children from yet unknown offenders.
Other significant methods to tackle the child abuse include a cultural shift of condemning violence within the home to the same extent as violence outside the home, and some researchers argue that Parliament could pass more amendments in safeguarding children, notably against corporal punishment, such as the case in sixteen European countries, as a part of a revised Children Act in future (Wilson and James, 2007). Nevertheless, designing a strategy to tackle the issues of child protection involved creating a profile of child abuse, for example, assessing which families would be more at risk to abuse children and social workers concluded that a degree of risk is strongly correlated with poverty, social isolation, family breakdown and poor parent-child relationships (Wilson and James, 2007). This has led government and voluntary agencies to focus their work on poorer households where such risks are statistically more possible as the economic factors inevitably create stress that can accumulate and result in parents to take out their frustration on their closest family, most notably on their children.
Struggling to survive and financial problems, however, are not the primary reason behind the child abuse among middle and higher class families. Studies have found that abuse in the higher social circles are directly related to factors such as the abuse of drug and alcohol, and there is some hesitation to prosecute perpetrators from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds because they would be unable to provide economic support to their family members if they are prosecuted and put in prison. In addition, such an individual would be able to bring more financial resources to fighting the legal charges and it is argued how it would be easier for such a person to obtain personal references from affluent friends and family as well as have an advantage of the access to greater funds for legal help (Faller, 1993).
New Labour reforms and Children Act 2004 aim to prevent children from being on repeated reports on the child protection registers (Powell 2002). In practice, this means that children would be much less likely to be removed from one abusive situation and placed in another. The reforms of the government legislations reinforce increased measures for assessment of the prospective foster parents, and more strict evaluation of the biological parents who are hoping to gain back the custody of their children (Powell 2002).
Protecting children online
Government experts argue that parents, influenced by media, are contributing in creating the ‘paranoid’ culture and thus are overprotecting their children. The ‘risk-averse’ approach to raising children has resulted in an increasing number of children who are exploring the world of the internet and particularly social networking sites as they are disallowed to play outside. London School of Economic had carried the comprehensive survey which found that ninety eight percent of children have access to internet (UK Children Go Online, 2006) and another study concluded that nearly all questioned parents (95%) do not recognise the slang that their children use to let other people know that their parents are supervising them (Netlingo, 2011). Nevertheless, the generation gap often leaves parents unable to fully understand the complexity of the conduct of ‘cyber bulling’ nor significance of online safety (Khan, 2009). This influenced the government to react and the agencies such as CEOP, UKCAS and IWF are developed and designed to provide information and support for the victims as well as minimise the availability of images of child sexual abuse and help to prosecute the offenders. The number of intelligence reports from Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) that led to police arrests increased from eighty three in 2006-2007 to four hundred seventeen in 2009-2010. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, marked the UK approaches to online child protection as ” one of the most effective in the world (IWF, 2009)”.
Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Class Distinction
Childhood sexual abuse in reputable families was often undetected because the biggest percentage of the higher classes appears to consist of respectable citizens. From a sociological point of view, taking children into care would be a more difficult decision in these cases as sexual abuse that involves immediate biological relatives is statistically more rare comparing to those involving lovers of the parents. Career people, doctors, teachers, and successful men, sometimes women, as well as ministers of church were therefore able to carry on the sexual abuse of children because of the widespread misconception that such terrible things could not possibly be committed by these ‘model citizens.’ Another reason why many offenders were successful in hiding their crimes was because they chosen the victims who were often vulnerable and lonely children that did not have warm relationships with parents and intended to obey authority. For example, in one case study, a child was abused in front of the neighbours who simply looked the other way because the father of the abused child had created a ‘negative opinion’ of the child in their minds by repeatedly telling them what a naughty and difficult child she was. So when he chased her around while she was undressed and hit her outside, the neighbours thought nothing of it as it was an all white, middle class neighbourhood where ‘such things never happened’ (Itzin 2009).
‘Their targets are not the conventionally perceived social underclass, though many victims will be drawn from that, but are rather from a collection of groups who form the fodder of abusive networks; who are subjected over and over again throughout their lives to multiple abuses’ (Itzin 2000, p. 390).
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely eliminate the horror of sexual abuse from society, but there is a way to encourage a shift toward making children less vulnerable. Children Act 2004 recognised children as individuals in their own right who do not deserve to be beaten, raped, or psychologically tortured. Protecting children from harm should be a responsibility of all adults as well as implementing a zero-tolerance policy on child abuse and prosecution as well as rehabilitation of all offenders, regardless to the social class.
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