Within the United Kingdom at least one child dies each week resulting from adult cruelty. Statistics from 2003 highlighted that there were over 384,000 children in need in England, and over 69,000 of these children were known to be living in care or living with their families. (Department for Schools and Families, 2003).
Children in need are defined under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, as those whose vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain satisfactory level of health or development may be significantly impaired without the provision of services.
Practitioners within inter professional roles in local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the well being of children (Department for Schools and Families, 2010) and therefore need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities when implementing safeguarding (Lindon, 2008).
The Victoria Climbie report was published in 2003 and highlighted the tragic consequences that led to her death. This eight year old girl was known to the police, social services and the National Health Service over a period of ten months. On twelve of these occasions the relevant statutory services involved had the opportunity to successfully intervene in the life of Victoria. This inquiry highlighted the gaps in incompetence of staff in the statutory services involved in this case by the problems in identifying serious child protection issues, plus the inadequate recording and management of information systems that were in place to safeguard children. These failings were seriously lacking in this case which ultimately contributed to the death of Victoria Climbe (Laming, 2003).
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From this inquiry the Department of health (2007) set out the standards in the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services that all agencies work to prevent children suffering harm and to promote their welfare, provide them with the services they require to address their identified needs and safeguard children who are being or who are likely to be harmed.
The following is a quote taken from Laming inquiry:
‘The single most important change in the future must be the drawing of a clear line of accountability, from top to bottom, without doubt or ambiguity about who is responsible at every level for the well-being of vulnerable children. Time and again it was dispiriting to listen to the ‘buck passing’ from those who attempted to justify their positions. For the proper safeguarding of children this must end.’ (Laming, 2003 p.5).
Lord Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie contributed to many significant changes across children’s services in England. The government responded by producing the Green Paper; ‘Every Child Matters’ (Department for Schools and Families, 2003). Many of the proposals in the paper have now passed through parliament and have become legislation in the form of the Adoption and Children Act (2004). The key themes of the Act are supporting families and carers, early intervention and the prevention of children falling through the system, accountability, integrated services, development and training. Section 10 of the Act defines the ‘Every Child Matter’s outcomes which are; be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing.
The use of integrated approaches/processes for managing concerns about children and their families should result in improved outcomes for this service group. Effective plans for safeguarding and promoting children’s welfare should be based on a wide-ranging assessment of the needs of the child (Department for Schools and Families, 2010).
Resulting from the Green Paper: ‘Every Child Matters (Department for Schools and Families, 2003) the use of an assessment tool known as ‘The Common Assessment Tool’ has been put into practice when working with children and families. The purpose of this tool enables professionals and other services to share information and help identify any additional needs of children which should enhance interagency working. This tool helps to reduce duplication of assessments across different agencies (Department for Schools and Families, 2009).
However, the use of this Common Assessment Tool has been criticised over concerns of security issues regarding access to systems and consent for recording and storing information (Peckover & Hall, 2009).
Every professional or service group that work with children and families are expected to have appropriate core skills to guide their practice. Occupational Therapists are integrated within multi-disciplinary teams across children and families teams and more than often play a lead role in safeguarding this service group. Occupational Therapists have the core skills embedded in their clinical practice to treat all patients holistically. As part of their role is to identify any physical, psychological and any social needs that may be needed through their interventions, in this particular area, children and families, working closely with a child through play and purposeful activities can sometimes highlight any detection of child abuse. This can then be discussed with another member of the multi-disciplinary team and recorded in ‘The Common Assessment Framework Tool’ (COT, 2006).
However what is apparent is that child protection systems do not always work as efficiently as they should without the collaboration and cooperation of the other professionals within all multi-disciplinary teams (Lindon, 2008).
Professionals and other services need to be fully equipped with the knowledge of how other roles in the multi-disciplinary teams work in safeguarding children and families to enable each of them to share information effectively, without these knowledge roles, a breakdown of communication between multi-disciplinary teams is a result.
McNair (2005) states in his literature that professionals can feel threatened by others when encroaching on their territory which can relate to role blurring and crossing over the role of different boundaries.
In conclusion, no amount of legislation and policy guidance absolutely guarantee that child protection services will be able to prevent children slipping through the net. Nonetheless, it is imperative that inter-agency teams working with children and families work collaboratively together to minimise the risks associated with this group of service users. The government has now placed safeguarding children and families at the forefront of their agenda and it is imperative that all professionals can all work together to ensure that this vulnerable group of people are protected.
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