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Supporting Family Units and Protecting Children’s Rights

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4444 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The purpose of this assignment is to explore looked-after children by critically exploring service provisions such as privatisation and private children’s homes failing Ofsted reports. This assignment will be made up of ten different sections to be able to successfully, critically analyse service provision to support and promote family units, critically explore service provision and access alongside entitlement issues, and to also critically analyse the impact of priorities with regards to children’s rights for the individual children with reference to priorities. International involvement in supporting family units and children from a regional, national and international perspective will also be investigated. Relevant statistics of the Children’s Act 1989 and other policies will be explored in order to make links towards looked-after children and the struggles they face, including the struggles of those around them. Statistics will be produced from previous and current governments to help understand how children enter the system and become looked after children. Furthermore, Parental rights, austerity and government cuts will also be linked into the assignment to give further dimensions.

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Referring back to history, care has been an issue for children from the nineteenth century due to orphanage, abandonment or because they could no longer be cared for by their families for whatever reason, and children were often cared for in a large residential institution. In the past, societal attitudes were often ambivalent and dismissive towards children, as they were not seen to have ‘rights’ in the same way as they do now and were viewed as powerless with very little opportunities to express fear. According to Colton, et al. (2001), these institutions were set up by philanthropists such as Dr Barnardo, as an alternative to the inhumane workhouses. During the second world war, many children were evacuated from the cities, and sent to live with temporary carers to keep them safe, but not all experiences for the children were positive. Many of the ‘carers’ did not want to take in another mouth to feed, however this was a government order which meant they had no choice. After the second world war however, the Children’s Act 1948 legislation came into place with the aim of strengthening the legal and procedural framework surrounding the needs of children places into care. This Act has been improved and developed overtime to ensure that children are provided with the utmost well-being care. Childhood and children’s rights have been constructed over centuries to get to where we are today.

On a yearly basis, DfES collect and produce statistical data regarding the profile of looked-after children. According to DfES (2006), there are around 60,000 children in care at any one time which is 0.5% of all children in Britain. 85,000 children will spend time in care over the course of a year with many entering and leaving care rapidly. For 62% of looked-after children, they have entered the system due to abuse or neglect, a figure of which has not changed within the past five years. Most looked-after children are of white British origin at 74%, 56% of which are boys. 64% of looked-after children are looked after under a care order, although there has been a 5% decrease since 2003. From March 2006, there has also been an 11% decrease in the numbers of looked-after children who were adopted.

Current policies for looked after children focus on a range of issues such as health, education need’s and their emotional needs. There have been several developments in recent years with key pieces of legislation, including Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, which enabled children to remain in care beyond the age of sixteen, if they would have wanted to. This Act has been commended as a historic development by the government as it ensures positive changes for care leavers. Although there still remain some issues under the legislation, Grover et al (2004) as cited in Broadhurst (2009) raised concerns about the issue of new financial arrangements, as it appeared that sanctions were being given to care leavers if they were judged as uncooperative or disengaged from their pathways.

Care matters: Time for change, reinforce a central approach to ‘Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 which focus on all services available for the looked after child, ensuring that every agency has a shared responsibility towards vulnerable children and their families. Within Care matters: Time to change, the key features and priorities are to improve educational attainment, prioritising school admissions, helping children to access leisure activities and hobbies, improving health outcomes, improving the role of corporate parents, improving family and parenting support, more local and stable placements, improving the standard of foster care, and improving arrangements for leaving care. All of which have the looked-after child’s best interests at the core.

Although the definition is not specifically in the Children Act 1989, to become looked after, the child must first become a child in need. The definition of a looked-after child within the United Kingdom is a child who is accommodated by the local authority, away from their family, in a residential or foster placement, and all children subject to a care order, even if they are still residing with their parents (Brammer, 2007). This includes children who are placed in respite care placements, which are known as support foster care. Looked after children do not have it easy, however there is also acknowledgement towards parenting a looked-after child within Care matters: Time for change (DfES, 2007), as it is incredibly complex due to the amount of people involved.

Once it has been established that the child is in need, the local authority has the power to remove and provide appropriate services to the child and his or her family.

Fitzpatrick as cited in Broadhurst et al (2009) states that looked after children represent one of the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups in society, and as a result of this, have became a target for New Labour government in the past decade as they are a focus for attention due to the wider ‘safeguarding children’ agenda. The New Labour party have spent much time trying to create plans to improve outcomes for looked after children and to reduce the gaps of achievement. Although in despite of policy activity, the Conservative government appear to neglect the needs of these children as they have very little to say with regards to these young people. 

The Care matters: Time for change also prioritises that looked after children should be supported to engage in hobbies and sporting activities as these can help improve a child’s self-esteem as well as encourage friendship networks, as a looked after child can struggle with socialising and socially acceptable behaviours due to their upbringing or any previous experiences. For any child in care, the popular issues include a lack of belonging or identity for themselves and not just with regards to their education which the government seem to force the most pressure upon, alongside employment and training. Most looked after children turn to crime in their later years, according to Fitzpatrick (2009), as this can seem to be a way for them to take control of their lives, especially once they have left the care system.

The Children Act 1989 does not only come under public law it falls under private law also. “Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, which can be used to settle where a child lives, parental contact and responsibility and other specific disputes. Orders can also be made over prohibited steps”.  E.g. Preventing a parent moving a child to another country. Public law is commonly known as the relationships between individuals and the government, and those relationships between individuals which are of direct concern to society. A focus of public law is to help safeguarding and not removing children into care, however in some cases this may be the best option for the child’s safety. There are certain parts of the Children Act 1989, such as section 20, which is voluntary accommodation with parental consent. This law can cause tensions between a family and the government if the child’s parents object against voluntary placement or removal of the child. Private law cases are brought by private individuals, generally relating to divorce or parent’s separation. Public law cases are brought by local authorities or an authorised person (currently only the NSPCC) and included matters such as care orders, supervision orders and emergency protection orders.

Each United Kingdom nation has a different definition of what a looked after child is. However, as with history, all looked after children enter care with a variety of same reasons. According to the NSPCC (2018), the child’s parents might have agreed to this if they are too unwell to look after their child or if their child has a disability and needs respite care. The child could have been an unaccompanied asylum seeker, with no responsible adult to care for them, or children’s services may have intervened because they felt the child was at significant risk of harm, although if this is the case then there is typically a court-made legal order put into place. Looked after children come into the care system from a range of different backgrounds with their own unique life experiences and their own unique set of needs, however they remain vulnerable young people. Many children who enter the system, have been abused or suffered from some form of neglect, which in turn can leave children with emotional and mental health needs, which can increase their vulnerability (NSPCC, 2018).

According to Cocker and Allain (2008), there are two main routes for children into care. The first route into care is through accommodation (section 20 of the Children Act 1989). The second route into care is via court proceedings (Section 44 of the Children Act 1989) (Cocker & Allain, 2008). However, a court can only create a care plan, or a supervision order, for the child if they are completely satisfied that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, and that the care given to the child, or that was given to the child, was not acceptable. Furthermore, every care plan created is completely unique for the child and is required to be drawn up prior to a final order being made at court (Cocker & Allain, 2008). Case law was been a large influence in determining how care plans are put into place.

Children’s homes are usually administered by the local authority, however due to government cuts, there are less of these available currently as more and more looked after children are placed into foster care homes. In fact, due to government cuts, there are more and more children’s services and resources being cut, especially up in the North of England. Once a care plan is put into place for the looked after child, each placement must have regular reviews to determine whether the child’s needs are being fully met and that the child’s progression is thriving (Cocker and Allain, 2008).

Many children who enter the care system come from families struggling with poverty, however poverty is never just the only risk factor as to why a child enters the system. According to Moss (2018), government spending in the north of England has fallen by £6.3bn while the south-east and south-west of England have seen an increase of £3.2bn since 2009. Additionally, the North of England has been hit with huge public spending cuts since the coalition government launched its austerity programme, whilst the South has seen an increase in funds, which is playing a large role in the northern poverty grid (Embury-Dennis, 2018).

There is also the issue that the government are trying to privatise more homes. Local Authority run homes have a higher number of staff on average (15) compared to privately run homes (11) irrespective of the size of the home. Staff in privately run homes tend to work longer hours on average (38.6 hours a week) compared to local authority run homes (33.9 hours a week). Privately run homes currently pay significantly less per hour than local authority homes, with an average of £9.39 per hour against £13.28 in local authority run homes (Narey, 2016). Some services in particular which have been subjected to government cuts are the Sure Start centres.

According to Butler (2018), 1000 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010. By closing this large amount of Sure Start centres, this has made it difficult for many to have access to services and resources. Sure Start was created and developed under New Labour as a way of improving the educational and life chances of socially and economically disadvantaged children. The centres offered families access to services including childcare, healthcare, parenting classes, job skills and playgroups. By 2010, there were 3,600 centres in the UK. Before that year’s general election, the Conservative leader at the time, David Cameron, promised to protect funding for Sure Start, but this pledge quickly vanished amid severe cuts to local authority budgets, despite high demand for the Sure Start services (Butler, 2018).

Between 50% and 75% of looked after children leave school with no qualification, according to Francis (2000), which is a result to them having to move schools and homes due to the care system’s flawed organisation, alongside how they act with regards to separating from their home environment. Although this is yet again due to government cuts to services and resources. It can also be a cause due to many looked after children having to separate from their siblings.

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Looked after children with disabilities are within the percentage which suffer the most as their care needs are much more challenging. Although one extra which has been created to assist with families is respite care, which can give families a sense of stress relief, almost like a break, and was put into place by all local authorities. When disabled looked after children are sent for respite care, they are subject to looked after children procedures (Cocker and Allain, 2008). This is partially due to the Equality Act, as every child should be treated equally, with their best interested at the helm. The Children Act 1989, section 17, defines disabled children as children in need, as they are automatically classed as being ‘in need’ as they are required an assessment of their needs and provided with a range of services.

 Attachment, resilience and adversity are often terms used by social workers, and have been important concepts put into place, designed to identify and understand a child’s development (Cocker and Allain, 2008). It is important to be able to identify a child’s need when it comes to these issues, as they can impose a threat upon a child’s mental health. Mental health is also a major issue being raised by professionals as some children often refuse to under go a mental health assessment due to the stigma of having a mental health disorder.

Resilience is defined at being able to recover quickly from difficulties, which means that it enables us to protect ourselves from which could be overwhelming, which is important as it can protect us from developing mental health issues (Miles, 2005). Originally, children who were classed as resilience, were children who were being tested for psychopathy. The tests produced data which showed that children who were ‘flourishing’ and classed as resilience, were so despite their psychopathy tendencies Masten, Best and Garmezy, 1990). Masten et al (1990) described resilience as “The process of or outcome of successful adaptation, despite challenges or threatening circumstances. Psychological resilience is concerned with behavioural adaptation, usually defined in the terms of integral states of well-being or effective functioning in the environment or both”.

As opposed to the prior statement of how resilience is defined, Masten et al (1990) stated that resilience can be understood in three different types of categories; resilience as overcoming the odds, resilience as stress resistance and resilience as recovery. They believed that all three types of resilience were important when understanding resilience of looked after children. However, they also critiqued these by asking why some children become resilient and why other children succumb to very similar stress and adverse condition? Whilst there are many factors which can give a variety of answers, there have been mention risk factors such as personality features such as gender, IQ and temperament; family environment such as quality of care and socio-economic status; and social milieu which includes education and religious organisations. The concept of resilience in childhood has been heavily linked with the attachment theory.

Attachment theory has been explored by many different psychologists throughout the years, three of the most common being Bowlby, Freud and Ainsworth, and can be now defined as a set of concepts that explain the emergence of an emotional bond between an infant and primary caregiver and the way in which this bond affects the child’s behavioural and emotional development into adulthood (Dictionary.com, 2018). One of the more recent psychologists to explore this theory is Dan Hughes, who further studied the effects of attachment-based treatment for maltreated children and young people. A lot of young children who are looked after, have been victim to abuse and neglect of some kind. These experiences can sometimes have a negative effect on the child and how they act towards their care givers and depends on whether the looked after child is classed as securely attached, or insecurely attached (Hughes et al, 2010). How a child is classified in regard to attachment can also have a negative effect on how the child treats their care giver.

As previously stated, each child who enters the care system, does so with their own unique experiences. Therefore, how a child responds to new experiences is a result of their earlier experiences, especially the early experiences, those of which build up the child’s internal working model.

Another key theory to think about when referring to looked after children, and another that links well with attachment and resilience, is deracination. Deracination refers to when the child leaves their home and enters the system, and when they leave the care system. It can also refer perfectly to immigration children as they flee their native environment, many of which do not have a responsible adult with them, to care for them.

 A local authority must provide personal and practical support for all care leavers, under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, which includes ensuring they have accommodation and a means to earning money, whether this be through employment or state benefits. However, due to government cuts, most care leavers are unable to claim benefits as there are rules which state that a child must have been in care for at least thirteen weeks after their fourteenth birthday. However, there are additional agencies and services who aim to provide support to care leavers such as the Children and Family Court Support Service (CAFCASS), and independent visitors. For looked after children leaving care, there are major issues which to face due to being disabled or unaccompanied asylum seekers, or even those who become young parents themselves. Some of the key challenges for these children include education, housing and health and well-being. Statistics take from UNICEF (2001) show that there are high rates of young people pregnancy within the United Kingdom, especially by those which were or are looked after children themselves. However, this could be due to them wanting to have that feeling of belonging, and feeling like they have their own families, someone who will rely on them. However, the downside is that this is not always the case. Some pregnancies occur with looked after children due to being vulnerable and promiscuous.

To conclude, looked after children’s needs are very much the same as every other child but with some additional requirements. There are much more children in the care system currently within the United Kingdom, than any other time. Historically, care has been an issue for children from the nineteenth century due to orphanage, abandonment or because they could no longer be cared for by their families for whatever reason, and children were often cared for in a large residential institution. In the past, societal attitudes were often ambivalent and dismissive towards children, as they were not seen to have ‘rights’ in the same way as they do now and were viewed as powerless with very little opportunities to express fear.

Many children, especially up North of England, are in the care system due to the poverty strain many families currently have due to government cuts from the Conservative party. However, there are other factors which lead to a child entering the system, such as abuse and neglect of the child.

Research has shown that looked after children are more likely to build up resilience at a higher threshold than a child in a normative family construction, which enables the most to build up and protect themselves from any previous experiences they may have had, whether that be whilst in care or prior. Resilience can link towards the attachment theory and have negative effects for the child and how they act towards their care givers. Theories such as attachment and deracination are also key to understanding looked after children.

Children who enter the system without parents or a responsible adult are much more vulnerable than a child who would have a parent present at court proceedings. A range of services are available who have a duty of care towards the looked after child, to ensure that their needs and progress are thriving, although some services have been cut due to the governmental cuts, such as sure start centre closures.

Furthermore, the mental health and wellbeing of a looked after child is paramount and should always be at the forefront of all professional’s practices.



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