Monday, 18 November 2013

Decision making on whether to take children into care

The Education and Culture Committee in their `10th Report, 2013 `have stated that they recognise the good work that is being taken forward as a result of GIRFEC and other child protection measures to improve the wellbeing of children in Scotland. We have to remind ourselves that these child protection measures are to be exercised for every child and their family in Scotland. This means essentially that Scotland is to become one huge child protection system.

We are reminded in the report of the Minister`s oral evidence, when she described "tangible progress" as being in terms of large increases in the proportion of younger children becoming looked after by local authorities, and the doubling of adoptions from care. This is in line with the Government`s commitment to earlier interventions. So it is important to note that taking children into care at an earlier stage, and adopting them out, is an intervention which the Government is pushing local authorities to provide. There is not a family in Scotland who will not be at risk of these types of interventions given that the threshold for state intervention is a concern over the `wellbeing` of a child.

A particular worry is that the Minister could not describe how disputes between parents and `named persons` were going to be resolved.  What is to happen if there is disagreement about a child`s best interest?  Without an appeal process, and given the power of the `named person` to intervene in the life of the family, it is not difficult to imagine how easily a situation could get out of hand.

Sometimes the language used  with regard to state interventions is deceptive because it is put across as a matter of `delivering services` or `providing the child`s needs.` However, this language disguises the fact that when it comes to child protection measures, as GIRFEC and the `named person` are, any concern about a child`s wellbeing will invariably raise the issue of whether or not the child should be ``looked after` or placed into care.

We are informed that when the home environment is likely to be clearly unsatisfactory, professionals should seek to intervene as early as possible so that damage to the child is minimised. The matter does not require to be `clearly unsatisfactory`- merely `likely to be clearly unsatisfactory`, which is an awkward use of terms but suggests professionals are expected to make predictions about what is `likely to be.` In fact, The Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW) in Scotland discussed pre-birth planning leading to babies being placed with carers either at or just after birth. Interventions do not come much earlier than that. The Minister reported that the number of children becoming looked after under the age of one had increased by 50 per cent since 2007. Clearly early interventions are all ready taking place and the push is for more.

At this point it is worth considering again the case of Mark and Kerry McDougall (See earlier post) who fled to Ireland to escape Social Services, intent on taking their baby into care after it was born. Four years later they have returned to Scotland with their two healthy sons believing it was safe to do so, only to find.themselves still under the radar of Scottish social workers.

The report of the inquiry raises this issue: 

The Scottish Government should explain how the trend for increasingly younger children becoming looked after is compatible with legal requirements around promoting the upbringing of children by their families. This is particularly relevant in the case of babies who may be removed close to birth.

It is nonsense to expect social workers to make crystal ball predictions about parenting before or after the birth of a child. In the case of the McDougalls, the social workers involved did not predict that, despite their decision, four years later there would be two healthy boys in the care of the McDougalls. For 4 years they got it wrong. Irish social workers had no concerns. How can this family ever trust these social workers from Fife and their early interventions? 

Yet everyone in Scotland, through the `named person` and the wellbeing indicators they interpret in relation to a  particular child, is expected to trust their decisions. It`s obvious that social workers have been set a hopeless task. That there is no way for parents to opt out or challenge decisions is truly terrifying.

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