Thursday, 3 November 2016

Permanence: a child`s best interest

As pointed out by Professor Andrew Bilson speaking at Idea Space: Thinking for a better Scotland,  the number of children going into care is on the increase. One way for the child protection system to cope with that is to urge decision makers to make decisions more quickly. It is like speeding up the conveyor belt in order to process more children through the system without increasing staff.
Edinburgh hosted a `passion for permanence event` in order to encourage child protection workers to reduce drift and delay and get children quickly into a permanent living arrangement.

Now, nobody wants foster children to be bounced from one foster carer to another with all the changes and ensuing disturbance that a system like that involves. The problem is that the `passion for permanence` group are conflating this scenario with decision making about removing children from their families in the first place. Removing children quickly from their families, putting them deliberately into a permanent placement means there is no way back for those children. If that is the wrong decision, it is a disaster.

Yet not a flicker of anxiety is expressed about that from those promoting a `passion for permanence`:
"There was so much sharing of change ideas and ‘light bulb’ moments, and a real determination and belief in the room that real improvement to these young lives comes from everyone around the child working together to make a difference and cut delays."
When local authorities are strapped for cash but more children are being processed through the children`s hearing system into care, the last thing they want is to have to accommodate contact between children and their families in expensive contact centres. Therefore they have to find a rationale for reducing contact. Building in the idea of permanence from the beginning of the process means contact between children and their families can be seen as a threat to a successful permanence arrangement. It is far too upsetting for the children and since they are leaving anyway get on with it.

Though they talk of resilience, no light bulb switches on to say that children have a right to see their parents and siblings; or that in most cases family contact acts as an emotional buffer against the harsh realities of life. Just reduce the contact to zero as quickly as possible. Any upset about that expressed by children can be interpreted as an attachment issue, something that permanence is supposed to address. It could not involve a more circular argument.

CELCIS has done a great job to engage with the children`s hearing system while pushing forward the idea that it is necessary for panel members, reporters, social workers and others to be aware of permanence, attachment issues and who contact arrangements are actually for, because they are certainly not for parents. Decision makers therefore must ask the question: does contact serve the best interests of these children?

Well, not if permanence is the option, child protection workers are led to believe.


The gun has already been loaded against the parents - and the family - but it has also been designed to get worse.
In 2015, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) commissioned the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) to carry out a research study looking at the role of solicitors in the children’s hearings system... 
[The 2011 Act establishes the presence of solicitors to act for children and relevant persons in order to ensure their effective participation and rights under the EHRC.]
As it happens few children have the capacity to call on a solicitor to assist them, but desperate parents [relevant persons] with free legal aid are more than likely to engage with a solicitor when their children are being forcibly removed from their care. But here is the problem: Solicitors are being encouraged to collaborate unquestioningly with decision makers who are held to have the best interests of the child at stake. As SLAB says:
The view that solicitors are duty-bound to act on the instructions and in the interests of their client, and, that this may complicate any requirement to act in the best interests of the child is somewhat simplistic, and should be explored and clarified. Even so, this idea has become the source of significant challenges for the hearings system, and some participants in hearings feel it results in disruption to the care of children via the introduction of damaging delay...

Guidance for solicitors from SLAB makes it clear that they should ensure that the interests of the child remain central to the hearing.
How is a parent and their desperate children supposed to fight against an overzealous or corrupt system who are taking the children away when all parts of the system are expected never to question the official line of a child`s best interest? And that includes the solicitor who is supposed to be defending the rights of their clients.?

Meanwhile all this happens in a place that is not open to public scrutiny?


For the quality of law in Scotland see: 

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting that in their review CELCIS interviewed many stakeholders including social workers, solicitors, panel members, reporters etc.

    They only found 3 children to interview.

    Unbelievably they could not interview ANY parents in the time limits available to them. Yet parents are more often the clients of solicitors.

    It is obvious why. Had they interviewed parents, they would have been told that solicitors lie down in front of social workers and they are useless.

    I can quote from Forced Adoption: `They are professional losers.`