Author: Clive Diaz
The concept of service user participation in the delivery of services that affect them has gained momentum over the last thirty years. Children are no exception to this and those in care are subject to greater scrutiny of their lives than their peers. This study considered a key meeting for children in care – the Child in Care Review – and examined the extent to which children and young people are able to participate in these meetings and retain a level of control over their lives. The research, undertaken in one large local authority in England, explored the perspectives of children and young people, Social Workers, Independent Reviewing Officers and Senior Managers in individual qualitative interviews. The interview data was analysed thematically. The study found that young participants who reported a poor relationship with their Social Worker were more likely to feel negatively about their review and most young participants said that they found the review frustrating and stressful. The young participants were very aware of the workload pressures that Social Workers faced and how bureaucratic processes often seemed to translate in to them not receiving a good service. The Social Workers and Independent Reviewing Officers highlighted the importance of children’s participation, but in practice their commitment to the concept seemed minimal. Data would suggest some significant disconnection between Senior Managers’ views and all other participants’ perspectives on the challenges faced by social workers in terms of caseloads and workload pressures. Senior Managers reflected that little seemed to have changed in relation to children’s participation in their reviews over the last twenty-five years. The thesis concludes that as a vehicle for participation the Child in Care Review is still not working well, however the development of children chairing their own reviews offers some hope for the future. This practice could be built upon to ensure that children and young people leave Local Authority care with the best possible chance of becoming confident, stable and empowered adults.