Education during COVID-19: Experiences of the fostering sector

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have heard how fostering households across the UK quickly adapted to support children in these unprecedented times. Many foster carers assumed additional responsibilities and roles overnight: supporting children with home learning, supervising virtual contact with birth families in their own home, facilitating virtual social worker visits as well as all their usual fostering duties and responsibilities.

Lockdown has had a significant impact on fostering households. While some foster carers have reported an increase in challenging behaviour and concerns about the wellbeing of children, some fostering families have seen benefits of children being in one place for a sustained period of time and they have seen children feeling settled and calm.

Survey results
Children and young people’s views on education during the pandemic

To understand more about fostered children’s experiences of education during the pandemic we launched a rapid response survey for foster carers and fostering services across the UK.

The survey received 487 foster carer responses representing 870 fostered children and young people from across the UK. We received 48 responses from fostering service members of staff. In addition, we were able to gather the thoughts and feelings of a small group of children and young people about their experiences of education and thoughts about returning to school.

The evidence shows that the vast majority of children in foster care have been not attending educational settings and have received very different offers and experiences of education throughout the coronavirus pandemic. While some have thrived from more one to one support and the removal of some external pressures, others have experienced increased anxiety and other mental health problems and have been excluded before being given the chance to attend educational provisions. The experience of educating during lockdown has also brought to the fore the need for more individualised education plans for looked after children.

Survey results
Children and young people’s views on transitioning back to their education providers

The survey results have helped provide an understanding about both the educational experience of fostered children during lockdown and their needs as they transition back to school. To find out more about this survey and the key findings please see the full report.

Charlotte Wooders: Charlotte.Wooders@fostering.net
Twitter: The Fostering Network in Wales

What role does agency play in shaping the educational journeys of ‘older’ care-experienced adults?

This blog post outlines key findings from an article Eavan published with her PhD supervisor, Professor Robbie Gilligan, drawing on her PhD research exploring the educational pathways of care-experienced adults in Ireland. The article explores how the concept of agency can provide unique insights into the ways that the educational journeys of adults with care experience have been shaped over time.

Research in the area of education and care tends to underutilise social theory. In this paper we begin to address this gap by drawing on the life course conceptualisation of agency. This assumes that we are not passive in shaping our life course, rather that we make choices, actions and decisions that shape our lives and these actions are taken within systems of opportunities and constraints. The life course conceptualisation of agency also considers the impact of the passing of time over the life course.

I interviewed 11 women and seven men (aged 24 to 36) for this study and asked them to tell me about their journey through education from their earliest memory to the present day. I found five main themes within their responses related to how agency influenced educational journeys over time:

1) Big and small acts of agency influence educational journeys. Bigger agentic actions were more apparent (e.g. leaving school early). Smaller, more ‘low key’ acts of agency (e.g. sourcing information on home schooling options) were more subtle and often the impact of these actions was not apparent until later on in participant lives.

2) Agentic actions have a positive and negative impact on educational journeys. Importantly, actions that may initially have a negative impact (e.g. skipping school for extended periods due to severe bullying) can sometimes open a space for other actions (potentially positive) to take place over time (e.g. pursuing further education having received poor final exam results due to skipping school).

3) Agency is visible in intentional actions focused on long-term goals and reactive actions focused on short-term concerns. A focus on long-term goals emerged for many study participants in their late teens, early twenties, and beyond. Several people also spoke of having difficulty with long-term planning due to instability and challenges in their home lives.

4) Agency and the passage of time are inextricably linked. For many people, the wider impact of an action at one point in time was not visible until later and in all cases the passage of time led to shifts and changes in individual pathways.

5) Context and structure impact individual agency over time. For example, i) being in care as influencing participant motivation both positively and negatively; and ii) Coming into care as both constraining and supporting education.

This study shows how a focus on agency can shine new light on the educational pathways of people with care experience from a life course perspective. It also highlights the value of drawing on social theory to better understand key issues in relation to education and life in care. Finally, it reminds us that agency in relation to education can be exercised from childhood to late adulthood and of the ongoing potential for new beginnings and new opportunities in relation to education (and arguably other areas of life). Educational journeys can be restarted at any point in the life course given the right supports and circumstances.

Email Eavan 

Twitter: @eavanrb

Access Eavan’s PhD thesis.

References
 

Brady, E. & Gilligan, R. (2019). The Role of Agency in Shaping the Educational Journeys of Care‐experienced Adults: Insights from a Life Course Study of Education and Care. Children & Society. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/chso.12361.

You may also be interested in these related blogs:

Do educational outcomes for people with care experience get better over time?
July 9, 2019 Eavan Brady, School of Social Work and Social Policy – Trinity College Dublin 

Transition from care to university: a case study
May 21, 2019 Gemma Allnatt 

The educational experiences of children in care 
September 12, 2018 – Dr Karen Kenny 

Care leavers talking about education
December 12, 2018 – Elaine Matchett 

New Survey: Exploring the Reasons Why Care Leavers Choose not to Access Higher Education

Government attitudes towards increasing support for care leavers have been moving in a positive direction during the last decade. However, many barriers remain for care-experienced young people transitioning to adulthood. The past few years have seen an ongoing policy push towards encouraging care leavers to engage in higher education with the promise of additional bursaries and support until age 25, which until recently was limited to those attending university.

Research suggests that only 6% of 19-21-year-old care-leavers are in higher education in England during the 2018-19 academic-year (Department for Education 2019) although the position in Wales is less clear (Allnatt 2019). A common theme arising is the lack of awareness among care leavers of their legal entitlements or available support (HM Government 2016). This suggests that a barrier in care-leavers attending university could be a lack of awareness of the support available.

As part of a postgraduate research study, my survey aims to explore policy provisions and support networks available for care-experienced young people in England and Wales who do not go on to study at university.

I would like to find out how care-leavers feel about the support they received in deciding whether to attend university, how this directly impacted their decision, and how they think this could have been improved, for both themselves and for future care-leavers. It is essential that care-leavers are given sufficient information to make meaningful and informed life choices, particularly given the current rhetoric in encouraging care leavers to engage in higher education.

Access the survey

Samantha O’Rourke
orourkes1@cardiff.ac.uk

Cardiff University

References

Allnatt, G. 2019. Transitions from care to higher education: A case study of a young person’s journey. In D. Mannay, A. Rees and L. Roberts (eds.), Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Department for Education. 2019. Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2019. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/850306/Children_looked_after_in_England_2019_Text.pdf (accessed 05/05/2020) HM

Government. 2016. Keep On Caring: Supporting Young People from Care to Independence. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/535899/Care-Leaver-Strategy.pdf (accessed 05/05/2020)

You may also be interested in these related blog posts and materials

Do educational outcomes for people with care experience get better over time?

July 9, 2019 Eavan Brady, School of Social Work and Social Policy – Trinity College Dublin 

Transition from care to university, a case study. May 21, 2019, Gemma Allnatt 

Resource Focus: Care Leavers’ Tooklit

Leicestershire Cares & the BBC raise awareness for lockdown care-experienced young people

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Leicestershire Cares’ leaving care team has been working closely with the care-experienced young people we support to help them share their experiences of social distancing and the national lockdown.

The videos and podcasts produced by our Voices project has received local and national attention. On Wednesday 15 April, BBC East Midlands Today interviewed Casey, one of the CEYP on our Voices project, and Jacob, our Voices Development Officer, to explore how care leavers are coping with the lockdown.

This was an important opportunity to have the voices of care experienced people heard and raise awareness of how challenging the current situation is for young people without the family support networks many take for granted. These young people are showing great resilience in the face of adversity, and Casey described how difficult it can be to stay positive in the current situation.

On 12 April, Casey was also interviewed by Ashley John-Baptiste, a BBC journalist who is also care experienced, alongside Diana, another care experienced young person that Leicestershire Cares supports, to talk about the challenges they are facing during the national lockdown. Watch their conversation with Ashley.

Leicestershire Cares continues to support care experienced young people, offering a range of online and remote support including mental health and wellbeing, employability and social activities. We will also continue to create opportunities for care experienced young people to connect with each other and share their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information about our Voices project contact:
jacob@leicestershirecares.co.uk

Find out how we work with care-experienced young people. For advice on dealing with isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown, visit our coronavirus page. This blog was originally published at Leicestershirecares.co.uk.

Protecting vulnerable children while social distancing

It seems inevitable that demand for statutory child protection services will increase as people are asked to stay inside together. How do you keep children, young people, parents and social workers safe at a time when carrying out home visits would almost inevitably breach social distancing rules implemented by the government?

There are currently over 52,000 children subject to a child protection plan in England – these children are deemed by the state to be at risk of significant harm. Statutory guidance states that social workers must visit these children and their parents on a regular basis. In most Local Authorities this is fortnightly.

Parents of vulnerable children still have the option for their children to attend school or nursery but early evidence says this is rarely happening. If families are already struggling, being confined to their home for an extra 30 hours a week will inevitably add pressure.

For social workers with already heavy caseloads then, it seems the stresses on the system caused by the Covid-19 pandemic means they will only have to work even harder.And, given government guidelines on social distancing, they’ll have to find a different way of working. Technology is changing the way all of our working lives are enabled currently, and it might yet provide solutions for social work.

But could an increased use of video conferencing, the use of which has mushroomed under lockdown, expose vulnerabilities to the social work system in terms of confidentiality and security? In this context, Covid-19 has presented policy makers, politicians, Local Authority senior managers and frontline social workers with very serious ethical issues.

What are the risks to frontline social workers?

The government guidance is for us all to stay two metres apart, but in most normal size houses and flats this would be difficult. If I think of my own domestic situation; what if we were required to have a visit from a social worker?

We are a family of five, with two small children. My four-year-old is a ball of energy, who at any moment might decide to run from one room to another; it would be pretty challenging trying to remain at a distance of two metres from him. He’s also not so proficient in manners just yet – he might shout (and therefore emit tiny globules of saliva out into the world) or sneeze without putting his hand over his mouth. There is scant information to be had about the possibilities of children being carriers of the virus but what if he is? How would a visitor to our house protect themselves from the dangers of the current pandemic?

There’s also the size of the home that a social worker might visit to consider. Social distancing would be particularly difficult in smaller houses and flats.

The government has not issued specific guidance about home visits for social workers, saying only that local authorities should decide for themselves, taking into consideration Public Health England’s advice about social distancing.

New Department for Education (DfE) guidance released last week states that when “social workers and other staff are undertaking home visits, personal protective equipment (PPE) is not required unless the people being visited are symptomatic of Coronavirus (COVID 19) or have a confirmed diagnosis of Coronavirus (COVID 19)”.

However Official World Health Organisation (WHO) advice states that it is “possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill”. According to WHO therefore, there is a risk that family members could infect social workers or vice versa during home visits. This is clearly very worrying for social workers and other key professionals who carry out home visits as well as for the families they are visiting. Local Authorities owe a duty of care to their social workers, but in the current circumstances, how can they ensure social workers are safe when carrying out home visits? Furthermore, social work values highlight that we must do no harm as a starting point. In the current situation how can we carry out home visits safely when we may be asymptomatic and be visiting families who we could potentially infect?

Having PPE is top of a list of concerns in a survey the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is running, which has seen responses from more than 1000 practitioners. When I asked a social worker what PPE was available recently, she answered ‘hand sanitiser’. It seems nationally there is a major shortage of PPE equipment for social workers.

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) provides further challenges for social workers. There are two issues with this – availability in a time of growing demand and the effect it might have on the families we visit.

Even if Local Authorities could source proper PPE that could offer the most comprehensive protection – perhaps perspex face coverings, plastic aprons and plastic gloves, how would children and parents feel about visitors turning up looking like surgeons?

Clearly this is going to be make it very difficult for social workers to build up trusting social workers with both parents and children, particularly when historically families have often reluctant to trust social workers.

Can technology help?

Those white-collar workers not already familiar with video conferencing apps before the current pandemic have had to quickly familiarise themselves with the available technology in the last two weeks. Could it also offer solutions for social work?

Some clear guidelines are certainly called for. Further challenges for social workers, many of whom are working from home, are that they will be expected by Local Authorities to set boundaries with their family members to avoid the real risk of children, partners or flatmates being able to hear or see confidential information relating to children at risk of significant harm.

Some social workers may have rooms that can be set aside for such purposes at defined times, but this will obviously be more difficult for those social workers living in smaller accommodation.

In terms of the software itself, WhatsApp is the only platform that has been widely publicised as encrypted, meaning the video and audio data remains secure from third party monitoring.

Optimised as it is for mobile use, and therefore constricted by the size of phone screens, the platform is not an ideal choice for group calls. However, it has been reported as being helpful as a means for parents and children to communicate with social workers to (for example) show them around the house if that is deemed necessary.

Plenty of workers newly adapting to working from home have gotten acquainted with Zoom but with popularity comes scrutiny – and the security of Zoom has been called into question.

There is also the new phenomenon of Zoom bombing, where third parties hack emails to find joining details and invade meetings to be disruptive. It is all a new challenge for our IT departments.

There are some early indications of really interesting and innovative practice, including having child protection conferences via Skype with the parents present in Local Authority offices.

Social workers are used to being creative in order to ensure children and parents rights (alongside their own safety) is maintained. It is therefore perfectly possible that new technology will further enable such creativity in allowing social workers to build productive relationships with children and parents, but the challenges must not be underestimated.

Currently the government are putting a lot of responsibility on Local Authorities to keep children safe in very difficult circumstances but there seems very little clear guidance on how they should do this.

The government needs to act fast to provide Local Authorities with extra funding and clear guidance as to how they should keep vulnerable children safe whilst ensuring staff and families are protected from infection of COVID-19.

Decision Making in Child and Family Social Work by Clive Diaz is available on the Policy Press website. Available for pre-order for £19.19.

Clive Diaz – Cardiff University

diazcp@cardiff.ac.uk

@diaz_clive

This blog was originally published by Policy Press.

Engaging young people in linguistic research and documentation

I am a linguist who works on speech production (how people talk) and speech perception (how people listen). In October 2019 I was invited to talk at a ‘Linguistics in The Pub’ event in Melbourne, Australia (where I am from). The topic was Engaging young people in linguistic research and documentation, something I am involved in but not as my main activity. I had some ideas about what worked and didn’t work for me, in the Australian context, but I decided to do an informal survey with researchers around the world who were kind enough to offer their opinions on this topic. I received numerous responses, especially relating to research and documentation outcomes, as well as advice surrounding school and technology in particular.

I am sharing these ideas with you, and there are also references further below – one from each of the contributors to my survey.

The main points that came across were:

Be sensitive to the audience.

Be flexible and engaged yourself to get the best out of the people you want to work with.

Take into account their age and their situation.

The following sections, more specifically describing “what works” and “what doesn’t work”, are of course tendencies and may not be suitable in all contexts.

What works

Be authentic and show who you are

Technology

Music

Involving young people in the research design

Let them know that you know that they have knowledge

Establishing contact before experiments / recording

Be involved in activities they like, where feasible

Be involved in “their world” – engage with what interests them

Offer a range of options for participation, and a range of options for dissemination (go beyond academic articles – for example visual media, artworks, etc).

Be trustworthy

For some young people – school (you can find them there, can tie into literacy)

What doesn’t work

For some young people – school. Marginalised youth will tend not to engage with institutions for example.

Acting like their parents

In language documentation situations, don’t do what someone can do themselves. Sit back and let them do it!

Not pitching activities appropriately

In the middle

Sometimes it is important to gauge responses from elders and the wider community. This depends on the cultural context.

View an example of collaborative work I have done. There are some beautiful posters made with young people who produced most of the artwork, as well as collaboration with elders and some other adults who worked with us on the language.

My thanks to the people listed below (mostly, but not solely, linguists) for answering questions about working with young people and helping me make the above recommendations. There are a few references listed that will give an insight into their work – this is by no means exhaustive.

John Mansfield (Murinpatha youth)

University of Melbourne

Mansifeld, J. (2018). ‘Murinpatha personhood, other humans and contemporary youth’. In D. Austin-Broos & F. Merlan (Eds.) People and Change in Indigenous Australia. 117-129. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Felicity Meakins (Gurindji Kriol)

University of Queensland

Meakins, F. (2011) Case-marking in contact: The development and function of case morphology in Gurindji Kriol. John Benjamins.

Carmel O’Shannesy (Light Warlpiri) ANU

O’Shannessy, C. (2005). Light Warlpiri: A new language. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 25 (1): 31-57.

Ake Nicholls (Cook Islands Maori)

Massey University Auckland

Lingthusiasm Pop culture in Cook islands Maori – Interview with Ake Nichols (episode number 31)

(many associated references and resources available via podcast – highly recommended)

Catalina Torres Orjuela (Drehu youth)

University of Melbourne – see her publications at https://unimelb.academia.edu/CatalinaTorres

Penelope Eckert (Jocks and Burnouts in

Stanford University

Eckert, P. (1989) Jocks and Burnouts: social categories and identites in the high school. New York, NY, US: Teachers College Press.

Hanane Sarnou (Algerian youth)

Abdelhamin Inbadis University, Algeria

Sarnou, H. (2015). ‘ICTs use on linguistic change and identity’ Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences. 195: 850-855.

Nicoleta Bateman (Language article about middle school collaboration)

California State University San Marcos

Bateman, N. (2019). ‘Linguistics in middle school: incorporating linguistics into project-based learning’. Language. 95 (2): e300-e326.

Katie Drager (sociophonetics, NZ girls’ high school)

University of Hawai’i, Manoa

Drager, Katie (2015) Linguistic Variation, Identity Construction and Cognition. Berlin: Language Science Press. Open access – highly recommended!!

Dawn Mannay

Cardiff University, Wales

Mannay, D. (2016) “To understand what young people think, speak their language” The Conversation. Sept 7. (article 63556) http://theconversation.com/to-understand-what-young-people-think-speak-their-language-63556

Some other references

Linguistics Roadshow (online resources / survey) produced by the 2015 Linguistics Roadshow team (Katie Jepson, Jill Vaughan and Rosey Billington, mapping help from Lauren Gawne). https://lingroadshow.com;

Lingthusiasm.com

McCulloch, G. & L. Gawne Lingthusiasm “Kids these days aren’t ruining language” (episode number 7).

Mendoza-Denton, N. (2008). Homegirls: Language and cultural practice among Latina youth gangs. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Debbie Loakes

University of Melbourne

dloakes@unimelb.edu.au

Overburdened social workers are not talking to children or recognising neglect

According to the children’s charity Action for Children, child neglect is the most common form of maltreatment in the UK, as well as being the most common reason for a child to be made subject to a child protection plan. 46% of children are subject to a child protection plan due to neglect and the number of identified cases of child neglect has tripled between 2003 and 2017.

We looked at 20 serious case reviews published between 2016 and 2018 where neglect was known or suspected to be a factor in a child’s serious injury or death (Solem, Diaz and Hill 2020). We wanted to find out if there were common themes that might be remedied with recommended changes to the way Children’s Care services are run.

A Problem of Definition

The reviews highlighted that professional perspectives may have impacted negatively on social workers’ ability to recognise and act on indicators of neglect. Previous researchers have found that the uncertainty around the definition and different types of neglect may lead to confused opinions and differing personal perceptions of what constitutes it.

The case of Child BW in Blackpool in 2017 illustrates how neglect may be subjective; professionals may vary in their views of what is ‘good enough’. The Blackpool review stated that due to the high level of child poverty in the area, subjectivity may have affected professional judgements. In other words, if it is widely recognised that a ‘normal’ quality of life for a child in a certain area is already quite low, the usual warning signs for neglect may be missed. There is a concerning knock on effect of subjective opinions. Researchers have found that, in areas where there is higher deprivation, the threshold for intervention of neglect may be higher. It is important to state that the majority of parents who live in poverty do not neglect their children. But there is a link between poverty and neglect as parenting is so much more difficult when you have no money and this can be seen as a causal factor in neglect (Byswaters et al 2016).

Another case from Sunderland in 2017 further demonstrates how differing opinions of what constitutes neglect can lead to tragic outcomes. In this case, there was a clear disagreement amongst professionals involved with the family about what constituted neglect, and as a result, no single agency had a clear picture of the neglect the children were experiencing. Records showed a range of issues that would commonly point to neglect, such as poor home conditions, very low education attendance, missed health appointments, sexualised behavior and lack of supervision. Despite such signals, the SCR suggests professionals were overly optimistic and decided despite ample evidence to the contrary, that the children’s emotional needs were being met. This demonstrates that the classification of neglect can be too generalised, and that there had been no analysis of why the different issues were present or how they were experienced by the children.

Social work professionals in Sunderland were not alone: despite the range of academic resources available to help professionals understand, conceptualise and recognise neglect, over half of the serious case reviews we looked at described how professionals struggled to recognise neglect and in turn act to safeguard the children. Researchers (Dubowitz 2007; Connolly 2017) have found that neglect is still not viewed as seriously as physical and sexual abuse, and often neglect occurs alongside such abuse, which becomes the main focus of the intervention. As a consequence, there may be a tendency for social workers to ‘downgrade’ neglect in terms of risk of danger to a child.

In addition the Children’s Social Care is under pressure; there has been an increase in care proceedings by 130% from 2009 to 2016 (Jones 2016) Despite this growing demand, it is estimated that there has been approximately a 35% reduction in central government funding to Children’s Social Care (National Audit Office 2019). Certainly, with increasing workloads due to austerity, research has found that social workers have to risk-manage their workload, which often leads to physical abuse being prioritised over neglect (Stokes and Taylor 2014).

A creaking system

Alongside confusion about what constitutes neglect and an increased workload, the systems that social workers work within further hamper their ability to achieve safeguarding children. In 45% of the serious case reviews it was highlighted that organisational culture negatively impacted on the practice of social workers. Social work has become dependent on overly bureaucratic systems, which has resulted in a reduction in the amount of time social workers are able to spend doing direct work with children and families.

Following the widely publicized death of Victoria Climbie in 2003, Lord Laming’s inquiry made recommendations related to child protection in England. In his 2009 progress report, he emphasised the immense pressure that children’s frontline social workers are under: ‘low morale, poor supervision, high caseloads, under resourcing and inadequate training each contribute to high levels of stress and recruitment and retention difficulties’ (Laming 2009, p.4). Since then austerity has led to funding for LAs and other support services being massively cut and rates of referrals, children subject to child plans and care proceedings have increased significantly.

Findings from the serious case reviews indicate that those ‘retention difficulties’ and high caseloads for social workers can themselves lead to tragedy. Six of the 20 reviews we looked at highlighted the presence of high staff turnover and high caseloads which caused drift and impacted on the day-to-day management of child protection plans. In the reviews of Baby W and Child in Sunderland the family had been assigned five social workers in the space of just six months. The potential negative impact of organisational culture is further highlighted in the serious case review for Family HJ (Hertfordshire 2016):

The wider context at the time was that the local authority was facing significant difficulties due to high levels of Looked After Children and children on child protection plans, resource issues, high staff turnover and high case-loads. This was thought to be a significant issue in the delay in determining that these children were suffering significant harm.

The serious case review of Child B’s death in Staffordshire found that the teams within the local authority’s Children’s Services were operating as one team due to numerous team managers being off with long-term sickness. This meant that one team manager was supervising more than 20 social workers. In addition, the local authority had difficulties retaining and recruiting staff, which meant that the team consisted largely of newly qualified social workers and agency staff. It was recorded that the newly qualified social worker working with Child B and his family had 43 open cases. This would inevitably have caused a deterioration in the quality of practice, decision-making and case planning.

The serious case review for Bethany (Bedfordshire, 2016) reported that Bethany had been assigned five different social workers within a period of less than two years. This led to difficulty in providing continuity of planning and monitoring, and there had been a tendency to ‘start again’ when a new social worker became involved.

Seen and not heard

The knock on effect of overstretched staff dealing with an overly bureaucratic system is that they have less time to listen to the people that are the focus of their work – the children. The right for the child to participate in the assessment process is rooted within legislation and policy in England. The Children Act 1989 highlights that local authorities should, where possible, ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child and take these into consideration when making decisions that affect them. We found that in a majority of the serious case reviews we looked at, the voice of the child had not been consistently heard or considered, and that children were not seen alone or seen frequently enough.

The reviews frequently emphasised that children and young people were not asked about their life and experiences, something that was consistent across age groups. Therefore, it was not evident from the case notes and assessments what life was like for those children who experienced neglect.

The SCR of Child N in Trafford highlights a theme that emerged within several SCRs:

The contacts and observations of the children made by social worker 2 and social worker 3 were limited to short visits to the home and none of the children were purposefully engaged in any direct work to ascertain how they experienced day to day life or to establish whether they wished to discuss any worries or concerns.

This is in line with the findings from research undertaken Ferguson (2016), which identified that most of the time spent doing child protection work consists of relating to children and parents concurrently. His study found that a large number of children were not seen alone in everyday child protection practice, and that when time was spent with children, it was often too brief.

Based on the 20 SCRs analysed in this study, it still appears to be the case that, at times, vulnerable children are not heard or seen and hence remain invisible.

Our research suggests that professionals are still over-reliant on children talking about neglect and their experiences, which places too much responsibility on the children to talk to professionals about their experiences. This study found that in five of the eight SCRs where the children were on a child protection plan at the time of the critical incident, children were not seen frequently enough and there was little evidence of direct work being carried out.

Conclusion

Neglect is complex and multifaceted, and needs to be reflected upon in the context of increasing demands and pressures on agencies and the professionals within them. So, if social workers are finding it difficult to identify neglect with certainty and they’re overloaded with too much work this leaves them little time to properly spend time with the children that are the focus of their work, what can be done to prevent them leaving and further weakening the childcare system?

Social workers need training on recognising and responding to neglect that leaves no room for doubt. As identified by Stokes and Taylor (2014), such training should focus on facilitating a more in-depth understanding of child development and, in particular, children’s emotional and behavioural responses to neglected.

Furthermore, until reasonable workloads are in place and local authorities are adequately funded, it will be very difficult for social workers to work effectively with children and families where neglect is an issue.

Clive Diaz – Cardiff University
diazcp@cardiff.ac.uk
@diaz_clive

References

Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., Hanratty, J., Mason, W., McCartan, C. and Steils, N. (2016) The Relationship Between Poverty, Child Abuse and Neglect: An Evidence Review, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Connolly, M. (2017) Beyond the Risk Paradigm in Child Protection, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Dubowitz, H. (2007) ‘Understanding and addressing the ‘neglect of neglect’: Digging into the molehill’, Child Abuse and Neglect, 31 (6), pp. 603-606.

Jones, R. (2016) The Conundrum of Neglect, available online at: http://cdn.basw.co.uk/

upload/basw_82352-4.pdf (accessed 2 May 18).

Laming. (2009) The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report, London, The Stationery Office.

National Audit Office. (2019) Pressures on children’s social care, London, National Audit Office.

Solem, L., Diaz, C. and Hill, L. (2020) A study of serious case reviews between 2016 and 2018: what are the key barriers for social workers in identifying and responding to child neglect? Journal of Children’s Services https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JCS-04-2019-0024/full/html

Stokes, J. and Taylor, J. (2014) ‘Does type of harm matter? A factorial survey examining the influence of child neglect on child protection decision-making’, Child Care in Practice, 20 (4), pp. 383–398.

‘Your online life’ and ‘Keeping yourself safe online’: new issues of Thrive Magazine

We have new special editions of the young people’s magazine, Thrive – ‘Your Online Life’ and ‘Keeping yourself safe online’.

Last year the Fostering Network in Wales met and worked with young people from across Wales to hear what they had to say about the digital world and how to stay safe online. The young people shared their expertise and knowledge with us which helped to develop the two latest editions. We want to say a big thank you to all those involved – NYAS Caerphilly Shout Out; Fairwater Bright Sparks; Whitchurch High School, Cardiff and Voices from Care Cymru.

Both magazines aim to help young people in care think about how they use the internet and social media – the positives and the risks, whilst exploring how they can support themselves and each other to stay safe and look after their wellbeing online. The new editions are available for free below. Please share with your team, contacts and the young people that you work with.

Your Online Life

Keeping yourself safe online

The first edition of Thrive was published in 2005 and since then it has been providing information, support and guidance to children and young people in foster care across Wales. The magazine provides a legitimate platform in which empowers young people to have their say and express their views on what’s important to them. For previous editions of Thrive, please visit our website.

Charlotte Wooders, The Fostering Network in Wales, Charlotte.Wooders@fostering.net