On Tuesday 19 March, Dr Victoria Sharley presented the findings of her PhD at the ExChange Workshop, ‘Child Neglect in Schools.’ She explored the aim of the study, its design and methods, challenges in data collection, findings and key messages for practice.
The background and context of the study showed that:
- 1090 children registered for neglect and a further 120 registered for neglect with physical and/or sexual abuse in 2017
- Neglect is often chronic, which can make it difficult to identify
- Neglect can be multidimensional; from a range of causes making it difficult to provide assistance.
The study asked 3 key research questions:
1. What is the extent of the involvement of schools in identifying and responding to child neglect?
2. What is the nature of the relationship between schools and social services?
3. What are the experiences of school staff from a range of different roles?
Three Welsh Local Authorities from varying areas took part in the mixed methods research project. This included case file analysis, non-participant observation, and semi-structured interviews.
There were various challenges in obtaining data due to different ways that data was collected in each authority as well as incomplete and missing data. Despite the challenges, there were common patterns in the data collected: there were more boys experiencing neglect, educational and physical neglect were most common, and most experiencing neglect were of primary school age. 45% of referred pupils were experiencing physical neglect.
Attendees then had the opportunity to reflect and think back on their own experiences on the following questions:
1. Is this suggestive of school staff being less involved due to the perceived lead role/power of social services once a referral is made?
2. Or is it poor local authority organisation around meeting planning and communication with outside agencies?
Our diverse tables discussed the following questions and the importance of multi-agency participation and collaboration. Some of the key messages:
• Communication is key!
• Schools need to understand social workers and vice versa.
• What do teachers need to know and what can social services offer to assist?
For the semi-structured interviews, staff in schools were selected from a diverse range of employees, including management, teaching staff, pastoral care, and support staff. Interviews focused on relationships, child neglect, knowledge and support and role perceptions.
The data was analysed thematically and three levels of difference emerged:
1. Between and within local authority practice
2. Between each field of responsibility
3. Between individual schools
There were 5 common themes:
1. The “visibility” of neglect
2. The nature of prof. relationships
3. Power & stigma held by social services
4. Rules & routines over safeguarding
5. Lack of professional confidence of school staff
The visibility of neglect was one of the key themes. It was felt that it needed to be “seen” or something “tangible” in order to make a referral to legitimise concerns. How can we articulate that “gut feeling” that one might have in dealing with issues of neglect? There was also a concern about the culture of reporting and making safeguarding referrals to social services.
A second discussion was undertaken at the tables, allowing participants to talk about the differences between school and social work practice.
Significant variation in school practice was found across several factors: proactive/reactive, learning and training and relationships with families. Formal and informal opportunities, as well as the quality of relationships, were found to be important.
The overall findings highlight the complexity between schools and social services when addressing the issue of child neglect. In addition, positioning schools at the centre of the community is key to effective practice.
Significant variation in school practice was found across several factors: proactive/reactive, learning and training and relationships with families. The overall findings highlight the complexity between schools and social services when addressing the issue of child neglect. One key finding of the research was that having social workers in schools bridged a lot of gaps and allowed for multi-agency cooperation, preventative work and training. Going forward this is something that is highly recommended.
For more information on this workshop, please click below to take a look at the following resources: