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Frequently Asked Questions - Professional

There are many different, equally valid ways of bringing up children and caring for them. The key issue that needs to be considered is whether the child rights are being violated and what is the impact / meaning for the child.  This requires a careful assessment of the child and their situation, rather than generalised conditions that should be attached in all circumstances.

For example in some countries is accepted that young children are placed in bedrooms alone, whereas in others this would be considered abusive and children remain sleeping with their parents until they are older (sometimes well into primary school).  Both can be acceptable ways of looking after children.  However, if the child was still sleeping with their parents and yet all their friends etc were sleeping in rooms alone, then this might make the child a focus for bullying.  In which case, if the child also wanted to sleep separately, then even though culturally it might be acceptable it would probably not be advisable for the child to remain with the parents and could cause further problems for the child.

Culture needs to be understood in its widest meaning – even families have their own culture that needs to be understood and what are the motivations of the parents and impact on the child.  Can the ‘good intentions’ be met in another way that would be acceptable?

Unless it is not safe to do so, children should almost always be given the opportunity to maintain contact with significant people in their lives (such as their parents, grandparents and siblings).  We should never underestimate the loss that children can experience from losing touch with important people in their lives, even if those people have not always treated children well. 

An exception to this might be in the case of adoption (but there is a trend for ‘open adoption’ where children still have limited opportunities to be in contact with significant people) or where the plan is for the child not to return home at some point and there is a concern that by remaining in contact with parents etc it might make it difficult for children to form relationships with their new carers and settle. Where there is a possibility for children to return home then attempts should always be made to promote contact.  If not, it will be harder to reestablish the relationship once the child returns home and as a result the return may fail.  

The degree and frequency for contract will depend on the age and development of the child, as well as the circumstances of the case.  In the case of babies and small children then very frequent contact (3 times per week or more face to face at least) will be needed to help the parents bond with the child and the child become attached to the parents.

Contact can be maintained both face to face, such as through visits etc, and also remotely – for example by phone, letter and email.  Photographs and videos can also be shared.  The effort required to organise and support contact may be enormous and this needs to be taken into account when setting up arrangement for contact (especially if the child is not living locally or the meetings need to be supervised by a worker).

There is great interest globally in developing child protection systems – and a lot of discussion and debate about how to define and conceptualise a child protection system and what should be included in it.

One way to think about child protection systems is to consider the range of procedures, laws, policies and services that work together in a holistic way to protect children and enhance their wellbeing, including both preventative services and also reactive services (ie response in the case of abuse). It is the difference between wheels, an engine, brakes and seats versus a car!

All work and plans with children should be regularly reviewed.Often the timescale for review is identified within case management procedures or set down by the agency offering the service.Regular reviews are important to ensure that plans remain on track and that the plan continues to meet the needs of the child and adjustments can be made if necessary.

Reviews typically take place very frequently at the start of a plan but then may be still be regular, but less often, as work proceeds.Reviews should give everyone – including children themselves – the opportunity to discuss openly how the plan is being implemented / work proceeding.Ideally the review should be chaired by someone who is not involved in the day to day work with the family, so there is some impartiality.

Working from a rights based perspective is a conceptual shift from the ‘welfare’ perspective, where service s and help are seen as being something that is dispensed according to the good will of the service provider (and in some case the perceived ‘deserving’ of the client and expected gratitude) to a position which recognises that children (and their families) have rights which are guaranteed by law and which they are entitled too.

Children and families are not seen as beneficiates but as rights holders and service providers are seen as ‘duty bearers’ (that is having a responsibility).  Working from a rights based perspective requires that children and families are not seen as passive receivers of services and support but are proactively engaged in what support is provided and how.  It requires service providers, as duty bearers, to be more consultative with their clients and also to be accountable for their work.

Many organisations and governments are introducing case management as a way of working.Case management is a process or set of procedures which identifies how cases should be handled, who should be involved and timeframes, so that all cases are dealt with in a systematic way.This helps ensure that support is given in a timely way and also that there is consistency in the management of cases. Case management mechanisms typically also define how referrals should be made to other organisations and how agencies should work together.

Irrespective of how the case management process is described and divided, there are three main parts of any case management system:Assessment (and Planning), Intervention and Follow up and review.Unless these three processes are included then it is not a comprehensive case management system.

It should be understood that case management itself is not an intervention or a programme – it is a way of organising and approaching work, not in itself a service that is provided to families.

Not necessarily.It could mean that we have closed the case too soon, but it could also mean that the family has come back with a new problem.This could also be a sign that the family trusts the service.

However for some families rather than it being a series of different issues it is more like a ‘revolving door’ with the same issues repeating.This can signal that rather than dealing with the underlying causes it was only the symptoms that were being managed.This would suggest that the intervention was not effective and other ways of helping the family need to be identified.

As its name suggests, a service led assessment is one in which the help for the child is framed around what services exists.  A needs led assessment by contrast looks at the situation for the child and what they require.  For example ‘going to school’ is service led, whereas ‘education’ is needs led.

Framing assessments, and the case / care plans which are created as a result, by considering children’s needs are more useful , particularly in situations where there are reduced resources, as this help ensure that the plans are based on what is in the child’s best interests and also can encourage creativity in finding solutions for children.  To take the earlier of education – there are many different ways that children can be educated, one of which is by going to school but there may be other options such as a tutor or learning club or a training scheme which might be more appropriate.

This is a difficult question, and one that many workers struggle with. In fact, it is difficult to avoid re-victimisation unless a careful evaluation takes place of the causes and push factors that lead to victimisation in the first place. For example, if one of the drivers was poverty, leading to the commercial sexual exploitation of the child then unless the situation changes or the child and their families are helped to develop skills for alternative income generation and employment t it is likely that the child will be re-vicitmised. This underscores the need for the assessment to thoroughly explore the causes for the abuse, and not just treat the symptoms of it. 

No!  Of course specialist services are important, especially if we want to help children heal from abuse or where the child has particular behavioural and cognitive problems as a result of their abuse which interfere with their life (for example post-traumatic stress disorder).  However even when specialist services are not available there are still things that can be done to help the child.

Creating a safe environment, treating children with respect, allowing them to gain control over their lives and bodies are also important in terms of helping children heal – both in terms of learning new ways of relating to others and the way they might think about themselves.

There are also other things that can be done, such as ensuring that children are able to access appropriate education, have their basis needs met and develop appropriate support networks which can promote children’s resilience and coping.  This in turn can help with the recovery process.

Frequently there is no ‘perfect’ outcome in child protection work, however much we might want one.  Sometimes it is no so much as case of ‘best situation’ but the least worse.  However we might be able to regard the situation as successful where we have been able to reduce the level of risk to a child to an acceptable level and have been able to equip the child with the necessary resources to be able to cope and adjust to the changing circumstances of their lives.  This would include ensuring that their rights are respected so that they are able to achieve their full potential (eg right to education etc).

Children have a right to privacy – and in addition there may well be domestic laws that govern what and how information can be shared.  Therefore, we need to be careful when sharing information with others.  This applies not only in our work with other agencies but also in relation to information we share within our own organisations.  Particularly when working in contexts where people are well known (so in small communities or where people belong to a particular cultural group) confidentiality can be easily broken without thinking. 

Information should be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis: that means sharing those details with others who have a specific role in supporting the family.  For example, a foster carer will need to know more information about a child’s family background in order that they can support the child in a home setting than a teacher is likely to need.

In general it is always best to seek permission of children and families to share their information with others.  We should explain why it is important to share information and how the information will be used, in order that they can make informed decisions about consenting to sharing information.  However it is important to remember that even when families do not consent to sharing information we can still do this in cases where our objective is to protect the child (but we must be careful how much we share!).  The best interests of the child is a clear principle, and an exclusion to data protection laws domestically can be for the purposes of preventing a crime (which may include abuse).

We should seek to understand why the child does not want to engage with services – do they have different priorities or perhaps do not have the same concerns / see the same needs as we do as adults.This is an area where we can and should engage the child in meaningful discussion and participation.

We should also consult with children about how can we meet their need in a different more creative way since their might be other options.For example a child might not want to attend a therapy session (thinking it useless etc) but may be happy to attend a life skills course (where they can learn new ways of relating to others).This is another reason why a needs led assessment and plan is more helpful than a service led one, as it helps tease out what is important.

Ultimately, if a child does not want to access a service, for older children who are more autonomous it can be difficult to ‘make’ them go – and this might also be very unhelpful in terms of developing a positive relationship with the young person.Sometimes allowing things to be ‘shelved ‘for a while can be useful as it can help children feel more respected and in control (and ultimately contribute to their development and recovery). The clear exception is where the service is necessary to keep the child safe.The wishes and feelings of children are important factors in the decision making process but the responsibility for protecting children always remains with adults.

The simple answer to this question is that as soon as a child is able to communicate their desires we should be including them in decisions.Even very young children can be consulted, as although this can be a challenge and workers need to be skilled in asking children in straight forward simple questions using language that the child can understand.

Of course, the extent to which the wishes of the child influences our decision may have less weight, depending on the age of the child,it is still important and must be considered.It is also a right! Remember too that all children may also indicate to us their wishes and feelings through non-verbal cues (for example becoming distressed when around a particular adult).

This is a difficult question because in general it is always better for a child to be in a family situation, where they can be given individual attention and have the opportunity to make meaningful relationships with significant adults.However, there are some situations where institutional care might be a better option for a child.

It can be damaging to a child if the placement breakdowns (resulting in rejection and more unsettlement) so where a child has very difficult behaviour and is unlikely to be able to kept safe in alternative care such as foster care it may be less damaging to be able to provide continuous care in an institution rather than have the child move multiple times.Similarly for some children who are used to a lot of autonomy, such as those living on the streets, or for older children who already strongly identify with their own family, they may not cope / want a new family.

Rather than having one kind of care option, the optimum solution is to have a range of possibilities – from family based / foster care through to institutional care – and then to decide what is in the best interests for that particular child.Even when institutional care is considered to be in a child’s best interests this should still be provided in small units where children can get individual attention, rather than in large anonymous institutions.

Babies and young children, even if they are to be adopted, should always be placed in alternative, family based care.

All forms of abuse should be of concern; however the impact of the abuse will almost certainly be different for the child in the immediate, short, medium and long term.When developing care / case plans for children obviously we need to prioritize those abuses / risks which are going to affect children in the immediate and short term (especially where these might be life threateningsituations) but we also need to make sure that we address medium and longer term issues.

Physical and sexual abuses, for example, are causes for concern in the short and immediate term.However we can sometimes ignore or reduce the importance of neglect and emotional abuse, the effects of which are often more of a problem in the longer term.It is well known that emotional abuse can have dramatic consequences into adulthood – frequently resulting in problems for adults with substance misuse, difficultly in maintaining relationships and problems in appropriately parenting their own children.

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