In medieval times child protection was non-existent as child abuse was not recognised as such and families were left to their own devices. It was not until the 19th Century that children began to be seen as individuals and consequently did require protection and looking after. Child cruelty was not thought of as criminal until 1889, where the prevention of Cruelty to and Protection of Children Act was introduced. Many Acts were to develop since, including the power for local authorities to remove children from their families. Despite this, tragic events occurred involving children.
In 1985 and 1989 two children died as a result of child abuse. A combination of these events and the Short Committee report, of which strongly recommended that parents should take an active part in responsibilities of their children, were to have a profound effect on childcare legislation. The 1989 Children Act was to follow, which, for the first time in child care law, gave a definition of children in need. The different forms of abuse are under categories of physical, sexual, emotional and neglect. This Act was to stress the importance of the welfare of the child whether living at home or under the care of the local authority.
It emphasised the importance of parental responsibility and promoting the family unit – providing a support network for families in need and working in ‘partnership’ with the parents. Children have rights and are to be listened to, and, if at an appropriate age, should be involved in decisions regarding their welfare. Clearer and stricter guidelines were given for professional workers stipulating the structure of assessment when undertaking an investigation and the appropriate action to be taken. The Children Act 1989 implemented 1991 provided much needed clarity in many areas of policy.
The damning report from the Chief Inspector, Social Services Inspectorate (1997/98), claiming that the social services were failing in many areas of management, confirmed the urgent need for change within the system. In a review of the Child Care Law (DHSS 1985) it was realised that the use of the term ‘Prevention’ would have to be given a clearer overview, i. e. ; ‘a broader power to provide services to promote the care and upbringing of children within their families and to only place a child in care if it is necessary for the welfare of the child'(p. 12).
This was incorporated in part 3 of the Children Act 1989, offering support for families in need such as; home help, counselling, aid with holidays and recreational activities. The child would be assessed and would qualify for the support of the local authorities if his/her health would suffer as a result of lack of support or if the child was disabled. The role of the Social Services (and other agencies) to provide help to families in need is an essential factor to the aim of preventative measures. If any existing pressure or stress within families can be reduced they then may be less liable to inflict abuse/neglect on their children.
If there is a suspicion of child being at risk of ‘significant’ harm (the term ‘harm’ referring to ill-treatment, impairment of health or development), then the authorities have a duty to investigate. They then must assess if there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering of likely to suffer’ and they must ensure protection of the child (section 47 and 17 of the Children Act). Children believed to be at risk are to be placed on the Child Protection Register and the authorities are bound to hold a register of children in its area.
It is advised to keep any delays in proceedings to an absolute minimum, as to attend to the course of action promptly would be more beneficial to the child’s well-being. If an investigation is warranted then monitoring and conferences must take place throughout with the constant participation of a team called the ‘child protection committee’. The conferences held include all parties from a supervision supervisor, to monitor and report, and other relevant agencies. The Government promotes the support and communication of other agency bodies such as the N. S. P. C. C, seeing co-operation and responses as an essential part of child protection.
Teachers and Nursery nurses alike are responsible for following guidelines of the local authority with respect to child welfare. Persons within positions like these can play an active part in child protection, with the advantage of having regular contact with children and likely to spot signs of developing problems within the family. The case of Kimberley Carlisle highlighted the fact that social services may be in need of more power, as when access was denied to them regarding Kimberley. As it stands an Emergency Protection Order may be applied if access to a child is denied, and there is concern for the safety of that child.
When it is believed by a local authority that a child is suffering or may suffer significant harm, and it is deemed essential that a medical check or health and development is conducted, they then can apply for an assessment order. The assessment order is given if it is believed that it is the only way that a sufficient check would be made. Would the latter have made a difference in this situation though? The act also indicates the need to, where possible, avoid placing care orders and prosecution of children and this would therefore avoid breaking up the family unit.
Therefore care orders are only to be issued by the courts when the circumstances warrant them as necessary. If a child is taken into care or is ‘looked after’ by the authorities regulations apply under the Children Act 1989, with the exclusion of small private children’s homes. The social worker’s role is that to care for and protect all children including those living outside the family unit and the aim is to work towards re-uniting children in care with their families in the future.
The Children Act 1989: guidance and regulations, Vol. : residential care (Dept. of health) is applied to those ‘looked after’ by the local authorities. In the event of an allegation, or suspicion of abuse, it is recommended that an investigation should be conducted by a senior member of the social services, who have not had a direct involvement with the home in question. Guidelines for the specific method of investigation involves assessment within three separate ‘strands’. It is vital that each of these strands are looked at and assessed individually, each requiring different amounts of proof.
Through strategy meetings, conferences it is decided whether there is evidence of abuse, and how to protect that child/action to be taken. The next strand assesses whether there is a need for a Police investigation to establish whether the case in question proves to be a criminal act. The employers disciplinary procedure is incorporated into strand three. Whereby it may be put into action to discover whether the member(s) of staff accused have performed misconduct/gross misconduct. Under the regulations it is imperative that the procedure is followed as dictated.
The NSPCC (who remain with the child protection strand of investigation) conducted an investigation concerning abuse within care homes (1994-1996). The investigators were to participate in assessing 76 allegations of abuse, of which 41 were upheld and 9 were found to be untrue. Many of the N. S. P. C. C respondents felt that the children who claimed to have been abused were not given enough support whilst the investigation was being conducted.
This does not reflect the Working Together Under the Children Act 1989 (Dept. f Health (1991) guidelines which state ‘where the Police are undertaking a parallel investigation which may lead to prosecution of an alleged abuser, there are important issues to be considered about the need for the child to receive appropriate counselling and support…. ‘. Kirkwood (1993) and Rowlands (1993) discovered problems with investigators of abuse not being able to distinguish between the three strands of investigation. As a positive result of the Children Act 1989 less children are being looked after outside the home by local authorities.
There is also a reduction in emergency protection orders (which are in replacement of ‘place of safety’ orders) and care orders (whereby parents are, with the local authorities, held responsible). Whereby social workers previously were shown to, on occasion, to use place of safety orders where it was not necessary (Packman et al 1986). Social workers now show a positive change in attitudes and approach in their work – as a direct consequence of the Children Act 1989 providing a more structured legal framework, hence the security of specific guidelines to follow?
Or could it be as a result of working in partnership with the parents, in the position of offering assistance and support in an attempt to keep families together, wherever possible? However not so good examples of child protection lie with the deaths of Rikki Neave in 1995 as a result of lack of action by authorities, Leanne White (1992) – failure of authorities to listen and karl Speke (1996) – blamed on lack of communication. Allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse within care homes are still surfacing.
Do all local authorities maintain an efficient child protection procedures and adequate support for families in need? According to SSI’s child protection inspection programme (1992-1996) not so many actually proved to be giving a high standard of services, the vast majority providing inadequate in some areas. So, despite the massive overhaul of child care law, still children are suffering and dying, so it is apparent that it is still not entirely full proof. However, Child welfare reforms are constantly being reviewed and campaigned for, coming under scrutiny in areas seen to be lacking in appropriate policy.