Child neglect. Working together to tackle it

Featured article - 22 November 2016
By Lucy Milich, SCIE Children’s Practice Development Manager

Head-shot of the author, Lucy Milich, SCIE Children’s Practice Development Manager

When you are on the frontline of child protection and safeguarding, it is a challenge not to get defined by the negative stereotypes we see often see in the media. In the recent Education Select Committee’s report it was acknowledged that more needs to be done to promote understanding of children’s social work and that the blame culture surrounding social work only causes further damage to the sector.

How do you have an effective workforce that delivers the standards and consistency required at a time when morale and confidence of the workforce can be low?

Training and research specialist Richard Schwartz argues that identity is not defined by one monolithic self but rather we have many selves. He gives the example of an orchestra which is made up of individual musicians; but the composer must decide how to bring all the instruments together. In the case of a neglected child, if one instrument or one ‘part’ is given more attention than any other parts, it can disrupt the capacity of the child to access other resources.

We have a range of possible selves. Child protection and safeguarding cannot only be defined by what it has not done- we need to recognise its successes too to give voice to all parts and to allow its true self and identity to emerge. We all have those cases where we can look back and know we have done our absolute best for the child or young person. We have all had that moment in the day when we left a professional meetings and absolutely knew with certainty that the right decision had been made for a child.

In the last twelve months I have participated in several of those meetings. I have spent hours listening to professionals from the health, education and social care sector come together to consider how we can best promote the needs and welfare of the child or young person. There was one meeting in particular where we discussing the case of a neglected child. Neglect is notoriously under-reported with professionals often feeling unable to intervene or feeling frustrated at the disjointed services of children and adults social care. However in this meeting there is no doubt in my mind that together as a multi-faceted team of professionals we delivered the best outcome for the child.

Operating as a whole rather than in parts or silos allows us to achieve the best for our children and young people. The Hackney model (reclaiming social work) is a good example where teams operate in pods of profesionals from a range of disciplines and practice and decisions are informed by a systemic family therapy model. Southwark Council have recently adopted the model too.

When I reflect on what made the meeting of professionals successful was that not once had we looked at assigning fault, but rather we considered what we could do together and where did we need to learn together. We took a whole systems approach to neglect. This is why I think SCIE’s new DfE-funded Child Neglect training is such a useful addition to practitioners and professionals across the sector to understand and respond to neglect. Underpinned by a ‘systems’ approach, the training package brings participants from across agencies to promote individual learning and promote an organisational understanding of potential barriers and how to overcome them together when thinking about neglect. The tool uses blended learning and case scenarios.

It is time to let all parts of social services and the wider system be seen, so together we can show our true self and provide the welfare system that so many children need, and in so many instances we are providing. Only together as a whole can we do this.

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