Thursday, June 05, 2008

Adverse affect of formal child protection systems

The excellent ARCH blog has drawn my attention to this letter from the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) to the government’s Chief Medical Officer. It covers the kinds of effects that the mass data collection and suspicion-by-default mindset amongst the child professionals are having on children and families.

"When instructions went out to all staff in contact with children to report concerns about risk, this seems to have been done with little prior thought, without consultation, and without provision for training. The result was the post-Climbie cover-your-back syndrome: 'when in the slightest doubt, report to social services.' We see a huge variety of standards, misunderstandings, prejudices, ill-informed interpretation of risk factors, cultural incompetence and even racism, in the initiation of cases from health visitors, teachers, midwives, nurses, doctors and others. Quite apart from the damage to families, each one of these reports pre-empts resources and often leads to substantial, and unnecessary, cost. Ironically, the basic, simple help or real support families would like, is unavailable because resources are lacking, that is not the focus of social work activity, and anyway nowadays many parents are afraid to ask because any contact with social services is too risky.

Community information grapevines work, and effectively circulate information about what people see as the growing risk of being investigated or labelled as a dangerous parent after contact with medical care. The risk is not merely perceived: it is real, and the consequences are devastating. Damage to the whole family structure (sometimes the extended family network and its support structure), to parental confidence and self-esteem, to children's sense of security and safety, and their sense of security that their parents can and will protect them - these are very serious adverse effects. Often we find it is the most sensitive parents, to whom family life means everything, who are most damaged. We also have many concerns about damage we have seen to authority of black parents vis-a-vis their children, many of whom are already coping with multiple racial prejudice problems. As we have pointed out to NICE as stakeholders in their consultation of diagnosis of child abuse, such potential for harm must now be considered, and it is long overdue. The sheer cultural incompetence of many social workers has to be seen to be believed."

Recommended reading about what happens in practice when mass surveillance is substituted for effective targetted support of professional services. A case in point: Logging on to Beat the Bullies

"The approach Bexley chose was to deploy Vantage Technologies’ Sentinel Anti-Bullying software. This solution allows staff to report bullying incidents securely over the Internet into a central database, which is managed and monitored by Bexley. This web-based approach allows our schools to monitor bullying and racism incidents in real-time, providing effective support for all pupils.
The launch of this new initiative was announced at Bexley’s Southern Anti-Bullying Conference earlier this year. Two Bexley services were the driving force behind the proposal."

So instead of getting the head teacher and other talented teachers who are good with child behaviour out in the playground and dealing with it on the spot at source, they buy a piece of software and create a massive reporting system which schools can consult to see what's going on in their school! Bizarre when you put even the slightest thought into it.

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