Surely the UK has it under control?
The social work community is well aware of its role working alongside other agencies to promote the right of vulnerable children to have a family life. Ensuring that parents/carers have the means, time, care and attention to support their children is an ongoing challenge.
UK professionals are no strangers to the growing number of young people facing complex and interrelated risk factors. Too many children are suffering neglect and trauma at home, which hardly provides resistance to the dangers of grooming and sexual abuse, let alone criminal exploitation, drug abuse and gang membership. It’s no wonder social services are feeling the squeeze.
Ruthless deployment of resources
Councils have had to be ruthless about how they deploy resources and have cut back on preventative services such as Sure Start centres (an estimated 1,000 have shut down since 2010), family hubs and youth services because there is so much competition for funding.
As a result, the number of children in crisis has risen steadily for nine years. There are now more than 70,000 children accessing the care system each year. In September, Sajid Javid claimed to respond to these pressures when he announced the end of austerity and £1.5 bn for adults’ and children’s services.
Keeping up with changing practice in international social work
At the same time, the CEO of Children and Families across Borders (CFAB), Carolyn Housman, speaks of a ‘new normal’ where more children are on the move than at any time since the Second World War.
CFAB was created in response to the refugee crisis in the aftermath of World War II, and protects children moving between the UK and other countries who are separated from their family. Working with a network of social workers, lawyers and other child protection professionals and partners, CFAB has built expertise in the complexities of migration and international separation. Housman believes that all children should have the opportunity to enjoy their right to family life wherever possible, and be protected from abuse and exploitation, regardless of where they are from.
Falling through the cracks
Given the complexities, the pressures and risks faced by young people today, CFAB is still as relevant as it has always been. Unfortunately, there is still the chance that vulnerable children can fall through the cracks. In its Britain’s Hidden Children’s Homes series, the BBC’s Newsnight was scathing in its assessment of the unregulated and unregistered accommodation that some looked after teenagers are housed in. Whilst Ofsted advises that this type of accommodation is not suitable for children under 16, Newsnight found that more than 100 children under 16 are currently living in these homes in England and Wales.
Children at risk
Whilst they don’t claim to offer ‘care’ – they prefer the idea of support – children as young as 15 can be given a small self-contained flat. Nevertheless, Newsnight highlighted a number of homes which are failing to protect children: where their basic bed and board needs are neglected, and where residents are at risk of bullying, abuse and criminality.
The people running these rogue institutions would certainly benefit from CFAB’s work on how to care for a young person whether in the UK or elsewhere. Interestingly, CFAB cites the primary cause of placement failure as the carer’s lack of familiarity with the child’s psychological and behavioural challenges, and an inability provide an appropriate response. With or without the complication of multicultural/geographical factors, this must sound familiar to almost every social worker working in the UK in 2019.