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Why are so many of our children failed by the system, and whom or what should be held accountable?
The Childrens Act 1989 and subsequent amendments and official documents are intended to safeguard our children from harm and protect their rights. In practice though, some children fall through the net and are failed by the local authority, leading to continuing neglect and abuse of these children,. in some high profile cases recently, the end result has been death, such as in the Victoria Climbie and Lauren Wright cases.
This document will explore the reasons behind this. Its possible the Childrens Act 1989 is simply inadequate, implemented incorrectly or poorly. On the other hand it could be the fault of badly trained and motivated Social Workers, underfunded local authorities or badly managed social services departments. Before analysing why this phenomenon occurs, it is important to understand what is meant by the terms neglect and abuse. According to "Working Together To Safeguard Children" a document published by the department of health in 1999, somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. However under
s.31(10) of the Childrens Act 1989, it details that in order for intervention to occur, the harm suffered must be "significant" under the legislation. Ie, causing impairment of health or development to the child. The health and development is compared with that which could be reasonably expected of a similar child. Therefore in order for intervention, to prevent further abuse or neglect of the child, to take place a social worker must be satisfied that the abuse is significant and produce evidence to support this.
The vague nature of thie legislation and the constraints placed upon social workers who work with families and children contributes massively to the number of children failed by the system.
Even when intervention does occur, and the child is, in the most severe cases, taken into care, this is no guarantee of the safety of the child.
Abuse and neglect are rife throughout the care system. The child is also more likely to come into contact with young people/children or members of their families with drug/alcohol problems, emotional and behavioral problems, criminal records/habits, or links with prostitution, etc.
This is why the procedure for assessment and intervention, and the legislation connected to it is so complex, as shown in "Individual cases flowchart" included in the appendix.
However this is not the only reason for cases being wrongly assessed or children being failed. This document intends to explore the factors that contribute to the numbers of cases that are not dealt with satisfactorily.
When cases of children that have died from the effects of abuse or neglect reach the media, the general tendency is to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the social workers involved. There is even speculation that legislation to make social workers accountable should be introduced, such as in the Victoria Climbie case, where the social worker now faces criminal charges. Included in the appendix of this document is a clipping of another more recent case where the media blame the social workers involved.
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Victoria, Deborah Gaunt, Lauren Wright, Edward Armstrong, Mary Marsh,
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department of health, government,
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