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- Author or Editor: Anna Gupta x
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The state is increasingly experienced as both intrusive and neglectful, particularly by those living in poverty, leading to loss of trust and widespread feelings of alienation and disconnection.
Against this tense background, this innovative book argues that child protection policies and practices have become part of the problem, rather than ensuring children’s well-being and safety.
Building on the ideas in the best-selling Re-imagining child protection and drawing together a wide range of social theorists and disciplines, the book:
• Challenges existing notions of child protection, revealing their limits;
• Ensures that the harms children and families experience are explored in a way that acknowledges the social and economic contexts in which they live;
• Explains how the protective capacities within families and communities can be mobilised and practices of co-production adopted;
• Places ethics and human rights at the centre of everyday conversations and practices.
This introductory chapter provides a background of child protection and its intersection with wider social policies and social trends. The modern child protection system emerged in the 1960s, rooted in a concern to stop babies dying or being ‘battered’ by parents who were considered to be suffering from a lack of empathic mothering in their own lives. Poverty, bad housing, and other social factors were screened out as holding helpful explanatory value in relation to why some babies were seriously harmed by their carers. From those beginnings, rooted in care for babies who were powerless and voiceless, and compassion for emotionally deprived parents, the system has expanded enormously in terms of remit, research base, influence, and power within a complex and changing society. The chapter then considers the core aspects and assumptions behind the welfare state and the emergence of a discourse around individual responsibility and risk that encompasses cause, consequence, and attribution.
This chapter traces the history of attempts to improve the way families look after children using the UK system as an exemplar. As part of an increasingly residual role, the child protection system has become narrowly focused on an atomised child, severed from family, relationships, and social circumstances: a precarious object of ‘prevention’, or rescue. As its categories and definitions have gradually grown, the gap between child protection services and family support has widened. This has a number of antecedents. First, with the exception of a few decades of the 20th century, history shows a strong tendency towards individual social engineering to produce model citizens, with parenting practices the primary focus of state attention. Second, the post-war welfare consensus has withered in the face of market enchantment and a burgeoning commissioning paradigm.
This chapter discusses the residual, but strongly legitimised, role for the state in preventing damage to children, which carries high levels of criticism for those parents seen as failing to optimise their child’s developmental potential. The idea that childhood experiences are important and can be formative clearly has a common-sense truth to it and obviously, traumatic experiences in childhood will have lasting impacts. However, a vocabulary has emerged in which notions of toxic parenting and the quest for optimum developmental flourishing create new mandates for the state to act. The chapter then argues that these are necessary to explain the sharp rises in national rates of child removal, particularly the permanent removal of very small children, documented over the last decade. They also contribute to service fragmentation by privileging intervention in the early years in the form of ‘evidence-based’ parenting programmes.
This chapter explores the experiences of families enmeshed in child welfare systems. Stories of pain, hurt, betrayal, and violence are told to professionals everyday. However, a key theme of this book is a concern that the language and theoretical and practice tools available to them are impoverished and increasingly inadequate. This is partly due to the inadequacy of a model that translates need to risk routinely, colonises a variety of sorrows and troubles within a child protection frame, and has abandoned or lost a sense of the contexts — economic and social — in which so many are living lives of quiet desperation. The chapter draws on a number of studies conducted by the authors, in particular a detailed study of families and their experiences of welfare services; and an enquiry on the role of the social worker in adoption, ethics, and human rights, which looked at the perspectives of birth families, adoptive parents, and adopted young people.
This chapter examines the evolution of the social model for child protection in areas such as disability and mental health. In these domains, there has been a very clear ‘other’ to which the social model was responding — medicine and the notion of biological damage. Similar individualised and pathologised stories are dominating thinking about child protection. It is thus timely to discuss the understanding of the possibilities presented by the notion of a social model for protecting children. The chapter then considers the key interrelated elements of reworking a social model: understanding and tackling root causes; rethinking the role of the state; developing relationship-based practice and co-production; and embedding a dialogic approach to ethics and human rights in policy and practice.
This chapter suggests some approaches to practice and offers examples of alternative models for child protection. Within a social model for protecting children, a multi-dimensional and contextualised understanding of social problems is required, as are services and professional practice which address the lack of material, social, and symbolic capital that cause harm to children and their families. For individual social workers working with individual families, as a start this means assessments, reports, and plans recognise and highlight the structural underpinnings of families’ hardships, making them visible to professionals and to the families who are the subject of the assessment/report. There can be a recognition that solutions to problems are not only about individual change, but also reflect the impact of social and economic environments on individuals and families. However, all these developments are difficult in risk-focused case work approaches. The recent turn towards strengths-based case work may open up possibilities.
This chapter focuses on domestic abuse. The recognition that poverty is a factor in domestic abuse and is linked to men’s perceptions of the breadwinner role suggests how vital it is to understand and engage with social constructions of masculinity. Overall, given the extensive evidence that has emerged of the focus by child welfare and protection systems on deprived populations, the levels of domestic abuse that are commonly to be found in families subject to child protection processes are to be expected and add fuel to the concerns about the invisibility of poverty in contemporary child protection policies and practices. Moreover, a range of system interventions can either trap women in abusive relationships or be a driver of their vulnerability to poverty post separation. This reinforces the need to critically interrogate the implications of system interactions including child protection systems.
This chapter assesses how one might change the conversation on child protection. It explores the specific issues of seeking to effect social change within a ‘post-truth’ climate and discusses how one might draw from work in social psychology, cognitive linguistics, and the sociology of emotions to learn the craft of telling stories. It has long been clear that hurling ‘facts’ in the form of statistics at people is likely to change very few minds. Rather than facts and pie charts, it is stories that have the power to animate people and bring them together to change the world. Organisations such as the New Economics Foundation, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have been using methodologies derived from framing theory to explore how different stories could be crafted on poverty, child abuse, and neglect.
This concluding chapter argues that, in order to do differently, people need bigger conversations that involve those from a range of endeavours and disciplines and all those concerned with, and impacted by, child protection. In social work, talking about the relationship between child abuse, neglect, and poverty is currently framed by notions of reinforcing or avoiding stigmatising or oppressive generalisations. However, accepting that poverty means it is more likely that children may be harmed means the societal and individual value of reducing child and family poverty becomes clearer. Poverty is a child protection matter and social work needs a conversation about what this means for the knowledge base and everyday practices. The chapter then explores some possibilities for democratising conversations more generally.