Archive for the 'Children' Category

Challenging the politics of early intervention

Nicola Horsley

Ros Edwards

Val Gillies

The past decade has seen a rash of early intervention programmes targeting mothers of young children.

Reports by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and early years policy and service provision in the UK and internationally, are now characterised by an emphasis on early intervention in the belief that pregnancy and the earliest years of life are most important for development. It has become the orthodoxy in a whole range of professional practice fields.

The idea of being able to intervene in parenting to ensure better life chances for children feels constructive and positive, but there is little evidence to suggest that it works. Moreover, early intervention doctrine ultimately holds mothers accountable for poverty and other social ills.

“…there is little evidence to suggest that it works.”

Pressure on mothers

Early intervention is directed at mothers as the core mediators of their children’s development. The significance of mother-child relationships in the early years often is underlined through reference to the developing brain. For example, the website of the influential Harvard Center on the Developing Child refers to mothers as ‘buffers’ between their children and adversity. As buffers, they are held personally responsible for inculcating what the Harvard Center terms ‘a biological resistance to adversity’ in their children.

The quality of mother-child relationships is posed as a decisive lever in building children’s brains, and is a core principle structuring the everyday work of many early years intervention programmes. In one UK early years intervention initiative that targets young and marginalised first time mothers, the Family Nurse Partnership programme, practitioners provide mothers with a sheet headed ‘How to build your baby’s brain’ featuring a list of activities claimed to enrich neural connectivity, such as reading books, singing rhymes, and playing on the floor.

“The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering.”

The responsibility loaded onto mothers is especially pronounced in relation to low income, working class mothers and Black and minority ethnic mothers, as both cause of and solution to their children’s marginalisation and poverty.

The deprivation facing poor working class families is posed as a result of poor mothering and consequently the stunted brains of their offspring, at the same time as they are positioned as buffers who can mitigate against and overcome the effects of a harsh wider environment for their children. Early intervention programmes such as the UK’s Family Nurse Partnership, the Solihull Approach, and Parent-Infant Partnerships, overwhelmingly are delivered in areas of deprivation to poor mothers.

Ideas about brain science are used to legitimise interventions in the child rearing habits of working class families, protecting children brought up in poverty from any effects of their disadvantage and promote their social mobility. The social and structural causes of hardship and need that are being experienced by these families in the present are effectively masked, placing mothers as hidden buffers against the effects of privation on their children.

The developing world

Globally, UNICEF brings together early years development and parenting to offset children experiencing war and hunger on the basis of the speed of new neural connections formed in the brain in the early years, asserting that good parenting will help children overcome multiple adversities such as violence, disaster, and poverty. Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world, in the belief that improved mothering will surely benefit the state of the nation.

For example, the ‘Fine Brains’ (Family-Inclusive Early Brain Stimulation) programme seeks to promote parental stimulation and interaction to improve children’s brain architecture in sub-Sahara. It asserts that mothers in these countries are ill-equipped to maximise the benefits of interaction, need to be trained, and then to train their husbands to parent properly. The complex and diverse historical, economic, political, social and religious contexts of sub-Saharan Africa are obscured in favour of a focus on individual mothers as able to overcome poverty, conflict and post-conflict, engrained gendered inequalities, and so on, through improving their knowledge of child development and home engagement practices.

“Despite the overall paucity of evidence that early years intervention works, initiatives are being rolled out across the developing world.”

 

A meritocratic construction

The policy and practice preoccupation with how poor mothers and deprived families bring up and nurture their children relies on a meritocratic construction of the wealthy and privileged as having better developed brains. This is a statement that many of us might find offensive. But within the confluence of brain science and early years intervention, success is naturalised and unproblematically correlated with brain structure and intelligence. From this perspective, the solution to poverty is to make people smarter. Working class mothers, black and minority ethnic mothers, and mothers in the global South can enable their children to think their way out of their predicament.

The idea that hardship and discrimination is to do with how much attention of the right sort that mothers give to their children, and the notion of countering global traumas and inequalities through parenting, is jaw-dropping. It demonstrates why early intervention policy and practice deserves more critical scrutiny.

 

Challenging the politics of early intervention by Val Gillies, Rosalind Edwards and Nicola Horsley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £18.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

‘Baby P’ 10 years on and the devastation of child protection

The updated and expanded second edition of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ by Ray Jones, was published by Policy Press in February. Here, Jones discusses the impact of the Baby P case 10 years on, especially the ineffectual regulations on abusive press behaviour and the devastating effect on the social work profession.

Ray Jones

“On 3 August 2017 it is the tenth anniversary of the terrible death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London.

Abused within his family home, his death became a focus of national and international media coverage when his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother were each found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

Within the press, Peter was known as ‘Baby P’. One newspaper in particular, The Sun, and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, day-after-day, month-after-month, and year-after-year ran a campaign of harassment and hatred targeted at Peter’s social workers and their managers, and a paediatrician, who sought to help and protect children.

The Sun launched a ‘campaign for justice’ with a front page accusing those it was targeting as having ‘blood on their hands’. This notorious banner headlined front page is no longer to be found on The Sun’s website but is still accessible through other sites.

Much has happened since August 2007. David Cameron, who is now known to have been a close personal friend of Rebekah Brooks, wrote a column in The Sun demanding the sacking of the social workers and managers and that ‘professionals must pay with their jobs’. At the time he was leader of the opposition. He has subsequently come and gone as Prime Minister.

Mr Gove, who was the Shadow Secretary of State in 2008, joined in the targeting of Sharon Shoesmith, who was quickly (and the High Court in 2011 decided wrongly) dismissed from her post as Director of Children’s Services in Haringey. Mr Gove has also come and gone as a government minster … and has now recently come again.

Mr Gove has been a champion for Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun and The Times. Murdoch had also owned The News of the World. It closed amid the exposure of the long-standing criminality perpetrated by editors and reporters at the paper in hacking phones, including the phones of bereaved parents and a murdered school girl.

It took several years for the Metropolitan Police to conduct an appropriate and proper investigation into the criminal activities rampant within Mr Murdoch’s British press.

“At last acknowledged that the… threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top””

The self-serving parasitic relationships between the Murdoch press, Metropolitan police and politicians was exposed through the Leveson inquiry. At the inquiry Rebekah Brooks at last acknowledged several years late that her paper’s threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top” and that “balance went right out of the window”.

Mrs Brooks, who was found not guilty of charges at the phone hacking trial, claimed that she knew nothing about the wide-spread criminality in the organisation she led, even though this criminality also included the actions of her deputy editor, Andy Coulson. Mr Cameron had appointed Mr Coulson as his media advisor, an appointment which ended when Coulson was convicted and then imprisoned.

Politicians have come and gone. So have senior police officers. The hacking investigations and trial led to the closure of a newspaper, prison sentences for newspaper editors, and a major public inquiry. That inquiry, however, has been cut short.

Its major recommendations on regulating abusive press behaviour are not being enacted and the press continues to intrude, bully, and abuse much as before. The Sun, for example, recently and remarkably used its ‘blood on their hands’ banner headline, this time to target Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonald and Diane Abbot during the 2017 general election campaign.

And Mr Murdoch and Mrs Brooks have had their down times but are now again both flourishing.

“None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers.”

But what of the social workers and social work? None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers, despite those whose cases were heard by the social work regulator allowing them to continue their registration as social workers.

Sharon Shoesmith has completed a PhD and written a book about child and familial homicide but has not been able to get paid employment since being dismissed by Haringey Council at the instigation of Ed Balls (another politician who has come and gone).

Not surprisingly, it is now difficult to recruit and retain social workers (and specialist doctors working in child protection) to work in statutory children’s services with the continuous threat that they too could be a focus of vilification and vengeance by the media. There is now a dependency in most local authorities on short-term interim agency social workers and managers with services no longer having the stability, continuity and experience which is needed to provide good children’s and family social work and child protection.

There has also been a dramatic shift in social work and social services practice from helping children and families to an emphasis on surveillance, assessment, risk management and child protection.

Since 2008 there has been a 90% increase in England in child protection investigations (now running at over 170,000 a year) and a 130% (and still rising month-by-month) increase in court proceedings to remove children from families. In part, this reflects more defensive practice by professionals and agencies fearful of media attacks.

But it also reflects big cuts in government funding to local authorities (a 40% reduction since 2010 and still to be reduced further) with the closure of Sure Start programmes, children’s centres and youth services. This is at the same time as draconian cuts in social security and housing benefits are moving more families into severe poverty and destitution and making it harder for stressed and overwhelmed parents to care well for their children.

The response of the Conservative-led governments has been to see this all as an opportunity to say that social work is not good enough and the answer is to take children’s social services outside of local councils. They have sought to create a commercial and competitive market place open to all comers who can now be contracted to provide these services, and to favour fast-track social work education outside of universities provided by independent companies and shaped by management consultancy and international accountancy firms.

‘Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown’

Who would have anticipated in 2007 that within ten years one of the safest child protection systems in the world, based on 40 years of learning and development, would have been churned up and undermined by politicians using the ammunition provided by the tabloid press whipping up public hostility and in the context of politically-chosen austerity?

In the book, ‘The Story of Baby P’, I comment that “my greatest horror is what happened to a little child, Peter Connelly, and my concern is that the campaigning by The Sun and others has done nothing to make it safer for children like Peter”.

It certainly has not made it safer. Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown. This is today’s story which the media choose not to cover – unless of course every so often they skew the story and focus on another child death and find new social workers to abuse and attack.

Dr Ray Jones is a registered social worker, a former director of social services, and an emeritus professor of social work and frequent media commentator and columnist.

 

2017_The story of Baby P_NEW FC 4 webThe Story of Baby P by Ray Jones is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £11.99

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book

Ray

Ray Jones

As part of our focus on impact for Academic Book Week, author Ray Jones talks about the terrible and tragic death of Peter Connelly, the devastating fallout for the social work profession, and how his book, The Story of Baby P, has made a difference.

The terrible and tragic death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London, in August 2007 became a major media story in November 2008 when his mother and two men were found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

To avoid prejudicing a further trial, when one of the men was convicted of raping a little girl, the media was not allowed to publish Peter’s real name so he became known as ‘Baby P’. The press, politicians and police worked together on shaping the ‘Baby P story’ so that it targeted social workers and their managers who were described by The Sun newspaper as having ‘blood on their hands’.

The police and health services faded unseen and uncriticised to the margins of the media coverage, although it is now known that there were significant failings and omissions in their contacts with the Connelly family.

‘A campaign for justice’

It was The Sun newspaper and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, who had full page ‘Baby P’ stories day-after-day as she ran ‘a campaign for justice’ demanding the sackings of the social workers, their managers and, in particular, Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey Council’s director of children’s services.

“A shameful and sordid bullying use of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid power.”

Continue reading ‘Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book’

Moving into policing – as a leader and a learner

maggie-blyth

Maggie Blyth

Maggie Blyth, author of some of our best-selling texts on children at risk has recently taken her extensive experience working in local and national government to a Direct Entry Superintendent role in the police. In this blog post, originally posted on Maggie’s own blog on 7 January, she talks about the experience so far. 

“A few weeks ago, after a lengthy application process, I became a police officer.

Not just a new job but a sweeping career change following 30 years immersed in another sector – formerly education, then youth justice, most latterly child protection. I feel deeply honoured to be entering a new career at the latter stage of my working life and to be joining a progressive police force, in such an important role, but I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead – for me it’s a two way process.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead – for me it’s a two way process.”

Continue reading ‘Moving into policing – as a leader and a learner’

The crisis in the family courts should mean we re-think and change our approach to child protection

 

hands

Image: Jonathan Cohen

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, made a speech earlier this week highlighting the crisis in family courts due to rising numbers of cases and lack of resources.

In an article published in Families, Relationships and Societies, Brid Featherstone, Anna Gupta, Kate Morris and Joanne Warner feed in to current debates by laying out a social model of child protection.

Here, authors Brid Featherstone, Anna Gupta and Kate Morris highlight the relevance of their key points in the article. ‘Let’s stop feeding the risk monster: Towards a social model of ‘child protection’ is currently free to download here.

 

We welcome the speech by Lord Justice Munby expressing concern about the rise in care cases and the opportunity it offers for a debate about what is happening in relation not only to care proceedings but also child protection investigations.

Alongside other researchers in the UK and internationally we have been asking for some time now whether attention is being focused on the right things in the right way if we want to protect children and ensure their welfare and identity needs are protected throughout their lives.

More investigations do not mean more support

A growing body of research across countries with similar systems (e.g. US, UK, Australia and Canada) suggests that there has been a considerable increase in the numbers of families experiencing investigations for suspected abuse in the last decades. However, the vast majority of such investigations do not appear to uncover actual abuse and/or result in help being offered to families. Continue reading ‘The crisis in the family courts should mean we re-think and change our approach to child protection’

School Governing, what’s the story since Trojan horse?

Since the Trojan Horse Affair made headlines in March 2014 the pace of change in education governance has, it would appear, become increasingly frenetic.

In light of recent turbulent times in politics , and post Brexit, Jacqueline Baxter, author of School governance, asks what has changed in terms of the democratic governance of education in England ?

BaxterThe Trojan Horse Affair in 2014 left an indelible mark on the education system in England, with profound implications for leadership, management and governing of education.

The affair which provoked a number of subsequent inquiries into radicalisation in schools, also resulted in a raft of measures introduced by the government in order to counter extremist views in schools and to ensure that British Values are firmly embedded in the system. The affair also left government with some very pressing questions about the state of school governance and accountability in England.

Since then we have had a change of government, a vote to exit the EU and a leadership crisis in both government and opposition parties- one that at the time of writing, is still not fully resolved. Continue reading ‘School Governing, what’s the story since Trojan horse?’

Does child protection need a rethink?

David N Jones and Maggie Blyth are Independent chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and David Jones is also chair of the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs. In today’s post they explain why the review of local safeguarding children boards is an opportunity to improve accountability of schools, health and social care and police.

This was originally posted on the Guardian site Wednesday 13th January. To see the original post click here.

Maggie Blyth

Maggie Blyth

David Jones

David Jones

Buried in the prime minister’s December announcement about improving children’s services was a review of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), which coordinate child protection in England.

This is the first stocktake of these arrangements since the battered baby syndrome guidance was first issued in 1970. This review, undertaken by former director of children’s services, Alan Wood is hugely significant, with enormous implications for the protection of children. Continue reading ‘Does child protection need a rethink?’


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