Archive for the 'social work' Category

Protecting Children: Time for a new story

 

Protecting children [FC]

Protecting children is out now

As their new book, Protecting children: A social model, publishes this week, Brid Featherstone, Anna Gupta, Kate Morris and Susan White look at how child protection practice must adapt to reflect our changing world.

And so it goes on: the roll call of more children coming into care, more children living in poverty, more families using food banks and more families living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

 

It is painfully apparent that the settlement between the state and its citizens, forged post-war, has been undermined profoundly, if not broken, over the last decades. Increasingly, expectations of decent work, secure and affordable homes and enough to eat can no longer be guaranteed by a state that is experienced as both intrusive and neglectful, especially by those living in poverty, with a subsequent loss of trust and widespread feelings of alienation and disconnection.

The policies and practices that have been developed to protect children must be understood and located within this wider canvas. While the state and its resources allegedly shrink, its gaze is harder and its tongue sharper. As part of an increasingly residual role, the system has become narrowly focused on an atomised child, severed from family, relationships and economic 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, or ordinary help has, somewhat paradoxically, widened.

Indeed, the child protection mandate struggles to move beyond holding individuals (usually mothers) responsible for managing children’s protection, thus, in effect, privatising what are often public troubles and outsourcing their management to those often most harmed by such troubles.  When they almost inevitably struggle to cope, state responses incline towards removal and the rupture of connections and networks with ethical and human rights considerations becoming casualties of a risk averse climate and narrow and reductive understandings of children’s outcomes.

“Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.”

Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.   But it is vital we recognise the roots of our current malaise go way back and are intimately connected to a long-standing tendency to see child protection as something apart, the province of uniquely troubled families and thus disconnected from the wider contexts in which all families seek to survive and thrive.

The following deep-rooted assumptions are core to the child protection story:

  • The harms children and young people need protecting from are normally located within individual families and are caused by actions of omission or commission by parents and/or other adult caretakers;
  • These actions/inactions are due to factors ranging from poor attachment patterns, dysfunctional family patterns, parenting capacity, faulty learning styles to poor/dangerous lifestyle choices;
  • The assessment of risk and parenting capacity is ‘core business’ and interventions are focused on effecting change in family functioning.

In our new book Protecting Children: A Social Model we argue for a new story to support more hopeful and socially just policies and practices. This would oblige rooting the protection of children within broader understandings of what all families need to flourish and locating such understandings within the scholarship on inequality and poverty. Crucially, it means developing a range of strategies and practices to deal with the social determinants of many of the harms experienced within families such as domestic abuse, mental health difficulties and addiction issues; all pervasive features of highly unequal societies such as ours.

“Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new.”

Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new. When there is widespread misery and deprivation, how can the individually focused home visit continue too often to be the only game in town?   Collective strategies must be considered in a project that promotes community work, locality based approaches and peer support and is founded on seeing families as a source of expertise about system design and best practice.

Building on the ideas in the best-selling Re-imagining Child Protection: towards humane social work with families, and drawing from a wide range of social theorists and disciplines, we identify policies and practices to argue for a social model of protecting children that is animated by the need to:

  • Understand and tackle root causes;
  • Rethink the role of the state;
  • Develop relationship(s) based practice and co-production; and
  • Embed a dialogic approach to ethics and human rights in policy and practice

Re-imagining child protection [FC].jpgRe-imagining child protection by Brid Featherstone, Susan White and Kate Morris is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.19.

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Introducing Marx at 200

CRSWIain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette introduce the new special issue of Critical and Radical Social Work, ‘Marx at 200’, in this editorial.

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. However, to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century and a half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices that we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. Yet, Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing, all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment that the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s glowing tribute to Marx and Engels in his introduction to a new edition of The communist manifesto is only one of many that have been paid on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth. In this special issue of Critical and Radical Social Work (CRSW), we pay our own tribute to Marx in a series of commissioned papers that seek to highlight the relevance of his ideas today. (We suspect that CRSW may be the only professional social work journal that will celebrate the anniversary in this way but would be very happy to be proved wrong on that point!) In our view, no other thinker provides the conceptual tools that make possible a critical analysis not only of 21st-century capitalism, with its crises, wars, inequality and austerity, but also, and more narrowly, of the ways in which social work as a global profession has been transformed by the forces of marketisation, managerialism and consumerism that have characterised the neoliberal phase of capitalism.

“Such misogyny, it has become clear, pervades every major institution in society…and is starkly personified in the current President of the US, Donald J. Trump.”

This issue opens with an article by writer and activist Lindsey German on Marxism and women’s oppression. The year 2017 will be remembered not least as the year of the #MeToo movement, when women from across the globe spoke out against the sexual harassment, sexual abuse or rape that they had experienced, and challenged institutional sexism and misogyny. Such misogyny, it has become clear, pervades every major institution in society, including churches, political parties, the media and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and is starkly personified in the current President of the US, Donald J. Trump. In her article, German explores the roots of women’s oppression and its close links with capitalism and class, and argues that Marxist ideas can provide a basis both for making sense of that oppression and for challenging it.

Race and racism also feature prominently in current political debate and discussion. In previous issues of this journal, contributors have discussed the Black Lives Matters movement in the US and the involvement of social workers in that movement. However, the rise of racism is currently a huge issue in many countries, including the UK. Twenty five years after the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence by racist thugs in South London and 22 years after a senior judge, Sir William McPherson, branded the Metropolitan police ‘institutionally racist’ for the way in which they investigated Stephen’s murder, a new scandal – the Windrush scandal – has exposed the extent to which racist ideas continue to inform UK government policy and practice.

“The Windrush scandal has shown that institutional racism is alive and well and deeply entrenched at the heart of the Conservative government”

The term refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948 and brought workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK. The ship carried 492 passengers – many of them children. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many of these people and their children have now been told that they are living here illegally because of a lack of official paperwork. The scandal has shown that institutional racism is alive and well and deeply entrenched at the heart of the Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Theresa May. Meanwhile, openly racist, and, in some cases, neo-Nazi, parties have representatives in several European parliaments. In the second article in this special issue, writer and activist Ken Olende examines the historical and contemporary roots of racism and draws on Marx’s writings to show its close connection with the rise and development of capitalism.

These two articles provide a strong theoretical underpinning for a social work practice that seeks to challenge racism and women’s oppression. However, as the next article by Paul Michael Garret shows, Marx’s ideas have much to offer in other areas of social work practice, too. These include the analysis of: the labour process and working lives in a capitalist society; neoliberalism and what Garrett calls ‘the voraciousness of capital’; and the role of the state and ideology. Citing Marx’s thesis that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it’, he ends the article by suggesting ways in which a Marxist analysis can inform a radical practice.

Almost a decade and a half ago, the two editors of this journal wrote an article for the British Journal of Social Work, arguing that Marx’s concept of alienation provided a better way of understanding issues of power and powerlessness in social work practice than did the then fashionable approaches of post-structuralism and postmodernism. In this issue, we revisit that concept of alienation and the related concept of commodity fetishism. Our purpose in doing so is not to continue a debate with approaches that even then were not the dominant critical approaches in social work, and are even less so now. Rather, it is to argue that the lack of control over our lives and creative activity that, for Marx, defines alienation has actually intensified during the era of neoliberalism, not least since the global economic crisis of 2008 and the subsequent imposition of a politics of austerity. Through an examination of the areas of work, sexuality and health, we examine the terrible toll that that lack of control and greatly increased commodification is having on our health and relationships. Finally, we point to some ways in which an understanding of alienation can contribute to a radical social work theory and practice.

“In few other countries have the ideas of Marx had such an impact on social work as they have had in Brazil”

In few other countries have the ideas of Marx had such an impact on social work as they have had in Brazil since the period of the Reconceptualisation movement of the late 1960s, and in a challenging but fascinating paper, Elaine Behring explains the contribution of Marxist ideas to the development of the ethical-political project of Brazilian social work.

In the next section, in place of our usual Radical Pioneer section (given that the whole journal is already devoted to discussion of the ideas of one particularly eminent radical pioneer), we have three commentary pieces, each of which addresses a particular area of current debate or struggle. In the first of these, Dr Glyn Robbins, housing worker and campaigner, examines the writings on housing of Marx’s friend and collaborator, Frederick Engels, and shows their relevance to the current housing crisis in the UK and elsewhere. In the second piece, we return to Brazil for a discussion by three Brazilian social work colleagues of the concerning political developments there and their implications for social work. Finally, leading Scottish Jewish activist and academic Professor Henry Maitles assesses recent debates around anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

CRSW

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Social forms of care: Changing relationships of support

Mary Holmes

Mary Holmes

Mary Holmes, Co-Editor of Families, Relationships and Societies, discusses the new special issue of the journal which is now available on Ingenta.

It may seem obvious to most of us that we rely on other people for care and support, but how has that changed given the fragmenting tendencies of contemporary life? In the latest issue of Families, Relationships and Societies we look at some of the different ways in which people care and are cared for from Finland, to Sweden, the UK, to the Phillipines. Whether it is caring for children, grandchildren, teenagers, or the elderly, care calls upon our bonds with other human beings.

Whatever the kind of bonds or location, social forms of care include state provision and welfare services, as well as informal care arrangements. People use family, friends and other connections to get the support they need. It is not always easy and may require negotiation and involve conflict. Some informal arrangements may be ad hoc and fragile, but some may contribute to community building and be good alternatives to more institutionalised care provision.

“Childhood, sickness, frailty and old age mean receiving care at times of vulnerability, but even in these cases the cared for might offer some support to others”

A lot of care is mutual. Childhood, sickness, frailty and old age mean receiving care at times of vulnerability, but even in these cases the cared for might offer some support to others – be it financial or emotional. In everyday terms, we give and take care. A friend makes us dinner when we are busy, we look after their children when they have a meeting. A colleague offers to help with our marking and we take a class for them to return the favour. Older children may take a turn to cook, or listen to their parent’s small woes. Caring changes. Parents care for children together and then perhaps alone; help from grandparents disappears as they die; supportive friends move to another town or country. Alongside these ‘private’ forms of caring are changing public provisions and policies that impact on how people care.

The impact of the rolling back of the welfare state in many countries shifts care responsibilities back on to the private sphere.  For example, we see in one article how austerity has made lone mothers in Finland more reliant on informal support networks. In another, Swedish parents have to deal with pressures to control their teenagers’ alcohol consumption. These are changes in what care means and in ideas about who should care for whom and how.

“The articles reveal generational and cultural differences in expectations around care.”

What care means in different kinds of relationships also changes, and the articles look at parents and teenagers, children and child carers in institutions, social workers and clients, parents and parent-in-law, grandparents, children and grandchildren within multigenerational families. In one instance, we see Filipino daughters-in-law making efforts to create affinity with their mothers-in-law to help them balance a sense of autonomy with caring according to cultural norms around obligation to parents. The articles reveal generational and cultural differences in expectations around care. Women also still have to make sense of having the greater part of the burdens and satisfactions of care. Yet people work at caring for each other.

Different contexts of care affect how it is given and received. For example, one author argues that institutionalised care can give children a different sense of time to ‘private’ forms of care. Meanwhile, in social work practice, care becomes difficult if always concentrating on risk prevention, especially within child protection. The articles do not glorify informal or private care as innately superior, but point out the difficulties of caring in the current climate. The social pressures on ‘private’ forms of care can be acute as people try to look after each other around the demands of work, changing demographics and shifting social norms. Fear-oriented assessments of risk, emphasis on responsibility and self-reliance and the withdrawal of various public services have different impacts according to gender, age, disability, class and race/ethnicity. Limited availability and problems within publicly provided care forces people to find support within often already overstretched networks or communities.

Self-reliance is a fantasy, albeit a powerful one, and it is imperative to know how families, friends and public bodies navigate around it to provide support. Here we see them using a range of ways to maintain relationships of support at a time when vulnerability and care are often degraded. Care remains a social achievement.

FRS_OFC_Feb2016_72.THINBORDER

 

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The Troubled Families Programme: changing everything, yet changing nothing

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ is out now

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problem – out today – examines the most recent Troubled Families Programme Outcomes report, which published last week.

The Evolution of the Trouble Families Programme

The Troubled Families Programme (TFP), originally tasked with ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 ‘troubled families’ in a single term of parliament has evolved into a different type of programme since its inception, albeit one with many enduring features. The expanded criteria for the second phase of the TFP shifted from allegedly criminal, anti-social and ‘workless’ families, to include those experiencing troubles such as domestic violence and health issues.

The ‘next phase’ of the programme, announced in April 2017, sought to bring sharper focus to the work of the TFP by emphasising the need to support ‘workless’ families into employment. The criteria for identifying and prioritising families for the programme changed, the outcomes expected by the programme also shifted, but some core, sometimes unintentional, features of the programme remain, including the labelling of disadvantaged families as ‘troubled’.

Disproving the ‘underclass’ theory

The most recent findings, published on 27th March, highlight some continuities with previous ‘troubled families’ publications.

“Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme”

By way of example, we learn from the latest Outcomes report that:

  • Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme (p24);
  • Only one in three ‘troubled families’ are classed as ‘workless’ (p20);
  • Fewer than 2% of ‘troubled families’ had ever been evicted (p21);
  • and just 2.8% of children in ‘troubled families’ had a caution in the 12 months prior to entering the programme.

The findings thus mirror two sets of evaluation data from the first phase of the programme (Final report on the family monitoring data and An interim report showing family monitoring data), and demonstrate that the stigmatising feckless, workshy, ‘neighbours from hell’ imagery associated with ‘troubled families’ courtesy of powerful individuals such as David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Louise Casey, is entirely inappropriate. Essentially, the official evaluation of the TFP is the latest in a long line of research that helps to disprove the longstanding theory of an ‘underclass’.

Changing nothing

The impact of the programme also continues to look problematic, considering this was a flagship social policy that was originally intended to ‘turn around’ the lives of ‘troubled families’ and change the way that the government intervened in their lives.

The impact study of the first phase of the programme was ‘unable to find consistent evidence’ that the programme ‘had any significant or systematic impact’ (p20). Since the renewed focus on tackling ‘worklessness’ was announced in April 2017, 104,809 families were worked with on the programme. Of these, just 4,807 families entered ‘continuous employment’ in the last year. In just under three years, not a single ‘troubled family’ in Newham (out of 2858 on the programme) has met the ‘continuous employment’ criteria according to the latest figures. And yet, over a slightly longer period, over 1000 families met this criteria in Liverpool. The difference between such figures (and there are plenty of other inconsistencies) is not explained.

The main finding in the Outcomes report is that a significantly smaller proportion of children were classed as children in need (a 3.9 percentage point difference, a statistically significant difference) after 6-12 months of work under the TFP, than similar families in a matched comparison groups who were not on the programme over a similar period. This improvement is to be welcomed, but given the resources allegedly attached to the TFP, the intensive, transformative approach, and the allegedly failing approach of other services, it hardly represents conclusive evidence that the family intervention model is worth the effort.

Deflection

The continuing focus on ‘families’ – either ‘troubled’ or ‘workless’ – and on the family intervention approach continues to deflect attention away from the quantity and quality of jobs on offer, and their suitability or otherwise for carers of young children and/or disabled or vulnerable adults. The potential consequences of poor, or insecure, or sporadic work on disadvantaged families’ lives remained undiscussed. Poor quality, poorly paid, irregular work, often at unsociable hours in the early morning or late at night, accompanied by potential or changes to benefits entitlements, does not always lead to less parental conflict, more support for ‘children in need’, or a greater, more sustainable income. The pejorative term ‘workless’ ignores the amount of domestic and caring work that takes place within ‘troubled families’, many of whom have young children and/or family members with health issues or disabilities.

“The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.”

Ideology not evidence

Despite the evidence that suggests a lack of impact in many areas, there also remains claims of the allegedly transformative aims of the TFP. As each phase of the programme has been announced, and as its profile and importance has dropped, there has been an increase in the extent to which the programme claims to be transforming and re-shaping local services. The most recent annual report claims that the programme ‘drives service reform’, ‘drives reduction in social care demand’ and ‘promotes social justice’. Problematic and/or slow progress of many families on the programme suggests that the family intervention approach might not be worth ‘rolling out’ and ‘mainstreaming’. The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.

Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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‘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

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