The role of social work intervention is an intensely complicated one in which legislation passed in recent years has had a significant impact. On the one hand this legislation has worked so that social services have become increasingly integrated with various other local authority departments so that they can work together in effective unison. At the same time work has been undertaken to unsure that those on the receiving end of social care do not feel stigmatised or discriminated against by the care they receive, or feel confused about why they have been targeted. Problems of discrimination, as well as important problems regarding poverty, are ones which need to be taken into due consideration. These issues are especially important when it comes to children and families, as we shall see in the specific case of Karen.
In the recent history the issue of social care has found itself featured increasingly prominently on the political agenda. This is because social care is an issue in the United Kingdom which requires special care, particularly when it comes to potentially vulnerable young people. It is generally believed that the welfare of parents is closely linked to the development of children (Kirk, 2003), and therefore in areas which are suffering form poverty in the UK, and where there is a cycle of poverty, there are children who are particularly vulnerable, and who in particular need to be draw to the attention of social services. Stratham identifies the following groups of children who are likely to put set aside for special treatment by social workers, and who are seen as especially vulnerable. They are as follows:
- Children and young people living away from home, including those looked after by local authorities or privately fostered.
- Asylum-seeking children and refugees, both with families and unaccompanied.
- Children with troubled parents, for example those living with domestic violence or whose parents have mental health, drug or alcohol problems. Some of these will be young carers.
- Children engaged in antisocial or offending behaviour
- Children whose families are homeless, and those children who are not in school.
- Teenage parents.
- Children who are abused, including those abused through prostitution and child trafficking (Stratham, 2004).
A particular problem facing those working in social care is the fact that those who are in most need often tend in turn to be those who are least likely to reach out for family help, or even help from health services. Therefore when dealing with parents who have substance abuse problems or mental health problems, it is vitally important that effective links be made between the various health and social work departments. Families need to feel respected and not stigmatised by the provision of services (Stratham, 2004).
Legislation, practice guidance and policy have had a significant impact on the area of social work intervention in recent years. Social Work as a profession began in the late 1800s (Eliot, 2006); however it is in the past twenty years or so that we are concerned, as this period has seen a glut of legislation and guidance to help make the delivery of social care more effective and, in turn, more palatable to those on the receiving end.
In the 1980s the press reported many cases of child neglect which built in to an increased hysteria around the issue of child protection. This resulted in an increasingly authoritarian mode of child protection, which focused strongly on dealing with the perpetrators of neglect, rather than attempting to create a framework to detect and prevent warning signs (Frost, 2000). The first piece of legislation to attempt to dramatically alter the way that children’s protection was organised came through the Children’s Act of 1989. The 1989 Children’s Act empowered local authorities, and made them responsible for social services provision (Penn & Gough, 2002). The aim of the Act was to entrench the partnership between the state and families, and it applied to the needs to the child and the provision of services (Cleaver & Walker, 2004). Ideally the power in the partnership between the state and the parent will be evenly balanced as a result of the Act.
When the Labour Government came to power in 1997 they began to introduce a raft of reports and legislation dealing with specific issues concerning child care. The ‘Supporting Families’ Green Paper of 1998 was concerned with representing the spirit of the 1989 Act, and moving new initiatives forward. The importance of the role of the voluntary sector in early years child care was noted in this Green Paper, and schemes such as Home Start were encouraged. Home Start offered support to mothers of children aged under five. The Green Paper stressed the importance of formal and informal support networks in early years child care. The paper stressed that schemes were needed to meet the physical and emotional needs of children, the social and educational needs of children, to help confidence in parenting and to provide respite to parents under stress. Home Start works with referrals from Health professionals, often to issues such as stress which is an affliction linked strongly to poverty. Schemes such as Home Start were not intended to act as a replacement to traditional social services (Frost, Johnson, Stein & Wallis, 2000). As part of the ‘Supporting Families’ Green Paper, responsibility for Day Care Centres was shifted by the government from the Department of Health to the Department of Education (Moss, 2006).
In 2000 the Children Needing Care Act was introduced to prevent such phenomena as ‘foster drift’ (Eliot, 2006). The intention of this Act was very much to prevent a situation in which vulnerable young children fall entirely out of the social care system.
In 2003 the Government published a further Green Paper entitled ‘Every Child Matters’. This was to become a very important document in the government’s social care policy. It was introduced largely as part of the fallout from the Victoria Climbie case, which had caused widespread press outraged at failures which occurred in social care provision. The paper set out five main aims for potentially vulnerable children. These aims were as follows: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution, and to achieve economic well-being. These aims were to underpin future government legislation on social policy (Stratham, 2004). The Children’s Act of 2004 was a further step towards acting upon the Every Child Matters Green Paper. It set up the new role of Children Commissioner – a role independent of central government and concerned with the wellbeing of children (Moss, 2006).
The Care Quality Commission for England was launched as part of the Health and Social Care Act of 2008. This Act abolished several bodies to make way for this new Commission which was to be a new care standards regulatory authority whose mandate is to integrate the areas of social care and health. By this time the government’s approach of social care was becoming increasingly linked to the areas of physical health and wellbeing of young and vulnerable children. According to Stratham the integration of children’s social care with education and health was vital, as it helped to set up a proper new support service which was more likely to spot signs of neglect in early years (Stratham, 2004).
It is clear that the government has moved in recent years to integrate several authorities with social care. The Health and Social Care Act of 2007 introduced measures to integrate social care between the services. At the same time it set up the new National Service Framework, a ten year programme intended to stimulate long term improvements in children’s health. This Act was aimed at everyone who comes into contact with and delivers services to children. The current focus of the government is very much on early intervention, in the welfare of children. The Government now requires all local authorities to have a Children and Young People’s Plan.
When looking at this increased integration there are several arguments both for and against these developments. Whilst on the one hand these moves definitely make sense as these disciplines certainly are linked with each other, on the other hand the result of this can sometimes be an increased in paperwork, and an increasingly confused megalith in which one hand does not know what the other is doing. An increase in paperwork has certainly been a complaint of other organisations under New Labour, most notably the Police. It is therefore also worth noting that increasingly social services and the police have been encouraged to work together in recent years, particularly in the area of children’s wellbeing. Members of social work teams are encouraged to contact a local Police Authorities Child Protection Officer. It is often difficult to coordinate services in any local authority, and when social services are required to cooperate with so many departments it seems inevitable that problems will occur. There is a further problem which is that any changes in the social care structure or methods to reduce poverty which are introduced tend to be slow to trickle down to the grass roots, and to those experiencing most poverty where this care is most needed (Penn & Gough, 2002).
The trend in the Government’s approach to social care has changed in recent years to a shift towards empowering individuals involved in the system as opposed to forcing themselves onto people, as many felt was the case in the eighties. This seems to be backed up by the introduction of procedures such as the Assessment Framework (New Statesman, 2007). One of the main strands of government policy has been the introduction of anti-poverty measures. This is why Gordon Brown’s introduction of the Sure Start initiative was widely seen as so important as it made an attempt to put an emphasis on children born into poverty (Kirk, 2003).
One introduction designed to help those on the receiving end of social care intervention was the Common Assessment Framework. A common parental complaint before the introduction of the Assessment Framework was a lack of information from social workers, regarding why they were being targeted and what the process was etc (Cleaver & Walker, 2004). The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) is a standardised approach to conducting an assessment of a child’s individual needs. The Assessment Framework encourages parental involvement in the assessment process, and means that social workers have to compare information. The main point of the Common Assessment Framework is to encourage social workers to talk through the role of the assessment framework with parents. Questions have been raised from certain sections of the social work community about relevance of the assessment framework, with claims being made that some families find it intrusive. However a report conducted by Cleaver and Walker entitled Assessing Children’s Needs and Circumstances suggests an improvement in the overall provision of social care since the Assessment Framework was introduced. Core assessment means there are in detail discussions between parents and social workers (Cleaver & Walker, 2004).
The process of social work intervention is one which works on many levels. There is macro intervention by social workers which takes place in the community as a whole, however more relevant in this case is Micro intervention which is intervention on an individual level to those who are in most need of intervention. Local authorities can initiate care proceedings in the protection of children. These proceedings are initiated in the case of fear of ‘significant harm’. There is confidentiality regarding reporting of abuses which are generally encouraged by the police and social services but which can lead to abuses of the reporting system. A single incident will often trigger a referral if problems have been brewing for a while. Suspected physical abuse is a prevalent issue, and one which social workers need to act most swiftly on, often in conjunction with the police (Cleaver & Walker, 2004). Also if there is suspected alcohol and drug abuse then this is a big problem where the raising of a child is concerned (Penn & Gough, 2002).
The importance of service user rights are paramount for many reasons. Service user rights are largely protected by processes such as the Assessment Framework, where users gain a greater understanding of the processes of the system. Those who report suspected abuses have confidentiality rights in the social work system. As has been mentioned many feel this can lead to abuses, are not helpful in explaining to those on the receiving end of social care interventions why they are being targeted.
In the case of Karen it is clear that members of the social work team should tread carefully. On the one hand the identity of the neighbour who has reported the abuse must be protected. On the other hand Karen needs to be able to understand why she is being targeted, and therefore the various steps of the Assessment Framework need to be talked through with her. If there are problems regarding the children’s safety and hygiene it is vitally important that you liaise with the relevant health services, and work closely in conjunction with them. If your assessment shows neglect then the next step that you would have to taken is a potential court action for care of the children. The ASPIRE model stands for Actualising Social and Personal Identity Resources. The Aspire Model has been designed to harness the potential associated with important subgroup social identities (Haslam, 2003). Application of that model within an organisation is specific to certain goals, and in this case this model can be useful in properly formalising integration between social work and other services.
Discrimination is a problem for all social work departments, and there are many issues relating to discrimination which social work teams have to be very much aware of. It is important that social work should be non-stigmatising and it is also crucial that it should not be discriminatory (Frost, Johnson, Stein & Wallis, 2000). Issues which need to be taken into consideration include poverty – an issue which is highly prevalent in Karen’s case – and also issues of race and gender.
It needs to be taken into account that most users of social care are female. This is firstly because females are often the primary carers of children (Kirk, 2003), however there are other core reasons for this fact. Of the fifty parents surveyed in one study undertaken by Penn and Gough, only three respondents were men. This is because of the fact that men tend to be less likely to want to liaise with social services, due to an overall suspicion of the process, and of receiving this sort of help in general (Penn & Gough, 2002).
Other studies seem to suggest racial minorities are less likely to be knowledgeable of the role that social services can play if they are experiencing problems. Some research suggests that Black and Minority Ethnic parents are less likely to be aware of the possible role that social services can play (Stratham, 2004), and are therefore less likely to seek help (Penn & Gough, 2002). There are certainly problems is members of ethnic minorities are not fully integrated into the community. On top of these other discriminatory issues it is also widely considered that social care as it stands discriminates against the elderly and disabled in society (Guest, 2007).
In Conclusion social work traditionally tends to focus on issues such as emotional support. However the issues which are raised by those who are users of social care tend to be more likely related to financial assistance (Penn & Gough, 2002). Against this backdrop the best that social care workers can do is to ensure that they work together with the relevant authorities, particularly those in health, to try and ensure the best start possible for children, and to root out potential neglect. At the same time they need to ensure they have good relations with those whom they are trying to help, and this is why the Assessment Framework is so important. In this way if final decisions have to be taken then they will do, and it is vital that the intervention process is followed.