Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Anthony DouglasWelcome to the blog of Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive of Cafcass. Anthony will be blogging each month, sharing news from Cafcass and talking about the family justice system at large.

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The needs of children in cases featuring radicalisation

Anthony DouglasEarlier this year, Cafcass published findings from the 54 cases featuring an element of concern about radicalisation we were involved with during a six month period, from July to December 2015. So far this year, we have worked with a similar number of cases. Some of these have involved children being at risk of harm by exposure to extreme online material, and a new and sophisticated form of online grooming of teenagers has been identified.

 

Our cases cover a wide yet still mostly urban geography across England. Radicalisation concerns feature in as many cases in private law and public law. In some private law cases, allegations of radicalising by one parent against the other are forming part of the separation weaponry. These claims are often proving just as hard to substantiate as other more customary types of allegation. In most cases, we find that such allegations are dropped by the parties or are subsequently discounted by the court.

 

Where the concerns are about a child – rather than an adult – being radicalised, these children and their families are generally not previously known to the local authority. This sets them apart from most other cases that feature within Cafcass’ exploitation strategy, which also covers child trafficking and child sexual exploitation (CSE). To assist in understanding the needs of children in these cases we use our CSE assessment tool – because of the grooming element of radicalisation – and standard risk assessment. Risks are assessed in the round as part of an overall balancing exercise and welfare evaluation.

 

Very few children have needed to be removed from their parents as a result of concerns. Where they have been removed, they have either returned home with concerns receding or been placed with relatives who have kept them safe. A small number of teenagers have come into the care system and stayed there. Most children have been supported or monitored in the community. This is sometimes as children in need but more frequently as children falling within the local authority’s Channel Statutory duty or under the Statutory Prevent Duty Guidance.

 

These statutory duties need to be set alongside children’s legislation which emphasises the welfare of the child. Each case requires a balancing exercise to be carried out before taking action, unless the risk is immediate. Primarily this is when there is a duty to take action to prevent parents removing their children to war zones. In some ways, the balancing exercise is the same as we have to carry out in other areas where family and civil law intersect, such as a decision about deportation. We are building up our knowledge of these cases as more come to light and as the forms radicalisation evolve. We will be producing specific materials for staff in the New Year in light of recent cases and of events around the world which have an impact on vulnerable children in the UK.

 

There has not been a case which has attracted the attention of the media since July this year. It shows how a huge issue at a point in time can fade from public view without a new angle. All the while, professional work is ongoing in the background to gain better understanding of the issues.

 

Written by Anthony Douglas at 00:00

"Why I am supporting the power to innovate"

Anthony DouglasThe best social work has always been innovative, trialling new ways of working in advance of policy and legislation catching up. Understanding the damage done to children through neglect and abuse and also their powers of recovery in a therapeutic family or care environment, were innovative in their day. This understanding challenged a ruinous orthodoxy and a conspiracy of silence about how poor the care was for too many vulnerable children at home and often in care. Social work theory and practice also helped to lift the lid on what was happening to vulnerable adults subject to forms of domestic abuse at home or institutional abuse in ‘care’.

 

In today and tomorrow’s world, where the pace of life and the pace of change is ever faster, innovation needs to be continuous to keep up, identifying and responding to contemporary need. Seeking to encourage innovation in children’s social care is a proposed new ‘power to innovate’ clause under the Children and Social Work Bill. If passed, it would allow councils to request exemptions from legislation and statutory guidance with the intention that they can trial innovative practice models to improve services for children. The proposed power to innovate will help to strip back bureaucracy to a safe minimum level, so that the professional time of social workers and social care staff is spent on delivering services and programmes that make a positive difference to children and families in England today.

 

The power to innovate is a crucial requirement if the mainstream social work and social care services of the future are to successfully manage demand, improve quality and provide value for money under ever greater public and political scrutiny. Much of social work in England is world class, and the social work that isn’t, and that must improve, will be helped by an expectation to innovate. Workforces who are engaged by their leaders in constructing solution-focused innovations, can also move mountains and this can stop internal spirals of decline within hard-pressed organisations.

 

Pressures are real and increasing. Innovation is harder in tough times, especially when the job of social work is as over-prescribed as it is now, which makes taking a different approach seem far too risky. The proposed power to innovate clause is not a magic solution and will need safeguards, but it will undoubtedly help to change practice and cultures over time for the better – as innovation always has.

Written by Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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