Addressing child protection
How to decide if a referral to Social Services is appropriate?
Generally, children who are distressed because of a parental alcohol problem do not need to be referred on to child protection services.
A small minority of children will need to be referred on; most will not.
In order to know whether any given child does need to be referred on, further information must be gathered: this is our Duty of Care. This will involve both talking to the child, and maybe gathering information from other sources (eg from other staff in your workplace) and ensuring you are aware of your own organisation’s policy regarding child protection procedures.
How to follow our Duty of Care. How to get some basic information
We need to talk to the child, to clarify some issues. We may need to gather some information from other sources (eg finding out whether a parent is intoxicated when they bring or collect a child from school). Some points to look for when we are trying to help a child to talk and clarify the situation are:
- Ensure that we are having a conversation (not an interrogative interview) with the child, providing space for the child to talk and to tell us about their distress.
- Have and show empathy for the child.
- Obtain information from the child about their emotional state: ‘I’ve noticed that you are quieter than normal (or seem angrier than normal, finding something harder than normal, or look upset) is everything ok? Anything you want to talk about?’
- Then perhaps dig deeper: ‘Why are you feeling so upset? What is going on?’
- Find out about potential neglect: ‘How often are you left on your own by your parents?’
- Find out about potential physical issues and violence: ‘Do your parents ever argue when they are/have been drinking? If so, is there any violence involved? Do you ever get involved or caught up in the violence?’
- Find out about intoxication: Is the parent intoxicated when they come to pick up the child from school - ever? sometimes? frequently?
- Find out about the impact on other areas of their lives, such as schoolwork, or social life, or whether they are caring for others (siblings, or even their parent).
The same criteria as with any other child hold here. All of us need to know the detailed procedures laid down within our Local Authority Child Protection Procedures (see http://www.dfes.gov.uk/acpc), the criteria that our Local Authority operates, and our own organisation’s child protection policies, procedures and guidelines.
Once the issue has been raised, each of us as a generic professional has a Duty of Care to find out what support the child needs to help them. This may involve providing a listening ear for the child, someone speaking to a parent on the child’s behalf, or more intensive child support from a specialist (school counsellor, child psychotherapist, etc).
If we are in any doubt, we must discuss the issue with someone else: a supervisor, a line manager, a departmental head, the head of pastoral care, the head teacher. Confidentiality is important, but confidentiality does not mean secrecy.
Finally, IF the ‘Threshold’ criteria (below) are met, THEN we may need to refer on to child protection services.
1. Some things should always trigger a referral:
2. Sometimes there is no one thing which triggers a referral, but things in combination. These may be things, each of which in isolation would not trigger a referral, but in combination might lead to threshold criteria being met:
- these may be things which DO occur (such as alcohol-related violence between the parents) or things which DO NOT occur (such as neglect).
3. We must always look for ‘good enough parenting’. Are the things which cause ‘alarm bells’ to ring for us different to things which occur with other parents who do not have alcohol problems?
If we decide that a referral is appropriate , we must look at our Local Authority Child Protection procedures http://www.dfes.gov.uk/acpc as to what to do and what the criteria are that they will utilise.
If referral to a child protection agency is needed after talking with the child, we need to discuss and clarify this with the child.
- Referral on to a child protection agency should ideally always be with the child’s agreement.
- Under exceptional circumstances, we might have to go against the child’s wishes, but this should be extremely rare, done after consultation with a supervisor or line manager, and only after informing the child that this is going to be done. With children who have been abused it is important that we do not abuse them even further by disregarding their wishes and thus taking even more control away from them.
- We do have to consider our professional and work context, and what is laid down as good practice in these situations by our professional as well as our employing bodies. Many recommendations from the Victoria Climbie Inquiry are relevant here (see http://www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk).
- But the key consideration for us as professionals must be that whatever we do must be beneficial to the child. That may be by referring them on to a child protection agency, or it may be by creating opportunities for the child (eg by referring them on to a homework club), or by working with or talking to the family or individual family members, or simply by talking to the child. But whatever we do must be the best possible practice that can be done for that child.