Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Health Visitor Service under threat

A recent article in The Guardian described the long-standing shortage of Health Visitors as becoming “chronic”. Apparently some children are not seen at home until they are four months old.

Health Visitors have always had a very important role in child protection. As the only professionals with routine access to the homes of families with very young children they are uniquely well placed to spot quickly situations in which care is not good enough and to initiate action. And, as health professionals, their “surveillance” of the health and welfare of very young children is widely accepted as appropriate and necessary. Indeed for most families the Health Visitor is a welcome source of support and advice.

Despite longstanding concerns that the Health Visitor service is under-staffed and under-resourced, little or no action appears to have taken place and the Government appears to attach little priority to this issue. The reasons for this are not clear but there is clear evidence of a lack of joined-up policy in this important area. The DCSF and the Department of Health need to address this urgently.

This issue is symptomatic of the wider malaise in the Government’s approach to child protection since the Victoria Climbié inquiry. Lots of new initiatives - such as ContactPoint and the Common Assessment Framework - have brought with them the risk of unacceptable surveillance and invasion of privacy, while a well established and widely acceptable approach to monitoring the health and welfare of very young children has been allowed to wither on the vine.