Wednesday, 7 November 2012

MPs say: “(Care) thresholds need to be lower.”

BBC News takes a different perspective on the Education Select Committee’s report. The focus here is on the issue of some children not being taken into care, when it would be in their best interests to be removed from their birth families.

The Committee’s report states that thresholds for care proceedings are not set too low but too high:

'… there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that thresholds need to be lower. Witnesses from the courts found little or no evidence of inappropriate removal of children and many instances where earlier removal would have been appropriate…. This is backed by academic research: Professor Ward noted that "there is substantial evidence that many children remain for too long with or are returned to abusive and neglectful families with insufficient support".' [Paragraph 205]

In support of this the report cites research by Professor Elaine Farmer at the Centre for Family Policy and Child Welfare at Bristol University. This found that in almost half the cases where children returned home from care, particularly over the age of 10, they were neglected or abused during the return [1].

These observations are, of course, a welcome counterblast to the likes of Christopher Booker (see ) who implausibly argue that social workers and the courts are trigger happy.

But much more analysis is required of cases where the decision-making process fails a child in this way. My own sense is that babies and very young children are particularly prone to be left in neglectful and abusive situations, in which huge amounts of long-term damage occur, while professionals give a new mum and dad a second, third and fourth chance to get their act together. The long-term consequences of emotional neglect alone can be momentous (see

Very careful thought needs to go into making it easier to intervene earlier when there may be an absence of tangible evidence of the current impact of maltreatment, but where there is a justifiable prognosis of the likelihood of significant harm in the medium-to-long-term.

[1] Farmer, E R G (2009). "Reunification with birth families", in Schofield, G and Simmonds, J (Eds.) The child placement handbook. London, BAAF.