Essay paper on Child Protection

Anglo-Saxon society has traditionally entrusted parents with the responsibility of bringing up their children. Parents, under such societal traditions, are required to look after the physical, emotional and mental needs of their children, provide them with a warm and comfortable family atmosphere, educate them to the best of their ability, and ready them for future adult responsibilities.* Birchall The overwhelming majority of people in the UK try to follow these tenets to the best of their abilities. Social changes like the increased incidence of divorces, live-in relationships, and single parenting, the social and economic structure of UK society, have not affected basic child rearing responsibilities. Modern day parents remain as committed to their children as their predecessors.

Whilst the overwhelming majority of members of British society think of children as precious, both in the individual and in the collective context, some parents exhibit significantly deviant behaviour and subject their children to neglect and various forms of mental and physical abuse. *Arthurs Children are also vulnerable to physical and other forms of abuse outside their domestic environments for a variety of reasons.

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The social services infrastructure of the UK, which came into being as an integral component of the welfare state after the closure of the Second World War, has always emphasised the need to safeguard and protect children. Policy makers of different governments, both conservative and labour, have consistently made efforts to bring about laws and policies for the safeguarding of children, adolescents and vulnerable young adults. The of the country also provides high priority to protecting children from different forms of abuse. Brandon

A significant number of children in the country, despite the presence of a plethora of protective laws and policies and the existence of a huge, nationwide, protective social service infrastructure, are subjected to various degrees of emotional, mental and physical abuse.CReighton Incidents of child abuse and death continue to regularly be reported in the national media. One such episode, which ended in the tragic death of 8 year old Victoria Climbie in 2000, led to the institution of The Laming Commission and to significant changes in social welfare policy. *

The formulation and implementation of the Every Child Matters (ECM) programme, which constitutes the overarching structure for child care in the country, places immense emphasis of the safety and security of children.*

The countrys social care policies and social services infrastructure contain specific policies and processes for the identification of children at risk, followed by mandatory need assessment, and the provisioning of adequate security to them through planned interventions. The continuance of physical abuse against children, some episodes of which lead to substantial physical injury and even death, is a cause of intense distress to the people and policy makers of the country. Much of media debate and discussion on the issue assigns the responsibility for such continued violence against children, despite the existence of , very squarely, on inadequate managerial leadership and decision making skills at various levels of the social services and social work infrastructure, as well as in other public services like health, education and policing. Learning Lessons Ofsted, Lord Laming Whilst incidents of violence against children have in the past led to intense criticism of individual social workers and of the social services system, contemporary nationwide soul searching over child safety is bringing up concerns regarding managerial control, leadership and decision making, across the ambit of the concerned public service organisations. Laming

The Serious Cases Review, a national fact finding process that among other things investigates episodes of serious violence against children, has time and again provided details on reasons behind individual child abuse cases, the learning to be taken from such episodes, and the actions needed for the prevention of recurrence of such horrific incidents. U/LL

The continuance of such episodes, despite the presence of extensive preventive machinery and the availability of such significant information has created confusion and concern over the ability of public service organisations to control and reduce child abuse and related deaths. Observers and analysts feel that a number of causes have combined to produce, stagnation, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness in the decision making of public sector agencies, and in their ability to work in cooperation and in collaboration with each other.

This study takes up the investigation of child abuse in the UK, the findings of the serious case reviews, and the learning obtained from such reviews. This is followed by an exploration and analysis of the factors that limit the role of such learning in the actual decision making processes of various public agencies that are associated with and are responsible for the safety of children in the UK.

2. Commentary

Legislation and Public Policy on Child Protection

Abuse against children can occur in numerous different circumstances and across social and economic segments. Children are specifically vulnerable in circumstances or environments that concern family violence, bullying, substance misuse, learning inadequacies, mental health problems, and social and economic difficulties; also when children are unplanned, unwanted, premature or disabled. Vulnerable children may again be open to threats from more than one type of neglect or abuse. CPG

The occurrence or possibility of significant harm provides the trigger for initiation of child safety and protection measures in the UK. The occurrence of significant harm depends upon a range of issues like the extent of abuse, its impact on the child, and the circumstances in which the abuse took or can take place. Whilst even a single traumatic episode may constitute significant harm, the term is more representative of a cumulative pattern of episodes that adversely affect a child. CPG

The Children Act 1989, as well as The Children (Scotland) Act 1995, state that all local authorities must act jointly to safeguard children in need. The Children Act 2004 subsequently introduced a statutory structure for local cooperation for protection of children in England and Wales. All organisations that are responsible for providing services to children, including those that are engaged in education and health care, need to necessarily take steps for safeguarding of children in the discharging of their normal functions. CPG The English, Scottish and Welsh Executives have published detailed guidelines on inter-agency working on protecting children, which are available on their websites. CPG

The Social Services is the lead child protection agency. It is statutorily responsible for making enquiries into all issues concerning child protection and is the for child welfare. The police are also empowered to intervene in all circumstances that could concern the safety of children. Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and Child Protection Committees (CPCs) are responsible for outlining the ways in which relevant organisations in individual local areas must cooperate to provide safety and security to children. CPG

All organisations responsible for providing services to children are required to have clear structures and practices for child protection in place. These include (a) specific lines of accountability for work in child protection, (b) arrangements for suitable checks on new volunteers and staff, (c) procedures for handling of allegations of abuse against volunteers and staff members, (d) suitable programmes for training of staff, (e) a policy for child protection, (f) appropriate procedures for whistle blowing and (g) a culture that encourages the addressing of issues related to safeguarding of children. CPG

Health care professionals who have apprehensions about neglect or abuse should adhere to local child protection procedures and should have access to required support and advice. CPG NHS organisations must have a doctor and nurse with requisite expertise in child protection. Private hospitals also need to compulsorily have child protection policies as, well as named professionals who possess expertise in child protection.

It is also mandatory for all professionals dealing with children, as well as members of the general public, to bring apprehensions or fears about the vulnerability of any child in their domain of knowledge, (who is or could be under physical threat), to the attention of the local social services department.CPG It thereafter becomes mandatory on the social services to take such reference into account, carry out detailed assessments of the needs of the child under threat and plan and implement appropriate interventions. CPG

Serious Case Reviews and their Findings

The social service in the UK has been rocked by instances of child abuse, some of which have led to death. Two year old James Bulgar was brutally murdered by two ten year olds, Thompson and Venables, in 1993. JB The incident, which attracted immense publicity and public outrage and led to the imprisonment of the two perpetrators for many years, increased awareness of the dangers faced by children and young adults and the need to bring in policies and procedures for improving their safety.

The tragic death of 8 year old Victoria Climbie, in 2000, at the hands of her carers, led to the institution of a public inquiry, the severe indictment of social workers for being negligent towards their duties and responsibilities, and to a number of positive developments in the area of child protection. The publication of the Laming Report, in 2002, led to the formulation of the Every Child Matters programme and the enactment of The Children Act 2004.

The death of 17 month old baby P, in 2007, which occurred out of injuries suffered at the hands of his carers, (his mother and her boyfriend), during a period in which he was repeatedly seen by social workers brought home the fact that children continued to be unsafe despite the introduction of legal enactments and policy reforms, and the strengthening of the social services sector. *

The neglect, abuse, or death of a child being a matter of immense national concern, UK public policy calls for the undertaking of serious care reviews in circumstances (a) where a child has been seriously injured or harmed, or has died, and (b) abuse is suspected or known to have been a factor in the occurrence of the incident.

Chapter 8 of the Government Document Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999) states that a LSCB must necessarily carry out a serious case review in all circumstances where a child dies and neglect or abuse is suspected or known to be a factor. Learning All LSCBs are also enjoined to consider the conduct of a serious case review in the following circumstances.

(a) a child sustains a or serious and permanent impairment to health and development through abuse or neglect, (b) a child has been subject to particularly serious sexual abuse, (c) a childs parent has been murdered and a homicide review is being initiated, (d) a child has been killed by a parent with a mental illness, (e) the case gives rise to concerns about inter-agency working to protect children from harm. (Learning, 2008)

The same document defines three specific aims of a serious case review, namely (a) the establishment of whether any lessons about inter-agency working can be learnt from the case, (b) the clear identification of the nature of these lessons, the ways in which such lessons will be acted upon, and the change that can be expected to result from such working, and (c) improvement of inter-agency working and the institution of better safeguards for children.

when a child dies and abuse or neglect are known or suspected to be a factor in the death, local agencies should consider immediately whether there are other children at risk of harm who need safeguarding (and) whether there are any lessons to be learned from the tragedy about the ways in which they work together to safeguard children. (Sinclair & Bullock, 2002)

Serious case reviews, it is stipulated, should be conducted by individuals who are independent of all involved agencies and professionals, and should be submitted within a period of four months of the decision for carrying out the review. LSCBs are obliged to send each completed review for evaluation to Ofsted. The results of the Ofsted evaluation are shared with LSCBs and constitute an integral part of the information used for the yearly performance assessments of local areas. Learning

The Ofsted study of the 50 serious case reviews received by the agency from April 2007 to March 2008 provides significant information on the nature of child abuse, the reasons for such abuse, and the working of different agencies who are entrusted with the responsibility of preventing such abuse. *The study reveals that children aged less than one year formed the largest group of the total surveyed population. This segment, which comprised of 21 children, was followed by the 11 to 15 age segment (14 cases), the 1 to 5 age segment (8 cases) and finally the over 16 segment (6 cases). The majority of these children died from the abuse that was inflicted upon them. In the case of children aged less than one year, the commonest cause of injury or death was physical assault by a parent, or the partner of a parent. Amongst the children and young people in the age group 11 to 16, 9 killed themselves, 3 were murdered by other young persons, and 1 died of anorexia.

The key issues that arose from the evaluation of 50 serious case reviews concerned drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence, mental illness, and learning difficulties or disabilities. In the case of drug and alcohol misuse, reviews found that the concerned agencies did not suitably evaluate and access the risks that could come about from such misuse, particularly in the case of very young babies.

Domestic violence also featured in a number of serious case reviews, often in conjunction with drug and alcohol misuse. Agencies were again found to be inadequate in understanding, accepting and assessing the effect of domestic violence on young children. In some of these cases the history of domestic violence in the family was known to outsiders and police intervention had occurred in the past. Agencies, particularly the police, did not follow policies and procedures, with identified issues including poor levels of police training and inadequate attention to recording and reporting of domestic violence occurrences.

Mental illness came across as an issue of concern in a number of reviews. In many cases the health visitor and the midwife were unaware of the histories of the mental health of the mother, or of the learning difficulties of the father, which otherwise would have influenced their assessments. A number of delays occurred in the assessment and treatment of people in need of assistance from mental health services. A few cases involved issues related both to mental health and to learning disabilities.

The serious case reviews repeatedly point to specific inadequacies on the part of agencies in dealing with child abuse problems. The various agencies were found to be limited in their understanding of basic signs, symptoms and factors concerning child protection risks. Agencies tended to respond reactively to a particular situation rather than by perceiving the situation in the context of the history of the case. Agencies, by themselves, did not have complete details of the involved families or records of their concerns. The agency staff accepted, on a number of occasions, standards of care that in the normal course would not be acceptable by most families. Very little direct contact was established with the children in order to find out their thoughts and feelings about their situations. In many cases professionals tended to be uncertain about the importance of child protection issues, more so in complex and chaotic family environments, and placed inordinate trust on the statements of parents.

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