Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Parents Against Injustice (PAIN)

  Please accept the following submission which is based on the experience gained in our work for PAIN—Parents Against Injustice ( which for over 20 years has offered advice and support to parents and carers who have been falsely accused of abusing children in their care.

  From our experience as advocates for families involved in public law proceedings and beyond, we agree that outcomes can be improved through the four main principles behind the Bill namely:

    —  Good corporate parenting.

    —  Improving stability.

    —  Listening to children in care.

    —  Change in culture.

  We believe though that more emphasis needs to be placed on certain aspects of these principles to ensure that high quality care and support is given to children and young people in care.


  1.  For corporate parenting to work effectively there needs to be a substantial improvement in transparency within care planning and its operational base. Our feedback from many local councillors seeking to ensure quality care within corporate parenthood is that officials within social services can often be obstructive as well as patronising when asked questions or information is sought on behalf of birth families and friends of children in care. The prevalent attitude that they are the professionals and therefore know what is best for children in care is a barrier to effective and shared corporate parenting.

  2.  Scrutiny is crucial to the workings of corporate parenthood and complaints should be open to all and not restricted to the immediate parties involved and those that the local authority choose to allow to complain to them. Accountability is needed throughout so that a robust complaints procedure allows criticism to be noted and lessons learnt through the various stages. A migration therefore is needed away from "marking ones own homework" to a rigorous and critical investigation of all complaints by an independent body not associated in any form with local authorities.


  3.  Children in care need far more stability and a cap needs to be made on the number of placements a child goes through whilst in care. Stability would also improve if out of borough placements are reduced as this would not only assist children's ties with their families and friends but also free up social work resources. We are aware of round trips of eight hours or more being made by key social workers to carry out their statutory duties of meeting with children in their care. This also impinges on contact with family and friends where distance, time and costs negatively influence reasonable contact.


  4.  We are aware that children's views are not always sought and, if they are, they can be ignored if they are at variance to the current social work thinking on the child's future.

  5.  Independent advocacy is crucial at this point as we hear of many complaints that CAFCASS do not carry forward the views of children. However, more emphasis is needed on the advocate's "independence" particularly as regards the funding of that role and that person's life experience. We are conscious of the public's lack of trust in the notion of an independent person funded by the local authority looking after those children and where the background of that independent person very often has close ties with the local authority or with the social work profession. To work effectively, advocacy in this setting needs to broaden itself out to completely independent funding and the background of advocates should reflect less on professional care experience and reflect more on the experience of being in caring situations either as care leavers or foster carers.


  6.  There needs to be a substantial culture change for the outcomes of children in care to improve. These changes may also have a collateral effect in reducing the numbers of children entering care thus giving them the potential for better outcomes in their lives if the State continues to be a bad parent.

  7.  The culture change though needs to start earlier in the child protection process so that children only enter care as a last resort. Unfortunately our experience is that often children are wrongly removed from parents and carers where there is no evidence of abuse or where proper support to the family as a system would result in there being no need for the child to enter care. Family group conferences should be supported by all social workers and become the norm and not the result of a postcode lottery. We also find that grandparents are overlooked as carers in many cases and there is a suspicion of age discrimination creeping into assessments by social services.

  8.  The quality of social work needs substantial improvement as we constant encounter examples of a very poor standard of work, be it in assessments, investigations or court preparation. The proposed social work practices may offer the opportunity for a complete change in culture that will also lead the emphasis away from over management. To work effectively though they must be robustly scrutinised not by the usual professional peers but by "the community" either in a model similar to school governors or a completely new model that will help to improve public confidence in this area.

January 2008

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