Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660-664)|
17 DECEMBER 2008
Q660 Mr Chaytor: Is the issue of
confidentiality of medical records a major blockage in the exchange
Dr Proops: It is much less so
now than it used to be, and the guidance that we have is clear.
The culture change is beginning to happen and we just need to
keep pressing on with it. There is far more clarity about how
child protection is everyone's business, how the risk to the child
is important and that at times that will have to supersede confidentiality
with regard to the parent. We are not yet there, and there are
lots of places to go, but it is far better than it was.
Q661 Mr Chaytor: With regard to the
choice between keeping the child within the family and taking
the child away, it always strikes me as an amazing paradox that
there are many capable families who have children with special
needs or serious disabilities who are desperate to get respite
care. They want the state to be more interventionist and to give
them a break and take their child away for a period of time. The
converse is that we have large numbers of completely dysfunctional
families who have fought tooth and nail to keep their kids within
the family. Is that because the conventional way of looking at
this is that either you keep your child or the state takes the
child away from you? Is that why so many dysfunctional families
are so resistant to intervention by social services and is not
the concept of respite, as a point on a continuum between the
child staying at home and being moved into permanent residential
care, a way of cracking the problem?
Professor Masson: That does happen.
The key thing about the families whose children come into the
care system compulsorily is a resistance to working with children's
social care. They may have respite at a point. There may be a
section 20 admission, which is intended to be temporary.
Q662 Mr Chaytor: Is the word "respite"
used with dysfunctional families?
Professor Masson: I would not
know whether that word was actually used, or was understood, but
I would expect there to be a partnership agreement for temporary
section 20. That is how I would see it at as a lawyer and how
I have seen it discussed with parents. However, then there is
an expectation that the parents will maintain contact and do X,
Y and Z, and there is often a dropping off from the parents for
a variety of reasonsother problems that perhaps have not
been identified, or they have not disclosed.
Q663 Paul Holmes: The Local Authority
initiating care proceedings used to pay £150 to the courts,
but the actual cost to the Government was over £4,000, or
£35 million per year, so they have given £40 million
to Local Authorities and said, "You pay it," and there
seems to have been a worrying drop in the number of court proceedings
being initiated. Is that true? Is it a problem?
Professor Masson: There has been
a drop in care proceedings and I have seen figures from the Family
Justice Council. I am not clear that that is linked to finance,
because one thing we know as legal researchers is that when you
introduce a new process, there is always a drop-off in the use
of the process, because it is more complicated, people do not
understand it and they want to see how the land lies. The decline
in proceedings in the past six months is much more likely to be
related to the introduction of the public law outline than the
fees. Having said that, the fees will have a longer-term impact.
We do not know how the Government will compensate Local Authorities
in the future in relation to this. We know that it is not ring-fenced
money and that the way in which the money was allocated between
Local Authorities did not bear any resemblance to the number of
proceedings that Local Authorities had brought. It was related
to the size of the care population, and that is only partially
linked to the number of proceedings brought. The size of the care
population is historic and is about outflows, not about how many
proceedings you take. The Government simply did not have the figures
and they still do not have accurate figures for the number of
sets of proceedings brought by each local authority, so they do
not have a way of divvying up the money appropriately. That is
not terribly helpful. It also gives a message, and alongside the
Public Law Outline (PLO) are a whole series of messages from the
Ministry of Justice and, to a lesser extent, from the Department
for Children, Schools and Families that they do not want too many
proceedings to be brought. Part of this shift was intended to
discourage Local Authorities from bringing proceedings. I find
it difficult to understand why we should charge Local Authorities
for bringing care proceedings when we would not dream of charging
the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecuting people. I cannot
see the logic in saying that there is a special funding regime
for protecting children, which is part of social protection, when
there is not a special funding regime for criminal proceedings.
Henrietta Heawood: I totally agree
with all that. We took a motion to the British Association of
Social Workers annual general meeting in April about the increase
in fees for care proceedings because we were so worried that it
was sending quite the wrong message to Local Authorities.
Q664 Chairman: If our inquiry report
should include a particular item that you think is important,
what is it? Is there something that would make it a second or
third-rate report if it were omitted?
Dr Proops: A key factor is to
concentrate on the evidence base behind a number of the interventions
that one needs, which is an evidence base that covers health and
social care. We need to try to encourage the two, at the top level,
both on a research and a delivery basis, to work even closer together.
Professor Masson: Research is
very important. In the 1990s, after the Children Act was implemented,
the Department of Health had a substantial research programme
which looked at child protection and social care issues. Since
our move to the DCSF there has not been that concerted putting
together of a programme that looks across the piece. We have put
children's education in with their social care, but we have taken
children's health away. So we have that other barrier. The barrier
is also with the Ministry of Justice and how the legal proceedings
fit in. We need to have much more wide-ranging research programmes,
not only on outcomes issues, but on how these processes are operating.
We cannot assume that child protection processes are operating
in the same way now as in the 1990s, particularly with all the
changes there have been. Drugs are a much bigger issue than they
were in the 1980s and 1990s.
Henrietta Heawood: I agree with
that. From the point of view of the social workers on the ground,
the message we would like to go back is that social workers need
to be supported to do their difficult task and not constantly
criticised. Support takes various forms. We would like greater
resources to help them and more social workers. Even when teams
are fully staffed they can be too small to cope with the demands
of the work. Partly because of what Judith is saying, more and
more need is being identified. There is greater awareness of the
impact of domestic violence and of drugs. There have been changes
in that we have to do things where before things were not noticed
so much. We would like social workers to be freed up to
do the jobs that they are supposed to do and not be stuck to a
computer 80% of the time.
Chairman: Thank you. This has been very
valuable advice. We should be grateful if you could keep in touch
with the Committee as we write our report and continue to gather
the last bits of evidence. Thank you for your time.