Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Nicola Herron (CF 98)

Re: Children & Families Bill

I understand the deadline for any responses to the above is on 23/04/2013. I do not work for a company and am writing this response/recommendations as a parent and as a Probation Officer.

I will address the following sections of the proposed Bill:

· Adoption

· Children in Care

· Aspects of Family Justice System

· Young People with Special Educational Needs

1:1 Aspects of Family Justice System

I would recommend that the Family Courts should move towards becoming

public Courts and operate in the same manner as in any Criminal Court. This

would in turn allow media to be present within the Family Court, just as they are within the Criminal Courts. This would lead to transparent practices based on fact and not the balance of probability and would thus incorporate equality in a fair and open manner.

1:2 With regards to the 'balance of probability', I would wish to see more evidence based fact and regulations to ensure that any hearings within this arena are scrutinised by policies and new national guidelines, which should be based on factual evidence and not hearsay, as is the case today. Far too frequently, Judges appear to give credence to Social Workers who operate within a service, which does not appear to understand what evidence based

practice is and indeed a service who can stand within a Family Court and use

information, which has neither been substantiated or indeed frequently not

previously discussed with the defendants.

1:3 I would also wish to see policies, which clearly demonstrate that children's voices are heard and would recommend that Guardians of the Court should be completely independent of the Local Authority. Children should be allowed to choose their own Legal Representative, which should be entirely separate from the Local Authority.

1:4 In regards to any aspect of risk of serious harm - this criteria should be

clearly evidenced with factual information to substantiate and corroborate

any allegations of which the Local Authority may have made. Perhaps the

most salient point of note would be to ensure that when Local Authorities are

investigating allegations of abuse across whatever category, there should be

more stringent guidelines for workers to abide by. For example, there should

be similar standards to PACE when investigating child abuse. I state this with

particular reference to allegations which are dealt with in isolation by the

Local Authority and not allegations which are jointly investigated by Police

and the Local Authority. If the Local Authority are to act as investigators,

then there really should be improved standards within this area. This could be

easily achieved by ensuring any investigation is undertaken in a fair and

consistent manner by the use of taped interviews and or video evidence. This

would ultimately ensure that workers are following guidelines and procedures

as well as protecting defendants who are accused of abuse. I have a personal

interest in this aspect, having been the accused party of malicious allegations on15/2/2012. I was refused these allegations until 04/04/2012 and was sacked

on the basis of hearsay on 15/02/2012. To date, no one from the Local

Authority has spoken to me about the allegations. They have however used

them in various reports and they have at no time ever been substantiated and

they never will be. I would dearly love the opportunity of sharing this

experience with anyone who could make positive changes in order to ensure

this never happens to another human being again and feel very passionately

about the injustice I was subjected to. I have worked as a Probation Officer

since 2003 and always worked within policies and national guidelines. I

more than anyone understand the difference between hearsay and factual

evidence and what I have seen and witnessed at the hands of inexperienced

workers within the Local Authorities truly saddens me. I now understand

that I am not in a minority but something really needs to change here for the

greater good.

1:5 In regards to what I have witnessed professionally, I have been astounded

by some of the inter-agency meetings I have attended. What I have

observed is an inconsistent approach to both high risk of harm cases and

low risk of harm cases. For example, when managing a sex offender tier 4 case who was released on an extended licence for public protection, I

challenged a Social Worker who had allowed this male to form a new

relationship with a female with two children just 48 hours after his

release. I was not satisfied that his risk had diminished and considered

that he was grooming the two children. When I raised this formerly with

the Social Worker she claimed that she was not concerned with any

proposed risk and had undertaken an assessment on the children and was

satisfied there was no risk. I asked how she came to this conclusion and

she was not only reluctant to discuss this with me but then proceeded to

inform me that the case was closed. The PPU officer was also somewhat

astounded as there were clear risk indicators one of which was his request

to take the young boy out of the country. He clearly could not do this whilst

on licence but attempted to make various complaints suggesting he had

previously been told otherwise. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion,

the Local Authority have little concept of risk management and I believe

that the risk assessment tools used to formulate their assessments are far

outdated by tools such as EOASYs. One standard across the board

assessment framework which simplifies their existing tools would do the

job far better than the complex tools they use now. I understand there

are different aspects for consideration when dealing with adults and

children, but a more uniformed approach would resolve such issues. It

would also ensure that when young adolescent offenders are transferred

to Probation that risk assessments are more easily accessible. To me

there seems to be a massive gap between the concept of risk assessment

between the Local Authority and other agencies like Probation and Youth

Offending Services. I think the key here is evidence based practice,

factual information and sourcing and verifying that information. You

cannot write in any Probation Report information which is false or indeed

misleading. Furthermore, you state your sources and you identify what is

fact and what is professional opinion. You do not ever make any diagnosis

of any individual outside of your remit and should you place any bias in any

report, you would be rightly hung out to dry by any Court of Law.

Furthermore, it is an offence to do any such thing under the Criminal

Justice Act 2003 and there are stringent guidelines which have to be

adhered to. For the most part, this is monitored by the assessment tool

used and then via robust line management. Probation policy therefore

ensures accountability and offers a transparency which protects both the

staff and the service user.

1:6 Finally, there should be adherence to the various principles of the Human Rights Act and no person should be deemed guilty until proven innocent, which is the case within this arena today. It should not be down to any individual to prove their innocence, it should be down to the Local Authority to provide substantial evidence and undertake a fair and proper investigation which does not breach the rights of individuals. It is simply not acceptable

for any society to consider a person guilty until proven innocent and such

practice breaches many statutes.

2:1 Adoption

Any child being adopted by the Local Authority should be adopted as a last

resort. It is not the case today that children are adopted as a last resort, as there appears to be some push towards government targets, which generate vast profits when children are adopted. Far to frequently, children are adopted into families and separated from their siblings. This is not acceptable and

traumatic for any child to experience. There will be cases whereby adoption

and or removal from the family are a necessity, but should this be the case, then every effort should be made for siblings to remain together and or with other suitable family members. It should not be the case that children are separated to meet the needs of prospective new parents. Moreover, adoptive parents should be more responsive towards the need of children to be placed together with siblings and if this is not the case, then perhaps adoptive

parents should come under more scrutiny. Adoption should be centred

specifically around the child's individual needs and more stringent criteria is

needed to ensure that children are removed with valid reasons and not reasons

which have never been substantiated.

3:1 Children in Care

If children are placed into care by any Local Authority when there are

sufficient grounds and evidence which substantiates abuse, great

emphasis and consideration should be given to their individual needs.

Residential Units should be run by qualified Social Workers and not

agency staff who have no training or experience of dealing with

challenging behaviour. More stringent regulations should ensure that any

staff member is sufficiently qualified to manage challenging behaviour.

Children's homes should ensure that all staff are qualified workers and

perhaps more stringent vetting needs to be in place to ensure the welfare

of any child within the care setting.

4:1 Young People with Special Educational Needs

Every Local Authority should ensure that any child with special educational

needs are addressed as a priority. For example, Dyslexia screening should be routinely offered at the onset of primary education. If any parent raises

concern around any specific learning needs, Local Authorities should

have provisions available to address and implement assessments. Parents

on low income should be offered financial assistance with any such

assessments. The individual needs of children with specific issues appear

to have been lost in the ether with the formation of academies and have

predominantly and frequently been refused when there are cost implications. It is important to address such issues at an early stage in order to ensure that

all children receive additional support in order to facilitate a more

positive learning experience for the child. This would also promote anti-

discriminatory practice and would ensure that every child was treated

fairly. This is not the case today and I have a child who was recently

diagnosed with dyslexia. It took me just 8 years to get this assessment and

this is far from satisfactory. My daughter is aged 14.

April 2013

Prepared 24th April 2013