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Children, Young People and
Families Views and Experiences
of their Involvement in the
Child Protection System in
Scotland
Lynn Kelly and Dr
Sharon Jackson
University of Dundee
Introduction
• This study was underpinned by a commitment to
seeking the participation of children, young people
and their families in the processes of service design
and delivery.
• The rhetoric of service user inclusion is seductive.
However, the rhetoric often obscures the
complexities of the concept and the inherent
difficulties with its operationalisation.
Service user inclusion
• The aetiology of service user inclusion lies within in
competing and contradictory discourses that have
been influenced by differing and overlapping social,
political and historical forces.
• In brief, two major philosophies of participation
dominate:
Service user inclusion (cont.)
• A rights-based activist approach such as for disabled
persons, which locates service user inclusion within a
human rights framework which situates service users as
active, autonomous agents (Hodge, 2005).
• The second is the consumerist discourse which prima
facie appears to allude to ideas of services users as
consumers exercising choice and operating within a
complex mixed economy of service provision.
• However, a more critically informed analysis of this reveals
consumerist discourses to be less focused on individuals and
more focussed on creating economic efficiencies within the
welfare marketplace (Begum, 2006)
However,
• Research has demonstrated that practitioners are
committed to the values that underpin greater
service user participation and, despite a lack of
robust empirical evidence - that client involvement
in service development can inform and ultimately
improve services.
Methods for our study
• The approach taken to this study views service users as active
social agents and competent reporters on their own lives (Lee,
1998; James et al., 1998).
• Qualitative interviews were designed to elicit views about the
research questions while also creating space for participants to
identify issues that they felt were important to them.
• Attempts at random selection was problematic but we did try to
ensure equal distribution across age, disability, gender, ethnicity
and geographical location.
• Informed consent was sought from both parents and children.
• Interviews were recorded and transcribed and subjected to
independent thematic analysis.
• Analytical findings discussed and thematic consensus agreed.
Limits of the method and sample
• The sample was biased and small therefore not
necessarily representative or generalizable to larger
populations.
• As per the research brief, the study did not address
the views of practitioners.
• A more participatory approach to method could
have elicited more feedback from children and
could have involved practitioners in ways that
would have included them. This may have led to a
more meaningful dissemination of the findings.
Sample
6 children were interviewed:
• 4 female and 2 males
• Ages 9-15
12 carers were interviewed:
• 1 grandfather
• 7 mothers
• 4 fathers
Key findings and
recommendations
These will be presented under the following
headings:
• Relationships with professionals
• Early experiences
• Formal meetings
• Understanding the process
• Information needs
• Improving lives
Relationships with professionals
Positive findings:
• Relationships took time to develop.
• Participants described a therapeutic quality to their
relationship.
• Children felt that workers took time to listen to them
Areas to consider:
• Focus on GIRFEC and SHANARI protocols, but no narrative of
what workers were actually doing.
• It seems from the data that what workers are doing is
effective, but we don’t know what this entails.
• Frequent changes of worker were difficult for both children
and parents.
Initial intervention
• Initial stage of statutory intervention is distressing even
when there had been prior involvement.
• Children reported as feeling confused and frightened in the
early stages.
• Parents narratives are emotionally laden: frightened,
overwhelmed, angry and sad.
• Parents felt distressed, embarrassed and ashamed. This is
the same language and emotional repertoires as used by
abused children.
• At worst it could be claimed that this system is designed to
‘shock’ in the first instance but this is replaced by a
supportive approach.
• Time needs to be given to ensure that the nature of the
early intervention is explained and clarified.
Formal meetings
Parents and carers:
• Attendance at case conferences is described as
“unpleasant” and ‘overwhelming’.
• Emotionally demanding. The large numbers of
people present were particularly upsetting.
• Case conference perceived as punitive – like a
court and particularly did not like police officers in
uniform being present.
• Most felt that their social worker had explained the
process but this still did not prepare them for the
emotional aspect of the meeting.
• Other less formal meetings were preferred i.e. core
group meetings and pre-birth meetings.
Formal meetings (cont.)
Children:
• Understood the purpose of these meetings.
• Did not like being taken out of school to attend
meetings.
• Viewed the matter of child protection involvement
as deeply personal, and tried to conceal it.
Areas to consider:
• Case conferences were described as being
controlled by social work and not as multi-
disciplinary with shared decision making.
• We don’t know if the meetings served the needs of
professionals, but they did seem to meet the
needs of the organisations rather than the children
and carers.
Understanding processes
• Children understanding of the process was broadly
consistent with their developmental age and stage.
• Overtime parents begin to make more meaning of
the process – this is due mainly to the intervention
of the workers, but it was not clear what this
entailed.
• Despite agreeing that they were given adequate
information about he case conference, initial shock
impairs parents capacity to comprehend what is
going on.
Interventions
• Parents and children were often confused about the
number of different services and people who came into
their home.
• Home support was seen as helpful but particularly
confusing. Parents reported feeling the service could
be ‘invasive’.
• Parents reported that some home support workers
came into their home with no real explanation of why
they were there. They did not like unannounced visits.
• However, ultimately all parents reported that
interventions made a difference, even if they felt
confused at the beginning.
Case file analysis
• Files consisted of reports from meetings but
included very little in terms of a narrative of the
child’s life.
• Chronologies were often incomplete.
• Emphasis appears to be on completing GIRFEC
SHANARI indicators but the forms did not
adequately speak to case planning, theory or
methods of intervention.
• Files contained high levels of ‘surveillance
information’ i.e. observations about the state of the
home and the food in cupboards. Few attempted to
analyse this information.
Does intervention make a
difference?
The families all considered that professional
intervention had made a difference to their lives and
could articulate positive changes as a consequence
of engagement
“the social worker, she
really bends over
backwards to help us
with the everything she
can. We have had
great support”
“ she was good.
She was always
reading what the
wee ones had
wrote down on
their forms…
She was good”
“I can bounce
things off her, I
can talk about
anything”
Key findings
• Overall, we found social work practice to be good but
could not identify what was actually being done by
workers.
• We could not identify if the structures service the
needs of professionals or service users.
• Extend the study:
• uncover views of professionals
• more involved method to ensure findings become part of
practice
• more diverse sample
• Knowledge exchange - this could be enhanced by
including workers in the next stage of the study. We
need to consider how to best capture best practice
and how to share this across the workforce.
Concluding remarks
• As researchers we are very cautious re amount of generalisation
we can make given the sample is unquestionably biased.
• Previous studies also agree that the skills of the worker are the
most important factor in effecting change. We therefore need to
uncover what these are.
• We are mindful that in the process of conducting this research
the focus was on the experiences of children and families, we did
not interview professionals.
• The findings almost exclusively related to the role of social
services with little commentary about other services. It was
interesting to note the overwhelming perception from those we
interviewed that child protection was a social work business.
.
References
• Christensen, P. and James, A. (eds.) (2000), Research with Children:
Perspectives and Practices, Falmer, Bristol.
• Gallagher, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Engaging with voluntary service users
in social work: literature review 1: context and overview, University of
Edinburgh, Published online at:
http://www.socialwork.ed.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/44224/re
view_1_context_and_overview.pdfHodge, S. (2005). Participation,
discourse and power: a case study in service user involvement. Critical
Social Policy, 25(2), 164-179.
• James, A., Jenks, C. and Prout, A. (1998), Theorizing Childhood.
Cambridge: Polity Press.
• Lee, N. (1998). Towards an immature sociology, Sociological Review,
46(3): 458-481.
• McLaughlin, H. (2008). What’s in a name: “Client”, “patient”,
“customer”, “consumer”, “expert by experience”, “service user” – what’s
next? British Journal of Social Work, 39(6): 1101-1117.

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Children, Young People and Families Views and Experiences of their Involvement in the Child Protection System in Scotland

  • 1. Children, Young People and Families Views and Experiences of their Involvement in the Child Protection System in Scotland Lynn Kelly and Dr Sharon Jackson University of Dundee
  • 2. Introduction • This study was underpinned by a commitment to seeking the participation of children, young people and their families in the processes of service design and delivery. • The rhetoric of service user inclusion is seductive. However, the rhetoric often obscures the complexities of the concept and the inherent difficulties with its operationalisation.
  • 3. Service user inclusion • The aetiology of service user inclusion lies within in competing and contradictory discourses that have been influenced by differing and overlapping social, political and historical forces. • In brief, two major philosophies of participation dominate:
  • 4. Service user inclusion (cont.) • A rights-based activist approach such as for disabled persons, which locates service user inclusion within a human rights framework which situates service users as active, autonomous agents (Hodge, 2005). • The second is the consumerist discourse which prima facie appears to allude to ideas of services users as consumers exercising choice and operating within a complex mixed economy of service provision. • However, a more critically informed analysis of this reveals consumerist discourses to be less focused on individuals and more focussed on creating economic efficiencies within the welfare marketplace (Begum, 2006)
  • 5. However, • Research has demonstrated that practitioners are committed to the values that underpin greater service user participation and, despite a lack of robust empirical evidence - that client involvement in service development can inform and ultimately improve services.
  • 6. Methods for our study • The approach taken to this study views service users as active social agents and competent reporters on their own lives (Lee, 1998; James et al., 1998). • Qualitative interviews were designed to elicit views about the research questions while also creating space for participants to identify issues that they felt were important to them. • Attempts at random selection was problematic but we did try to ensure equal distribution across age, disability, gender, ethnicity and geographical location. • Informed consent was sought from both parents and children. • Interviews were recorded and transcribed and subjected to independent thematic analysis. • Analytical findings discussed and thematic consensus agreed.
  • 7. Limits of the method and sample • The sample was biased and small therefore not necessarily representative or generalizable to larger populations. • As per the research brief, the study did not address the views of practitioners. • A more participatory approach to method could have elicited more feedback from children and could have involved practitioners in ways that would have included them. This may have led to a more meaningful dissemination of the findings.
  • 8. Sample 6 children were interviewed: • 4 female and 2 males • Ages 9-15 12 carers were interviewed: • 1 grandfather • 7 mothers • 4 fathers
  • 9. Key findings and recommendations These will be presented under the following headings: • Relationships with professionals • Early experiences • Formal meetings • Understanding the process • Information needs • Improving lives
  • 10. Relationships with professionals Positive findings: • Relationships took time to develop. • Participants described a therapeutic quality to their relationship. • Children felt that workers took time to listen to them Areas to consider: • Focus on GIRFEC and SHANARI protocols, but no narrative of what workers were actually doing. • It seems from the data that what workers are doing is effective, but we don’t know what this entails. • Frequent changes of worker were difficult for both children and parents.
  • 11. Initial intervention • Initial stage of statutory intervention is distressing even when there had been prior involvement. • Children reported as feeling confused and frightened in the early stages. • Parents narratives are emotionally laden: frightened, overwhelmed, angry and sad. • Parents felt distressed, embarrassed and ashamed. This is the same language and emotional repertoires as used by abused children. • At worst it could be claimed that this system is designed to ‘shock’ in the first instance but this is replaced by a supportive approach. • Time needs to be given to ensure that the nature of the early intervention is explained and clarified.
  • 12. Formal meetings Parents and carers: • Attendance at case conferences is described as “unpleasant” and ‘overwhelming’. • Emotionally demanding. The large numbers of people present were particularly upsetting. • Case conference perceived as punitive – like a court and particularly did not like police officers in uniform being present. • Most felt that their social worker had explained the process but this still did not prepare them for the emotional aspect of the meeting. • Other less formal meetings were preferred i.e. core group meetings and pre-birth meetings.
  • 13. Formal meetings (cont.) Children: • Understood the purpose of these meetings. • Did not like being taken out of school to attend meetings. • Viewed the matter of child protection involvement as deeply personal, and tried to conceal it. Areas to consider: • Case conferences were described as being controlled by social work and not as multi- disciplinary with shared decision making. • We don’t know if the meetings served the needs of professionals, but they did seem to meet the needs of the organisations rather than the children and carers.
  • 14. Understanding processes • Children understanding of the process was broadly consistent with their developmental age and stage. • Overtime parents begin to make more meaning of the process – this is due mainly to the intervention of the workers, but it was not clear what this entailed. • Despite agreeing that they were given adequate information about he case conference, initial shock impairs parents capacity to comprehend what is going on.
  • 15. Interventions • Parents and children were often confused about the number of different services and people who came into their home. • Home support was seen as helpful but particularly confusing. Parents reported feeling the service could be ‘invasive’. • Parents reported that some home support workers came into their home with no real explanation of why they were there. They did not like unannounced visits. • However, ultimately all parents reported that interventions made a difference, even if they felt confused at the beginning.
  • 16. Case file analysis • Files consisted of reports from meetings but included very little in terms of a narrative of the child’s life. • Chronologies were often incomplete. • Emphasis appears to be on completing GIRFEC SHANARI indicators but the forms did not adequately speak to case planning, theory or methods of intervention. • Files contained high levels of ‘surveillance information’ i.e. observations about the state of the home and the food in cupboards. Few attempted to analyse this information.
  • 17. Does intervention make a difference? The families all considered that professional intervention had made a difference to their lives and could articulate positive changes as a consequence of engagement “the social worker, she really bends over backwards to help us with the everything she can. We have had great support” “ she was good. She was always reading what the wee ones had wrote down on their forms… She was good” “I can bounce things off her, I can talk about anything”
  • 18. Key findings • Overall, we found social work practice to be good but could not identify what was actually being done by workers. • We could not identify if the structures service the needs of professionals or service users. • Extend the study: • uncover views of professionals • more involved method to ensure findings become part of practice • more diverse sample • Knowledge exchange - this could be enhanced by including workers in the next stage of the study. We need to consider how to best capture best practice and how to share this across the workforce.
  • 19. Concluding remarks • As researchers we are very cautious re amount of generalisation we can make given the sample is unquestionably biased. • Previous studies also agree that the skills of the worker are the most important factor in effecting change. We therefore need to uncover what these are. • We are mindful that in the process of conducting this research the focus was on the experiences of children and families, we did not interview professionals. • The findings almost exclusively related to the role of social services with little commentary about other services. It was interesting to note the overwhelming perception from those we interviewed that child protection was a social work business. .
  • 20. References • Christensen, P. and James, A. (eds.) (2000), Research with Children: Perspectives and Practices, Falmer, Bristol. • Gallagher, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Engaging with voluntary service users in social work: literature review 1: context and overview, University of Edinburgh, Published online at: http://www.socialwork.ed.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/44224/re view_1_context_and_overview.pdfHodge, S. (2005). Participation, discourse and power: a case study in service user involvement. Critical Social Policy, 25(2), 164-179. • James, A., Jenks, C. and Prout, A. (1998), Theorizing Childhood. Cambridge: Polity Press. • Lee, N. (1998). Towards an immature sociology, Sociological Review, 46(3): 458-481. • McLaughlin, H. (2008). What’s in a name: “Client”, “patient”, “customer”, “consumer”, “expert by experience”, “service user” – what’s next? British Journal of Social Work, 39(6): 1101-1117.