New report calls for transformative change to child services

  • Date

    Tue 27 Jun 23

A mother hugging her son

Creating a social security system that guarantees the essentials in life, regulating for-profit children’s homes, and extending peer-parent support are among a list of recommendations researchers believe could help to eradicate the "toxic culture" of England’s Child Protection Services.

The call comes from the team behind Human Rights Local, a project of Essex Human Rights Centre to make human rights locally relevant in the UK.

The report argues that systemic and transformative change is needed to a child protection system that critics warn has led to both children and parents feeling like they are “abandoned and alone”.

The team previously submitted evidence to the United Nations outlining how the child protection service is based on a policy of risk aversion, which has led to harsh interventions from social workers that are disproportionately affecting families in poverty.

This has contributed to a type of prejudice and stereotyping against families in poverty, which can amount to discrimination based on socio-economic status.

In a new report, researchers Dr Koldo Casla and Lyle Barker are calling on the government to enact specific legislation and policy reforms, along with introducing several measures to mitigate the devastating impact of parents and children being separated by social services.

Key to this would be abandoning the existing letterbox system, which typically limits birth parents to sending just a couple of letters to their children every year.

Researchers believe an updated system is needed to take advantage of modern-day technology and increase contact between separated families.

This would aid the reintegration process, a desirable objective for public authorities to pursue under International Human Rights Law.

The Human Rights Local team are also calling for the introduction of counselling for both parents and children who have no choice but to be separated.

The report is based on law and policy desk research, data analysis, and interviews and focus groups with a total of 33 people (28 of them female), including parents, social workers and young adults.

Interviews with families which have experienced separation have revealed the long-lasting trauma it has had on them.

Other recommendations include:

  • Regulating and monitoring for-profit children’s homes
  • Opening all family courts up to journalists and bloggers to allow for greater transparency
  • Exploring parent-to-parent advocacy schemes to help social work departments
  • Ensure all families have access to adequate levels of social security benefits to allow them to have a basic standard of living
  • Bringing the ban over unregulated accommodation for 16 to 18-year-olds into practice

Dr Koldo Casla, Human Rights Local project lead, said: “The report shows that families in poverty in England can be subjected to harsh interventions that are discriminatory and driven by the excessive risk-aversion of the child protection system, which is inconsistent and fails to fully consider the harm done by removing children into care or contested closed adoptions.

“Measures of austerity, cuts to child protection services, and privatisation of child protection services have all contributed to families being unable to receive the assistance they require, which in turn has trapped and pulled them into poverty. “

All of this compromises the economic, social and cultural rights of families in poverty, including the right to protection and assistance to the family of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed and ratified by the UK and by 170 more countries.”

Earlier this year, Human Rights Local and the anti-poverty NGO ATD Fourth World jointly submitted evidence to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the UK’s child protection services as part of the Committee’s review, which is taking place in 2023-24.