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Towards Intimate Child Protection: Embracing Children and Keeping Them Safe Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham

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Presentation on theme: "Towards Intimate Child Protection: Embracing Children and Keeping Them Safe Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham"— Presentation transcript:

1 Towards Intimate Child Protection: Embracing Children and Keeping Them Safe Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham ACWA, Sydney, 20 th August 2014

2 Focus of the Masterclass What happens when practitioners are face to face with children, families Learning about good practice How children are missed, become invisible (Part 1) How children are engaged with, related to effectively (Part 2).

3 Forgotten experience Huge literature on child protection Little attention given to the detail of what CP profs actually do, where they do it and their experience of doing it Series of crucial questions opens up:

4 What do professionals actually do in performing child protection? Where do they do it? How do they do it – what do they say? How do they act? What is the lived experience of doing child protection – how does it feel? What supports are needed?

5 Core assumptions Keeping children safe requires getting close to them To have authentic, close relationships with children in child protection of the kind where we see, hear and touch the truth of their experience and are able to act on it Intimate child protection practice.

6 On a first visit to a case involving concerns about a mother’s misuse of alcohol and neglect you are the worker and have already spoken to mother, with her best friend for 40 minutes. You gain mother’s consent to see 6 year old ‘Melanie’ alone. Where and how would you relate to Melanie? How long would you want to spend with her?

7 Social worker: ‘[Your] dad is a bit worried about how your mum looks after you…. Do you, do you ever have any, are there any, ever any problems at home with how your mum is looking after you? Melanie: No. SW: Okay. Melanie: She’s looking after us good. SW: Great, okay. I mean does, cos he’s worried that sometimes your mum has a bit of a drink and then gets really drunk.

8 Melanie: No. She doesn’t drink very a lot. Well, the only thing she drinks like lots is energy drinks. SW: Have you got any worries at home? To which the child said no, but then began to talk about someone worrying her They were then interrupted by the child’s mother who knocked & entered to say Melanie’s lunch was ready. The encounter lasted 6 minutes.

9 Stages in relating Introduction, building-rapport, making an agreement, confidentiality etc Clarification of role and methods Working with the child’s feelings, information by reassuring, clarifying Therapeutic containment Endings, consequences.

10 The struggle to get close to children 40 years of child death reports Professionals not getting into the home Or, getting in but not properly moving towards, seeing, hearing or touching children – when in their presence.

11 How can this happen? ‘At times, Daniel appeared to have been “invisible” as a needy child …’ (Daniel Pelka Serious Case Review)

12 On 30 th July 2007 all the children were seen on a planned home visit by the social worker on their own and with Ms A. Peter was in the buggy, alert and smiling but overtired. His ear was sore and slightly inflamed. He had white cream on the top of his head and Ms A thought the infection had improved. Peter’s face was smeared with chocolate and the social worker asked that it be cleaned off. The family friend took him away to do so and he did not reappear before the social worker left. Ms A said she had a GP appointment and mentioned grab marks on Peter. She was worried about being accused of harming him. (Haringey, 2009, p.13)

13 Researching Child Protection Practice Research needed to get as close as possible to practice Shadowed practitioners on home visits, in the car, in schools, family centres Observed & recorded their encounters with service users Only when consent given by all parties.

14 Practice Cycle Preparation Journey Interaction PracticePatterns De-Brief organisation Self

15 “When you are on duty in the morning you have a sort of duty head on.”

16 Getting to the child & family

17 Inside the world of practice “It’s like stepping into another world” Impact of the home, smells, dogs, chaos, hostility, atmospheres… Emotions, senses Need a language to describe these experiences.

18 Patterns of practice 1.Get ‘stuck’, immobilised, lose authority, don’t follow through on seeing child … 2.Move (run!) faster out of it … Automated 3.‘Intimate’, child centred pattern.

19 ‘As soon as I walked in the house I just felt utterly uncomfortable. I don’t know. There were lots of things I didn’t say or do that I think, I think the dirty house just kind of overtook me, to be honest. I’ll have to go back because I don’t believe half of it… I just felt uncomfortable with the house as soon as I went in’. (SW, following a 51 minute home visit)

20 The process of invisibility Limited time / organisational targets – create systemic pressures towards superficial practice Emotional defences – against parental anger, child’s suffering, atmospheres of disgust, menace, sadness...

21 ‘I suggest that another reason why we often hold back from direct work with children about their problems is that the needs of many of the children who come our way seem overwhelming. …To work effectively with children, the first and most fundamental thing we have to know about is the strength of our own feelings about the suffering of children. … But we [professionals] too are only human, and we shall find that our own tolerance level will fluctuate.’ (Clare Winnicott, 1963, Face to Face with Children).

22 Distracted / intimidated by friends Workers flooded by anxiety Sensory overload Personal avoidance, ambivalence about intimacy/closeness Little or no organisational help to make sense of experience Without talk, reflection on feelings, the child stays out of mind So remains invisible …

23 Part 2: Aims Learn from practice where the risks of children becoming invisible were overcome How they were overcome What good, even best practice looks like.

24 Mindful intimate practice Time for thoughtful preparation Support from managers/peers Strategies for parental resistance Spatial awareness Movement Able to get beyond disgust, avoidance Maximising time in children’s lives, rooms to try to understand them.

25 Skilled at communicating – including playing - with children Knowing the places, ‘things’ that make communication effective ‘I prepared a box for such occasions containing a blanket, a cuddly duck from my childhood, some sweets and some paper and pens’ (Student S/W).

26 SW: So I’ll come and see you next week, yeah? Do you know what my job is? And you know [family support worker’s name] that you have as well? I’m like [family support worker], okay, and I’m called a social worker. Yeah? Do you know Tracey Beaker on the telly? Beth:Yeah.

27 SW: She’s a social worker, and what my job is, I have to make sure that you are, and these are what I have to do: safe, I’ve got to make sure you’re happy, and if you’re not, I have to do things to make sure that you are safe and you’re happy. And I am Beth’s social worker, and who else’s social worker? Beth: Edward’s.

28 SW: Edward’s, yeah. And some mummies and daddies, or aunties and uncles, sometimes they find it really hard to be a mummy, yeah? Sometimes it’s really hard to be a mummy, and sometimes they need some extra help, yeah? So that’s what [family support worker] has been doing, isn’t it? Yeah? So sometimes you’ll see me talking to mum, sometimes you’ll see me talking to John, because he comes to your house, and I need to see you at school. And I think I need to Beth, and where you go to school, that’s when I talk to you about how you’re feeling and if there’s any jobs, sometimes you can give me lots of jobs you want me to do. So it might be you want me, one job I’m going to do is try and get you new curtains. So that might be a job we could do, is to get your curtains, because it wasn’t very nice to have them curtains pulled down, so that might be a job that we could do together and get some help with, okay? So that’s what my job is. So, let’s see if you’ve really listened. What’s my job?

29 Beth: To make me happy, happy & safe. SW: Good girl, wow, how clever are you! John: You’re clever, aren’t you? SW: Well done, Beth. I didn’t think you would remember all of that. I thought you were just being nice and saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But really you listened, didn’t you? Are you a very clever girl! Very clever. And what about if I come and see you at school? Let me see when I’m coming to see you at school.

30 Self-awareness of own attachment style, use of touch Charismatic use of self to bring inspiration & comfort to the (suffering) child Ability to bear the child’s suffering.

31 An ethic of care Every contact with children can have a positive therapeutic impact in promoting safety and helping to heal trauma, build resilience.

32 Practical / ethical dilemma: 1. Where is the best place to see children on their own?

33 Beware of dynamics of power in domestic spaces Children can be too fearful, inhibited to speak openly Practitioners can become captives to resentful parents Best for children also to be seen in school, office, clinic, family centre... …car

34 Being intimate & clear about what it is ethical to do: 2. Is it okay to get close to, touch children? What stops such closeness?

35 Reasons for avoiding closeness/ touch Organisational - “I don’t have time” Fear – “I’m afraid of being accused of child sexual abuse” Culture – “I don’t touch because I’m English” Disgust – “I don’t like snotty children” Personality – “I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person.”

36 Keeping the child in mind Organisational – Enough time, co- working, help with planning Knowledge – communication skills… Personal – worker’s own attachment style & ability to get close to children Emotional – Fear, bearing suffering Organisational – Quality support.

37 Supervision / workplace cultures that provide space to think, process feelings, to know your experiences ‘Emotionally informed thinking spaces’ (Ruch, 2007) Recognition of complexity & the good practice achieved everyday.

38 @harr_ferguson ham.ac.uk Ferguson, H. (2014), What social workers do in performing child protection work: evidence from research into face- to-face practice, Child and Family Social Work, doi: /cfs


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