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Child Protection – Rights, Research and Policy

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1 Child Protection – Rights, Research and Policy
Anne Smith, NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professor, University of Otago, NZ

2 Underlying themes Moral imperative of children’s rights to make a difference in children’s lives; The role that research and researchers can play in promoting reforms to enhance children’s rights; The importance of relationships between researchers, advocates and policy-makers.

3 A field fraught with problems
Child protection services (in Australia and NZ are) “demoralised, investigation-driven bureaucracies”; Trawling through low income families leaving immense damage; State’s coercive power causes further harm rather than protects. (Prof Dorothy Scott, 2006)

4 UNCRC Relevant Articles
Protection from all physical and mental violence (19) Standard of living adequate for development (27) Opportunity to have a say and be heard (12/13) Special protection for children deprived of families (20) Best interests of the child (3) Also articles 2, 6, 24, 29,

5 Worrying Statistics (PHA Report)
Decline in child well-being indicators since 70s; Child injuries, pneumonia, whooping cough, rheumatic fever and child maltreatment  Inequality, single parenthood  Investment in children 

6 Other Statistics 3rd highest rate of child maltreatment in OECD (2003)
Increasing rates of abuse and neglect (from 44,408 in 2006 to 55, 482 in 2010) 46% family/whānau care, 36% with CYF caregivers, 15% CYFS bednight or caregiver homes 51.6% children in care are Māori 1 in 4 children living in poverty Seventh highest rate of poverty in OECD

7 More Bad News for NZ from UNICEF Report 2013
Child Health and Safety (24th out of 35) UK 23rd Material Well-Being (21st) UK 16th Child Homicide (27th) UK 14th Immunization (24th) UK 18th NEET scores (33rd) UK 28th

8 Good News New Zealand ranks 4th out of 33 countries for educational achievement in reading, maths, science and literacy (UK is 14th); [But long tail of underachievement especially in low income areas and for Māori and Pasifika].

9 UN CRC Concluding Observations
“The Committee remains alarmed at the high prevalence of abuse and neglect of children in the family and at the lack of a comprehensive nation wide strategy in this regard” (UNCRC Concluding Observations, 2011, para 34).

10 Policy Context CYPF Act 1989 (positive framework)
Radical economic restructuring (Rogernomics or Thatcherism); Mother of all budgets 1990 Reduction to benefits, decline of collective bargaining Children and families bear the brunt of economic changes (especially Māori and Pasifika)

11 Philosophy of CYPF Act “..wherever possible, a child’s or young person’s family, whanau, hapu, iwi or family group should participate in the making of decisions affecting that child or young persons, and accordingly that, wherever possible, regard should be had to the views of that family, whanau, hapu, iwi, and family group” (CYPF Act, 1989, 5a).

12 CP Process in NZ Notification (toll free Call Centre);
Intake, assessment, investigation; Family Group Conference, no further action, or informal whānau agreement; FGC – information-sharing, deliberation by family, reaching an agreement with SW; If no agreement goes to Family Court.

13 Views on FGCs In Favour Innovative, family empowerment
Avoidance state power Widely adopted throughout world Against ‘New Right’ fiscally driven Families lack social capital and resources Lack of focus on children’s rights A lot of countries have two tiers of staff in ECE – nursery nurses and nursery teachers and we were saying 100% teachers.

14 Childhood Studies/Rights Perspective
Children hidden because of focus on family; Children constructed as dependents and “becomings”– masking individuality and agency; Children often don’t attend FGCs; No provision for a child advocate (except if it gets to court).

15 Munro Report UK “Children and young people are a key source of information about their lives and the impact any problems are having on them in the specific culture and values of their family. It is therefore puzzling that the evidence shows that children are not being adequately included in child protection work” (UK Munro Review of Child Protection, 2012, p.25

16 Families – Helping them cope
Most children want to be with their families; The state an ineffective parent; Economic and social context of families - housing, poverty, mental health, unemployment; In NZ lack of balance family autonomy and child protection; Intensive intervention plus strong universal services and additional funding for some children needed (especially ECE).

17 Developments since 2008 Shocking cases of Child Abuse (aftermath of deaths of Kahui twins and Nia Glassie) Expert Forum on Child Abuse 2009 Green Paper 2011 White Paper 2012 and Children’s Action Plan 2013 PM’s challenge to public service 2012 “supporting vulnerable children” and “reducing the number of assaults on children”

18 Green Paper on Vulnerable Children 2011
Written by an “independent expert” Focus on vulnerable children – at risk because of abuse, neglect, disability, not doing well (15%); Dominant themes in submissions, criticised:- Narrow definitions Focusing on deficits Absence of children’s rights focus Surveillance of families over support

19 Childhood Studies Lens on Risk Discourse
Discourses of concern, risk and vulnerability …”can lead to a very partial and distorted concern – to protect a child from abuse at virtually any cost. This renders invisible all other concern about other ‘needs’ the child may have (such as access to information) and, indeed, about their fundamental human rights” (Stainton-Rogers, 2004, p. 131)

20 Outcomes of Risk/Deficit Discourse
Creation of a climate of fear Loss of privacy Restriction of children’s play Suppression of affectionate contact Deskilling children, undermine self-efficacy and resilience Diversion of attention from serious risks (Kennedy, 2010; Boothby et al, 2012)

21 White Paper 2012 Compulsory child abuse notifications by agencies
Child Protect telephone line Vulnerable Children Information System New Risk Predictor tool Children’s Teams of community professionals Evidence-base for interventions

22 Critique of WP Narrow focus, tweaking current systems
Lack of attention to primary prevention Lack of focus on Māori Lack of attention to poverty/unemployment Few details of implementation Lack of new funding TOTAL ABSENCE OF MENTION OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

23 Research Evidence and Policy
Research Vacuum on Child Protection Welfare rather than surveillance works Social workers overwhelmed by investigatory functions Social workers – heavy caseloads, lack of training, lack of rights focus Early investment cost effective

24 Research on State Care Importance of high quality alternative care;
Significance of relationships foster carers and child protection workers; Lack of support for carers (especially kinship); Health and education issues for children unattended to.

25 Dunedin Study Qualitative study of children in kinship or foster care. Children did not know about: why they were in care; their birth families; role of professionals in their lives; processes (such as Family Group Conferences). (Smith, Gollop & Taylor, 2000)

26 Nicola Atwool study (2010) – the quality of caregiving environment
Children’s views of: What is good or bad about being in care? Social workers; Listening and consultation; Education.

27 What did the studies show?
Most children profoundly affected by separation and not all were in caring stable environments; Huge variation in children’s adjustment to their placement; Much more attention needed to be focused on appropriate placements, increased engagement of social workers, and children’s involvement.

28 Atwool “They [children] wanted to be provided with information and listened to by adults prepared to act on what they have heard.. Children very clearly said that adults do not listen, but despite this they wanted the adults they lived with and trusted to be the ones with the most say about day-to-day decisions that affect them … They did not want strangers making decisions about them” (Atwool, 2010, p. 53).

29 Questions about the ‘Evidence-Base’
Government wants to fund those programmes that make a difference; Withdrawal of funding from existing services to fund governments’s new proposals; Assessments, validity of tools; short-term vs long-term; Negative effects of regimes of assessment.

30 Swampy Lowlands In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high hard ground, where practitioners can make use of research-based theory and techniques, and there is a swampy lowland where the situations are confusing ‘messes’ incapable of technical solution. The difficulty is that the problems of the high ground, however great their technical interest, are often relatively unimportant to clients in the larger society while in the swamp are the problems of greatest human concern. (Schon, 1983, cited by Scott, 2006, p. 18):

31 Conclusions Alarming statistics on child abuse and children’ s health;
Family empowerment model needs overhaul; Fiscal restraint means minimal progress; Children should be treated as social actors, be listened to, provided with supportive responsive framework; Way forward a public health model with empirical base.


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