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Child protection: Concepts, processes and emerging challenges Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham

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Presentation on theme: "Child protection: Concepts, processes and emerging challenges Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham"— Presentation transcript:

1 Child protection: Concepts, processes and emerging challenges Harry Ferguson Professor of Social Work University of Nottingham Twitter: @harr_ferguson ACWA Conference Sydney, 18 th August 2014

2 Beginnings: 1880s, NSPCC / ASPCC

3 New knowledge 1962: Kempe ‘Battered Child Syndrome’ 1970s: child deaths - high media interest 42 Federal and State child abuse inquiries 1997-2011 2009 Council of Australian Governments national framework for protecting children Vital national data on child protection cases Endless shocking stories: celebrity abusers …

4 The vision 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

5 Entering the child’s world Listening Getting physically & emotionally close Being in families’ most private spaces

6 Intimate practice

7 The problem of distance The barriers and blockages that keep professionals at a distance from children and that have to be overcome if appropriate intimacy and enough closeness to keep them safe are to be achieved.


9 Child maltreatment 4 - 16% of children physically abused 1 in 10 neglected or psychologically abused Between 5 & 10% of girls & up to 5 % of boys exposed to penetrative sexual abuse 3 times more to some form of sexual abuse Cases substantiated by official agencies account for a tenth of abuse experienced (Gilbert, et al, 2009) Under-reporting a huge problem (Hooper, 2011; Cawson et al, 2000; Radford et al, 2011; Parton, 2014).

10 Trends Big increases in notified cases Australia: 2000: 100k – 2013: 273k Neglect most common form of maltreatment - Almost half of all cases Emotional, physical & sexual abuse remain significant.

11 CRICOS No. 00213J a university for the world real R Patterns of response: Children in Out-Of-Home Care

12 Profound over-representation of some groups Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders 8 times as likely as non-indigenous children to be receiving CP services UK: strong links between inequalities & Out of Home Care Pattern of repeat removals from same mothers – suffering poverty, addiction, domestic abuse, grieving (Broadhurst et al, 2014).

13 ‘Muscular child protection’ (Featherstone, et al, 2014) rather than humane interventions? Forensic, investigatory approach to struggling families & too little support Scandal/ inquiries = managerial, risk averse systems (Gillingham & Humphreys, 2010) High caseloads / limited time = problem of distance.


15 Transforming to a public health model (Lonne and Burton, 2014; Parton, 2014) Preventative & early intervention system Tacking inequalities at source Better connections to children’s worlds, use of social media….

16 BUT… Knowledge has improved at broad quantitative and statistical levels Surprisingly little research knowledge about direct practice About what practitioners actually do in performing child protection?

17 How is the time that workers do have to spend with children & families used? Learning from researching direct practice: - what needs to change -what is exemplary, needs repeating, development Shadowed practitioners in the car, the home, schools.

18 The problem of (short) distances Or: What happens when you do this?


20 Relating to children Child protection work is incredibly difficult Parental resistance, fear, anger, anxiety System not attuned to child’s pace Workers overwhelmed, lose child focus But it’s about more than ‘the system’… Workers’ use of self, skills, understanding Some stayed at a distance from children.

21 “...This is why I like coming out, so I can play!” … It’s coming! Gotcha! Got cha! ((child laughs)) ((worker laughs)) I could play with her all day; she’s lovely! Aren’t you? I have to go back to the boring office now and do some work! Where’s Mia? Boo! ((laughs)). (Social worker, kneeling on floor beside 15 month old ‘Mia’)

22 Therapeutic alliance SW: Yeah, and you were very young when you had your children, weren’t you? Mary: Yeah, yeah, so I was still in that mentality that all social services are bad and everything, and obviously I had my children taken, you know that, I had to work with social services. … SW: We’re not that bad after all. Mary: No, you know, you, you’re a professional friend, I would say, you know SW: Yeah. Mary: Someone that can help in certain circumstances. SW: It’s nice that you can see that we can help.

23 Intimate practice Not merely ‘engagement’ but immersion with children in the moment Entering their world Communicate across the age range Not only through talk, but play, touch… Embodied hope, skilled at developing parents’ strengths Motivating change.

24 In long-term work, relationships with many families had real depth Some did not want services, or ambivalent Some others clearly valued what was done for them, real therapeutic change.

25 24 minutes into the visit Michelle (mother) spontaneously thanked the SW for her help: Mich: It is just scary, you know, I don’t want anything bad to happen for Jake [7 mths] to be taken away from us again. Well, not again, but after all the hard work everybody done as well, and you, I just don’t want to disappoint you. SW:But you... Mich:We don’t want to disappoint you and we don’t want to disappoint ourselves either. SW:You two have done wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully.

26 Mich: No, because we know that you’ve done a good job, we know that you’ve done a good. Look at him! [referring to Jake] ((laughter)). Yeah, we know that you’ve done a really good job. ((baby cries)) Oh! Yeah, what was I saying? We know that you’ve done, you’ve done an amazing, brilliant job, and if we didn’t have you as a social worker, I don’t think we could have made it. ((baby screeching)) I don’t think we could have made it. SW: You’re underestimating what you two have done, you’ve done everything, absolutely everything, you’ve changed and you’ve done everything that we’ve asked, and that’s why you’ve got your son home and he’s so happy and, and you two seem so much happier.

27 Enabling intimate practice: Time & resources Knowing how to use them Knowledge of & use of self Training / CPD Learning from & celebrating best practice Reflective, nurturing management. Twitter: @harr_ferguson

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