To what extent is race and ethnicity considered in the assessment process of child protection in the uk
Challenges of multi-agency information sharing in safeguarding children: Exploring the impact of race and ethnicity in the child protection system in the U.K.
Establishing multi-nation free trade blocks and regional turmoil in the Middle East and portions of Africa have resulted in significant cross-border migration (Laird, S. E. & Tedam, P. (2019). As a result of the globalisation of the world, many children from diverse ethnic backgrounds with different cultural values are seen passing through the child protection system of the U.K. The continued disproportionate representation of ethnic minority children in the United Kingdom’s welfare systems, as well as numerous inquiries into child protection tragic deaths, reveal gaps in social work theory and practice when engaging with families’ based on race, cultural, and religious diversity (Laird, S. E. & Tedam, P. (2019)Scholars the U.K. have attributed this in part to a lack of understanding among practitioners when working with people in an in cross-cultural contexts (Laird, 2008; Williams & Johnson, 2010; Sawrikar & Katz, 2014; Sue et al.,2016). Since Lord Laming’s public investigation in 2000, much has been written about the circumstances surrounding the murder of an eight-year-old Ivorian girl called Victoria Climbié in London by her guardians. The probe focused primarily on organisational policies, processes, and human resources and offered several suggestions in this regard (Laming, 2003). Issues concerning race, culture, spiritual beliefs, language barriers, extended family roles, immigration status, regular movement of family members across international borders, and the matching of social workers to the families they work with were highlighted in the report by lord lamming. Nonetheless, these issues had a considerable influence on practice at the time. As the research of Serious Case Reviews continues to happen after any tragic child death still indicates, they continue to have significant repercussions for social work with minority ethnic families (Laird, S. E. & Tedam, P., 2019).
The purpose of this study is to scrutinize the effects of race and ethnicity on child protection services in the United Kingdom. It is conceivable that professional cultural competency will aid in drawing a clear boundary between cultural values and safeguarding difficulties amongst practitioners. Furthermore, the project will investigate how multi-agency cooperation and information sharing might be more successful in preventing children from minority ethnic groups from slipping through the net or becoming invisible in the United Kingdom’s child protection system.
Safeguarding and child protection issues have become one of the most controversial issues in the U.K. today. Child protection can be described as the “process of protecting individual children recognised as either suffering from, or at danger of suffering from, serious harm as a result of abuse or neglect” (H.M. Government 2006, p. 27). Safeguarding is more accurately understood as the practice of protecting children from abuse or abandonment by forestalling harm to their health and growth and guaranteeing they grow in environments consistent with the delivery of adequate care that enables them have the best possible life opportunities to reach adulthood (H.M. Government 2006, p. 27). Children and young people have been represented as a vulnerable social and political category since society is obligated to care for them and protect their interests, yet they are incapable of doing so successfully (Levine, Morton and O’Reilly, 2020).
To address this issue, H.M. Government (2018), guidance for safeguarding children, states that while parents and caregivers bear primary responsibility for their children’s care, city councils in close cooperation with multi-agency organisations and agencies have detailed and specific responsibilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children in their area. Section 17 of the Children Act (1989) requires local governments to aid children in need in their area, and Section 47 of the same Act requires city councils to conduct investigations if they feel a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm (Gov.UK, 1989). As a result, the adoption of multi-agency collaboration is a critical component of the Government’s plan for reforming children’s services. As a result, anytime an indication of substantial injury in a minor is reported or raised, many agencies must collaborate to assist safeguard the child from additional torture or harm. Consistent with the broadening mandate from child protection to safeguarding, several nations have implemented far-reaching legislative changes aimed at protecting children from abuse, they are known as ‘Local Safeguarding Children Boards’ in England, and they are made up of essential bodies such as NHS, city councils, and law enforcement agency. Northern Ireland has their own multi-agency Area Child Protection Committees, and Scotland has 30 local Child Protection Committees (Barlow and Calam, 2011).
Department of Health (2003) emphasise the importance of agencies working together to support children and young in their communities. When there are so many professionals, and agencies involved in recognising and reacting to abuse and neglect, coordination and communication among them is critical to success (Munro, 2011). Despite this guidance, several incidents have occurred due to the increasing number of children experiencing abuse, neglect, and deprivation, with many young people placed into child protection in some of Britian’s most destitute districts throughout the pandemic (Pidd and Quach, 2021).
Over the last few years, there has been an median of 62 child deaths each year in the U.K. due to assault or uncertain intent (NSPCC Learning, 2020). During the first year of the pandemic, instances of serious harm to children recorded by city councils in England increased by 20%, including a 19% increase in child death notifications (Butler, 2021). Butler (2021) further states that there were 536 severe event reports in England in 2020/21, a rise of 87 percent from 449 in 2019/20 and a 41 percent increase over the number of occurrences documented five years before. In contrast, calls to child protection duty teams were reduced throughout this period. Does this imply that the epidemic reduced child abuse? I wholeheartedly disagree.
Child protection experts have reported a 50% drop in caseloads in some areas, with children’s services directors reporting a 50% drop in some areas (Weale, 2020). This could be due to non-attendance of linked systems, as well as reduced contact with experts who have regular contact with children e.g., schools and health professionals (Levine, Morton, and O’Reilly, 2020).
Serious case investigations have indicated that an absence of information sharing among departments involved in making decisions in those cases has lead to vulnerable persons being subjected to damaging or abusive conditions that were not necessary (Shorrock, McManus and Kirby, 2019). For example, despite the efforts of social workers and other organisations, two-year-old Keanu Williams died in 2011 from physical abuse and neglect, and the inquiry concluded that ‘Keanu became invisible’ (Ferguson, 2016). Similarly, Lord Laming’s inquest into the death of Victoria Climbie uncovered serious weaknesses in the coordination of children’s services, which was critical in accelerating the current government’s objective of reform. As a result, the significance of good communication and information exchange cannot be overstated. The Laming Article on the Victoria Climbié Inquiry emphasised the importance of improving multi-agency collaboration to achieve appropriate child protection and safeguarding services (Laming, 2003). As a result, multi-agency coordination is crucial to clearly identifying and serving children in need (McKeown, 2012; Wills et al., 2008). This enables a complete grasp of the family’s conditions that a single expert may not be able to encounter on their own.
There has been data to show that ethnic minority children are disproportionately represented in the child protection system of the U.K., and that has raised a lot of concerns amongst researchers. Department for Education (2019) states that there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of children in need. White children saw a decline from 75% in 2015 to 72% this year. On the other hand, there have been slight increases in the percentage of children whose ethnicity was Mixed or Black and no change in the percentage of those whose ethnicity was Asian. As a member of the ethnic minority community, I honestly wonder if this is due to ethnic minority parents doing a terrible job of parenting or if it is due to issues affecting individuals in disadvantaged communities.
In the literature review, I will provide some background information on the impact that race and ethnicity have had on identifying significant harm by professionals among children from ethnic minority communities, as well as investigate how Multi-agency professionals can be culturally informed to ensure effective safeguarding of children from these communities in order to prevent serious child harm cases. In addition, I would argue that professionals will do a better job of protecting ethnic minority children if they take a person-centred approach while working with this service user group, considering the fact that harmful activities can be considered a cultural practise and knowing how to criticize them.
Information sharing Amongst Multiagency
Over the years, there has been a lot of studies done on information sharing and multi-agency collaboration. Every major child fatality case prompts an investigation into how to prevent a recurrence. Communication breakdowns between experts and agencies are the most frequently reported reason why children in danger are not safeguarded, and an increasingly popular interpretation is that overabundance of case documenting and linked bureaucracy, strict timelines for completing work, large workloads, and adherence with procedures and management mandates limit social workers’ ability to adequately familiarize themselves with the children (Ferguson 2016).
Early identification of the needs of a child, assessment and service provision remains the best way to help protect a child from serious harm. Adequate information sharing between local authorities and relevant agencies is significant for early intervention plans. There have been several reviews by the children safeguarding practice that highlight the inability to identify and report vital information promptly, which resulted in serious consequences for the welfare and safety of a child. Given the growing number of high-profile public probes into child mortality disasters, “information sharing” has developed into a ethical and political obligation within the United Kingdom in order to enhance children’s welfare and safety (Thompson, 2013). Interagency collaboration and information exchange are hampered by poor communication (Theakstone-Owen, 2010). Reder and Duncan (2003) identified insufficient communication as a problem in a study of fatal child abuse cases; the setting in which communications were obtained and how the messages were understood can have a significant effect on the decision to intervene.
The implementation of MASH, which is certified by Nigel Boulton (Golden et al., 2011), is a current instance of multi-agency practitioners embracing a mutual duty to detect and handle risks as soon as possible. In England and Wales, children’s services have witnessed a tremendous integration of other agencies, including health, Education, criminal justice, and housing, collaborating to support families and children in need (Thompson, 2013). It has been suggested that these departments should be co-located in order to maximise the seamless relationship in safeguarding and assisting families. The Seebohm report proposed creating unified social services departments by “joining up” local authority children’s health and welfare departments in order to improve the efficacy of key services and support, for families and communities (Thompson, 2013). Despite general understanding on the advantages of multi-agency joint safeguarding strategies, it is well accepted that execution of these models varies greatly in practise, with not enough indication of consistent efficacy (Shorrock, McManus & Kirby, 2019a). Even while multi-agency collaboration and information sharing remain the most important factors in successfully safeguarding children, there are various reasons why this appears to be unattainable.
Some of the reasons for this have been recognised, including a low level of awareness of both the signs of potential or actual abuse and neglect and the feedback systems; over-confidence in families’ reports; misunderstanding about information sharing and data protection; previous negative experiences; and concerns about escalation of issues and/or anxiety about safeguarding more broadly (Village and Hooper, 2014). Other factors include fears that disclosing these issues may harm the relationship between the client and the expert, as well as the amount of abuse and the threshold of evidence presented (Bunting, Lazenbatt and Wallace, 2009). Bunting, Lazenbatt, and Wallace (2009) stated in their article that organisational discipline, as well as individual judgments about mistreatment, perceptions toward child protection services, and court-process experiences, can all have an impact on willingness to report the abuse.
There is substantial evidence that the uncertainty around the information-sharing provisions in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act of 1998 and The Data Protection Act of 1998 has prevented some multi-agency information interchange owing to concerns about confidentiality and anonymity. It is commonly understood in the safeguarding literature that these regulations do not prohibit information sharing but rather serve as recommendations to ensure that vulnerable information sharing is reasonable and vital (Boulton, 2013; London Safeguarding Children Board, 2013). MASH has been frequently told to consider information non-sharing to be more detrimental than information revelation (H.M. Government, 2015), with professionals having the power to reveal information even if authorization has not been obtained.
As stated previously in the introduction, the pandemic has demonstrated that efficient multi-agency collaboration can help avert significant child endangerment. According to the findings of (Weale 2020), referrals are frequently made by schools and health professionals; thus, with schools closed and children limited at home during the pandemic, they are not in contact with the experts who routinely highlight protection issues.
Child maltreatment and cultural competence.
A large body of study evident from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia demonstrates that discriminatory decisions in the child protection system outcomes in an unequal number of people from minority ethnic communities being investigated and intervened (Tibury & Thoburn, 2009). Birchall and Hallett (1995) revealed that in the United Kingdom, social workers attributed greater degrees of probability of child abuse to minority ethnic households than to White families in comparable situations. Stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, or economic status have also been proven to impact social workers’ judgments of danger to children and adolescents( Laird, S. E. & Tedam, P. 2019). In the United Kingdom, Owen and Statham (2009) discovered an under-representation of Asian children and an over-representation of African background and mixed-race kids, indicating a racial or ethnic component in interactions between child protection services and families from various minority communities. According to Enosh and Bayer-Topilsky (2015), in instances of uncertainty, child protection experts are more likely to assess a greater risk for African or Asian ethnic families or those from low-income groups than for White families or those with higher incomes.
At the structural level, social workers must consider the socioeconomic situations of children and families. Many Serious Case Reviews involving families from racial or ethnic minorities indicate that practitioners frequently record minimal information about their economic or social conditions, as demonstrated by Kingston Local Safeguarding Children Board (2013)
According to review of the literature, the parenting practises and daily manifestations of ethnic minority families in the United Kingdom have received relatively little attention in the child welfare literature, with limited availability of findings about the standardising patterns of child-rearing in ethnic minority families in the United Kingdom today (Bernard, 2002; Graham, 2006). It has been proposed that ethnic minority family relationships in contemporary Britain, are typically constructed uniquely than the majority western cultural nuclear family model (Sudarkasa, 1997; Graham, 2002).
According to the minimal information at hand, cultural practises appear to have contributed to the reasons why ethnic minority children are involved in the child welfare system. Brophy et al (2003) in a study discovered examples of disagreements between parents and practitioners that were rooted in diverse cultural expectations and way of life, such as different conceptions of what age children can be left ‘home alone’ and ways of dealing with ‘disruptive conducts by the children,’ which were more likely to occur in incidents involving ethnic minority parents.
As an African child, I believe that being left at home in the middle of adolescence demonstrates a high level of parental faith in the child. It is considered that parents who confront disruptive behaviour by scolding or physically hitting their children are demonstrating affection. Having stated that, (Fertleman and Hann, 2016) described a case study of a seven-year-old kid from Guinea named Modibo. He arrived at the emergency room with a 5cm cut on the right side of his face. When his father was questioned what occurred, he replied that he did it with a belt while disciplining his child, that it’s a cultural standard, and that it’s done to educate youngsters to respect their parents. Although people from various cultural backgrounds have varied opinions regarding physical punishment and other cultural practises, it is crucial for social workers to oppose such ideas. Physical abuse is unlawful in the UK, regardless of cultural background. Under UK law, parents have the right to chastise their children as long as reasonable force is used and the child is not hit in a way that constitutes physical abuse such as visible bruising, grazes, scratches, minor swellings or cuts (Akilapa and Simkiss, 2012). Incidents like the above mentioned case study should be brought to social services as soon as possible, along with a thorough history of the family’s circumstances.
Other difficulties that resulted in several high-profile examples of child abuse included violence done in the name of ‘so called’ faith or culture, as witnessed in the high-profile murders of Victoria Climbié, Kyra Ishaq, and the still-unsolved murder of Adam. Professionals may be hesitant to question issues of faith and culture in families because they want to respect differences and respect differences, but we must challenge parenting and child treatment that has an impact on children’s well-being, even if it is an important part of another’s faith or culture (Akilapa and Simkiss, 2012). Respect for faith and culture should not imply tolerating or supporting behaviours and practises that may endanger or neglect a minor.
In conclusion, issues of ethnicity, faith, and race in child protection can be difficult, and there are cases of misconceptions leading to too invasive practise or inaction in the face of child abuse. Nonetheless, there are certain parallel strands that needs an examination into the influence of cultural factors on professionals’ ability to recognise danger and how to adequately communicate it to multiagency teams in order to avert major child harm instances.
Methodology and Methods
In order to explore the challenges of the multi-agency approach in child protection and the importance of race and ethnicity in safeguarding children from ethnic minority groups, this research will make use of secondary research. This is because there are literature on this subject, and a good quality review of existing literature will provide compelling research evidence. The prosed methodology for this research is to critically analyse the available literature on the topic and find out its relevance to the social work practice.
To do this, I will collect data from secondary sources and electronic database bases such as Google Scholar, Jstor, Social Care Online, Sage journals Online, and Childlink.co.uk. The following search phrases should be used:’multi-agency,’ ‘interagency, “multidisciplinary,’ ‘interdisciplinary,’ ‘joint working,’ and ‘team working.’ I’ll also use search terms like “Child protection,” “Safeguarding,” “Information sharing,” and “Collaboration.” ‘Congruence,’ ‘Cultural competency.’ As my study advances, I will create more search phrases and keywords. Every piece of literature chosen will be evaluated critically. This entails analysing the study’s methodological quality and, as a result, its worth in addressing the research issue (LoBiondo-Wood et al., 2019). I will use the format designed by Caldwell, Henshaw and Taylor (2011).
Timelines are vital in ensuring that the researcher’s time is effectively managed and not overestimated so that the flow of its operations is consistent and error-free, allowing for the creation of high-quality research within the assigned time period. The expected time frame from initial proposal writes up to the completion of the research and write up will be 7months from October 2021 to April 2022
Although this research won’t involve the direct collection of primary data and therefore no human contact will be involved, it will be important that I consider some other ethical issues, such as the accurate representation of data analysed and collected.
The results of my research will be communicated through my dissertation write up which will be submitted to the school and fulfil the requirements for a masters in social work degree.
Some of the limitations of this research align with similar limitations of secondary research that relies on data provided from existing literature. An example is that a few recent findings that provided information about multi-agency working in children’s services were not included in some of the reviews. These were obtained and investigated to ascertain whether they provided information additional to that included in reviews. Another constraint will be the issue of cultural competency among social workers. This is still a controversial word, and there hasn’t been a lot of research done to support the notion that professionals lack cultural competency.
It has become evident that the existing multi-agency practice model requires certain alterations to be more successful. This research is a practical and valuable study to investigate these issues, with the results informing practice and policy reforms affecting child safety. As a result, the research will look at what types of multi-agency collaboration are used in practice. What evidence exists that multi-agency collaboration enhances service user outcomes? Are there data that exists about the elements that enhance coordinated multi-agency collaboration? What evidence exists on the impediments to coordinated multi-agency collaboration? What evidence suggests that when dealing with ethnic minority families, cultural values and ethnicity are considered in decision-making?
Akilapa, R. and Simkiss, D. (2012). Cultural influences and safeguarding children. Paediatrics and Child Health, 22(11), pp.490–495.