CHILD protection has come under the spotlight recently, with the deaths of Baby P and Sheepridge toddler Sanam Navsarka, plus the kidnap trial concerning Dewsbury Moor schoolgirl Shannon Matthews.
Haringey Council came under heavy fire over Baby P and serious case reviews are ongoing at Kirklees Council into Sanam and Shannon’s cases, to see if anything can be learned.
People are quick to criticise the authorities in such tragic cases.
But we rarely ask what obstacles social workers face in the complex world of child protection.
In Kirklees, there are currently 213 children subject to a Child Protection Plan.
Of these, 80 are suffering neglect, 10 are sex abuse victims, seven have been physically abused and 54 subjected to emotional abuse.
A total of 62 children were classed as victims of multiple types of abuse.
Paul Johnson, head of safeguarding and specialist provision at Kirklees Council, said certain kinds of abuse – such as emotional abuse or neglect – can be difficult to spot.
“These situations are often the most difficult to work with as it is not always immediately obvious that a child may be suffering.
“However, in the experience of those who work regularly with such youngsters, the potential long-term effects of emotional abuse in particular can be very significant.”
The problem is that social workers cannot tackle abuse unless they are alerted to it.
Which is where vigilance from teachers, doctors, relatives and neighbours comes in.
They are in a position to spot signs that something may be wrong – and crucially, report their worries to the authorities.
But some are reluctant to report concerns, fearing they may wrongly accuse a parent or suffer repercussions.
Often people are concerned that social workers will swoop and take children into care immediately.
But Mr Johnson said Kirklees Council does not have an act first, think later approach.
So, what actually happens when someone does report a concern?
Mr Johnson said: “The council treats all enquiries sensitively and is well aware that making a referral of this nature is a big step, especially for family and friends.”
After a report, by law a child protection enquiry is held.
A social worker will talk to professionals who know the child and family.
The police are involved if there are concerns that a crime or abuse has occurred.
Parents and carers will be spoken to and, if the child is old enough, they will also be interviewed.
If the risk to the child is high, emergency action is taken, which can include the removal of the child while investigations continue.
Mr Johnson said: “Throughout all of this process, the paramount consideration is the welfare and safety of the child.”
After an enquiry, social services consider their options.
They have a legal duty to keep families together – but the child’s is the ultimate consideration.
Ideally, parents are helped to look after their child at home.
A Child Protection Conference may be called, where a plan for protecting and monitoring the child will be drawn up.
This plan is reviewed after three months, then every six months.
Mr Johnson said: “The purpose of a child protection plan is to ensure that everyone is clear what help will be provided, and by whom.”
If the risk of abuse is too great, the child may be removed by court order – or the person responsible for abuse may be asked to leave the home.
If you think a child is being mistreated or are worried about their well-being, you can contact Kirklees Duty and Assessment Service on 01924 326093 or 01924 483792 from 8.45am to 5.15pm on weekdays.
At weekends, evenings or Bank Holidays, you can speak to Kirklees Emergency Duty Service on 01924 326489. Or call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, which is open 24 hours.