– Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) sets out the process which should underpin initial enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act, 1989. Social Workers are required to act in accordance with the General Social Care Council’s Code of Practice for Social Care Workers (2002). Critically evaluate how these two documents impact on the role of the Social Worker carrying out an initial enquiry.
For the purpose of this assignment I will focus on the publication ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) and the General Social Care Council’s Code of Practice for Social Care Workers (2005) to critically evaluate and explore how they impact upon the role of the social worker whilst carrying out initial enquiries.
The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well being, utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems. Social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work (International Association of schools of social work and international Federation of Social Workers 2001). Social workers act as negotiators between the individual service user and the wider society in order to assist the individual with the problems they are facing. This is performed by professionals utilising theories, their own values and beliefs of human behaviour and social systems (International Association of schools of social work and international Federation of Social Workers 2001).
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) provides guidance for professionals who are working with children and their families to assists them in their safeguarding practice. This document places emphasis on the need for joint working as this provides a variety of knowledge, theory and skill when working with children and their families. The General Social Care Council (GSCC) identified codes of practice that aim to raise the standards in social care services, highlighting the responsibility of social care workers and their employers to ensure that the codes are followed within practice.
The General Social Care Council (2005) highlighted that the Codes of Practice were to reflect the existing good practice of professionals and shared the standards and ethical practice to which they aspired. The main aims of the Code of Practice are to inform services users and the public of the standards that they can expect from social care workers and to provide social care workers with clear lines of accountability, therefore ensuring that workers are aware of the responsibility upon them to ensure that these conduct do not fall below the standards expected of them as this can lead to the dismissal of workers (GSCC 2002).
Social workers are challenged on a daily basis to uphold the Codes of Practice while implementing government policies and procedures and have the responsibility for making difficult decisions and recommendations that will ultimately affect and impact upon the lives of children and their families. It is therefore critical that professionals are able to make these decisions by drawing and reflecting upon guidance to enable professionals to make ethical and sound decisions in the best interest of the child and their family. Social workers have to accept and be accountable for all their actions and need to be able to explain why they have acted in a certain way. Therefore social workers need to have a good understanding of how nature and society affects the way in which they practice enabling them to work competently and efficiently.
Social workers strive to ensure that children are protected from harm as best they can and in order to do so social workers are trained and led by policies and procedures set out not only by the government but also from within the employing authority. The law also forms an essential part in the decision making process to ensure that children are not subject to significant harm.
Professionals have a duty to investigate and complete initial enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child whom is living or found within the local area is believed to be suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm (HM Government 2006). The Children Act 1989 introduced Significant Harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention and determines if a child is made subject to a protection plan or provided with support in the children and families arena (O’Loughlin & O’Loughlin 2008) therefore a child may be supported on a child in need basis.
The process will begin at the referral stage which is the first point of contact when information and or concerns are brought to the attention of Children’s Services, this can include a case that is already open to the associated local authority if there are an accumulation of concerns or a pre birth assessment indicates significant harm to an unborn child (DOH 2006). A team manager and a lead social worker will be allocated to the case and a decision will be made as to whether or not there are concerns which could pose potential or actual harm to the child, if this is so then a decision will be made to proceed to a strategy meeting and will be recorded at this point by management.
A strategy meeting should involve Children’s services, Police, Education, Health and any other relevant agencies who are working with the family. Working in partnership with all professionals involved is essential as sharing information helps to build a clear picture of the child, family unit and the issues causing concern, thus promoting the safety and well being of the child (Children Act 1989). However in some instances this sharing of information is done without the consent of the parents which immediately conflicts with the code of practice set out by the General Social Care Council (2005) as it states that the rights and interests of the service user must be protected, respecting and maintaining the dignity and privacy of the service user. Already there is a contradiction starting between the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance and the Codes of Practice.
Another conflict emerges if the outcome of the strategy is to proceed with a Section 47 enquiry, due to Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) stating that; ‘Parents and those with parental responsibility are informed of concerns at the earliest opportunity, unless to do so would place the child at risk of significant harm, or undermine a criminal investigation and that as parental consent has not been obtained any work done should be practiced in a manner which allows for future working relationships with the family’.
This sounds plausible and is aimed to be in the best interests of the child however it conflicts with the Codes of Practice (2005) which state that; ‘a social care worker must strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users’. As a social worker it is incredibly difficult to uphold the Codes of Practice whilst following the guidance of Working Together to Safeguard Children, due to not being able to be as open and honest during the initial contact as possible. The rationale for this is that the only information to be provided to the family is that, that is agreed within the strategy meeting (HM Government 2006).
Whilst carrying out a Section 47 enquiry it is essential that the child in question is spoken to alone as this gives the child the opportunity to express their wishes and feelings and allows professionals to gather further information. If the child is not spoken to alone it reduces the ability to appropriately assess the needs and risks surrounding the child. When speaking to the child it is imperative that discussions are practiced in a way that minimises distress but maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information as gaining the child’s views can be critical in the prevention of significant harm (HM Government 2006). Clearly stating that professionals are able to speak to children without the consent of parents or anyone with parental responsibility, if there is evidence that the child would be placed at further risk should the parents be informed.
Consequently social workers are following the guidance from Working Together to Safeguard Children yet disregarding the Codes of Practice which places a duty on the social worker to ‘communicate in an appropriate, open, accurate and straightforward way’ (GSCC 2005).
Section 47 enquiries may include a medical examination and failure to consent from the parents or failure to allow the child to be seen in general may result in the professionals having to make an application to the Court in respect of being granted appropriate orders such as an Emergency Protection Order or Assessment Order, professionals will be directed by legal professionals in this instant.
Once again there are conflicts within this, in respect of the Codes of Practice, by attending Court and seeking an order, families may feel that they are not being listened to or their wishes respected, in some scenarios it may be felt by services users that their privacy and dignity is not being respected. However there is one Code of Practice that has some similarities to Working Together to Safeguard Children; ‘taking necessary steps to minimise the risks of service users from doing actual or potential harm to themselves or others’ (GSCC 2005).
It may also become evident when completing a Section 47 enquiry that the child in question and siblings if any, may need to be accommodated whilst subsequent assessment are complete. The local authority will whenever possible attempt to ensure that the child can remain at home and appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the child’s safety, however there are times when the risk is such that there is no other option than to remove the child from the family home (HM Government 2006). There is a clear contrast to the Codes of Practice as they state that ‘service users have the right to take risks’ hence placing professionals in a position whereby they need to make decisions as to whether the risks can be managed without leaving the child at risk of further harm.
As a social worker you are faced with conflict and dilemmas when attempting to work in accordance with both Working Together to Safeguard Children and the Codes of Practice. This leads to dilemmas in practice that require consideration and in order for social workers to make sound and professional judgements it is essential that social workers have regular supervision to aid their practice, allow them to reflect on decisions made, look at various interventions and possible outcomes. Supervision allows for social workers to ensure that they provide effective and efficient work with children and families.
Working within child protection is complex and the need to share information is vital therefore any decisions that are made with regards to children should be done so in a multi-agency manner. This aims to ensure that professionals are not individually held accountable for failure to work in accordance with the Codes of Practice and government guidance while incorporating inter-agency working, which is fundamental when combating child abuse (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006).
The Codes of Practice (2005) express the need for social worker to be accountable for their own work, this includes the need for social workers to recognise and respect the roles and expertise of other professionals and work in partnership with them. Joint supervision with professionals in a similar field gives the opportunity to share knowledge and skill an may cover something the fellow professional has failed to notice therefore providing and even best quality of service to the public.
It has become abundantly clear throughout this assignment that social work is ever changing and that the decision making process, individually or jointly between professionals is never easy, especially when it involves the lives of children and young people. Adhering to The Codes of Practice whilst also adhering to government guidance, simply, causes conflict in practice this is something that may never change and as a social worker it is imperative to note this and whilst following policies and procedures we must not forget that the children we are trying to protect and the families that they belong to are people, human beings with feelings, rights and deserve to be treated correctly.