Thursday, 31 May 2012

Adults in crisis trying to be parents

More from the Cafcass report noted in my blog on 25th May:

The research is a survey of Cafcass social workers involved in 343 (61.0%) of the 562 care applications received from 83 Local Authorities during the period 11th -30th November 2011. The research was interested in finding out what happened for children in care proceedings but commented on their family circumstances in passing. For example in answer to questions about how quickly the courts dealt with care proceedings the report includes these two quotes from the Cafcass social workers:
'The start of the parenting capacity assessment was delayed because ... father in prison, released then disappeared, oldest child a constant absconder so almost impossible for assessment to commence, third older sibling due for release from criminal secure unit will have to be involved in the family assessments and may become a third child in the proceedings.’
'Mother’s psychiatric assessment could not be completed as she turned up for the interview heavily under the influence of alcohol’.
Clearly these are families in crisis and under enormous stress. The report provides some information about the parents of the children:

Parents todayParents when under 18
Drugs & alcohol60.9%62.1%
Mental ill health51.4%57.3%
Victim of domestic violence60.1%71.0%
Perpetrator of domestic violence40.3%45.2%

The average age of the parents was 31 (mothers 29, fathers 33.5). The column headed 'Parents today' gives the percentages of parents affected by 4 different circumstances, clearly many were dealing with more than one substantial problem. The column headed 'Parents when under 18' refers to the percentage of parents who were receiving local authority services when they were children and for what reason. These tell a truly awful story of adults trying to be parents in the wreckage of their own upbringing.

Children North East offers help to families by very experienced staff who can spend several hours a day with families every day for 6 to 8 weeks including times when it really counts like getting the children up in the morning and into bed at night. The staff get to know every member of the household very well, what they fear, what they want to be different, what works well in the family, what could be better; they make an action plan with the family and help and encourage the family members themselves to make and sustain changes. The effects can be dramatic, so that children can remain safely at home well cared for by their parents.

Children North East also offers continuing support to families either before they reach crisis point or to maintain the progress made. We do this through volunteers who befriend parents. All our volunteers are recruited specifically, trained and supported by our staff. If you would like to know more please visit our 'Supporting Families, Protecting Children' pages on our website.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Bigger Picture

Today we held our annual staff conference called the 'Bigger Picture'. It is an opportunity to get the whole organisation together to share and celebrate what we do and acknowledge and thank the staff for their hard work.

This year we focussed on the impact that growing poverty is having on children, young people and their parents in the north east. As many of our staff pointed out it is not just lack of money but also increasing stress on family relationships caused by lack of money and also the lack of opportunities for children to experience activities that most people take for granted (like going swimming) and for young people to achieve their aspirations.

The most memorable parts of the day for me were listening to our staff talking about their work and just how very vulnerable the parents are as well as their children. For example last Christmas we successfully appealed for tickets so that children and young people could go to visit Santa, the pantomime and ice skating. A great many really enjoyed these opportunities but only if our staff took them. Even if we gave tickets to the parents, most would not use them for the simple reason that they have no experience of those sorts of activities themselves, they would feel out of their depth, not know what to do or how to behave. Rather than risk embarrassment they avoided going so their children would miss out.

We discussed ways in which we could provide holidays for families for example a few nights in a caravan. However again many families would not feel able to make use of such an undertaking. One of our staff said what we need is a holiday place where the staff could take the families to take care of the parents as much as the children. In 1913 this organisation opened the Edward Brough Home in South Shields to be a holiday house for deprived city children - Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose).

Friday, 25 May 2012

Children in care and poverty

Today Cafcass (the family court social work service) published updated research about the characteristics of children in care. It is a follow up to a similar study in 2009 and is based on a survey of Cafcass social workers involved in 343 (61.0%) of the 562 care applications received from 83 Local Authorities during the period 11th -30th November 2011. However the part of the report which hit the news is an appendix to it that lists the proportion of children in care for each local authority in England.

The average number of children in care per 10,000 is 9.2. Rutland is the lowest at 2, South Tyneside is the highest at 30.1. Interestingly the four highest scoring councils in England are all in the north east, I thought it would be interesting to note the percentage of children living in poverty for each council too.

Number per 10,000:Child Poverty:
1. South Tyneside 30.128%
2. Middlesbrough 25.434%
3. Redcar & Cleveland 24.226%
4. Stockton on Tees 21.522%

The regional child poverty average is 24%. Nationally the total number of applications to the courts for Care Orders stands at a record high of 10,218 in the last year (compared to 6,323 in the year 2007-2008).

This table shows the ages of the children for whom there were requests for Care Orders.

Under 11 to 45 to 910 to 15Over 16

The Cafcass report makes much of the reduction in the percentage of 1 to 4 year olds coming before the courts, citing it as evidence that councils are intervening earlier in children's lives. However the report is silent on the large rise in young people aged 10 to 15 years. Anecdotally council colleagues have told me there is a big increase in parents unable to cope with the stresses of the economic situation and family life with the consequence that they evict their teenage children.

One cannot say there is a casual link between child poverty and numbers of children in care, there are many other factors - local parent support services, the effectiveness of social workers, the local 'threshold' at which professionals decide parenting is unacceptable; however it would be unwise to ignore external stress on family life like insufficient income and lack of opportunity as a contributing factor too.