Shocking figures of children at risk
Recent figures have shown that there is a total of 61 children on the Child Protection Register in Fermanagh. And among Trusts with predominantly rural populations, the rate of children in need of protection is among the highest in the Sperrin Lakeland area at 23.4 per 10,000.
At the front end of the work to protect children are the family and child care team of social workers based at Coleshill in Enniskillen.
There are many ways they learn about children potentially in need, but locally the biggest source of referrals (35 per cent) is the PSNI.
Every incident of domestic violence is referred to social services for assessment. Figures show that in a year here there were 12 children under 17 who were victims of domestic violence.
518 domestic incidents were attended and 151 offences recorded. Referrals also come from GPs, health visitors or schools.
The duty and assessment team is the first port of call. It could get up to 20 telephone calls a day on any number of issues from support services for children to fostering.
And the team also deals with concerns that a child may be at risk. Types of risk include neglect, emotional abuse (downgrading the child and running the child down constantly), physical and sexual abuse.
“We have to weigh up what the risks are.
It is not an exact science.
what the child wants is a normal, happy family.
They want to be like everybody else. They want to have a family like they perceive everybody else has.
It is about assessing risks to the child and not destroying the child’s world in the process of helping them,” said Assistant Principal Social Worker Mr. Frank Britton.
In recent years the professionals working with children in need and child protection have adopted an approach called ‘New Beginnings’. Mr. Britton is project manager.
The New Beginnings approach was developed in England and adopted in the Western Board area following the Victoria Climbié enquiry.
The enquiry highlighted a number of issues about social work, assessments and family support. “What that enquiry did was that it really pointed out that people had to be working together. There had to be very strong partnership between agencies. Child protection is everyone’s business. It is not simply the responsibility of social services,” said Mr. Britton.
“Some of the things that have caused us to re-examine how we do our work is the increasing complexity of families. People on drugs, the consumption of alcohol by young people and alcohol abuse is a bigger issue now.
We have more single parents because of relationship changes and so we have a greater level of complexity.
“The other thing we know from research is that a purely child protection approach to children without family support tends to isolate families and put them under the microscope. Research says the best way to protect a child is to make sure they are integrated into their families and wider social networks. In some situations it is necessary for social services to find alternative arrangements for children. Certainly it is not where we want to get to.
Sadly it does happen from time to time. Family support is the officially preferred method of intervening,” he said. It is work that doesn’t see fast results.
“It is rare there is a quick fix in our work. Support and change takes place over time, sometimes a long time,” he said. One of the aims of the ‘New Beginnings’ approach is to target the service to those in greatest need.
“The threshold for intervention is Trust operational policy.
This model determines who gets family support, it determines if we go down the child protection route or if we have to do both,” Mr. Britton said.
It also helps to identify other agencies that might be best placed to provide a service. “There was a degree of duplication going on in the past. We were trying to be all things to all people.
One of the consequences was that the people who were most in need, full resources were not being given to them because we were being spread very thin. We were doing things that other people were doing,” he added.
Figures show that as well as 61 children on the Child Protection Register in Fermanagh, 30 children are in care and 234 children have been referred to mental health services.
“It seems to me the amount of need that is in the community when I see those types of numbers, you can begin to understand the importance of a threshold when trying to give something meaningful and positive to situations where children are in need or are vulnerable,” said Mr. Britton.
He paid tribute to the other agencies social workers work closely with in the course of their work.
“We work exceptionally close to health visitors, GPs, schools and the police. . . the community owes a debt to all of these people for the work they do,” he said. Family support needs and priorities have been identified for the Fermanagh area through the work of the University of Ulster’s Hugh Griffiths.
The Western Board has given funding for the appointment of a Preventative Strategies Co-ordinator in the Sperrin Lakeland area who should be in post very shortly.
For those who wish to find out more about family services in Fermanagh, the Western Area Children and Young People Commitee’s website at www.wacy-pc.org www.wacy-pc.org is a good source of information.