UCLan Emeritus professor highlights important role for parents and children with lived experience of children’s social care
An influential new report which argues for a complete reassessment of children’s services and the role of social workers has been co-written by an Emeritus professor from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
The report, Children’s Social Care – the Way Forward, has been prepared by UCLan’s Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work and produced in partnership with parent groups.
The Parents, Families and Allies Network (PFAN) brought together five organisations working with parents involved in different aspects of children’s social care to make suggestions for transformational change. The resulting report is based on the experiences of parents who have lived experience of children’s social care and allies, who work in children’s social care or are social work academics.
Calling for the creation of a new panel of lawyers to independently represent parents in family courts described as ‘frightening, archaic and heavily weighted to take the side of children’s services’, the report says the current system in England ‘alienates families and communities, fails to protect children and places older children at increased risk of involvement in gangs and sexual exploitation’.
The key role played by social work is also highlighted in the report, arguing the profession should be restored back to its core values in a better resourced system where the needs of families are met earlier and parents offered peer support and advocacy.
"We will need to nurture and test out a range of strategies which shift the power from government and public services to parents, children and communities"— UCLan’s Emeritus Professor Andy Bilson
UCLan’s Emeritus Professor Andy Bilson, co-chair of PFAN, said: “We are concerned that the children’s social care system, under the pressure caused by the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, will restart the cycle of escalating investigations and blaming of parents which has seen one in every 16 children in England investigated before the age of five, yet no reduction in child deaths. To avoid this, transformational change is needed as well as urgent reforms.
“We will need to nurture and test out a range of strategies which shift the power from government and public services to parents, children and communities. Alongside this, immediate changes are required which must be co-led by parents and children with lived experience of children’s social care.”
Tammy Mayes co-chair of PFAN added: “The parents we consulted identified the key areas for change and made their own constructive suggestions to transform children’s social care which are detailed in the report.”
"The parents we consulted identified the key areas for change and made their own constructive suggestions to transform children’s social care which are detailed in the report"— Tammy Mayes co-chair of PFAN
The report identifies detailed specific changes required urgently and some examples that show how these changes may be achieved. Key to this is the need for children’s social care and other agencies working with children to move from a culture of parent blame and child rescue to partnership and participation. The report calls for parent advocacy to be developed alongside services as a powerful way to change organisational cultures in child welfare systems and to improve support for children and families.
Examples of approaches to provide the bottom up change necessary to transform children’s social care include the organisations that have created this report along with, for example, Hilary Cottam’s work on Radical Help and the Community Paradigm’s approach to transfer power from the public service institutions to the community.
The current system lacks enough champions with the remit to develop the new ways of working that are required. The report calls for a dedicated workforce, working in partnership with families, whose job is to co-produce services with families; to promote the use of these services as alternatives to care and investigative approaches to families; and to raise public awareness of the need for change.
The full report can be read here.