To answer this question I am going to critically evaluate the impact of direct work with children from a safeguarding perspective which will include children who have been placed in foster care as a direct consequence. In addition I will identify and critically assess the impact of current legislation and research on the lives of children. I will first explain direct work and its importance; secondly I will evaluate the impact of conducing direct work with children in light of legislation and policy and thirdly critically evaluate the critical issues highlighted in the theory behind the use of observation.
Hapgood, 1988 ( cited in Fahlberg, 2012: 338 ) posits that; “direct work with children is used to enable children to understand significant events in the past, confront the feelings that are secondary to those events, and become more fully involved in the future planning of their lives”. Social work with children can be challenging especially as they are working with individuals who are not fully developed and may not be able to express their needs as adults can. It is at this point that a firm understanding of how to obtain information from children is understood in order to protect them, Winter, (2011).
Direct work with children can take many forms and typically consists of; Listening, communication, observations and interacting with the child, (Winter, 2011). There are a variety of tools and mechanisms that can be used to undertake direct work with children and family’s such as; using drawings, life story work, playing games and using toys, (Ruch, 2014). Carroll, (1998) illustrates some tools that can be used with children such as; Treasure Island and magical houses, during my practice placement I used some of these tools as part of the single assessment, a single assessment is a holistic framework used by social work professionals which is based on an ecological approach to assessing children under three different domains, (Ferguson, 2011). For example I worked with a child who had been exposed to parental abuse and was subsequently placed in foster care. To establish a relationship with the child and explore the child’s experiences I used the Treasure Island task which allowed me to establish the child’s relationships, which the child has a strong attachment with and or any concerns with their relationships, McMahon, (1992). Subsequently conducting direct work has come from lessons learnt from the past, an Ofsted report highlights that the previous focus has been on the parents and not the child, Ofsted,(2009 / 2010). To illustrate a young girl was a victim of a sexual assault by a male known to her mother, her mother misused drugs and alcohol, it was found that the girl was only spoken to once and her wishes and feelings had not been prioritised thus leaving her in a vulnerable position open to the attack, (Ofsted, 2009 / 2010). With this in mind in and reflecting on my practice from the previous example, I would adapt some of the tasks I used in this scenario; this is because I found the magical house task was too advanced for younger children: it may have been more appropriate if I used the buttons task because using objects can make things easier for younger children to understand.
The impact of serious case reviews and inquiries have seen a drive to integrate direct work into social work practice which has been reinforced by legislation. The Children Act, 1989 (as amended by section 53 (4a) of the Children Act 2004) requires that the local authorities give due regard to a child’s wishes and feelings, of which S.22 (4a) Children Act 1989 includes those children that are or maybe looked after by the local authority. The Working Together To Safeguard Children’s Guidelines 2013 further strengthened these obligations as it was found, in the Daniel Pelka’s serious case review that Daniel was not spoken too until too late and at that point may not have been able to articulate himself, therefore his wishes and feelings had not been heard if they had been heard this may have saved Daniel from his untimely death, (Lock et al,2013). The importance of the Child’s Voice is also enshrined in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which requires;” the Local Authority to ascertain the ‘ wishes and feelings’ of children and give due consideration (with regard to the child’s age and understanding) to these when determining what services to provide, or what action to take”, ( Munro, 2011:24). In addition the UK has ratified in 1992 with The United Convention of the Rights of the Child, (UNCRC), of which Article 12 (1) states; “Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”, (UNCRC,1989: 5). The local authority must also follow the; National Minimum Standards for both Adoption (2013) and Fostering (2011) which is used in inspections by Ofsted. While the Children and Families Act, 2014 affords children greater protection and support ensuring all children can be successful, Donovan, (2014) .
However although legislation has reinforced the need for direct work with children there are challenges that persist in its use, ( Ruch, 2014). Luckock, (2013) argued that with the increase in legislative controls this has had an impact on the beauracracy within social work, and as Ferguson, (2011) argues this may lead practice to becomes target driven and service led rather than client led. Furthermore Ferguson, (2011) purports that practioner skills are being eroded because of the time spent at their desks typing out assessments and meeting statutory requirements. For example on my practice placement I have had experience of completing paper work for a child whom became a Looked After Child by the Local Authority, the administration that was generated from this process restricted me to the office for at least three days because statutory guidelines require that; LAC reports, court reports and legal meetings must be completed within specific timeframes. The Working Together Guidelines reinforce this need for protocol for instance by stipulating that; “ every assessment should be focused on outcomes”, (Working Together To Safeguard Children, 2013:22), which could perhaps be seen as leading towards a service led practice instead of child centred practice. In addition social care staff have also highlighted that they feel as if they are working in a culture of fear such that, any display of warmth towards a child could be misconstrued as unprofessional and exploitative, ( Mcleod, 2010). This raises difficulties for professionals when they conduct direct work with children and hope to form a relationship that allows the child to feel comfortable speaking about their experiences, (Tyler et al, 2005, cited in Oliver, 2010). Notably when Looked After Children were asked what they wanted from their social worker, they said; “ they would like their social worker to be like a friend” (Oliver,2010: 29). This
Current research and theory have also had an impact on the use of direct work in the lives of children who need safeguarding or who are Looked After by the Local Authority, (Luckock, 2013). Development theory such as attachment by Bowlby, (1969) can inform direct work with children to obtain the child’s wishes and feelings, observation is a method which can inform and use attachment theory to aide in the assessment process (Sharman et al, 2004). During my practice placement, I used observation as a method to inform my assessment. I observed a one year old child who became Looked After by the Local Authority. I observed the Child at the foster carer’s house, during my observation I noted that the young girl had trust issues, this was indicative from her behaviour; she would not have eye contact with adults and if she did look she would cry inconsolably. Importantly she did not allow her foster carer to touch her, she would push her hand away. When she was placed in her play pen she could scream uncontrollably and rock back and forth, her head was also flat which was an indication that, she had been left in one spot over long periods.
Prior to this observation I planned how I would conduct the observation. I thought about the key purpose of the observation and from my thought process I concluded that I needed to ascertain what the infants’ attachment style was, (see Ainsworth, 1969). In addition I needed to observe the child’s relationships with others to establish how the infant had been emotionally affected by her mother’s maltreatment. As the child was Looked After it was the LA statutory duty to visit the child in the foster placement therefore consent was not an issue at this time. I also thought about which observation method I should use, I used the naturalistic style of observation, this meant I had to sit quietly and observe the child, it also meant that I must be careful not to make eye contact, I made notes in the present tense and my main focus was on the infant, (Fawcett, 2009).
However practitioners must be aware of how their own personal and cultural experiences can have an impact on the observation, (Fawcett, 2009). Lord Laming, (2003) illustrates this point in the Victoria Climbie report by suggesting that; the focus was on Victoria’s heritage and cultural background and because of this, it acted as a barrier for professionals in assessing the need of the child, of which the need was that of any child who was suffering from abuse irrespective of cultural explanations. With this in mind Fawcett, (2009) suggests that typically, we tend to have a set hypothesis when observing and as such we try to find evidence to fit that theory, what Fawcett, (2009) explains is that we need to have an open approach to observation and think holistically. For example, I had to be mindful that although I was aware of the mum’s case history and that the case was going to court, I had to ensure that I was not looking for evidence to support the court report but that my task was to assess holistically.
Furthermore there are strengths and limitations of using the naturalistic method of observation. The strengths to this approach is that; one is able to keep an ecological picture of the situation, notes can be taken immediately thus insuring the observation records are as accurate as possible and that it is in a natural setting, (Sharman, 2004). For example, because I was able to write the notes as the observation was happening I managed to get the intricate details , for instance her hand gestures which I may have forgotten had I written the notes later. However Sharman, (2004) noted that the limitations to the naturalistic approach raised dilemma’s such that there was no direction as to what data should be collected and the data that was collected was subsequently amassed together without structure. Reflecting back on my practice with this observation, I would have preferred to observe the child with both of the foster carers present, because the female foster carer told us that the young girl was afraid of female carers but was comfortable around the male carer her husband, it would have strengthened the assessment if I was able to observe this early on in the placement.
In addition to the strengths and weaknesses of naturalistic observations another aspect to be aware of is the impact of the observer’s emotional responses in the observation (Fahlberg, 2012). For instance in my observation I had to manage my emotions when watching the child in distress, because that would have clouded my judgement of the situation. Trowell and Miles, (2009) suggests that the observers need to realise what observations are their own emotional responses and thoughts and these need to be separated and noted which emotions have come from the observer and which is the child’s. Luckock, (2013) argues that if the observers emotions are not acknowledged and examined this may lead to a different outcome of the observation as your own emotions may distort your judgement of what is actually occurring. Similarly Fawcett, (2009) highlights that the observer needs to be aware that every child is unique in for example in temperament and may not react the same way because their developmental path which is a mixture of biological and environmental experiences. The Every Child Matters agenda recognises such differences and purports to highlight that child development is holistic and must thus be assessed as such, Fawcett, (2009).
As discussed previously consent for this observation was not problematic however at times it can be. I have had to manage a situation when this has been an issue; a young 15 year old boy had been maltreated. Children’s Social Care (CSC) wanted to observe the boy in school to see his attachment behaviour to inform their assessment. CSC would not have been able to speak with the child without permission from the parents and this was not an option. As the local authority did not have parental responsibility this can pose as a dilemma for practitioners who are assessing children that may be at risk of significant harm. However in some instances the local Authority can assess the child as Gillick competent, NSPCC, (2015) this means that the local authority are saying that the child who is under 16 is mature enough to give consent for example to being observed, NSPCC (2015).
Gaining consent for the observation and using clauses such as Gillick competence raises issues of power and how social workers should work in an anti – oppressive and anti – discriminatory way, (Luckock, 2013). Essentially observation can be oppressive for the child, it can perhaps make the child feel uncomfortable and highlights the power imbalance between them and the professional, Luckock, (2013). Therefore Baldwin, (1994) posits that groups that have less power for example; children, the elderly and BME groups should be assessed on the basis of being “seen and heard” (p,79). Similarly observers need to recognise that society views for example about; being Gay, black or disabled are not necessarily positively viewed as for instance being a heterosexual white male. Therefore these differences need to be recognised when observing and the observer should perhaps use a socio – cultural frame work and discuss the observation afterwards with a supervisor as this allows for a reflective stance when making judgements, and could help achieve records that are as accurate as possible,(Hsu and Arnold, 2006).
Overall legislation, policy and research has had an impact on direct work, legislation as discussed has reinforced and compelled the use of direct work in practice. This has can be seen as a positive influence leading to a child centred way of working which may be beneficial for children as they will have a voice and receive the required help. On the other hand research into how direct work can be effective for example; in observation can help to inform the direct work process and insure that children’s experiences and lives are being assessed accurately as possible.
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