In a democracy all communities must agree to be ‘policed’. Interactions has to be fair and proportionate. Everybody's rights matter. How those that act as 'police' interact with those that are 'policed' gives us many clues as to what kind of society we are.
I’ve been thinking about police ‘stop and search’ powers. In a democracy all must agree to be policed and for this there needs to be acceptance of those doing the policing and their methods. Police forces should be aware that they need to use powers including 'stop and search' powers very carefully if not to risk alienating the individuals within communities and entire communities that they are there to serve.
The power to ‘stop and search’ usually for weapons and drugs is often one part of a strategy to prevent murders of young people, but this power is highly controversial for lots of reasons around how it is used. Sections of the community, usually but not always, young, black and urban, can experience searches as harassment because young, black, urban children/people feel targeted by virtue of their age and skin colour. In extreme cases a 'stop and search' has ended in death(s). More usually those searched (in particular men?) may experience 'stop and searches' as a humiliating demonstration of their powerlessness that makes them fundamentally question or indeed change their relationship with ‘the State’ so they disengage completely or engage more fully with a process of change .
Child protection work mirrors police work in many ways. It is essential but has the potential to alienate a family or indeed a community (largely the community of those living in poverty with children and/or SEN-D community?) if not carried out correctly. The stakes are very high because families just have to engage and in prescribed ways, otherwise they are likely to lose their child(ren)/child(ren) that could be helped may be left to suffer harm. Many social care investigations will lead to no action but in other cases an investigation will lead to action and this action will/will not be positive for the child(ren) affected. In many cases, families including families where investigations lead to no action, may experience a child protection investigation as a terrifying experience that changes their relationship with the State fundamentally and may lead to long-term disengagement from services ( they may need to keep their child safe?).
When it comes to use of police powers, there has been a discussion, resulting from bad experiences, around the difficulties of getting the balance right and the need for ‘doing with’ not just ‘doing to’ communities. There are also complaint processes and in some cities, police wear head cameras and these can show whether the correct process has been followed or not ( transparency?) – this has to be good for all.
In child protection work however I’d argue (although I’m a parent so maybe only see one side of the coin?) that child protection professionals are encouraged to used the equivalent of racial profiling tools (‘Red flags’ re poverty, young parent, care leaver, poor mental health/disability of child, relationship status, poor mental health/disability of parent etc) and when it comes to use of child protection powers, there seems to be very little discussion around the difficulties of getting the balance right and the need for ‘doing with’ not just ‘doing to’ families and communities.
Child protection professionals also work in a cultural environment where social workers take much of the blame for failure to prevent child murders despite the fact they happen most often following multiple failures by multiple agencies to detect very serious abuse and neglect or share information between themselves.
This has lead to risk-averse child protection practice and weighty and often confusing guidance on how to 'catch out' 'bad parents'. I believe this is a very questionable approach for lots of reasons - how effective is it, what harm does it do as 'collateral damage' and to whom?
There also seems to be very little discussion about the need for the State to use its powers very carefully if not to risk alienating, with badly thought out interventions, the children and families that it is there to serve or the need to have checks and balances and transparency to ensure legitimacy.
At the receiving end it is a very alienating experience to be treated as a ‘bad parent’ even when you could be a better parent with some/more of the right help and yet this seems to what needs to happen if you are living in poverty or have other vulnerabilities. I also wonder how policymakers can ignore the fact that it is immensely alienating for our communities to be treated as though ill-health, disability and poverty were crimes that high levels of surveillance and child protection investigations will address and yet that does seem to be the perspective of many.
High levels of alienation between all the players really should be telling us that something fundamental needs to change about how we view and practice 'child protection'. The sector wide Care Crisis Review may address some of this. Really listening to those affected and validating the experiences of many, of being caught up in something frightening they do not fully understand without help or redress, would be a good start in getting these families and the communities they form part of, to trust child protection services.
Any professionals out there who agree or disagree?
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