This week, one cannot help but be struck by the care figures increase. Explanations (obvious to some) are that in the few years since the Baby P case social workers are keen to ensure there are no repeats of such failures. All such workers whether in social or health care, or in education, were bruised from the fall-out, including the publicity which followed this appalling lack of care and failure of parenting and support, so that would be no surprise. If this increase in children entering the care process is a result and if the subsequent action saves children from harm, that is all to the good. Is that too simple as an explanation?
Social workers must be really good if they think that they can stop harm to children in a short period - with failures in child care, for sure there'll be another one along in a moment. After all, child abuse has been going on for so long and bad and/or inadequate parents and carers have been around forever - it's going to take longer. How about procedures? There is scope for looking at the watching brief and powers given to social workers, and there is a need to prevent slippage in the care programme. Those are steps that can be taken formally, but what about thinking about what we consider to be appropriate care within families? In the rush to ensure political correctness and to shy away from the nanny state we sometimes forget that telling a parent or carer what they ought to be doing in caring for a child may be what is needed. Even when we had those mythical and beneficent things we call family support and helpful neighbours (anyone would think that some year zero abolished informal support circa 1974, shortly after decimalisation) children were still abused.
What is the cause of this necessity to take children into care? Economic explanations have been offered, suggesting that pressures on families create the circumstances where abuse thrives, but that really does not tell us why appalling abuse occurs and why it occurs for so long, nor why it does not occur in many families where money is tight. The cost of running a family and home with children goes up every year - the weekly shop is getting more expensive no matter what claims the supermarkets make, and that matters in the current climate. Do carers of children lack good role models, do they have no guidance? Could it be simply that some know what to do but choose not to do the right things - or even something approximate to it? Exactly what you do about this is the million dollar question.
Chucking money at a problem never did solve it, but good financing would help to provide the sheer numbers of trained social workers and carers we still need to have in this country. It isn't cheap, but it is essential, so it will have to be paid for - unless we want a society where the cracks show all too clearly and the consequences carry on into generations.
Mind you, there are plans to make it compulsory to microchip all dogs to encourage ‘responsible ownership' - now there's a thoughtful alternative...
Penny Booth is a teaching fellow in family and child law at the University of Manchester Law School. She writes the CPD questions for the Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.
Contact Penny on Twitter: @Legalbirdie
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.