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How child protection’s ‘investigative turn’ impacts on poor and deprived communities

Date:13 APR 2017
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Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire
Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield
Katie Martin, Lecturer in Social Care, University of Central Lancashire

Whilst referrals rose by 6% in England between 2009-10 and 2015-16, an ‘investigative turn’ has seen a 93% increase in section 47 child protection investigations. There are few findings of physical and sexual abuse which are relatively static whilst plans for neglect and emotional abuse have risen. However, the biggest change is the 143% increase in the number of investigations that do not result in a child protection plan. These often unnecessary investigations harm children and their families.

The paper shows that state intervention particularly focus on children from the most deprived communities. In the 10% most deprived communities it is estimated that 45% of children born in 2009-10 were referred to children’s social care before their fifth birthday.

In an average class of 30, 5 year olds from these deprived communities, an estimated 14 children would have been referred, 9 be in need, 6 because of suspected abuse or neglect, and 2 children had a child protection plan. The legal threshold of significant harm was intended to ensure that intrusive interventions would be regulated. The current wide interpretation of ‘risk’ of significant harm has led to the investigative turn and an increasingly intrusive and out of control system.

The full version of this article appears in the April 2017 issue of Family Law. Online subscribers can access the article here.

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