Key Messages for Practice
Think the Unthinkable
As workers, we should always work with 'healthy scepticism' when dealing with families where a child/young person might be at risk.
Asking parents and families how they parent is not always the most reliable way of finding out what is happening in the home. Do not rely on self-reporting, test it out. Watching parenting in action (setting boundaries, play between parent and child) can be much more informative.
Research tells us:
A Seen Child is Not a Safe Child
Almost every child/young person who has been subject to a serious case review over the last 40 years was 'seen' by a practitioner within days (or hours) of their death.
Simply seeing a child/young person is not protection against harm. Practitioner need to try to understand what the world looks and feels like for that child/young person.
Getting a narrative of the child/young person's day-to-day lived experience is a good place to start rather than getting them to answer yes/no questions.
Please visit the Pan Bedfordshire Inter-agency Child Protection Procedures for more information and guidance on the voice and lived experiences of children and young people.
Assessment is a Process, Not a One-off Event
Assessment is about forecasting the future by reviewing past events. Review your thinking as new things happen - assessment should be ongoing; it does not end when a formal assessment has been completed.
We assess in order to make an appropriate plan, to implement that plan and to review how well its objectives have been met, and then to keep assessing.
Past experiences have a critical impact on present and future behaviour. Your understanding of a person's history must inform your assessment. Complete a Chronology
Assessments should not be carried out in isolation – practitioners need to share information effectively and should always ensure they let other practitioners know what they know and are doing, as well as checking out what the other practitioner know and are doing – to prevent duplication.
Questions to consider are:
- Who are the adults?
- What is their story?
Interaction is Not the Same as 'Attachment'
Parents may overcompensate or put on a display for strangers - but parents tend not to be able to 'fake it' for more than a few minutes. Why not ask them to play with their child and during the play demonstrate how they place boundaries.
Don't assume that a child/young person has a secure attachment style because they are smiling.
Determining the quality of attachment is a skilled and sometimes prolonged task.
Many children/young people who are abused are compliant and eager to please. Often even very young children are torn between trying to protect their parents from detection by the authorities and protecting themselves.
Questions to consider are:
- What is the quality of the parents' responsiveness to the child?
- What evidence have you observed in the child/young person’s behaviour that suggests secure, ambivalent, avoidant, disordered?
- What research supports your view?
Neglect is a Relationship Issue
Neglect (nits, poor hygiene, weight loss, lack of supervision, etc.) may signal a poor adult-child relationship. All neglect stems from parents prioritising something else over the child/young person's basic needs.
Practitioners sometimes become too tolerant of high levels of neglect and fail to spot risk.
Questions to consider are:
- What is going on in the relationship between the parent and child that has allowed this to happen?
- Where do the parents' priorities lie?
- How aware is the parent of their child's needs, personality, strengths and struggles?
- What is it like to be that child/young person's age and living in that household?
Please visit the Pan Bedfordshire Inter-agency Child Protection Procedures for more information and guidance on neglect.
Consensus Isn't Always Safe
The fact that everyone agrees does not mean that they are right - and certainly does not keep a child/young person safe.
There is no safety in numbers - risk does not decrease because more people agree.
Minority views are important and must be considered and noted within multi-agency work.
Consider what it is about that practitioner's experience that differs from others.
Parental Participation is Not the Same as Cooperation
Don't confuse an apparent willingness to comply with an actual willingness to accept the need to change.
The Rule of Optimism, where practitioners wrongly assume positive outcomes for a child/young person is more likely to exist when practitioners feel under pressure, and this can be very dangerous for the child/young person at risk.
The Rule of Optimism rationalises evidence that contradicts progress - so even where the facts show that risk is ongoing or increasing, practitioners tell themselves that the opposite is true.
Practitioner Involvement is Not the Same as Engagement
Just because another practitioner is involved with a child or young person's case does not mean that they are proactively engaged with protecting the child/young person.
The danger is that we assume that if a child/young person has a Social Worker, they are being protected; or if a Police Officer visited the house after a domestic violence incident, the child/young person is safe. The Social Worker may not know what you know; the Police Officer may not have had any cause for concern.
Never assume that someone else is doing something when you have a cause for concern.
Questions to consider:
- Even once you communicate your concern to other practitioners, how sure are you that you are understood? What actions are they taking?
- How do you know?