Talking to parents about child protection

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1 Talking t parents abut child prtectin Adapted fr NI frm Prtecting Children Update, April 2009 Jenni Whitehead discusses the difficulties faced by designated teachers, r child prtectin crdinatrs, in talking t children's parents abut their cncerns and the need t fllw child prtectin prcedures I have just finished running the first f this term s tw-day designated and deputy designated teachers curse and n reflectin I realised just hw much cncern there was abut talking t parents abut cncerns f pssible abuse. Sme f the questins that came up are listed in the bx belw. The majrity f participants n this curse were brand-new designated teachers s it was imprtant t address these very real cncerns in detail and the debate that fllwed was really very useful and interesting in terms f the different views shared. In principle all participants agreed that parents shuld be tld that a child prtectin referral had been made. The difficult questins were abut when the parent shuld be tld and by whm. Cncerns abut talking t parents D we have t talk t parents befre making a referral? D we have t get the cnsent f the parent in rder t make a referral? Can we talk t children s scial care first? Are there times when we shuldn t talk t parents at all? Aren t we putting children at mre risk when we talk t parents? Children in need versus child prtectin A child in need f prtectin is always a child in need. Hwever, a child can be in need withut being in need f prtectin. The definitin f a child in need is basically a child wh is in need f services. A UNOCINI assessment may be carried ut by a nminated prfessinal t gain a basic understanding f a child s needs and this assessment and subsequent referrals t services will require the cnsent f the parent, r, in respect f lder yung peple, their wn cnsent. If a designated teacher makes a child prtectin referral, the issue f cnsent is mre cmplex. The designated teacher needs t make a prfessinal judgement as t whether it is apprpriate t ask the cnsent f the parent befre referring. This decisin is based n the named persn s assessment f the situatin and their knwledge f the child and their family. In many cases designated teachers feel it inapprpriate t ask the cnsent f the parent, but need t be clear abut their reasns fr deciding nt t ask cnsent.

2 There are times when the designated teacher has a relatinship with the parent that allws them t judge the situatin as ne where it is entirely apprpriate t ask the cnsent f the parent befre making a child prtectin referral. Hwever in many situatins (in my experience), the designated teachers decide that it is nt apprpriate n the grunds that asking fr cnsent may put the child at risk f abuse r further abuse, n the grunds that the parent is the alleged abuser, r n the grunds that they believe the parent will refuse t give cnsent and asking fr cnsent feels inapprpriate, as in such circumstances they wuld still make the referral. Telling the parent that a referral is ging t be made r has been made is different frm asking cnsent and the general cnsensus is that parents shuld be tld by the referring agency. Hwever, all Gateway Services agree that in sme circumstances, ie sexual abuse r frced marriage, it is nt apprpriate t talk t the parent at all befre seeking advice frm child prtectin agencies. One f the participants asked: What if yu are cncerned abut a health issue that appears nt t have been addressed by the parent. Yu see it as a child in need situatin as ppsed t a child in need f prtectin but when yu ask the cnsent f the parent t make a referral the parent refuses t give cnsent. In such a situatin yu wuld need t try t discuss with the parent what it is that stps them frm seeking the service. There may be a very gd reasn fr them nt seeking help themselves. Yu wuld als need t cnsider the likely utcme fr the child if the health issue is nt addressed. Is the parent acting neglectful by nt seeking help fr their child? Will nt seeking such help cause an impairment f health and develpment? If the answer t either f these questins is yes then child prtectin prcedures shuld be cnsidered. Asking the cnsent f yung peple The same difficult questins arise in respect f yung peple. In thery if a yung persn is deemed Fraser cmpetent, designated teachers shuld cnsider whether r nt they shuld seek the cnsent f the yung persn befre making a child prtectin referral. The Children (NI) Order 1995 advises that we shuld seek and take seriusly the views f yung peple. It desn t say we shuld always make decisin based slely n the yung persn s wishes. A yung persn may refuse t give cnsent and again it is imprtant t try t explre why a yung persn wuld nt wish us t refer t anther agency t get them help r a service. T be deemed Fraser cmpetent a yung persn must be f an age and stage f develpment where they can understand the decisin they are making. Understanding the decisin they are making includes understanding the likely r pssible utcme f the decisin. Yung peple may be scared f the prcesses that cme int play if they give cnsent t their schl t make a child prtectin referral and it is imprtant t address these issues with them. Hwever, at the end f the day, a designated teacher must make a prfessinal judgement based n the principle that the child s needs are paramunt and where a yung persn talks abut being abused child prtectin prcedures must be perated.

3 T take an example: the ldest f three siblings disclses that she has been sexually abused by her father. She is in the sixth frm, nearly 18 and abut t apply fr university, s she is presumably capable f making and understanding decisins. If this yung persn refuses t give cnsent fr a referral t be made and we decide t respect her wishes n the grunds that she is Fraser cmpetent, where des this leave the ther tw children r indeed any ther children that her father cmes int cntact with? Wrking in partnership with parents The Children (NI) Order 1995 and subsequent child care/prtectin guidance reinfrce the idea f wrking in partnership with parents. Partnership wrking is bviusly imprtant in develping preventative methds f wrking. UNOCINI assessments are an example f partnership wrking between parent and prfessinal, bth seeking the best utcme fr the child. If a parent is t believe that they are in partnership with a prfessinal they wuld need t believe that the prfessinal wuld cnsult them befre passing n any infrmatin t anther agency and that they wuld have sme influence in what infrmatin is shared. Unfrtunately, sme parents d nt act in the best interest f their child, sme abuse their psitin f pwer ver children and partnership is nt always achievable. At the pint f initial referral it is the referring agency that needs t decide whether t cnsult the parent, seek cnsent frm the parent, tell the parent r whether t seek advice frm ther agencies first. If in yur prfessinal judgement yu feel it is t risky t talk t parents befre speaking t children s Gateway Services, dn t. Be prepared t stand yur grund n this, list yur reasns fr nt speaking t parents first and have the list in frnt f yu when yu make the referral. I am nt suggesting that yu shuld be prepared fr a battle, but children s Gateway Services will ask why yu haven t discussed the issue with parents because this helps them t understand the situatin. Clearly, smene has t talk t parents and these early discussins with scial wrkers give the pprtunity t make clear decisins abut wh will speak t them, when and hw. S what d we say t parents? Wrds are smetimes really hard t find when appraching a parent abut child prtectin issues and the participants n my curse wanted examples! First, hwever, make sure yur plicies are clear (see belw). Explaining yur child prtectin plicies t parents Make sure that yur child prtectin plicies are clear. Include child prtectin issues in the handbk yu give ut t new and prspective parents. Include a paragraph that explains that all schls have a statutry duty t safeguard children s welfare. Explain that where a schl has cncerns abut the safety and r wellbeing f a pupil it has a duty t reprt thse cncerns t children s gateway service.

4 Fr these types f cnversatins it is usually best t meet the parent in schl where ther peple are n hand and culd be asked fr supprt. Be straightfrward. Explain the nature f yur cncerns: I need t talk t yu abut the injury t Jane s face. Can yu tell me what happened t her? Peter has been very lethargic in class and says he cannt sleep, have yu any ideas what might be trubling him? Rubina s behaviur has changed dramatically ver the last few weeks. She has gne frm being a happy, utging child t a very quiet, withdrawn child. Have yu any idea what culd have caused this? Where I am cncerned abut a child s welfare I have t infrm children s scial services, This is a statutry duty that all schls have. Yu may have read this in the parents handbk. William tld a member f staff that he had been hit with a belt last night and because f what he said I have infrmed children s scial services. All schls are expected t talk t children s scial services when children say things like this and children s scial services have asked me t talk t yu abut this. Can yu tell me what happened? Fllw the cncept f reasnable parent : tell them yu knw that as a parent they will want t get t the bttm f the matter. Yu will have nticed that nne f these sentences mentin child abuse r child prtectin, the reasn being that t d s may inflame the situatin r may put the parent n s much edge that they are unable t ffer an explanatin. This way f wrding questins wrks n the basis that parents knw that yu cannt ignre what yu have seen r heard because yu have a duty t reprt yur cncerns but that yu are being hnest with the parent and that yu are ready t hear their explanatin. It prbably ges withut saying that even the mst carefully wrded message that yu have infrmed r intend t refer t children s scial services can be met with anger and hstility and ther members f staff need t knw where yu are, what yu are ding and t be prepared t ffer yu supprt. If yur previus experience f the parent suggests that they pse a risk d nt see them by yurself. Ask fr supprt frm ther safeguarding clleagues r frm children s scial services. Talking t parents: general guidelines In general and where pssible discuss cncern with parents unless t d s culd put a child r yurself at risk f harm Cnsider:

5 knwledge f family any threats r fears pssibility f child being silenced child nt wanting parents cntacted at this stage any pssibility evidence may be destryed/cntaminated. Generally d nt cntact parents: where discussin wuld impede a plice investigatin r scial wrk enquiry where sexual abuse is suspected where rganised r multiple abuse is suspected where the fabricatin f an illness is suspected where frced marriage is suspected D nt delay referral where it is nt pssible t cntact parents/carers If in dubt discuss with the Child Prtectin Supprt Services fr Schls at yur lcal Educatin & Library bard.

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