At the risk of sounding alarmist, the risk of yet another high profile death of a child known to child protection authorities is just around the corner. How can I feel so secure in saying this?
News media are beginning to report the worrying trend of major cutbacks in funding. These inevitably lead to layoffs and the reduction of resources. Fewer child protection workers struggling with systems where there are fewer supports to offer families. This leads to the choice of apprehending a child where supports may have kept a child in the family or, in the alternative, simply determining that only the most serious cases will have files opened (and thus the hope that the child will make it through).
There are those, such as the NCCPR who say that only focusing on real cases of neglect or abuse may be a good thing. They might argue that too many cases are being opened and far too many children apprehended - put the resources against sustaining families and apprehend fewer children. They might suggest that is cheaper and better for society. One doubts that NCCPR spends much time at the front line trying to make the apprehension decision. But, they have a point that resources need to be used wisely and cases opened that really need intervention. If only we, as a society, could agree on that and avoid forcing social workers to make those decisions knowing that limited resources are available.
As Wotherspoon et al., note in a recent article on presenting infant mental health concerns to the courts, many of the interventions that we are using with families are not necessarily effective. Not enough evidence based resources are generally available that recognize the intense and long term supports that many families need. It is not enough to be critical of the apprehensions if you are also not willing to support the funds needed to actually make a difference in families while trying to keep the children with their parents.
Three articles in the last few days tell us that resources are getting tighter. An Australian writer today notes the problems of burnout in CPS workers (http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=24265).
CommunityCare.co.uk reports today, "All of Derbyshire Council's social care workers have been given the opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy or early retirement in an attempt to save £84m following government spending cuts" http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2010/11/29/115904/council-offers-social-care-workers-voluntary-redundancy.htm
Another report from another area of the UK notes "Around 300 children's services posts are at risk in Cumbria as the county council braces itself for a raft of cuts to government grants." http://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/1043844/Cumbria-childrens-services-jobs-risk/
These cuts in the UK will affect a broad range of social workers and supports to families. Will the public stand in support of child protection when the next high profile death occurs looking to the politicians and say it was their responsibility because they cut so many resources? One doubts it!
The Representative for Children and Youth in British Columbia today issued a report on the progress from the Hughes Commission of Inquiry. It is not flattering but it also emphasizes how the economy adds to the challenges of child protection. The commissioner states, "Difficult economic times can mean harsher realities for many of B.C.’s families. Poverty will deepen for some, unemployment rates may climb, and previously successful families may struggle. Social services may be required more often, and community supports may disappear. Stagnant or decreasing budgets will not be able to address the needs of additional children and families" (p. 17).
The adage of doing more with less comes to mind - the recipe for one of those high profile deaths.
The full B.C. report can be found at http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01037/Final_Report_of_im_1037667a.pdf