In July of this year, a comprehensive study on the needs of 11-17 year olds who are maltreated was published by Rees et al. The research has many significant findings that will be helpful to child protection workers and planners but there are a few that really strike me as a clinician.
One of the most striking is that child protection programs are often more geared to the needs of younger children. There can be a feeling that older children who are maltreated are better able to protect themselves and are not as vulnerable. This is an unfortunate view. In my own clinical work I have seen this although my experience is that such a view is diminishing. It was a bit disheartening to see it, therefore in this research.
A summary of the research also notes the challenges that young people face in making a disclosure of maltreatment - will they be believed can be a theme I have seen along with fear about how the disclosure will impact the family. As the researchers note in their summary, "One key issue highlighted by the study was that young people found a huge difficulty in disclosing maltreatment. Not only do they struggle to strike up trusting relationships with a consistent professional (social workers are often overworked and a young person’s social worker can often change), but even when they have this relationship they are acutely aware of the potential ramifications for themselves and their family of disclosing abuse. Additionally, young people did not always have sufficient knowledge or information on how best to make the disclosure."
Social workers are not the place that most young people turn to - instead the research helps us to see that peers and schools are the places where disclosures are most likely to occur. Thus, ensuring that teachers are well informed on these issues is vital.
But, the system also needs to be able to respond. A challenge seen in this research and elsewhere is the impact of high caseloads, reducing budgets, increased managerialsim to protect the system instead of the child and high staff turnovers make it hard for young people to build relationships with social workers - the kinds of relationships that are needed for effective change.
An example of this can be seen in Birmingham in the UK where the local council has floated the idea of restricting services. CommunityCare.co.uk reports that "The consultation document also proposed that non-statutory services be "reduced or ceased". It is more likely that children will self report through voluntary and not statutory services.
A recent story in South Carolina also informs us of the need to seek family based solutions when they are available. Mangerialsim and risk aversive policies often cause child protection systems to move too slowly in getting children into safe family homes. Fortunately, kinship care is a choice in an increasing number of cases. Yet, it is easy to understand the caution in many cases (although not all as the South Carolina case shows). Within a family system child rearing patterns exist and thus, it is valid to ask if one part of the system is neglectful or abusive, then is another part.
Birmingham story: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2010/12/01/115924/birmingham-to-refer-fewer-children-to-save-money.htm
Safeguarding young people summary: http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2010/research/older-children/
and full report - http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/resources/documents/Research/21485_full.pdf
South Carolina story begins at http://www.thesunnews.com/2010/09/12/1688565/a-fathers-fight.html