Storing up trouble: NCB report exposes major failures in the system

In September 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) launched an inquiry into the causes and consequences of varying thresholds for children’s social care. The Inquiry’s findings are published in the report ‘Storing up trouble: a postcode lottery of children’s social care’.

This vital document exposes major failures in the system designed to support families and children. The main concerns raised:

• Thresholds for child protection or enabling access for support are often too high and thresholds vary significantly between local authorities
• Children in need of a child protection plan are, in 2/3 of cases, being left vulnerable to continued abuse or neglect
• Only a “small proportion” of resources is spent on early help and family support
• Families and children in need experience a high turnover of social workers assigned to them

A persistent theme in the report is that support often comes very late, i.e. when a child is at risk of being taken into care. This increases cost to the state and delays the opportunity to relieve suffering. “Tolerance” for early help is “based on resources” – there is simply not enough capacity in the system.

One major conclusion that we can draw is that short term failure to offer appropriate services leads to long term increased cost and more children suffering the impact of developmental trauma and needing more complex services later on.

The report acknowledges (without specific reference) that there is often a combination of Adverse Childhood Experiences present for children in need of early help.

Help us help children and adults recover from early developmental trauma – a right acknowledged by the United Nations and signed by the U.K. under the UN Convention on the rights of a child.

IRCT Best Practice Forum – Launch Day

Lord Francis Listowel, IRCT Patron, opened the Forum by welcoming members. He stressed the importance of the Forum members to join the IRCT to share good practice and he ably articulated the personal element of working to ensure that recovery is available to all children who have experienced trauma.

Stephen Bell, Chair of the IRCT Board then offered a reminder of the moral imperative of not only recovery work, but also of knowledge-sharing and dissemination of this best practice to the wider workforce.

To that end, Dr. Janet Rose, Principal Lecturer at Bath Spa University, presented on her work in building “Attachment Aware Schools”, tracking the three strands of attachment, neuroscience and emotion coaching. Her work focuses on addressing unmet attachment needs of children by equipping schools (both primary and secondary) with appropriate whole school policies and practice. Some of the more keys ideas to the programme include:

Introducing emotion coaching as a contrast to behaviourist theories of practice…transforming how we perceive student behavior in a practical way.

Encouraging empathy with the emotional state of children no matter the behavior while also maintaining standards.

Appointing an attachment lead/trauma lead for each school’s senior team

Using Pupil Premium funding to support the training for all school staff and developing consistency for support/canteen/duty staff who have contact with children.

Dr. Rose reminded the forum that the imperative for schools, and the child-centred workforce at large, is to help students heal from trauma, and not simply deal with the manifestations of that unresolved trauma. Her inspirational work has already produced positive initial data and outcomes and she shared feedback from a primary student who explained the effect of the new approach in his/her school as helping to “Stop the volcano in (my) tummy”. A worthwhile exploration/reminder of the power of a teacher to make a difference and, in a wider sense, of the role all of us can play in transforming the sense of self for vulnerable children.

Following on, Betsy de Thierry, Director of the Trauma Recovery Centre, spoke on Working with trafficked children and sexually exploited children. She began with a view of the general focus on awareness raising and the push for “rescue” of children in such traumatic situations, asking what happens when children get “rescued”? How are they best supported? What are we rescuing them to?

Betsy discussed her practice centred on therapy, training and creative work to aid recovering children as well as support for parents/carers/families while raising a number of provocative points. When discussing therapeutic mentoring, de Thierry asked what is the equivalent of the first aid level of access for children who have come through trauma? Again, for professionals working with students caught in or removed from such exploitative situations, we must ask and, more importantly, we must ensure we all know:

What is the road to recovery?
What does it look like?
How do we build consistency and attachment for these young people?
What is the difference between CSE v. Trafficking?
Further, what is the difference between Complex trauma v. trauma?

So, as the session came to a close our moderator, John Diamond (CEO of The Mulberry Bush Organisation) led a reflective discussion through the need for commitment for this sort of work, and explored some of the key recovery links between the efforts of our two speakers, including the focus on enhancing the children’s workforce through:
empowering professionals to heal
establishing a base level of empowerment/knowledge for all involved (including volunteers and foster carers) in supporting children who have experienced trauma.
Reducing negative emotions and feelings of being “de-skilled”
Building empathy, passion and consistency

With the points raised, questions asked and ways forward discussed, the forum was an excellent lead-in to the launch of the IRCT as well as a catalyst for the work we have begun.