Child abuse within Black African families is an important topic which has been given extensive attention in British social work research and literature to date. However, only a limited research on child abuse in African families have really considered the impact of socio-economic factors on social work interventions since the inception of the Children Act 1989 (England and Wales). Now the question is why is the issue of socio-economic status of West African families living in the UK an important factor to consider in social work intervention in child abuse cases? My aim in addressing this topic is that research works and literature show that Black children and their families are more likely than whites to be subjected to unnecessary child abuse interventions by social work agencies and other professionals (Bernard & Gupta, 2006).
Recent research show that in all groups, black children were over-represented on the child protection register under the category of poor parenting behaviour leading to all forms of abuse compared to white children (Bernard & Gupta, 2006). This may also be seen within the context of the pathologization of Black families which, incorporates the view that black people, their socio-economic lifestyles are inherently problematic and need correcting (Singh 2006, p. 19) and therefore social workers may intervene unnecessarily in such families. Social workers on the contrary may hesitate to intervene with Black families due to being unsure whether certain parenting behaviours resulting from low socio-economic status are really an abuse or not.
The potential consequences of such approach for Black families will be either that the children and their families will be unnecessarily investigated under the child protection system and may be subject to court orders, admitted to local authority care, and/or adopted, or that there will not be appropriate intervention by social workers for black children at risk of significant harm, and therefore children may continue to be harmed or even die. This is evident in recent years, where the vulnerability of some black African children in Britain has been highlighted by the tragic deaths of two African children: Victoria Climbié (Laming, 2003) and the young boy known as Adam, whose torso was found floating in the River Thames (Sale, 2005). Also more recently, media reports of possible ‘ritual’ abuse of African children in Britain were fuelled by the criminal prosecution in relation to Child ‘B’, who was physically abused because it was believed she was a ‘kindoki’—a victim of witchcraft possessed by the devil (Tendler and Woolcock, 2005; Thompson, 2005).
In a broader context Socio-economic status is defined as:
‘a composite measure that typically incorporate economic status, which is measured by income; social status, measured by education; and work status, measured by occupation’ (Dulton & Levine, 1989, p.30).
The three indicators are interrelated but not fully overlapping variables. In this context socio-economic status is considered in terms of economic status, defined as low income or poverty. The difficulties for majority of West African Black families who are mainly asylum seekers from poverty-stricken and war-torn countries now living in the UK are not confined only to how they may be viewed by social workers involved in child care but significantly by their
child-rearing differences arising from their socio-economic backgrounds (Beranard & Gupta 2006).
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000) based on the ecological approach places a requirement on social workers to consider families’ histories, cultural and socio-economic status. Therefore the low socio-economic status of many West African families living in the UK is one big challenge for social work professionals working to safeguard and protect these children from abuse from parents responsible for their care. Therefore key information from the literature will be discussed to explore a number of issues that will help social work professionals to deploy the most appropriate and effective method of social work interventions in child abuse cases with West African families in poverty so as to protect these children from all forms of abuse. Moreover, difficulties in social work intervention in child abuse cases may arise, as explained by Korbin (2004), because the process of assessing a child abuse case is complex and parental behaviours and child outcomes may not be the same in different socio-economic settings. Henceforth, child abuse within West African families can risk reproducing stereotypes of this ethnic minority as ‘deficient’, thus fostering pathological viewpoint of African family relationships (Platt, 2005). This raises the question of how can social work practices direct attention to pertinent socio-economic issues framing the experiences of West African children at risk of significant harm, yet not to reproduce ideas of all West African families as deficient.
These complex circumstances make social work intervention a major challenge in recent times and therefore, calls for a new perspective in terms of skills, knowledge and conceptual tools to distinguish between the styles of parenting that differ from those of the majority culture, but at the same time safeguarding and protecting children from significant harm.
The dissertation has built its theoretical framework on social work theory, policy and practice and will use key conceptual framework from the social-contextual approaches to intervention. The methodology for this work was mainly qualitative and the literature search has been obtained from primary and secondary sources. The dissertation will lay out various issues regarding the social work intervention processes used for West African families with low socio-economic status.
The first chapter provides literature on black African children and the child protection system. Chapter two provides a discussion on the increased complexity of social work intervention in child abuse cases involving West African families with low socio-economic status. It also analyse how socio-economic factors cultivate a particular parenting behaviours that impact on social work interventions and thus, bringing West African children living in the UK into the child protection arena. Then chapter three draws on legislations and policies regulating social work practices in the UK. It examines social work practices required to provide competent social work interventions in child abuse cases among West African families and at the same time would not compromise children safety and protection. Chapter four critically analyse the methods of interventions available to social workers to use in effecting positive change in black African community. Finally chapter five discusses the implications of social work intervention made by social work professionals among West African families of low socio-economic status.
There are a number of recent studies on Black families and the child protection system which suggest that these families are disproportionately represented at different levels in the child protection system. Gibbons et al (2005) study looked at the operation of the child protection system in eight local authorities in Britain. A part of their study looked at the racial background of the referred families and they found that Black families were over-represented compared with White families on referrals involving physical injury (58% vs. 42%). Black families were also more often referred for using an implement to inflict the physical injury. The researchers argue that this finding illustrates parenting differences in child-rearing, and the difficulty of deciding what forms of physical punishments are ‘acceptable’ in Britain. They continued to report that the consequences of the injuries inflicted on the Black children were no more likely to be long-lasting, but what seemed unacceptable for the people who referred these children to social services was the form the punishment took. This research study raises an interesting point about child-rearing and parenting differences. Is it the case that Black families, as part of their culture of child-rearing stemming from their poverty status, use physical punishment more as a means of discipline than White families? A recent study by Ellis (2007) found that some West African parents adopted a harsh disciplinary approach with their children as they believe there is no other alternative way of instilling discipline in their children. But the vast people of the majority ethnic community could use options like keeping playing toys away from the children or not taking the children on a holiday and/or depriving them of visiting their friends as a form of instilling disciplining in the children.
Ellis (2007) also noted that these punishments are likely to be meted out in a fairly public situation and, though they may be painful, they are unlikely to get out of hand and go beyond what is culturally acceptable. This would appear to support Gibbon et al (2005) findings that the consequences of the injuries to the Black children in their study were not likely to be long-lasting.
Another research study by Gibbon & Wilding (2005) looked at three local authorities, two of which had significant populations of Black families. One of their findings indicate that referrals around inadequate supervision of children in the two authorities show that a significant number of children referrals came from Black families with low income status than black families with medium/high income status. It could be argued that families with low income status have to strive hard to make ends means by engaging in two or more menial jobs to financially sustain the family. As a result children are inadequately supervised by the very people who are responsible for their care. Considering this kind of socio-economic circumstances, Gibbon & Wilding (2005) question whether such referrals should be considered within the child protection framework, or whether it would be better to provide welfare interventions and services for such families under the children in need Act (The Children Act 1989, England and Wales, S.17). This finding has a number of possible implications for West African children and their families, it may mean that they will remain in the child protection system for longer whilst the necessary services are identified and implemented; or perhaps that assessments and intervention services are provided but are not socio-economically sensitive, and therefore only serve to disadvantage families further.
Furthermore, as part of their study, they found that proportionately more Black children were subject to child abuse investigations than White children. They found that of all the children in their study sample on the register, 60% were Black. A possible reason for this over-representation was that social work professionals working with the families had no or little understanding of the socio-economic backgrounds of these black African families (Barn et al. 2007). The researchers also found that White social workers and practitioners emphasized their lack of socio-economic awareness as a weakness when working with Black families, whilst Black social workers and practitioners argued that poverty and ethnicity were not adequately taken into account due to euro-centric child protection procedures. One might speculate whether the parents/guardians of these children refuse to cooperate with social service agencies or whether these agencies are taking a heavy-handed approach, perhaps have pathological approach towards such families.
Further data shows that the number of African children in need in the sample week in 2005 is 8,000 (Department for Education and Skills, 2006a). This figure accounts for 3 per cent of the overall total, which is an over-representation inferring from the 2001 census where African children makes up 1.4 per cent of the population. A number of studies indicate that most families of children in need, regardless of ethnicity, struggle to bring up their children in conditions of poverty (Department of Health, 1995, 2001). Many West African children in need will not be drawn into the child protection system, if they are made to receive voluntary welfare support services. Thoburn et al.’s (2005) review of the research into the nature and outcomes of child welfare services for black children concluded that African children are almost twice as likely to be looked after than the white majority children in the population as a whole, which then suggest, that some of these children will be accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 Children Act, by virtue of being raised by families of low socio-economic status.
Beranard and Gupta (2006) found that in relation to the reasons for African children being involved in the child protection system, no official national data are collected on ethnicity and reasons for referral or registration on the child protection register (Department for Education and Skills, 2006b). Research data paint a complex and often contradictory picture and once again the information is often aggregated with data on other minority ethnic children. Brophy et al.’s (2003) study, which separated data on different minority ethnic families, highlights an increase complexity in the cases involving African children and found that many involved ‘multiple’ concerns and allegations about parental behaviour.
Arguably, there are a number of contributory factors which could be perceived as important in understanding the involvement of West African families with social work agencies and the resultant over-representation of their children in public care and in the child protection system. Broadly speaking, these range from poverty and social exclusion, to child abuse and neglect, poor social work assessments and intervention, and overt and covert racism.
The Commission for Racial Equality’s submission to the DFES/HM Treasury Joint Policy Review on children and young people identifies a number of shortcomings of some government policy initiatives such as Sure Start (CRE, 2006). As is the case with many other government policy initiatives, it is expected that Sure Start Centres will be responsive to black minority ethnic needs and concerns. The commitment of such policies is questioned when there is ‘no race equality impact assessment of the Childcare Act 2006 and only a brief mention of black ethnic minority families in the ten-year childcare strategy’ (CRE, 2006, p. 10).
Whilst black ethnic monitoring of children in care, in need and on the child protection register now takes place at regional and national levels, there is little evidence that such information is utilized for policy and planning purposes to effect positive change.
It is evident that race and welfare policy has been constrained by parochial perspectives which have tended to focus on how to deal with those in the system. For example, the policy and practice debate on ethnicity and substitute family placements diverts attention from preventive services which could help to obviate the admission of minority children into care in the first place. Similarly, preventive methods of intervention with West African families, such as Family Group Conferences, and systemic practice, as well as particular approaches such as kinship care, are less well developed (Broad and Skinner, 2005; Farmer and Moyers, 2005).
All families and children for whom social work intervention is likely to be needed are also more than most subject to a range of social and economic problems and barriers. One major factor is chronic poverty which is often associated with unemployment or immigration, ethnic minority, or a single parent family. Poverty often goes hand in hand with other disadvantages and obstacles such as poor educational and employment opportunities, poor parenting, and allegations of child abuse cases. Many West African families and children problems are exacerbated by the interaction between socio-economic factors and their individual impairments and family situations. Unemployment levels are very high among West African families, who are also subject to stigma and prejudice on the part of the community. West African families living in the UK without jobs and no access to benefit and/or dependent on benefits find it hard to access credit. Poor children growing up in single-parent families suffer serious parental disadvantage, which in turn result into social work interventions.
Poverty as we all know is not even-handed. The chances of experiencing poverty are far higher with people from West Africa than with white people’ (Amin & Oppenheim 2002). Institutional oppression is suffered by many West African people in many areas including housing ( Amin & Oppenheim 2002), employment ( Chakrabarti et al. 2000), welfare state ( Sadiq-Sangster 2001), education and health which not only means that they are more likely to experience poverty and deprivation, but may also make them more susceptible to social work interventions in terms of child protection. Indeed one may expect Black children to be over-represented in child abuse statistics because their families are more open to surveillance as a result of figuring highly among indices of deprivation (Corby 1993, p.69). The relationship between poverty and child abuse has been broadly established (Thobum et al. 1993; Gibbons et al. 2005).
Arguments favour the impact of poverty on child abuse shows an increasing number of child protection allegations referred into the system, and second was the proportion of cases leading to social work interventions and/or other forms of services. Numbers entering the system were hard to quantify. Whilst they showed an increase in registrations up to 1991 (Gibbons et al., 1995), no national records had been kept about referrals, and differences in recording practices and interpretation were widespread. Regarding proportional figures, the discussion was on slightly safer ground. A key finding from the 2005 research studies show that a large number of children were entered into the child protection system compared with those who were subject to social welfare procedures. Of a total number of child protection referrals, around 75 per cent were investigated and intervened, 25 per cent were subject to a child protection conference and only 15 per cent had their names placed on the child protection register as a result (Gibbons et al., 2005). Consequently, it was argued that the child protection ‘net’ was picking up too many cases inappropriately. This finding undermines the government aim of keeping children with families and reducing the number of children that enter the child protection register. On the contrast, it is important to consider the effectiveness of the child protection system. Broadly, it seemed to be achieving as much as could be expected in terms of the limited aim of preventing further abuse to identifiable children. There are, however, identifiable shortcomings of the child protection system.
Social work interventions appeared to have quite traumatic effects on families (Department of Health, 1995), often generating anxiety and uncertainty for either children or parents, or both (Farmer and Owen, 2005).
Research shows that the poverty experienced by many West African families may be better met through preventative measures rather than child protection ones. Yet despite section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which places a duty on the local authority social workers to provide support for children in need, many social services children and family teams, barely have sufficient resources to meet their duties under child welfare and children ‘looked after’. However, unless these issues are tackled, West African families who need support for their children will receive it only when there is an issue of child protection. Furthermore, using socio-economic variables such as poverty as a predictor of high-risk families (Greenland 1997) fails to acknowledge the part prejudice plays for Black people. Consequently, these indicators of child abuse are seen as failings of the individual rather than the product of social inequality (Jones 2004).
A number of studies have indicated that most West African families, struggle to bring up their children in conditions of material and emotional adversity (Department of Health, 1995, 2001). For instance West African families cannot take their children on a holiday trip or meet their wishes and wants. Brophy et al.’s (2003) study suggests that immigration and asylum issues, combined with financial problems, are likely to be reasons for the increased complexity for social work professionals assessing and intervening child abuse cases involving West African children. The child protection system that exists in Britain will be unfamiliar to many West African families, especially those who recently arrived, as similar state systems do not exist in most West African countries, particularly where socio-economic factors overshadow intra-familial child maltreatment and intervention into child abuse and neglect (Lachman et al., 2002; Pierce and Bozalek, 2004). Brophy et al.’s (2003) study concludes that many black West African parents saw social work assessment and intervention in child welfare cases as a complete anathema and distrust, especially where parents migrate from countries in political turmoil and where there is no existence of child welfare services. There is also concern about the quality of social workers’ interventions in child abuse cases. For example, it is shown that investigations of alleged child abuse tended to focus on risk assessment rather than assessment leading to social work interventions of the needs of the whole child (Thoburn et al., 2007). In particular, social workers carrying out an investigation might not pick up problems emanating from poverty or social deprivation (Farmer and Owen, 2005). However, at least superficially, social work interventions appear to contrast with section 17 responses, where research reveals high levels of satisfaction amongst parents and children receiving social work services (Colton et al., 1995; Tunstill and Aldgate, 2000). Thus, if allegations were minor, it was suggested that the costs to families were unacceptably high, and it was by no means clear that interventions, as a social work response, was better or worse than other options.
Engaging in social welfare policy addresses low socio-economic status through intervention aimed at promoting social change, while intervention aimed at the poor family or individual addresses poverty at the micro level by helping those in need to develop better coping strategies. The argument that the social work mission of pursuing social change and dealing with poverty cannot be attained by micro practice has been the source of strong and recurrent criticism against the dominance of micro practice in social work although Hugman (2008) questions the truism of this argument (Asquith et al 2005). The relationship between the mission of social work with regard to poverty and the type of social work practised poses a dilemma for social workers. A particular challenge for social work services is how to work to the required standards regarding thresholds for assessment and intervention with West African families with low socio-economic background and to safeguard and promote children’s welfare (Platt, 2005).
The literature suggest that poverty among black West African families affect the life chances of many African children and the capacity of their parents to provide adequate care and this should be considered in social work assessment and interventions involving child abuse cases. The relationship between values and child up bringing patterns illuminates the relationship between socio-economic factors and parenting behaviours (Shor, 2000). Shor (2000) suggests that parents from low social class differ in terms of the values they uphold for their children and this impact on child upbringing. It is also found that there is correlation between black African mothers with low income status using a more authoritarian approach of caring for children than mothers with high income status. Shor’s (2000) underpin the relationship between values and child-bearing patterns which illuminate the relationship between socio-economic factors and parenting behaviours. He suggests that parents from diverse social class differ in terms of what characteristics they value most for their children and that these differences in value contribute to differences in parenting behaviour. This variation in child-rearing attitudes based on socio-economic variables was underpinned by Shaefer and Edgerton (1995). In order to develop a sensitive knowledge of child abuse, not only across culture but also across socio-economic contexts, it is possible to draw upon knowledge from studies that look at the parenting patterns of black parents with low income.
In families it is the children to whom social workers owe the greater duty of care. Children can be clear about what they need. There may be tensions between children’s needs and wishes, parents’ needs and wishes, the views and wishes of the wider family, of the community, other professionals, and with the requirements of the law, regulation and procedure. Even where the decision is to remove a child from a family the way social workers conduct their business can make a difference. Thus social work has to respond to parental needs- financial and social, for the sake of the children, but may need to abandon them to maintain the primacy of the child’s welfare.
The consequences of getting the balance wrong in either direction expose both black African children and parents to suffering and pain. Sometimes the nature of the socio-economic issue will demand decisions that appear to undermine that commitment of not putting children at risk of significant harm. Social workers have to take the decision and maintain the commitment.
By the 21st century, there was a growing view that many West African children who were subjects of section 47 investigations were also eligible for services as children in need (section 17 of the 1989 Children Act). Often, such children did not receive these welfare services because of the apparent incident driven focus of child protection services. One way forward in these circumstances was to encourage local authority social work teams to conduct initial assessments, rather than child protection investigations, in borderline cases, with a view to finding less intrusive forms of social work intervention practice that address the wider developmental needs of the child. Procedures supporting such changes were first introduced by local authorities independently, and were subsequently incorporated into government guidance in England, with the expectation that all referrals of children would first be offered an initial assessment except in emergency cases or where it is suspected that a crime has been committed (Department of Health, 1999).
Concurrently, a detailed framework was issued regarding the assessment of all children in need (Department of Health, 2000). The now familiar Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families was based on an ecological model of assessment, and included supporting pro formas covering the initial assessment period. Platt, (2000) in his study on refocusing initiative attracted a degree of criticism. For many health and social work professionals, there was concern that serious child protection issues might not receive an adequate response if handled outside child protection procedures (Calder and Hackett, 2003). A key factor here would be whether cases can be switched successfully from family support back into child protection—an issue that has given cause for concern over a number of years (Laming, 2003). Parton (1996) criticized the recommendations of Messages from Research because they ignored the basic socio-economic reality for many families. Furthermore, current social expectations may support a formal response to allegations of child abuse and neglect. It is thus unreasonable to expect social workers to act alone since to do so runs counter to the dominant view of wider society. The idea that fewer investigations would mean that resources could simply be transferred to family support services is somewhat naive. The resource problems include the provision of social work time, the provision of adequate family support services, and the need to support a period of change and transition. Few would argue that resourcing levels in any of these respects have been adequate (Calder and Hackett, 2003), and the question of resources was sidestepped almost completely by Messages from Research.
The difficulties of implementing such changes were highlighted more recently by Cleaver and Walker (2004) in their research on the impact of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. The role of the state in these processes was also examined critically by Spratt and Callan (2004).
They argued that reductions in numbers of children on the child protection register have been achieved largely as a result of modern governance and measures to promote compliance with performance targets. Whilst these achievements are laudable, they suggest, they may serve to obscure ‘underlying tensions in the relationship between the state and the family’. The idea of refocusing has been affected by complex, often competing pressures since the introduction of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. Arguably, the death of Victoria Climbié reinforced a ‘child protection’ orientation, and may have led, in some areas, to a lowering of the child protection threshold (Laming, 2003). The Laming report, furthermore, draws attention to the professional confusions that arise from the distinctions in practice between sections 17 and 47. In circumstances such as this, the role of the social worker in any changing pattern of provision takes on particular importance.
Social work has its roots in the struggle of society to deal with poverty and the resultant problems. Therefore, social work is intricately linked with the idea of charity work; but must be understood in broader terms. The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in all major world religions (www.globalvision.org. Retrieved on 14/04/2009).
The term ‘social work intervention’ usually describes work undertaken with individuals, families, groups and communities. In this context the term to cover the use of social work knowledge and skills when using it within a social care organisation to facilitate the provision of services and practice consistent with the Codes of Practice and with standards of service and practice, and to promote the social inclusion and life opportunities of people using services. Successful social work includes the capacity to work effectively within organisations and across organisational boundaries. In the vast majority of instances social work intervention is a collective activity not an individual activity whether as social worker employee or an independent social worker. The most common form of methods of social work intervention is Individual or family casework. Here social work is the intervention. It supports the individual or family to identify, and use, their own and their social network’s experience and expertise as a resource for problems or difficulties may have resulted from the effects of social exclusion, lack of skills or knowledge, or, self- defeating or self-damaging behaviour that achieves the very result that the individual or family most dreads. The purpose of the intervention is diverse and ranges from increasing life skills or changing behaviour to increase life options and coping with changed life situations and transitions (Smale, Tuson and Statham, 2000).
Social work is a demanding professional discipline based on a body of values, knowledge, skills and personal attributes, and requiring a commitment by the social worker to continuing professional and personal development. It has a sound and consolidating knowledge base that can be deployed, and contributes in a growing variety of organisational and informal contexts.
The International Federation of Social Workers states that:
‘social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes (IFSW 2000).
The history of the African heritage in the development of social welfare and social work can be found deep in the recesses of British history but remains largely unacknowledged and undocumented as social work continues to be steeped in the professional milieu of an existing ethnocentric knowledge base and value system (Martin and Martin, 2005). For too long, the black historical presence at the beginnings of social work have reflected the ‘invisible man’ syndrome, prevalent in the mainstream texts of social work and social policy as well as the main texts on the history of Britain (Ellison, 2004). Social work within the black community in Britain has emerged out of concerns about the well-being of children and families whose experience of enslavement and servitude necessitated efforts to improve their life conditions.
Social work activity within Pan African organizations in Britain dates from the end of the last century and continues to the present day, supporting parents organizing events, engaging in activities to support the collective development of African people, and offering specific programmes for children and young people. Social work activity is well developed in black churches and youth groups, as well as in supporting elders in the community. The African-centred perspective is now well articulated, its philosophical assumptions and knowledge base providing social work designs which support and nurture the cultural, philosophical, historical and collective development of African people throughout the world. Whilst operating a split or differential response system highlights the need for clear categorical definitions of referred cases, after such decisions have been made, the approach is dictated by the service remit of the agency. Integrated systems face different challenges. Because the state provides protective and welfare functions, its provision of these becomes subject to questions of balance.
The recent history of social work policy and practice in the UK has been characterized as a ‘sustained tug of war’ (Tunstill, 2006) between child protection and child welfare viewpoints (Fox-Harding, 1997) with a balanced approach proving elusive in practice. The question of achieving a new balance in the relationship between the state and the family as mediated by social workers was much debated in the 1990s. Child Protection: Messages from Research (Department of Health, 1995) had revealed the long afterlife of child protection influences, with social workers demonstrably privileging a child protection orientation in their practice, with a stunting in the growth of child welfare services as a corollary. The ensuing professional and academic dialogue came to be known as the ‘refocusing debate’ (Hearn, 1995). It was argued that with the legislative framework and procedural guidance essentially in place, there was a consequent need for local authority social workers to refocus their interventions to take account of child and family welfare issues. It was against the backdrop of the refocusing debate that one of the authors undertook a study examining social work practice in relation to the coding of, and response to, initial referrals (Spatt, 2000, 2001; Spratt and Callan, 2004) with the file analysis being undertaken in 1997. The specific context was a Health social work Services Trust in Northern Ireland that was seeking to demonstrably refocus by reducing the differential between number of child protection investigations (CPIs) undertaken and number of children’s names added to the child protection register. The inherent assumption being that routing more initial referrals through a child welfare response would result in a different type of engagement with black families, with services delivered more in line with their needs (Bernard & Gupta 2006). However, the research, whilst indicating that such technical adjustments were possible, called into question the value of such achievements in view of the evidence that social workers were developing quasi child protection responses to child welfare cases (Spratt, 2000, 2001), with the fear of stigmatization following contact with social workers being a particular concern of black African parents (Spratt and Callan, 2004).
Since the time of the first study, the New Labour Government has sought to address the continuing concern ‘that the balance between safeguarding and promoting welfare for children in need, particularly African children who are living with their families in the UK has not yet been achieved’ (Department of Health, 2001, pp. 46), via a set of interlocking strategies involving policy development, performance measures and practitioner tools (Spratt and Callan, 2004). Latterly, policy developments in the wake of the Climbié Inquiry (Lord Laming, 2003), as represented in Every Child Matters, have, as Parton has observed, ensured that ‘the priority is not only that children are protected from significant harm but that the welfare of as many children as possible is safeguarded and promoted’ (Parton, 2006, pp. 169). Some commentators have seen little place for local authority social work in meeting the needs of this greater number of West African children requiring state help. For example, Fawcett et al. (2004) argue that ‘New Labour are quietly giving up the ghost on social services departments and transferring the mandate for supportive and preventative work to various new initiatives’ (Fawcett et at.,2004, pp.2004). Nelson (2005) suggests that this represents a distancing by Government from the ‘commonly perceived stigma and unpopularity of social workers’ (Nelson, 2005, pp. 24). Conversely, it may be argued that the place of social work remains unresolved, with some potential for renegotiation of mandate (Spratt, 2008) and with possibilities for a proportional share of the anticipated increase in numbers of black children and their families coming to the attention of the state for reasons of child welfare (Munro, 2007). In 1994, the Audit Commission suggested that ‘much investigation work’ could be dropped as inappropriate, and in its place, family support services could be developed. The proposed need for change was supported by the Department of Health (Rose, 1994), based on research results summarized in the now well known publication, Child Protection: Messages from Research (Department of Health, 1995).
Arguments in favour of refocusing relied partly on numerical data, of which there are two types. First is the increasing number of child protection allegations referred into the system, and second was the proportion of cases leading to social work interventions and/or other forms of services. The number of black children entering the system is hard to quantify. Although some commentators referred to an explosion in reported cases (e.g. Parton and Mathews, 2001), English data are quite limited. Whilst they show an increase in registrations up to 1991 (Gibbons et al., 1995), no national records had been kept about referrals, and differences in recording practices and interpretation are widespread. A key finding from the 1995 research studies shows that a large number of black children entered the child protection system compared to those who are subjected to further procedures. Of a total number of child protection referrals, around 75 per cent were investigated, 25 per cent were subject to a child protection conference and only 15 per cent had their names placed on the child protection register as a result (Gibbons et al., 1995). Consequently, it was argued that the child protection system is picking up too many cases inappropriately.
In the context of social work practices, it is important to consider the effectiveness of the child protection system. Broadly, it seems to be achieving as much as could be expected in terms of the limited aim of preventing further abuse to identifiable African children. On the contrary, there is no significant evidence that the most serious cases were being ignored (Department of Health, 1995), and re-abuse rates generally involving minor abuse appear to have improved (Gibbons, 1997). There is also some disputed evidence that child death rates had improved along with the increasing sophistication of child protection procedures in the UK (Pritchard, 1996; Lindsay and Trocmé, 1994). There are however, identifiable shortcomings of the child protection system. Social work interventions appear to have quite traumatic effects on black African families (Department of Health, 1995), often generating anxiety and uncertainty for either children or parents, or both (Farmer and Owen, 1995; Cleaver and Freeman, 1995). There was also concern about the quality of social workers’ assessments in child protection cases. For example, it was shown that investigations of alleged child abuse tend to focus on risk assessment rather than assessment of the needs of the whole child (Thoburn et al., 1997).
However, at least superficially, investigations appeared to contrast with section 17 responses, where research reveals high levels of satisfaction amongst parents and children receiving social work services (Colton et al., 1995; Tunstill and Aldgate, 2000). Thus, if allegations were minor, it suggests that the costs to families were unacceptably high, and it was by no means clear that investigation, as a social work response, is better or worse than other options.
By the mid-1990s, there was a growing view that many African children who were subjects of section 47 investigations were also eligible for services as children in need (section 17 of the 1989 Children Act). Often, such children did not receive these services because of the apparent incident driven focus of child protection services. One way forward in these circumstances was to encourage social workers to conduct initial assessments, rather than child protection investigations, in borderline cases, with a view to finding less intrusive forms of social work practice that address the wider developmental needs of the child. Procedures supporting such changes were first introduced by local authorities independently, and were subsequently incorporated into government guidance in England, with the expectation that all interventions of child abuse cases would first be offered an initial assessment except in emergency cases or where it is suspected that a crime has been committed (Department of Health, 1999), where appropriate intervention is deployed.
Corby (2003) conducted a larger study involving comparisons before and after refocusing, but identified little difference in social workers’ judgements. Regarding parent’s experiences of changed practice, the evidence is more optimistic. Two studies (Corby et al., 2002; Cleaver and Walker, 2004) are now available that suggest that the greater attention given to participatory or partnership practice, as a result of the implementation of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, has found favour with parents. Spratt and Callan (2004), similarly, suggest that successful relationships are formed in ‘child welfare’ cases, although their sample size was very small. Regarding broader critiques of refocusing, Pringle (1998) is concerned that family support strategies may be too generalized a form of response compared with child protection procedures that are targeted on the actual nature of the alleged abuse.
The difficulties of implementing such changes are highlighted more recently by Cleaver and Walker (2004) in their research on the impact of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. The role of the state in these processes is also examined critically by Spratt and Callan (2004). They argued that reductions in numbers of children on the child protection register have been achieved largely as a result of modern governance and measures to promote compliance with performance targets. Whilst these achievements are laudable, they suggest, they may serve to obscure ‘underlying tensions in the relationship between the state and the family’. The idea of refocusing has been affected by complex, often competing pressures since the introduction of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. Arguably, the death of Victoria Climbié reinforced a ‘child protection’ orientation, and may have led, in some areas, to a lowering of the child protection threshold (Laming, 2003). The Laming report, furthermore, drew attention to the professional confusions that arise from the distinctions in practice between sections 17 and 47. Contradictory events have also occurred in the form of supposedly discredited expert opinions in alleged child abuse cases (e.g. cot deaths, nursery abuse: see, e.g. BBC News (2000); Lillie v. Newcastle (2000).
Social work practice as stated by Bartlett (2003) has to do with people’s social needs, their capacity to cope with the demands of their socio-economic environment. The general systems approach focuses the attention of social workers to the point where it belongs, the transactions that occur between individuals and their socio-economic environments and the potential of the transactions for enhancing or diminishing the capacity of individuals to gain satisfaction from life and to promote the satisfaction of others. According to Rustin (2005), the emotional impact becomes more intense when working with families that have different values and belief systems from the majority culture and who may have financial problems. In a similar vein, Alibhai-Brown (2005) cautions against social workers being subconsciously swept along with the hysteria following the sensational and often inaccurate media reporting of alleged abuse within African families (Bernard and Gupta, 2006). In situations in which there is a risk of abuse or neglect of African children, as with other minority ethnic children, the literature suggests that fear of socio-economic difference, combined with racist stereotypes, may both exacerbate defensive practice, leading to a more coercive approach being taken than is necessary, or may conversely lead to avoidance that can leave children unprotected (Dominelli, 1997; Chand, 2000).
There is some evidence in the literature to suggest that social workers and other professionals struggle to manage the complex needs and social circumstances of many African families. Okitikpi and Aymer’s (2003) study of interventions with African refugee families found that social workers often felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the families’ traumatic experiences and their socio-economic needs. Problems with poverty and working in partnership have also been identified in the literature. The Okitikpi and Aymer (2003) study found that the responses of African families to social work intervention fell into two categories: guarded and open groups. Forming relationships with those in the first group often proved difficult. The literature also highlights some of the challenges for social workers assessing and making decisions about African children and families whose cultures differ from the majority white population in Britain (Brophy et al., 2003; Laming, 2003).
The term social work intervention as defined by IFSW,
‘usually describes work undertaken with individuals, families, groups and communities. In this context the term is to cover the use of social work knowledge and skills when using it within a social care organisation to facilitate the provision of services and practice consistent with the Codes of Practice and with standards of service and practice, and to promote the social inclusion and life opportunities of people using services’.
In the vast majority of instances social work intervention is a collective activity not an individual activity whether as social worker employee or an independent social worker.
There are three general methods or levels of intervention. The first is ‘Macro’ social work which involves society or communities as a whole. This type of social work practice would include policy forming and advocacy on a national or international scale. The second level of intervention is described as ‘Mezzo’ social work practice. This level would involve work with agencies, small organizations, and other small groups. This practice would include policy making within a social work agency or developing programs for a particular neighbourhood. The final level is the ‘Micro’ level that involves service to individuals and families.
There are a wide variety of activities that can be considered social work and professional social workers are employed in many different types of environments. In general, social workers employed in clinical or direct practice work on a micro level. Social workers who serve in community practice are occupied in the mezzo or macro levels of social work. The most common form of methods of social work intervention is Individual or family casework. Here social work intervention is to support the children or family to identify, and use, their own and their social network’s experience and expertise as a resource for problems or difficulties may have resulted from the effects of social exclusion, lack of skills or knowledge, or, self- defeating or self-damaging behaviour that achieves the very result that the individual or family most dreads. The purpose of the intervention is diverse and ranges from increasing life skills or changing behaviour to increase life options and coping with changed life situations and transitions (Smale, Tuson and Statham, 2000).
The first stage to overcoming obstacles is to recognise and describe the problem and acknowledge which method of intervention is needed. Social workers may assist West African families to identify the issues of child abuse using empathy and problem solving skills. In any of the situations there may be a number of factors making West African families to be alleged of causing harm to their children and to help overcome obstacles with the view of achieving desired outcomes. Some may be immediately apparent such as poor parenting practices as a result of chronic poverty. Others may be more difficult to discern. Particularly in child abuse cases referred by others for local authority social work intervention, the families may desire outcomes that conflict with legislation and social work’s responsibilities to protect or safeguard children. For example, parents may be living on meagre income which could hardly sustain the families financially, or parents’ views of child upbringing may leave children wandering the streets at an early age and deprived of developmental needs. Social work’s distinctive contribution here is to use empathy, communication and relationship skills to achieve acknowledgement that intervention is needed.
Intervention within the social work process, the time-scale and depth of enquiry may vary considerably (Lloyd and Taylor, 1990). Moreover, if it is replaced by mechanistic applications of intervention schedules and proformas, those fundamental interpersonal skills, on which effective intervention has always been seen to rely, will be undermined. Perhaps most centrally, and in summary, it must be acknowledged that social work intervention is not a static, once-and-for-all process whereby the worker arrives at the definitive ‘right’ answer. Social work intervention is ongoing throughout the contact, and it is a dynamic process in which the social worker, service user, agency and other interested parties are all involved and affect the outcome (Lloyd and Taylor, 1990). Intervention skills are called into play at referral, at periodic summary points, and when closing or transferring cases. Whilst this form of intervention fits most easily into the traditional frameworks in which social work is usually taught to qualifying students, it is, ironically, less easily recognized as intervention by these students once in practice. Arguably, this is because the core skills of intervention have not been grasped in their essence and hence are not consciously transferred across situations. It may also be a casualty of separating assessment and intervention methodologically, so that assessment is not understood as an ongoing and integral part of intervention.
At a later stage of contact social work involves intervention of children and family’s situation through appraisal of what information is available and gathered in contact with the family socio-economic status, and through communication with other organisations and professionals in contact with the family. The social worker will lead the family through the intervention process, highlighting and explaining the importance of examining the various aspect of the information. Social workers will use a range of knowledge, models and frameworks to decide what method of intervention is needed to achieve the desired result. To ensure that necessary available information leads to informed intervention, social workers need to establish working relationships of trust with West African families and other professionals. They must be able to understand the socio-economic status and parenting practices of West African families, through their own knowledge and skill, or by drawing on that of others. Assessment continues throughout contact and involvement with children and families. Social workers recognition and understanding of parental behavioural patterns, as a result of their poverty levels, systems of communication and patterns of events over time are vital to successful interventions. In situations referred to the local authority for intervention the social worker may have difficulty in engaging the family’s cooperation and interest. Social work skills and persistence are needed to find the key to engagement.
In recognition of the difficulties inherent in deploying effective interventions the Department of Health introduced the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families ( DH 2000). Macdonald (2002) notes the pitfalls that arise when conducting assessments leading to social work intervention. It is not enough simply to follow a framework setting out the areas to be investigated as social workers need to exercise professional judgement and be alert to unconscious bias which may creep into the work, distorting assessments and the degree of interventions.
The only official guide for many British child protection social workers is the DoH (1988) Protecting Children: A Guide for Social Workers undertaking a Comprehensive Assessment, which is also commonly known in the field as the ‘orange book’. This guide has its limitations when working with Black families. The ‘orange book’ outlines seven basic needs of children, which are basic physical care; affection; security; stimulation of innate potential; guidance and control; responsibility; and independence.
Basic physical care becomes an issue when considering areas such as inadequate housing, unemployment, poverty, and poor social networks, areas where Black families are likely to be over-represented owing to racial discrimination on a personal and structural level. As Jones (2004) argued, any assessment process that sees these as the failing of Black people as indicators of child abuse rather than the effects of racial inequality is in itself racist. Furthermore, because Black families are disadvantaged in this way, it is reasonable that they will face higher levels of risk from the harmful effects of social work wrong intervention and misjudgement (Jones 2004).
In terms of affection, it is important to be aware that black West African parents express their feelings to children in a variety of ways, which might be entirely different from the vast white majority. These are related to their cultural background, their socio-economic class, and their own personalities’ (Phillips & Dutt 2000). For example, Ellis (2006) maintained that in West African culture there is little fondling and kissing of infants and any kind of caressing stops when the child is toddling. West Africans express their caring in a different way, through good physical attention, such as bathing, skin-care and hair-car.
This illustrates the necessity to understand different cultures in order to guard against misinterpretations of parenting behaviour, and to ask why a Black parent may not be showing any obvious signs of affection towards their child.
Protest, despair and detachment are three stages of behaviour a child exhibits on separation from their mother. Yet as Ellis (2006) found out that ‘separation anxiety’ is not found in West Africa where babies are accustomed to being handled by a range of people, so the use of this model as a means of assessment may not be useful with some Black families. Stimulating innate potential is determined by expectations which in the case of West African Black families may be different from those of Western ideas. For example, comments of ‘unrealistic expectations’ by White workers of Black families must be seen in context: the parents’ anxiety about their children’s future may be understandable especially when considering the socio-economic background of Black children living the United Kingdom (Beranard & Gupta 2006). Moreover, many black West African parents who recognize that the opportunities available for their children are likely to be few in a society which is inherently white dominant may be more determined to help them achieve.
Guidance, control and discipline are controversial concepts and it seems that there is a stereotype in British society that physical punishment is the norm in the Black community’ (Phillips & Dutt 2000), p. 15). Yet in general it has been found that the vast majority of African parents use physical punishment as a form of discipline (Newson & Newson 1999). With regard to responsibility and independence it has been suggested that White social workers seem to have adopted one of two extremes in relation to Black children and their families. West African Black children are either not protected because they are seen to be able to cope with situations not deemed appropriate for White children, or where West African Black children are not taking on similar responsibilities to their White counterparts they are deemed to be at risk (Phillips & Dutt 2000). For instance, the issue of older siblings caring for younger ones in the case with many Black families may be decisive in the workers’ assessment and possible intervention of risk of significant harm to the child (Thorpe 2004). One needs to question why this should be when a high level of both responsibility and independence by the older sibling can be clearly demonstrated. It must be emphasized therefore that although child abuse occurs in all races and cultures, workers must guard against viewing suspected abuse through the norms and values of their own background (BASW 1989, p. 20).
One final factor which needs to be taken into account when intervening Black families is that resistance to the assessment process should not be seen as evidence of ‘guilt’. Asian families, for example, may be reluctant for any social work intervention owing to the possibility of losing their honour in the face of the extended family and/or wider community. To conclude this section, it is clear that in order to make the intervention process fairer for all Black families, it is necessary for White workers and institutions to understand that Black parents may be less aware of procedures, may not be living in poverty, and their experience in the UK may have made them suspicious of child protection system (Phillips & Dutt 2000). The guidance issued by the DoH (1988) provides an example of how any approach which fails to deal with inequality will itself become a tool for perpetuating it (Jones 2004).
In this chapter, the focus is on the implications arising out of the literature search for the provision of effective, competent interventions with African children and families involved in the child protection system. It might seem paradoxical that in recent years it is the social worker, the person relating face-to-face with individuals and families, who has been seen as a force for conformity and who has been so frequently criticized for acting more in the interests of society than in the interests of clients. In contrast, community workers, who relate more with families than with individuals, have been welcomed for their whole-hearted alliance with the interests of those whom they serve. They are seen as a force for liberation of individuals from an oppressive and deprivation system. Thus, those who are most concerned with methods of intervention by which to liberate children are seen as ‘oppressive’, while those who concentrate on fostering communal collective action are viewed as liberating. Of course, as soon as the notion of ‘an oppressive system’ is introduced, the reason for this apparent paradox is clear.
Social work professionals draw more exclusively on sociology and political science as their knowledge base, believing that individuals can be wholly human only within the context of a benign environment and a just social order. Changing the social system of those who are oppressed by the collective efforts of the oppressed themselves is, for the social worker, not only a means of attaining social justice, but also of promoting individual human dignity and happiness. Recent efforts to correct a view of social work that perhaps overemphasized children emotional development and underplayed socio-economic factors, have not entirely released us from the tension that exists between these perspectives. Here we refer to the strain that is invariably experienced by a social worker who may have to choose between serving a caseload of individuals and families in great need or devoting his energies and attention to the structural problems of how the community allocates its resources and organizes its service delivery. Development of new theoretical perspectives based on systems theory have helped the social work professionals who work with children and African families to take a broader view of their roles and to see that with some of the perspectives of the community worker the behaviour of African families can be better understood and a more appropriate range of methods of intervention can be used. There are four main reasons for the need for a new perspective.
Interventions have been based on assumptions that people using services were recipients. They focused on what individuals could not do as opposed to what they and their social network could do. A model based on full and equal citizenship (Elder-Woodward 2002) requires interventions in which people using services are active and equal participants.
As with any profession there are both new approaches and new understandings about the effectiveness of specific interventions. Investment in research and the dissemination of knowledge and skills in health remains vast greater than in social care. But the strengthening of these resources in social work and social care should result in more knowledge based practice and management in the medium and long term. The case for recognising different sources of knowledge has been made and the multiplicity of information collected in various departments need to include that produced through the experience and expertise of people using the services and front line workers as well as from research
Given rapid changes, gaps in knowledge and skills may arise because new areas of work are emerging resulting in supply falling behind the demands. Examples of this in the past have included the emergence of working with West African children and families migrating to the UK with poor backgrounds, working with asylum seekers or refugees, the role of social work in welfare systems in black communities (Newburn, 1993). New technologies and the growing familiarity of the public in using social welfare services opens up new forms of interventions particularly to assist West African families with low socio-economic status living in the UK. In areas where there is rapid development or new issues with social work practice there is the necessity in advance of theory. Strategies in these circumstances may include transferring existing knowledge and skills to the new area, drawing on any international experience and expertise, networking to share and learn from experience and research on needs and effective responses. Initially these may need to be done separately to structure a different perspective before it is possible to bring experience and learning together in new ways.
A consequence is that greater attention will have to be given to supporting professional social work practice, safeguarding the value base, the relationship and the process as essential to good practice, charting new and emerging groupings of skills and expertise of social workers and related occupations and professions. Some will merit attention at post qualifying levels, some will be idiosyncratic and fit for purpose only in a very limited number of circumstances.
Recent studies on West African families and the child protection system show that these families are disproportionately represented at different levels in the child care system. The existing intervention tools for social work practice are grounded within ethnocentric epistemologies and, as the foundation for social work theory and practice, are not well equipped for the task of nurturing and developing West African families and their children. This is evident, for example, in the sustained over-representation of black children in the care system and in the lack of supportive social work services designed to meet their needs. It is therefore important for the development of new theoretical perspectives based on systems theory to help social workers who work with West African children and families to take a broader view of their role and to develop a vivid perspectives of many of the parenting behaviour of these families arising from poverty/low income so that a more appropriate methods of intervention can be deployed.
The poverty/low income experienced by many West African families pose challenges for social workers working to safeguard and promote children’s welfare (Bernard and Gupta, 2006). The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000) based on the ecological approach places a requirement on social workers to also consider the low income status of parents when intervening cases of child abuse. As Dalrymple and Burke (1995) explain, ‘any intervention must take account of the power differentials that exist between both parents and social service agencies. There must also be some understanding of the links between West African families with low income and the structural reality of inequality’ (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995). These approaches provide an essential framework for work with African children and families, both in terms of the context of their lives and the process of the work being undertaken. In order to safeguard and promote the welfare of West African children, a starting point must be an acknowledgement of sources of maltreatment of children in the context of poverty (Bernard and Gupta, 2006).
This dissertation highlights the importance of social workers considering the socio-economic situations of West African families who have immigrated to the United Kingdom and more particularly the West African families who have recently arrived into the country. Most of these West African families may be asylum seekers or refugees with insecure socio-economic status and may have very limited understanding of the child protection/welfare systems in the UK, which may even not exist in their respective countries of origin. Therefore only through developing effective relationships with West African children and their families can social workers begin to understand their individual predicaments as well as their socio-economic needs. A lack of an effective means of communication will undoubtedly impact on social workers ability to deploy competent interventions within African children and families.
In terms of social work intervention process, several authors have critically analysed the evidence on service provision for black families in general, in an attempt to understand the dynamics of working with economically deprived ethnic minority( Dutt and Phillips, 2000; O’Neale, 2000). On the one hand, a pathologizing approach to West African families may lead to unnecessarily coercive intervention and, on the other hand, an income relativist approach may lead to non-intervention when services are required (Dominelli, 1997; Chand, 2000 and O’Neale, 2000). Employing a deficit perspective can skew social work method of interventions of parental behaviour and functioning when assessing poverty and values about child-rearing, particularly among West African people. It is important to note that resorting to poverty/low income as a sole determinant of parental behaviour cannot explain why some West African families will practice certain behaviours, whilst others will not (Dutt and Phillips, 2000; Fontes, 2005).
Nevertheless, having socio-economic frames of references to draw on can help parents become more resilient to economic adversity and this can provide a positive environment for promoting children’s emotional and social development. Yet, poverty can also create forms of disempowerment for children when it is used to justify parental behaviours and practices that violate their human rights. Social workers, working with West African families, may encounter some resistance to their methods of social work intervention of parenting problems and, in particular, their judgments about what constitute significant harm, when parents use poverty as an explanation for their parenting behaviour (Shor, 2000).
Importantly, subjecting family income status to scrutiny is a necessary tool of the assessment process if social workers are to intervene effectively so as to achieve better outcomes for West African children. In many senses, a balance must be struck between sensitively challenging claims that certain types of behaviours are considered as socially acceptable in African families because of poverty whilst at the same time not losing sight of children’s welfare needs. An added layer of complication is the need to safeguard children’s welfare by challenging economically-specific practices that are harmful to children without pathologizing all their parents’ care-giving practices (Platt, 2000).
Inherent in child protection work is the balance between protecting children at risk of significant harm, whilst at the same time ensuring minimal unnecessary intervention into the lives of children and families. Although there are about 6,000 African children in private foster homes in this country, and they probably represent a majority of all privately fostered children (Bernard & Gupta, 2006) we know very little about them. As have been indicated, much of the work of social workers who are concerned with individuals and families is indirect, such as arranging for services that repair gaps in people’s material and social environment, advocating on behalf of clients both within and outside one’s own agency, stimulating volunteer groups to meet gaps in the service to individuals and families, working with the ‘caring system’ itself, such as working with foster parents, neighbours and residential staff. All these activities seem to be entirely appropriate for the social worker.
Social workers must not only be skilled in judging what methods of interventions to apply within the range of their own competence, but they must be able to judge the circumstances under which these methods are either insufficient or irrelevant to the objectives they wish to achieve. This is particularly true in circumstances where resources are inadequate and the Government want to reduce the number of children going into care. It becomes apparent therefore that social workers of all kinds have to be concerned with the total network of social provision, and should contribute to policy formulation. This is not easy. Specht (2002) argues that the call for social workers to ‘get into the political arena’ however temporarily inspiring is likely to leave many feeling inadequate. Specht (2002) also pointed out that policy formulation is a process entailing many different tasks and roles, and that all professionals can learn to contribute to the process in whatever is the most appropriate way for them.
He sets out a model of the process which specifies the professional tasks and roles that are relevant at various stages. It suggests that the social work practitioner with individuals and families has tasks to perform at the stages of identification of the problem, implementation of new policies and their evaluation; and that the community organizer has tasks at the stages of bringing the problem to the attention of the public, developing policy goals and building public support. The manner in which Specht (2002) classifies social work roles and specific tasks, based as it is on the American experience in 1967, may not precisely fit into thecurrent situation in the UK. Nevertheless, the point that all social workers, no matter what positions they occupy or what methods of social work intervention they deploy, can and should play a part in policy formulation still holds good. Besides contributing to changes in policy within one’s own agency there is the need to help other agencies to come together to work out policies that ensure helpful transactions between providers and consumers of services. In other words there is a need to be aware of and to work with the social service system as a whole. It may be that within the whole, one of the most important contributions that social workers with individuals and families can make is to act as mediators, helping the families and the social service system to communicate directly with each other in a manner that helps families to make better use of the system, and helps the system to make better adaptations to the West African families.
The purpose of this dissertation is to support the argument that the underplay of socio-economic issues by social workers working with West African families in child abuse cases might be a contribute to the over representation of west African children at different levels of the child protection register. It has become obvious from the discussion so far that social work interventions deployed by social work professionals is skewed to the government child protection agenda instead of social work practice focusing on children welfare by improving the livelihood of these West African families who are constantly struggling to make ends means and intertwined with the responsibilities of caring for their children.
This dissertation has highlighted that making professional judgments regarding thresholds of concern for West African children living with poor parents poses a major set of challenges and, ultimately, social workers/trainees need to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge and conceptual tools to distinguish between the styles of parenting that differ from those of the majority culture, but which are not necessarily harmful, and parents who seek to justify abusive and neglectful behaviour by drawing on socio-economic explanations to justify their actions. It is clear from the above that to appreciate fully the extent and complexity of the abuse of West African children within contemporary society, social work professionals need to have an insight into the socio-economic backgrounds of these families and children.
In conclusion, this work points to the need for social workers to have a change of perception about West African families with low socio-economic status living in the UK so that appropriate social work interventions deployed would liberate black people from social deprivation and social exclusion.
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