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Abuse and risk and special emphasis

Abuse and Risk and Special Emphasis: Children & Families.

For the purpose of this essay I have to construct a case scenario, which incorporates issues of abuse and risk. My chosen case scenario is based at social service family support service. Once I have discussed the case scenario, the essay will then go on to identify and discuss how risk and abuse can be defined and definitions will be included. The essay will provide a detail analysis of the initial assessment, and all concepts relating to the initial assessment will be discussed, for example the process, the social workers and families involvement. I will also include theories such as Bowbly's attachment theory, which underpin the assessment process and will identify and discussed. Organisational and legal frameworks which underpin the assessment will be critiqued throughout the essay and it will also provide an account of what the implications might be for both the workers and the individual or the family members who are involved within the assessment process.

The case scenario involves a female named Julie Lee; she is 28 years old and is a lone parent. She has three children Anna (13 years old), Lucy (7 years old) and David who is 5 years old. Each of the children have different fathers and none of the children have any contact with their fathers.

Julie has lived in her area for about 6 months. She lives with her children in a private rented three-bedroom semi, and she has no close family networks, or friends, which she can rely on for help and support. This writing from studentcentral.co.uk

Anna attends the local high school and it has been noted that every day she is late for school and her educational development is below the other children in her year. On one occasion Anna turned up in school and she had a black eye When questioned about this, she stated that when she was walking home from the local youth club, some girls who she didn't know started a fight with her as apparently she had stolen another girl's boyfriend.

Lucy and David attend the local primary school. It has been noted that both children have poor hygiene and seem to wear the same clothes. Also the children's mother rarely picks the children up from school; it is Anna their older sister.

A neighbour (Mrs Jones) who lives next door to the family has noticed that Julie leaves the house four nights a week, sometimes between 7.30P.M - 8.00 P.M and doesn't return home until around 7 A.Mthe following morning. Mrs Jones is very concerned as she feels that there isn't a babysitter present and Anna who is only 13 years old has responsibility of looking after the two children.

Mrs Jones also stated that on one occasion Anna came knocking on her door, asking if she had a plaster as David had cut his foot on a nail in the bedroom as there wasn't any carpets down. Mrs Jones is very concerned and contacted the local Social Services department to voice her concerns about the welfare and safety of the children.

The need to assess Risk has been an essential and important role carried out by Social Services department in the U.K. Coby's (1993) notion is that children are vulnerable and they become dependant on those who are providing adequate care i.e. parents. Social Services and child welfare services have been given responsibility to protect children from harm, abuse, dangers and risks, which they may be exposed to. However, there is a need to balance the detection of these risks, and the Social Services have an obligation to support families whose children may be at risk of abuse in order for the family to become a safer place so the child/children can grow and develop.

The word risk is so much apart of everyday life that the perception of risk is a complex matter, and in order for us to handle the perception of risk we need some clarification of what risk is, Brearly (1982) was one of the first authors to write about risk in respect to social work, and his perception of risk is continually referred to. However, there have been criticisms of Brearly's work around risk as it is seen as very complex, in depth and has hidden meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines risk as a noun ,

'A hazard, a danger, exposed to mischance or peril' (Parsole, 2000, pg 8.)

And a verb, 'To hazard, to endanger, to expose to the chance of injury or loss.' (Parsole, 2000, pg8.)

Both these definition suggest the word risk is related to negative outcomes, which can be quite problematic for social workers that are assessing risk. Risk is not just about negative outcomes and social workers should focus on the positives as well as the negatives when conducting a risk assessment.

The word abuse also has its complexities and there is no single definition of abuse, which all professionals working with children would agree on, and there has been definitions formulated by the Department Of Health, the NSPCC and by various writers and researchers.

Gil (1995) defines child abuse as: This writing from studentcentral.co.uk

'Any act of commission or omission by individual, institutions or societies as a whole, and any conditions resulting from such acts or interaction, which deprive children of equal rights and liberties, and/or interfere with their optimal development, constitutes by definition abusive or neglectful acts of conditions.' (Gil, 1975, PP346-54 in Kay, 1999, p 23.)

I believe that Gil definition is rather complex. However, I feel that his definition emphasis that not all child abuse is the result of individuals, it introduces the idea that child abuse can be caused at a societal level, due to factors such as war, poverty, oppressive regimes and political decisions.

Another definition of child abuse was produced by the recent report of the National Commission of Inquiry into the prevention of Abuse (1996, pg4), and states that:

'child abuse consist of anything which an individual, institution or processes do or fail to do which directly or indirectly harms children or dangers their prospects of a safe and healthy development into adults.' (Parsole, 1999, pg 181)

I feel that this is a less complex definition of abuse and it is easy for any professional to understand. It identifies the notion of direct and acute forms of abuse, which can be linked, to sexual, emotional, physical and neglect and child protection work is largely concerned with these types of cases. The definition also recognises indirect forms of abuse such as poverty, poor housing, family health problems and child labour.

The above definition of child abused work well my case scenario and I feel that it does suggest that there are issues of risk and abuse taking place which may be both direct and indirect. One issue of risk would be that the parent is being absent for long periods and leaving the eldest child with responsibly of her younger siblings. Although there is issues of risk, before any form of intervention may be taken by the social services department an 'initial assessment' will be conducted which will then determine:

· Is the child in need? (s.17 of the Children Act 1989)

· Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm? (s.47 of the Children Act 1989)(Children Act 1989 in Department of Health, Working Together to Safeguard Children, 1999, pg 23.)

Once the initial assessment has been completed, professional judgement is required to determine whether a 'core assessment' may be required, or a 'strategy discussion' may be held. However, the initial assessment will be the main focus of the essay. The initial assessment can be linked with risk assessment and ideas around risk can be linked with the idea of significant harm, which is central to the Children Act 1989. The most frequently used definition of risk assessment relating to protecting children is by Wald and Woolverton and they describe a risk assessment as:

'A process for assessing the likelihood that a given person (usually a parent) will harm the child in the future.'

(Wald & Woolverton. 1990, pg 486 in Parsole, 1999, pg 183.)

Risk assessments normally try to prevent the repletion of harm once an incident has taken place. However, they can try to distinguish those most likely to harm children, before any harm has taken place, and in the case of Julie Lee and her children there is no actual evidence to state that the children have been caused harm or at risk the only information we have received is the telephone call from Mrs Jones. It is essential that social workers make a decision within 24 hours from the referral, which will decide what actions/intervention is required and in the case of the Lee family an initial assessment should be carried out, which should be completed within seven days of the referral.

The social services department should carry out the initial assessment for all children who are in need whether or not there are child protection concerns, and it continues from the Referral and Initial Information Record. The initial assessment is a process of systematic information gathering and the Department of Health has produced a Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families.

The initial assessment is not the only approach to assessing risk, and others will be mentioned later. However, in the U.K the initial assessment is the procedure which many social workers follow, the outcome will then determine if the child is in need or is a risk of abuse, which then leads to what form action or intervention will be provided.

The department of health defines an initial assessment as a:

'Brief assessment of each child referred to the social services with a request for services to be provided.'

(Department of Health, Framework for Assessment of Children and Need and their Families, 200, p31)

This could be quite problematic for asocial worker, as the referral regarding the Lee family was from a neighbour who had concerns about Anna the oldest child. So would I complete an initial assessment on all the children, or only for the child concern? I would carry out an initial assessment on all the children within the family. However, this could be a lengthy process, as the relevant information concerning the three children has to be gathered within a time limit of 7 days, which can have an impact on the professional judgement made by the social worker. The reason for this is that there is more assessment to do, which is time consuming and the social worker may not be able to gather the kind of information they need for a stronger case.

When there is concerns that the child/children are likely to suffer significant harm the assessment should concentrate on the harm that has occurred or is likely to occur which will determine what form of action will be taken. Evidence suggests that:

'The health and development of children, including their educational development, may be severely affected if they have subject to child maltreatment.'

(Department of Health, Framework for Assessment of Children and Need and their Families, 200, p.8)

To some extent I would have to agree with the above quote. However, I feel it is emphasising that all children who fall below the educational standards are subjects to child maltreatment. Every child is different and their educational development varies and a child who is not developing well in school might have mild/moderate learning disabilities, which have not been detected. Other reasons could be that the child maybe having difficulties at school such as bullying.

After the referral has been made, Miss Lee and her children will be contacted by the social worker who has been assigned the case and the interviews may be held both with Julie and her children. The interviews with the children have to be age appropriate and will provide Miss Lee's children with the opportunity to express their views, needs, wishes and feelings. Miss Lee will also have the opportunity to provide information and throughout the assessment strengths as well as weakness should be recorded.

Also agencies and professionals who have been involved with Julie and her children will be contacted and these can include agencies such as G.P's, Health Visitors, Education Welfare Officers, the children's School or Nursery, the Community Mental Health Team, Community Paediatrician, Dentist, Y.O.T, Probation, Police School Nurse and any other agencies which are going to provide essential information in relation to the children's welfare, which can be included within the assessment for example Community Drugs Teams.

Once the information has been gathered from the family members and the various professionals and agencies involved, it has to be recorded under different headings on the assessment form, these are: Child developmental needs (1), and there can be a problem with Need as a concept, for example it suggest that we all have a common understanding of what human need is. However, different individuals will perceive and view need in a different way. Depending on the norms, values and beliefs of the social worker will depend on how they view the needs the child.

Several theoretical concepts underpin our understanding of what is meant by a child's needs and Doyal and Gough (1991) define a child's needs as:

'Clean water; adequate nutrition; adequate protection and housing; a non-hazardous work environment t; appropriate health care; security in childhood; significant primary relationships; appropriate education.' (Ward &Rose, 2002, p196).

I feel that needs mentioned above are the minimum needs of each child. However, I feel that there should be a comparative element within the needs as different cultures and religions view needs differently, for example Indian families tend to live with there extended family and feel that this acceptable. However, a white middle class social worker may view this as inadequate housing as it is too over crowded.

Parental Capacity (2) is another heading on the initial assessment form, and there are sub headings, which need to be completed within this section. Research proves that there are parents who are experiencing problems with mental health, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol misuse, and a history of child abuse may have difficulty in responding to a child's emotional needs. However, I feel that not all parents who have one of the above issues affecting their lives fail to meet the child's needs. In a way I feel parents who are in one of the above categories are stereotyped in a negative way. I feel that they are important factors to consider but it doesn't mean that the parents fail to meet their child's needs.

When assessing a parent's capacity, social workers may find this quite problematic, as they have responding to the child's needs. I feel that the information gather under this heading provides a complex picture off both the child and its family and in the way in which the child may be suffering abuse. However, I feel that it is not effective in assessing whether the risk of abusive behaviour will be repeated.

Family and Environment Factors (3) is the final heading and it is important for the social worker to think about the question before they fill in the assessment form, as the family and environment circumstances play a major factor. For example, Anna may be late for school on a daily basis, as she has to travel 20 miles, so this has to be considered within the assessment. Throughout the assessment social workers should be honest, practice in an anti-discriminatory and anti-racist manner, and ensure they are non judgemental. 1, 2 and 3 need to be covered with the assessment and if you covered within the assessment and if you cover all these then you get a comprehensive assessment.

There are important principles (developed by the Department of Health) underpinning the assessment process for Assessing Children in Need and their Families, and they are essential in considering how an assessment should be carried out.

Assessment should be Child Centred, which means that the child should be seen and kept in focus throughout the assessment process. It is easy for a social worker to get distracted by other issues concerning the family, for example, Miss Lee could be discussing her depression and finically difficulties which are important. However, the focus of the assessment should be on the child/children. Also throughout the assessment the safety of the child should be ensured.

Rooted in child development is another principle underpinning the assessment process and social workers and professional who are working with children need to be aware of the developmental milestone which children need to reach, at certain stages of their childhood.

Assessment should be ethological in their approach and this relates to: Child's development needs, Parental Capacity and Family and Environment factors.

Uttering makes a valued point a s he says,

'Living on a low income in a run down neighbourhood does not make it impossible to be affectionate, authoritative parent of healthy, sociable children. But it does, undeniably make it more difficult.' (Uttering, 1995, p 40 in Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, 2000, p.11)

I would agree with Uttering's statement, as many families who live on low incomes are good parents ensuring that their child's needs are met. However, it is more difficult as they face discrimination and disadvantages throughout their lives. They are not provided with the same opportunities and life chances, which often has led to one problem turning into another. There are many different families who are referred to the social services department which can include; lone parent families, middle class families, families from different backgrounds and cultures, and society as a whole needs to be aware of this.

Other principles under pinning the assessment process are not only essential within the assessment process, but within social work practice on the whole. These include:

Ensuring of opportunity. This is an essential aspect of social work and it is essential that social workers treat children, young people, their parents and carers as individuals no matter whether they have a disability or are from a different ethnic origin, culture or religion. Many individuals face discrimination throughout their lives, that's why it is essential that social workers do not reinforce this discrimination. Working together with children and their families is essential. However, social workers are often seen as negative and from my social work experiences I have had both positive and negative feedback. When I am working with a family I ensure that they are involved from the start .Working together with families is essential in order for us to identify needs and meet these needs together. However from my experiences I have come across families who haven't wanted social worker intervention but due to certain circumstances the law has said that the social services must intervene and this has been quite difficult as you are working with a family who really doesn't want you there.

Assessments are about Building on strength's as well as identify weakness, and there should be an inter-agency to assessment and provision of services. Other important principles underpinning the assessment process are the assessments should be a continuing process, not a single event and assessments should be grounded in evidence.

The principle mentioned above are the principles which underpin the assessment process however there are different theoretical theories which underpin the assessment process. Bowlby's work on attachments has (1998) has been central in underpinning the professional activity of social work. Contemporary research verifies that attachment to a responsive is as important as food and shelter.

'A child needs a secure, emotional nurture and relationships to develop well on range of cognitive, emotional, physical and social dimensions. In the context of there relationship with adults, children learn, explore, relate to peers, self-regulate and socialise.'

(Master and Coatsworth (1998) in Ward & Rose, 2002, p200.)

Research confirms that a healthy attachment is essential for children, and it remains dependant on the sensitivity of the primary care giver (usually the mother), However I feel that it reinforces the view that mothers should stay at home and look after the children whilst the males are the bread winner. A secure attachment is essential, but I feel that if a child is looked after well in a nursery school or with a child minder then this will not affect them.

Other research, which has been conducted, confirms that:

'Children with secure attachments are also more likely to be more empathic, Compliant, un-conflicted and generally competent in there relationships with adult and peers. Children with insecure relationships tend to have trouble relating to people because their behaviour is often hostile and distant or over dependant... These tendencies may be extended into adolescence and adulthood, influencing significant social relationships as well as basic attitudes to life.'

(Fowler 1996, p25 in Ward & Rose, 2002, p200.)

The attachment theory is a fashionable choice in social work and as it has been well researched. This enables social workers and professionals working with children and young people to identify secure attachments. In the case of miss Lowe and her children the school teacher would be able to provide essential information as to whether the children have a secure or insecure attachment with there mothers as they see there children 5 days a week. I feel that the social workers would be able to make a professional judgement; as to whether there was a secure on insecure attachment However, I feel that it is a process, which needs to be monitored over a period of time.

Parent capacity and care giving is another important theoretical perspective under pinning the assessment process and, Jones (1997) considers that 'parental qualities included the following list of essential activities':

Provision of adequate food and shelter

Obtainment of necessary medical equipment

Protection from harm

Security of affective relationship

Responsiveness to child's emotional needs

Discipline and guidance of behaviour

Inculcation of moral value

Provision of new experiences

Assisting a child with problems solving

(Jones. 1997, p539 in Ward& Rose, 2002 p 200)

Jones points are essential in parent qualities. However, I feel that a parent can be all of the above but still put their child at risk of abuse. A parent may think they are protecting their child from abuse and neglect but a parent, schoolteacher, worker etc may be sexually abusing their child and the parent may be unaware of the abuse that is taking place. I feel that this theory is excellent in determining the way in which a child may be suffering abuse. However I feel this theory is limited in determining whether further abuse will occur.

For a comprehensive assessment to be produced a holistic approach has to be used, which takes into account the interaction of the child, its environment and the outside world.

'Holistic assessment draws on a wide range of underpinning theories and a comprehensive body of research findings from many disciplines. To be effective, assessments consider strength, resilience, participate involvement witch children, carers and communities. The focus should be on the impact that the experiences has on children's lives and whether these factors protect or impair a child's development'

(Ward& Rose, 2002 p 216)

If an assessment is conducted in a holistic way then all the essential and relevant information will be collected and recorded, which will be a sound base of knowledge and evidence. This will determine what form of action the social worker will take, which will then determine what if any form of intervention is provided.

Protecting children from risk and abuse, securing there well being and ensuring that their developmental needs are responded to appropriately and adequately are the primary aims of the government legislation and policy, which has changed over time. The leading responsibility has been assigned to children's Social Services since the Children's Act 1948.

The legislation's that are implemented are there to provide worker with powers and duties when working with children, and to provide them with a legal tool, which is universal in the UK and Wales. However, it doesn't only set out guidelines it also stop workers from abusing their power, and at the present time the currant piece of legislation in the Children Act 1989, which does not only deal with child protection but also address parental responsibility, court proceedings, adoption, divorce and several other issues.

In the U.K the government practice on assessment was issued to aid social workers that were involved in conducting a comprehensive assessment, and Simon Burns the then Minster who was responsible for social services announced,

'The good assessment would be the key and that social services would be the key and that social services would need to have in place procedures for assessing the needs for services and support of children and families referred to them, irrespectively of whether' they subsequently become the subject of a section 47 enquiry' as a result of child protection concerns'.

(Armstrong,(1997), p.28 in Ward & Rose, 2002 p.171)

This was an extremely important announcement, and I feel that the assessment framework should have been in place a lot sooner, as assessments are an essential aspect of social work. Social workers need to identify, and asses children's need, plan appropriate interventions and monitor their outcomes, in a manner, which is the corresponding.

The government developed the framework for the Assessment of Children in need and their families (assessment framework), and in April 2001 it was implemented. The purpose of the assessment framework was to provide a systematic way of analysing, understanding and recording what was happening to children and young people with their family homes and the wider context of the community in which they live (Department of health 2000). The assessment framework is not written a systematic manual explaining step-by-step procedures, which must be followed. The main purpose is to offer a framework, which can be adapted within different circumstances, for all those professional who are involved with children have responsibility for children, so the guidance has therefore been incorporated into a variety of different government guidance's.

Part three of Children Act 1989 (s17) defines who is a child in need an part five of the Children Act 1989 (s 47) provide the local authority with the duty to investigate whether a child may be at risk. The Children Act 1989 is a very large and complex piece of legislation which must be followed by social workers and other professional who are working with children, However, the assessment framework is less ridged and more flexible which enables social workers to use the guideline in a way which is effective with the family they are assessing, however the assessment process can have both negative and positive implication for all those involved.

Once it has been agreed that an assessment will be conducted on a individual or family, and all professional involved within that assessment are aware of their role within the assessment process then it should be a straight forward process, but in social work they are far from straight forward assessments. Many families put up a defence mechanism once they are aware that the social services are involved as they think that there children are going to be taken off them This could lead to family members being untruthful with their answers. Individual who are been assessed may feel over powered and not empowered by the social worker. This is why it is essential that social workers involved (when appropriate) with the service user and their family within and throughout the assessment process, ensure they practice in anti-discriminatory, an oppressive and anti racist manner. Social workers may abuse there power within the assessment process and if the family are already known to the social services department they may be judgemental and act inappropriately with the family.

Language can be a major barrier within the assessment process especially if the first language of the family is not English. Good social worker practice would be to appoint an interpreter before the assessment was conducted. Social worker have to ensure that when they are conducting an assessment they use age appropriate language and communicate in a manner in which the service user understand. Another important implication for the social worker is the time scale in which they have to gather all the information, which can lead to inaccurately received and recorded information which can have a huge impact on the family member's involved.

In conclusion, it has become clear that in order for assessments to be completed successfully, there need to be service user involvement and multi-agency working. I have been provided with the opportunity to conduct assessments and I am now able to see this as one of my strength's, however I am fully aware that all assessments are not a straightforward process and I am looking forward to complex assessments as this will provide me with the opportunity to develop on my assessment skills, and also it will be a challenge.

As Assessments are an essential part of social work practice, I feel that the framework for the assessment of children in need and their families should have been produced a lot sooner. I feel that it is a very effective tool for conducting assessments, however I feel that is does have its negative aspects, which has been discussed throughout the essay.

I am fully aware of the assessment process and I have been actively involved in a variety of different assessments and when I am conducting an assessment I ensure that I empower and not over power, I actively listen, practice in an anti-discriminatory, an-oppressive and anti racist manner and that I treat people as respected individual, taking into account there views, wishes, beliefs, values, religion, background and culture.

cal1966. Thus, we can say that whilst this represents a progression, in the end we have come no closer to any "real" knowledge.



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