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Children from poorer families less likely to have their views heard in child protection

A new study from Switzerland has found that younger children and children from poorer families were much less likely to have their subjective views included in assessment reports on child protection cases.

11/01/23

Children from poorer families less likely to have their views heard in child protection

Researchers in Europe are calling for improvement in children’s participation in the child protection system after a study which finds that younger children and children from poorer families were “much less likely” to have their views included in assessment reports.

The findings, published in a forthcoming issue of the Children and Youth Services Review journal, suggest that raised awareness of the ethical requirement for young people to participate in decisions which affect their lives – such as through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – has so far “not fully trickled down” to an increase in real-life opportunities of participation for young people.

“Although awareness of the importance of child participation and research thereon have grown, predictors of child participation have not been formalized in a conceptual model and studies on the topic have primarily relied on narrative accounts or fictional vignettes rather than actual case data,” the academics from universities in Zurich, Lucerne and Ulm said.

Based on samples of case files of children in five Swiss CPS agencies, researchers found that the child’s subjective view was documented in the case worker’s report less than half (48%) of the time. They said this number was similar to one found by a report for Ofsted (i) which examined the work of local authorities carrying out assessments in early help and child protection work and concluded that in 63% of cases, children’s views had been taken into account.

Researchers said the data showed that a range of characteristics appeared to influence whether the voice of the child was included in the assessment report, such as the age of the child, as well as their socio-economic status.

“Our study suggests that some children and young people are more likely to be passed over in their right to participation than others.

“We found that younger children were much less likely than adolescents to have their views considered and represented. It is usually assumed that case workers tend to overlook younger children in this regard because they do not consider them mature enough to form a reasonable opinion and/or because they fear overburdening them.

“From a utility perspective, it may further be assumed that workers do not consider the information they can collect from younger children to be as valuable as the one they may get from older children, and they may fear that passing over adolescents, more than children, compromises the accountability of their decision, both in the eyes of the superordinate body and the adolescents themselves, who may be self-confident enough as social actors to object to the worker’s actions.”

Researchers added that whether the young person came from a family requiring financial assistance from the state was also a predicting factor in whether their views would be included in reports.

“Beyond the age effect, our study suggests that case workers in child protection are less inclined to include the child’s views in their assessment report if the child comes from a poor family, one that has to rely on financial assistance from the state.

“In families relying on social assistance, the need for protecting children from a potentially harmful family environment may be seen as even stronger, and the family members’ claim to self-determination and participation may be sidelined more readily.

Researchers said that making it mandatory to include children’s subjective views in assessment reports was an “obvious and straightforward” remedy to the issue. Noting that there would inevitably be exceptions to this, it said these should be explicitly justified in the reports.

They added that while a mandatory requirement is a potentially important step, it is not enough alone.

“The requirement to include children’s views must be accompanied by training in how to do so. This should increase the ability of workers and their willingness to implement the requirement in a careful and confident fashion, steering clear of pseudo participation that may do more damage than good.

“Training workers in how to communicate with children of different ages in this context is no trivial task, as children typically find themselves in circumstances that make the straightforward expression of their views and preferences difficult, for example, because they feel an ambivalence in their relationship to a caregiver or have to deal with conflicting loyalties to different caregivers.”

Read the full article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019074092200398X
(i) Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. (2015). The quality of assessment for children in need of help. Retrieved from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/451036/The-quality-of-assessment-for-children-in-need-of-help.pdf.

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