Its an interesting time working with children. I have recently put myself forward for a research project and as it has to be relevant to my work place and my employers. I have decided to look at the thorny subject of age assessments.
Probably a bad idea when so much research has already been done around this firstly by Heaven Crawly in 2007 with ‘when is a child not a child?‘ and now more recently by the Children Society with ‘I don’t feel human’, Yet even with this mistakes are still being made about age assessments and vulnerable young people not receiving the right support or help.
The answer is sadly not easy and with no matter how much good will is made with the assessments that age determination on its own is going to be hard. Furthermore, there is the objective of the agents bringing the young people into the country. Especially when considering child sexual exploitation and the advantage of having young girls or boys act older to get past the assessments in order for them to disappear. There is also the dilemma around the benefits that are provided to young people if they are under the age of 18, meaning the credibility of a few impact on the outcomes for so many, when older young people who may still be vulnerable in themselves have argued to be under 18.
Despite this, looking further still into the assessment process I have had to look at definitions of childhood. One argument that has been consistent in all research is that young people from poorer economic climates may present as being older looking. And their demeanour presenting as older because what advantages are there in being a child.
This amuses me because actually the research is right, when completing an assessment of age it is essential to understand what that young person defines as childhood? what have they had to do to grow up and survive? And what are our comparisons in the UK? I guess the bit that makes me chuckle was observing an independent advocate pulling a toy train out for a 17 year old young man to play with. It is clear that we can not make comparisons so should we force all aspects of what we think is childhood onto someone who has already had to grow up?
But then I wondered is this right, in the UK right now there are more and more young people experiencing poverty, abuse and neglect. Growing up in poor conditions and failing to engage with education and employment due to their basic need of survival. And also is the young people making it to the UK the most vulnerable or the ones who have had the money to make the journey originally. We are now hearing of stories of tragic losses of young people in Afghanistan freezing to death in make shift illegal camps.
But again it is not easy, what is right and wrong? are our perceptions of childhood changing and are we able to understand what childhood is? Which, means spending more time researching these subjects but also more time working on for us in social work that have to undertake these complex tasks is our understanding of assessments.
Alone this is a massive subject with many different theories and data which could provide the wrong cue to through the person or people out who are completing the assessment. Experience is essential, however can be less helpful in this situation of completing age assessments. The reason for this is the time allowed to complete the assessment and fully analyse the information given. One reason for this is the information shared by the young person you are assessing. When understanding the experiences that a separated child may have experienced in travelling to the UK it is important to understand the difficulties that they may experience and then why they may not trust us as professionals.
For me this subject remains immensely interesting and important at so many levels, firstly to safeguard separated children but also in improving the understanding of social worker with all children that are vulnerable and continuing to improve the assessment process.
Just when you thought it was safe to practise social work again after the latest scandal and in depth report. The local safeguarding board produces its latest policies. These are great and actually really useful, except there is a common theme them running through them all. “Serious Case Management” or “Serious Risk Meetings” or “Management of Serious risk”. All meetings that involve everyone within the council to analyse, reflect and examine everything that you have done, and then suggest something different. Sometimes this can be useful, and for some cases very definitely needed. Especially around the transition period from child to adult, when the threshold for a service suddenly rises leaving many young people with the bare minimum of support from their aftercare service.
Working with looked after Children aged between 14 to 18 years of age is not always easy for many reasons. The latest guidance produced is ‘working with children that are harder to reach’. Interestingly enough it suggests that many young people are harder to reach because they do not see their social worker enough!! However, its answer to this problem is to arrange a senior managers meeting taking you further away from the young person. Rather than allowing you more time with face to face contact allowing you to practise social work.
Today I spent most of the morning talking with one of my social workers. Sophie (not her real name) Sophie was sharing her frustration and feelings about the current pressures of her work affecting her health. “Its not the work Sophie talks about, its the increased reporting, longer pathway planning, computer systems creating duplication. Statutory visits that now consist of questionnaires, and information gathering, in order for the Local Authority to keep an eye and evidence on what it is doing.
I would argue that this is the reason why many of the young people we work with are becoming harder to reach. Losing confidence in the work we do with them because they can not see the benefit, as every visit is about information and not about them, losing the child focus and does not relate to them directly.
I like the idea that Munro gives of one continuous assessment, as long as it is accepted by everyone as a the basis for any information they receive. This way systems could be developed that enable better communication, and perhaps even indirectly through different applications that enables the information needed to be gained in a less intrusive fashion allowing social work to be developed with the young person.
Instead at present we have the daily dilemmas of which fire to put out, balanced with the paperwork required. Thankfully not in triplicate but still the working together document will look like a pamphlet compared to the number of people you have to remember to send all of the different information to.
Meanwhile Sophie is left frustrated and torn between the job she enjoys and the frustration of a system that is far from child friendly at times. Hoping that the positive visits will out way all of the negative meetings, that the small progress seen are greater than the massive set backs seen on a daily basis.