Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
1. Unicef have produced information on child development stating ''The early moments of life offer an unparalleled opportunity to build the brains of the children who will build the future. But far too often, it is an opportunity squandered. For nations, the price of not investing in early moments is children with poorer health, fewer learning skills and reduced earning potential. It is a weaker economy and a greater burden on health, education and welfare systems. It is intergenerational cycles of disadvantage that hinder equitable growth and prosperity. For children, especially children from disadvantaged communities, the price of this failure is lost potential''
2. Many organisations in the UK including Public Health England promote an approach where there is an expectation that all children will be neuro-typical/'normal' with good early intervention/care. I have also been told by a clinician associated with NICE autism guidance for children that 'children with disrupted early histories (of abuse and neglect) are some of the most complex cases my colleagues and I see'.
3. Clinicians have advice that recommends when they have concerns that a baby or toddler is not developing as 'normal' they should seek 'formal evaluation by professionals trained in infant mental health, as many features described in neglected/emotionally abused children overlap with those found in children suffering from autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.'
5. See https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040 for details of widespread misconceptions for example around 'dis-organised attachment' . It is difficult to know how to start unpicking the effect of these misconceptions and potential harm caused in individual cases where children have been removed from their families as a result. It is in my view likely to have caused inter-generational harm on a very significant scale. It is also likely to have undermined trust in the structures of the State that once lost, may never be regained.
6. Judges and others within the legal profession have rightly expressed concerns about whether much of the disputed child development theory taught to social care professionals should have a place in child protection proceedings.
''When controversies emerge – like the brain thing – it would have been good to have some consensus... weighing up the different sides and drawing a conclusion would have been more helpful. (Professionals Focus Group 11)
7. See also this recent 2018 High Court Case where the guardian and the local authority placed great weight on ''evidence'' from an independent social worker about a Child's "attachment profile" and the judge made scathing criticisms of both the LA and the ''expert''. This is a extract from the judgement on the subject of Attachment theory
"A number of points may be made about this description of the theory. First, the theory, which I suppose is an aspect of psychology, is not stated in the report to be the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct. Indeed, I asked the advocate for the guardian whether he was aware whether a student could undertake a degree in attachment theory, or otherwise study it at university or professionally. Mr x was not able to answer my question. Therefore, it does not satisfy the first criterion for admissibility as expert evidence.
...the theory is only a theory. It might be regarded as a statement of the obvious, namely that primate infants develop attachments to familiar caregivers as a result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behaviour would facilitate the infant's survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements. Certainly, this was the view of John Bowlby, the psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst and originator of the theory in the 1960s. It might be thought to be obvious that the better the quality of the care given by the primary caregiver the better the chance of the recipient of that care forming stable relationships later in life. However, it must also be recognised that some people who have received highly abusive care in childhood have developed into completely well-adjusted adults. Further, the central premise of the theory – that quality attachments depend on quality care from a primary caregiver – begins to fall down when you consider that plenty of children are brought up collectively (whether in a boarding school, a kibbutz or a village in Africa) and yet develop into perfectly normal and well-adjusted adults"
8. It is in this highly charged environment that many parents of autistic children report experiencing a 'blame culture' where parenting capacity is regularly challenged by professionals including teachers and clinicians - none of whom spend time with parents and children in their home where they are likely to get a much fuller picture of the reasons for a child's difficulties. Sometimes there are child protection concerns. It is essential in these circumstances that professionals are curious, have an open mind and have good multi-agency working arrangements so that children and their parents get the support they need.
9. Targeted ( NOT generic..) parenting classes are very valuable in supporting families with autistic babies ensure their children reach their full potential. See a very promising programme, PACT (Pre-School Autism Communication Trial) that had significant positive impact for autistic babies/toddlers.
"The PACT study tested a treatment that aimed to enhance parent-child communication in autism and the social and language development of the child. The approach aims to help parents adapt their communication style to their child’s impairments and respond to their child with enhanced sensitivity and responsiveness. There is a focus on increasing shared attention through eye-gaze, sharing, showing and giving. Parents are encouraged to use language that is tailored to their child’s level of understanding. Parents are also introduced to strategies that facilitate child communication and participation, such as action routines, repeated verbal scripts and the use of elaborations, pauses, and teasing." http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/pact/
Programmes such as these are dependent on NHS capacity for early diagnosis and commissioning of specialist parenting programmes at regional/national level - something most parents of autistic children can only dream of.