Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Many people I’ve met with family members who have needed Tier 4 heath support or whose child entered care have an 'If only story' as in ‘’If only someone had listened/ supported /knew what to do when... then…” My own ‘’If only story” probably would be "If only everything was’ent too late to make a difference when…then....”. Some of the hardest to hear are the ''If only I'd known/understood...then..." where individuals have regrets about something they did/did not do. It will not be a surprise to hear that some parents regret asking for help from services. I do'nt when I look at the big picture but I will always question if things should have needed to reach the crisis they did, before services stepped in, and whether I could have done something differently that would have helped more.
Even though we know not everything is fixable, we know most things can be improved. Making things better for everybody involves working collaboratively to understand the 'why' of things. We can only fix a problem when we understand it fully in all its complexity and that usually means multiple perspectives are essential.
There is nothing new in this. Serious Case Reviews, of which there are a small number a year, often use an approach based on the SCIE Learning Together to safeguard children: developing a multi-agency systems approach for case reviews (2008) model. This methodology is based upon an approach that uses an individual case to provide a ‘window on the system’ finding out whether weaknesses or strengths that have been identified in a single case are more systematic and widespread, and so leading to a broader understanding about what supports and what hinders the reliability of a system.
Sometimes, telling your own painful story is difficult. We may 'have a narrative' that gives comfort and it may not bear close scrutiny from different perspectives. This applies equally to professionals and people who have need of services. All service providers however, if they are to successfully deliver services, need to hear and listen and engage with the people who tell them, no matter how challenging and difficult this and the people who tell them, may first appear.
So how good are those that provide services at engagement with those that need services and learning from the experience?
CQC and Ofsted are 'compliance checkers' for many of the service suppliers in education, children's services, secure settings and care homes. Both have a culture of listening, because they know from experience, that service users are often 'de-facto whistleblowers' and where they identify bad practice this is likely to be picked up in inspection reports. This is great as far as it goes but it can sometimes prevent service providers taking ownership of their failings. Many organisations who are subject to inspections complain of these being 'done to' rather than 'done with' them and many seem to bitterly resent this - hence promotion of 'peer to peer' learning in some areas and a different Ofsted inspection regime that began in 2018. This is not however, the same as engagement with people who experience the system and have 'expertise' in that capacity as a result.
'Experts by experience' are now slowly becoming the norm within the NHS helping to design some services. These may challenge perceptions of professionals about their practice and that challenge is seen as positive. Many are paid for the time and reimbursed expenses. Children's social care however seems a long way from being comfortable with challenge from people who have experienced the support of services. In many ways the sector seems to betraumatised as a result of very bad experiencesand this colours how it reacts to challenge and indeed much else. There is a real danger of a 'bunker mentality' where practitioners speak about parents who have need of their services with a disturbingly disrespectful 'othering' language - using phrases such as 'disguised compliance' to describe people who are complying with instructions so completely that it raises concerns that they have something to hide, as just one example. Practitioners are advised on superficial ways of gaining trust e.g. 'bring biscuits' if visiting a person in need of their services at home. It strikes me that manipulation is not a 'good look' from people whose purpose is to help. Trust has to earned and interactions with families often experiencing extreme crises, should be respectful. The Family Rights Group Mutual Expectations Charter seems a much better basis for working with families. This Charter aims to promote effective, mutually respectful partnership working between practitioners and families when children are subject to statutory intervention. Such intervention can involve child welfare and family justice, mental health, education and youth justice systems.
Within the family justice system, as far as I'm aware, there is little scope for people who have been through the system to feed back on the experience.The Grandmother's Statementmay be unique, to date, in this regard.
Many professionals are also raising concerns about how services interact with families who need them and there are moves towards more collaborative working to design services for families who need support. One example is an initiative from the Family Rights Group that has recently received funding from Lankelly Chase to develop Your Family, Your Voice – An Alliance of families and practitioners working to transform the system.
In an environment where all services are facing extreme capacity and funding challenges, it is essential that there is recognition that all voices have validity and that the most marginalised voices are likely to be the ones with the 'if only stories' we need to hear most, to have any chance of getting service delivery for children and families who really need them to be right, right.