Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
I’ve concluded that if you control the language about something you control the related narrative. The extraordinarily judgmental and lets face it, nasty, use of language to describe families who need services that do not work, to work as they should, seems all-pervasive.
Here are just a few examples:-
• We have a child protection system, not a child welfare system. • Neglect only counts as neglect if it is parental neglect. • Families are failing, not services. • Families need early intervention, not good well funded universal services that support adults in their role as parents for their own children. • Social Workers need time with families, because there may be neglect and it takes time to collect the evidence - Not time with families to use their skills and resources to help a family stay together where possible, if that takes time. • Social workers are children’s social workers, not family social workers. • No one has rights. Injustice (something that you and I need to fix) has become trauma (something that the person affected needs to fix with the help of therapy). • Quote – Many children are voluntarily accommodated because their parents do not wish to be the main care-giver. For example, some disabled children or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/01/31/comply-court-rulings-section-20/) • Quote – It is a shocking reality that recent research shows that as many as 30% of adoptive parents and over 300,000 families overall live in households in which regular violence by children on their parents occurs. It is a truism that ‘hurt children hurt’ and there is widespread evidence that children that have been badly damaged in the early years are more likely to be violent themselves. (Conflation and a rush to judgement of the 300,000 families referred to that do not contain adopted children? – See http://yvonnenewbold.com/happy-birthday-send-vcb-vcb-blog-series-4/ What do you have to do or be to be deserving of help and support that works?)
Does the way language is deployed by child protection professionals cause harm to children and young people? I’ve no doubt it does. It introduces bias as many of the examples above show. It creates an environment where it takes real independence and some confidence to challenge and you need to be prepared to be an outsider if you do and for all the consequences that flow from that.
Is precision important? Very much so. As an example social worker’s have got themselves in no end of difficulties around the language of attachment by mis-using and mis-representating clinical language. (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/01/22/using-attachment-theory-practice-top-tips/)
The language surrounding special educational needs and disabilities (SEN_D) also holds traps for the unwary with dangerous consequences for those affected. It seems to me, with my jaundiced eye, that this description of people with difficulties and difficulties in understanding and/or communicating, contains the word ‘Educational’ so social workers can say – ‘’Nothing to do with me. I don’t work in a school.’
Here is a recommendation from a recent Serious Case Review on that front:-
Joint Serious Case Review Concerning Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adults with Needs for Care and Support in Newcastle-upon-Tyne David Spicer February 2018
9.19 Mental Health and Learning Disability The cases included victims whose cognitive impairment had been identified previously and others in which no impairment had been identified but was suspected by professionals involved in addressing the exploitation. There were also circumstances in which cognitive difficulties of parents and the impact on their ability to protect had not been considered.
During the Learning Events discussions identified uncertainty about –
• Differences between learning disability and learning difficulty and relevance • The extent to which either is susceptible to formal diagnosis • Whose responsibility it is to assess • Education services responsibilities • What is the relationship with mental ill-health • The meaning and impact of mild, moderate or severe categories • Skills to work with impaired victims and when victims are unwilling to engage • Handling and distinguishing capacity to decide some things but not others • Impact on capacity of drugs and alcohol, abuse and mild cognitive impairment • When to expect that impairment will have been identified during childhood • Sources of expertise, advice and consultation for practitioners and availability from mental health services or the Community Learning Disability Team
This is unsurprising. Uncertainty is widespread. NHS Choices explains that learning disability is not the same as learning difficulty or mental illness but “it can be very confusing as the term “learning difficulties” is used by some to cover the whole range of learning disabilities.” There is a difference in the language used in the education, health and social care services. Learning disability is assessed taking account of a combination of IQ and intellectual and social functioning rather than an absolute diagnosis. Terminology might determine eligibility for services and for benefits.
Recommendation 1.15 I recommend that: Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board and Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board should arrange for guidance to be issued to practitioners on the differences between learning disability and learning difficulties and the relevance for safeguarding judgments and services.
This illustrates the problems created by using 'proxy labels' when what is needed is an attempt to develop a profound understanding of very complex issues.
Language and Power I've also noticed that people who have been negatively impacted by powerfully belittling /alienating/ stigmatising language, learn to use the same language to talk about their own experiences for example many mothers who have lost young babies to the State talk about the damage done to their baby by breaking its 'attachment' with them. Personally I reject this quasi-clinical language and borrowed terms and I would not dignify it by using it but I understand why some do. I think when you speak your truth in your own words this is the most powerful use of language of all.