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Since the publicity about the death of Baby P, care applications have more than doubled to record levels for modern times.
The reasons for this surge are numerous. Risk aversion was a strong factor in the years immediately after the Baby P case. Judges made new case law to tighten up on what they saw as drift in voluntary care, and this brought more cases into court.
The extra focus, including in Ofsted inspections, led to better reviewing practice and calling time on unsatisfactory levels of emotional harm and neglect for vulnerable children – these are the two types of poor parenting that explain the bulk of the increase.
Years of austerity have also led to early help being less available, with families coming to attention too late to be helped to step back from the edge of care. The child population has been increasing by a small percentage every year.
What matters most, though, is how these various factors intersect at the local level. Local decision-making about thresholds and about what happens to children on the edge of care varies dramatically; regional variations are widening.
This year the rise has levelled off, probably because there is no big new national driver to restoke the upward trend. It may also be because historic cases have, for the most part, been reviewed.
There are two alternative scenarios for the sector. First, that councils have prioritised child protection and children in care services and will continue to do so, including continued cross-subsidising from other local services.
In this scenario, children’s social care will continue as one of the main public protection duties of the local state. There is a lot of success to build on. We deal with cases much quicker than nearly all our international neighbours. We foster three in four children in care, whereas in most countries the majority of children are only given residential options.
More children do well in our care system than was the case historically. And all bar a handful of the children who come into care through the courts meet the criteria for needing to be in care.
The other scenario has children’s social care being given the same priority, while facing a financial cliffedge. The underlying assumption is that government will intervene just before the point of service collapse to protect minimum standards in any particular area or region.
In truth, any intervention and investment would have to begin well before a collapse, given the lead-in time necessary to make an impact on recruitment and service provision is between one and three years, if handled well. It is probably an unlikely scenario, given current public policy preoccupations.
All of us working in children’s social care have a responsibility to ensure the system is harmonised with the demographic, social and economic changes in society. Here is the service mix I think essential for every local system to support the next generation of children in care and those on the edge of care:
1. A local service to disrupt the repeated removal of
children from the same parent (one in four care applications), and with six
in 10 of these parents having been abused or neglected themselves and four
in 10 having been in care, to stem inter-generational harm and to promote
2. A local care enterers’ service, working with young people on the edge of care to try to halt the rising numbers of adolescents in the care population.
3. A local therapeutic support service to meet the needs of the growing number of children and young people who require help to recover from trauma experienced at home.
4. Workforce development to build the competent, proud and supported care workforce of the future. This work is “emotional labour” and those providing it need help too.
5. A local care system redesign to put more capacity on the frontline and to re-position child protection services and the care system as one of the major public health issues of our time.
Most services, whether successful or failing, are best understood and acted on locally by partners working together.
A good national framework supports self-improvement programmes – whether local, regional or national – by updating policy and legislation to keep pace with social trends. Certain service developments could be mandatory where the evidence base is compelling; and some services can only be scoped and developed on a national basis, such as secure accommodation.
The numbers of children in care are likely to stay high for a generation at least, hence the need for a “new deal” to future-proof services for the most vulnerable children in the country.
By Anthony Douglas
12 October 2017
Anthony Douglas is chief executive of Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
Medical professionals in southern Saskatchewan are hoping to make youth mental health care more accessible for patients in the province's northern communities – and they think robots are part of the answer.
The robots, or Remote Presence Technology (RPT), work similarly to a Skype or FaceTime application, where both parties can see and hear each other in real-time.
"There's a true epidemic in terms of suicide in youth, especially in First Nations communities in the north – six times more than the rate of youth in the south," said Dr. Ivar Mendez, the head of the department of surgery at University of Saskatchewan.
"They may have an initial assessment but then they go back to their communities without a followup."
Unlike basic smartphone applications, the units are outfitted with what Mendez calls "ears," which direct the top portion (or "head") of the robot towards the person speaking.
The physician using the robot remotely can also control where it goes, whether it's down the hall to another patient's room or in a patient's home.
The units can connect to diagnostic equipment like a stethoscope and ultrasonography.
Less travel for patients
The new RPT units will be added to six others in the northern part of the province. Officials are assessing communities now and will place the robots based on need.
"Our hope is in the future that each community in northern Saskatchewan will have its own," said Mendez.
Last year, six young women in northern Saskatchewan communities died by suicide, and prompted calls for action by the FSIN, First Nations chiefs, and parents within those communities.
The situation is often referred to as a crisis.
Before the units, many children had to travel several hours from their home communities to tertiary medical centres for follow-ups. The introduction of new communication technologies could have an effect on this practice.
"We can take care of these children in their own communities 64 per cent of the time," said Mendez.
Sometimes patients from the North have to use medical taxis, and may be seated with others who are ill and not feeling well. When they get to Saskatoon or Regina, further issues crop up.
"Sixty-five per cent or more speak a language other than English as a first language," said Dr. Veronica McKinney, director of Northern Medical Services.
"They don't necessarily feel they can ask questions, they feel uncomfortable, and they just want to get out of here. Sometimes they're here just for a 15-minute appointment," she said.
Tool for retention
The RPT units will not replace physicians in the North, according to McKinney and Mendez.
"When there's no other alternative, no other real person there, the system provides that important access," said Mendez.
Some northern communities don't have 24-hour access to a physician, and sometimes nurses are left with little support.
"We don't have psychiatrists who can practise in a small community because they might not be able to have a practice in a community of 1,000 people."
The units will be manned by existing psychiatrists on staff in the province.
They may also increase retention and recruitment rates for nurses in northern communities.
"Nurses want to go where they have the robots because they know they will have help from physicians in real-time," said Mendez.
By Bridget Yard
10 October 2017
Cookie Monster is all wound up. The Count has him hold up his furry blue fingers, count them (of course), and blow on each one in turn as if he were blowing out a birthday candle. Afterward, Cookie declares, in his familiar growly voice, that he feels much better.
"Hey! Me feel terrific! Me calm. Me relaxed."
You won't be catching this scene on HBO or PBS. It's part of a special initiative called Sesame Street in Communities. Free materials, including videos, books and games, will be released today to help parents and caregivers, in turn, help young children cope with traumatic experiences.
The science of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs for short, is beginning to transform education and social services. ACEs include poverty, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, divorce, and mental illness or substance abuse on the part of a caregiver.
A new analysis of the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, released today, shows that nearly half of American children experience at least one of these adversities, and 1 in 5 have had at least two. Research shows that growing up with more ACEs negatively affects children's development, education, and even later in life, chronic disease and longevity. But children's brains are also resilient, and they can recover with the right kind of responsive care.
Sesame is better known for teaching preschoolers letters and numbers. But those familiar furry characters are also taking on tougher topics, says Jeanette Betancourt of Sesame Workshop. In the past two years, Sesame in Communities has addressed the incarceration of a parent and bereavement, partnering with local organizations to share directly with families affected.
The new trauma material focuses on simple coping skills for what many in the field call "big feelings" – like anger, anxiety and sadness. The goal, says Betancourt, "is to provide positive ways to connect children and the adults around them regardless of what the situation is."
In one short video, Big Bird imagines himself in his comfy, cozy nest. In another, Rosita, a green monster Muppet, punches a pillow to let out her anger. Sesame's human characters, Alan and Sophia, play the roles of nurturing, encouraging adults. Sophia tells Rosita, "It's OK to let your feelings out. There are safe ways to let your feelings out."
Ann Thomas is CEO of The Children's Place in Kansas City. It's a full-day therapeutic program for children who, on average, have experienced five traumatic events before the age of 6. "They've had some really hard starts in life," she says. "That does impact their development."
Thomas consulted on the new material, even visiting the set when the Muppets were filming. She applauds the focus on skills to manage emotion, rather than having Muppets delve into what caused the emotions. This mirrors the course of treatment for children moving beyond trauma.
"Teaching these coping skills first, creating a sense of safety, consistency and predictability – that is the No. 1 step," she says. "It doesn't matter if it was sexual abuse or a house fire. You're scared, you're not trusting, you're not sleeping."
Though the videos speak directly to children, Thomas thinks they can also help adults. "I think one of the biggest values of this material is as a bridge for adults to take grownup issues and put them in developmentally appropriate words to help children heal," she says.
This is a skill that even the most well-intentioned grandparent, teacher or foster parent may not have. "When it's your child, you don't want them to hurt," she says. "Sometimes we want to say, 'get over it.' It's hard to be with a child in that pain."
She notes that it can be comforting in itself for children to see familiar characters dealing with these emotions. Traumatic experiences are sadly common, but not much talked about in most kids' media.
"When it's done by Sesame it gives it credibility," she says. "If Sesame is doing it you're not alone."
Therapists at her organization, The Children's Place, will share the videos with families in the hope that caregivers will follow the lead of characters like the Count, find the words to reassure children feeling big feelings, and teach them how to create their own safe places.
By Anya Kamenetz
6 October 2017
A majority of girls with low body esteem will skip meals and avoid seeing friends and family, participating in extra-curricular activities or seeing a doctor, a large survey has found.
The research, based on interviews with 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17 in 14 countries, also found that more than half of girls with low body esteem struggle to be assertive.
The survey, carried out by Edelman Intelligence for the 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, found that only 46% of girls globally had high body esteem, while the figure was even lower in the UK (39%). Of the countries included, only China and Japan fared worse.
The co-author Phillippa Diedrichs, associate professor from the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, said: “These findings indicate that, despite valiant efforts, body image remains an issue for girls not only in the UK, but globally, too. We still have an enormous amount of work to do in helping girls develop the resilience they need to overcome the impact of beauty and appearance pressures.
“We also need to change the social and cultural environment directly so that girls are not judged on their looks and are not held back from getting a seat at whatever table they want, be it in the boardroom, or in parliament, because of body image concerns.”
Seven in 10 girls (nine out of 10 in the UK) with low body esteem told the researchers they stopped themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk. Eight out of 10 (nine out of 10 in the UK) said they avoided seeing friends and family or trying out for a team or club.
In each case, the figure among girls with high body esteem was much lower. The report concludes that higher levels of body esteem have a lasting impact on a girl’s confidence, resilience and life satisfaction. Girls with low body esteem are more likely to succumb to beauty and appearance pressures, withdraw from “fundamental life-building activities” and fail to reach their potential, it says.
It found that girls with low body esteem feel particular pressure from photographs of beautiful girls or women in magazines but the majority of girls acknowledge that they present unrealistic aspirations. Seven in 10 of all girls surveyed understood that images were altered or airbrushed and the same proportion agreed that very few women looked like those on screen.
Social media has come under scrutiny for its impact on girls’ body image in recent years but the Dove report suggests its effect is mixed.
While social media users were more likely to feel pressure to look a certain way than those who did not use the likes of Instagram and YouTube, half of girls (four out of 10 in the UK) said they felt more confident interacting with people online.
The co-author Jess Weiner, adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg school of journalism, said that, despite trolls and cyberbullying, girls were “harnessing the power of social media to democratise the beauty narrative … and flooding the space with their diverse stories and images”.
The authors identified reasons for hope in the fact that seven out of 10 girls said too much importance was placed on beauty as a source of happiness. Eight out of 10 said every girl had something beautiful about them.
They recommend educating girls to minimise the effects of low body esteem and providing diverse narratives in the media. Weiner said: “We need a curriculum focused on media literacy that can help girls identify and actively combat the negative gender stereotypes, violence, and hypersexualisation they encounter on screen.”
The other countries featured in the report, chosen for their diversity of culture and tradition around beauty, were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Turkey.
By Haroon Siddique
5 October 2017
Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, a survey has indicated.
The study provides evidence of a growing backlash among young people disillusioned with the negative aspects of the technology, such as online abuse and fake news.
As well as the 63% who would not care if it did not exist, even more pupils (71%) said they had taken temporary digital detoxes to escape social media.
The survey of about 5,000 students at independent and state schools in England was commissioned by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the headteachers of independent schools around the world.
Many respondents indicated that social media was having a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.
A total of 57% said they had received abusive comments online, 56% admitted to being on the edge of addiction and 52% said social media made them feel less confident about how they look or how interesting their life is.
While more than 60% believed friends showed a “fake version” of themselves on social media, 85% of pupils questioned denied they were guilty of that themselves.
The feedback was not all negative, with students identifying memes, filters/lenses and storytelling features, such as Snapchat Stories, among the things they like about social media.
Asked to recommend improvements, students urged less advertising (71%), less fake news (61%), more creative content (55%) and greater privacy (49%).
One in three of those surveyed said they would like to see social media provide more opportunities to earn income.
At Benenden, a private boarding school for girls in Kent, pupils recently undertook a voluntary three-day social media blackout when they handed over their phones.
The school’s headmistress, Samantha Price, said the survey results chimed with her experience of Benenden’s “phone fast”.
“In the run-up I was worried about how the girls would cope, but afterwards they were wondering what all the fuss had been about and said we should do it again but for even longer next time, which I found incredibly reassuring,” she said.
“When young people have time away from social media they see and feel the benefits: they sleep better, concentrate and therefore learn better and feel better. Of course, social media and the internet are not the enemy – there are enormous positives to them – but it is a matter of finding the right balance, and all schools should be working hard to help children to achieve that balance.”
Charlotte Robertson, the co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said: “We speak to thousands of students on a daily basis about safe internet use and while it’s a matter of concern to see the emotional impact social media is having on young people’s health and wellbeing, it’s encouraging to see that they are also employing smart strategies such as digital detoxing to take control of their social media use.
“Social media allows us to be creative, connected, to campaign for things we believe in, to become entrepreneurs. It’s a platform that should be celebrated and if online abuse or fake news stops it from flourishing we all lose.
“This research is a real wake-up call for all of us working in social media to ensure that we listen to the needs of young people, who will ultimately dictate the direction in which the industry moves.”
Chris King, HMC’s chairman and headmaster of Leicester grammar school, said: “The findings of this poll may surprise teachers and parents but it will help them understand the pressures young people feel in the digital age.
“It is fascinating to see the first indications of a rebellion against social media and reminds us that they may need help to take breaks from its constant demands. The respondents also had clear advice to social networks about the need to consider the quality and trustworthiness of their content.
“Schools will be able to use these insights to help pupils live comfortably and safely online and use good judgment when using social media.”
The survey, which was launched at the HMC’s annual conference in Belfast, was carried out in September among students at state-funded and independent schools in England.
Most of the responses came from students in years nine, 10 and 11.
5 October 2017
Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.
Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a 'self'. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).
Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children's self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? 'Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children's self-concept', says Brummelman. 'It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.'
'What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships', Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children's activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman's own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as 'Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.
Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, 'You worked so hard!') and by teaching children that failure isn't harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?
All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children's self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. 'What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children's self-concept', says Brummelman.
28 September 2017
Eddie Brummelman, Sander Thomaes. How Children Construct Views of Themselves: A Social-Developmental Perspective. Child Development, 2017
Source: University of Amsterdam
I have recently worked with several cases in which children and families were dealing with the effects of attachment issues. Attachment is the deep connection established between a child and caregiver that profoundly affects their development and ability to express emotions and develop relationships. The attachments we form early on critically impact our entire lives. If we form healthy and consistent bonds, healthy attachments most often continue. When a child misses that window of opportunity, attachment issues may result. Attachment issues begin after birth and within the first four years of life. Children with attachment issues desire love and acceptance. They just do not have the cognitive tools to reach that attachment with others. Their brains sabotage the very thing people with attachment issues want and need the most – love and acceptance.
A child who has not bonded early in life will have a hard time accepting love. But you can help them learn to accept your love with time, consistency and repetition. Trust and security come from seeing loving actions, hearing reassuring words, and feeling comforted over and over again. Children with attachment disorders often act like younger children, both socially and emotionally. You may need to treat them as such, using more non-verbal methods of soothing and comforting. Children with attachment issues may not know what they are feeling or how to ask for what they need. Reinforce the idea that all feelings are OK and show them healthy ways to express their emotions. Make time to give your child your full, focused attention in ways that feel comfortable to them. It may seem hard to drop everything, eliminate distractions, and just be in the moment, but quality time together provides a great opportunity for your child to open up to you and feel your focused attention and care.
Children with attachment issues have difficulty connecting to others and managing their own emotions. This results in a lack of trust and self-worth, a fear of getting close to anyone, anger, and a need to be in control. A child with attachment issues feels unsafe and alone. They keep their guard up to protect themselves, but it also prevents them from accepting love and support. It is essential to build up your child’s sense of security. You can accomplish this by establishing clear expectations and rules of behavior, and by responding consistently so your child knows what to expect when he or she acts a certain way and knows that no matter what happens, you can be counted on. Remember that “bad” behavior means that your child does not know how to handle what he or she is feeling and needs your help. By staying calm, you show your child that the feeling is manageable.
As a “parent” of a child with insecure attachment my experience has been that it can be exhausting, frustrating, and emotionally trying. It is hard to put your best parenting foot forward without the reassurance of a loving connection with your child. Sometimes you may wonder if your efforts are worth it, but be assured that they are. With time, patience, and concerted effort, attachment disorders can be repaired. The key is to remain calm, yet firm as you interact with your child. This will teach your child that they are safe and can trust you. A child with an attachment disorder is already experiencing a great deal of stress, so it is imperative that you evaluate and manage your own stress levels before trying to help your child with theirs. This reinforces your consistency and love, and will help your child develop a trust.
“A person who never learned to trust confuses intensity with intimacy, obsession with care, and control with security.”—Patrick Carnes, psychiatrist
By Brenda-Lee Duarte
1 October 2017