Institutionalising Parent-carer Blame

21 July 2021

Press Release announcing the publication of a major new report into the experiences of families with disabled children in their interactions with English local authority children’s services departments.

Institutionalising Parent-carer Blame

21 July 2021

Press Release announcing the publication of a major new report into the experiences of families with disabled children in their interactions with English local authority children’s services departments.

smiling teenage boy with a disability

Disabled children and their families are one of the most severely disadvantaged groups in the UK.

A major research report published today (21 July 2021) finds that most English Children’s Services Authorities operate a ‘one size-fits-all’ approach to families – regardless of whether it is a parent carer seeking support for a disabled child or a family where the evidence suggests there to be neglect or abuse. The effect of this approach is to create an institutional culture of ‘parent blame’.

The research cites many comments made by parent carers: parents who felt the process to be humiliating’; ‘bullying; ‘devastating’; who likened it to ‘the police turning up at your door and [saying] we’ve got a warrant to search your house’.

In relation to the findings of the report, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Davey MP Patron of the Disability Law Service stated:

“I am very concerned to hear of the continued problems with the way many Children’s Services Departments in England are treating parents caring for disabled children: a problem that was highlighted in a Disability Law Service report last year. The current report points to defective Department for Education guidance as a root cause of this problem, which is leading to parents being blamed when they ask for care for their disabled children, instead of receiving the help and support they deserve. I call upon the Education Secretary to address this issue as a matter of urgency”.

The Report’s ‘Key Messages’

  • National and local social care policies in England create a default position for those assessing disabled children, that assumes parental failings. This approach locates the problems associated with a child’s impairment in the family.
  • The national guidance that directs the process by which disabled children are assessed by English Children’s Services Departments (‘Working Together 2018’) is not fit for purpose and arguably unlawful. Its focus is on safeguarding children from parental neglect / abuse and it fails to address the distinct assessment and support needs of disabled children for whom there is no evidence of neglect or abuse.
  • Unlike the national guidance concerning the assessment of disabled adults, ‘Working Together 2018’ contains no requirement that those assessing the needs of disabled children have any disability related expertise, skills or experience.

Of the 143 local authority assessment protocols identified:

  • None contained a clear explanation that a different approach should be taken concerning the assessment of the needs of disabled children where the referral was not accompanied by evidence of neglect or abuse.
  • 80 per cent required the assessor to confirm if the ‘child’s bedroom has been seen’ regardless of whether there was any evidence to suspect that the child was being neglected or abused.
  • 87 per cent referred to the need of seeing (or communicating with) the children alone regardless of whether there was any evidence to suspect that the child was being neglected or abused.
  • None gave guidance to assessors concerning the need for cogent grounds to exist before seeking to see a child’s bedroom or seeking to interview a child in the absence of their parent.
  • Policies of this nature interfere with the fundamental rights of families to respect for their private and family lives, and their home – and are discriminatory in that they treat disabled people and their families in the same way as people whose circumstances are materially different.

86 per cent of the parent carer-led support groups who responded to the research survey considered the assessment process to be extremely unsatisfactory and intrusive – highlighting:

  • Assessors’ lack of training, experience and understanding concerning the disability related challenges that disabled children and their families encountered.
  • The intimidating nature of the assessment process: a process that focussed on parental ‘fitness’ rather than addressing the additional support needs that resulted from their child’s impairment.
  • The intrusive nature of the process, with families reporting that assessment visits could take place with little (or no) notice and that they were often placed in impossible positions – for example, feeling that they had no real choice about whether the assessor inspected their child’s bedroom and interviewed their children in their absence.

The research report calls on the Department for Education to publish – as a matter of urgency – separate statutory guidance to address the specific needs of disabled children and their families.

The report can be downloaded here.

 

Notes:

13 thoughts on “Institutionalising Parent-carer Blame”

  1. That’s exactly what I thought, intimidating me, even trying to gaslight me. I now face our worker wanting to talk to my child alone. Your report is spot on which may affect many more families. Professionals need to start listening to us and act upon their findings in a lawful way.

    1. I have been through a Sen tribunal what a horrible, toxic time it became, every professional from the NHS to the local authority who are paid to support my ASD son showed their nasty little colours all policies they SHOULD follow were blatantly ignored and the tribunal allowed this, I opted for a health and social care assesment for my son 3 pages of the report were about him – 5 pages were about my inability to parent my son correctly and all of his ASD traits were my fault-I declined anymore involvement with this person and her department and am still upset about it today I felt so demoralised as a parent and still cry about it now

  2. My god how true I feel pressured bullied into let the local authority putting my daughters and family be put in uncomfortable position not respecting my disabled children rights or worker always looking at their bedrooms ! I have lost all trust and faith in them all!!!!! And it seems there’s very rights we have as parents to say hey stop! And listen to what we are saying about our kids!

  3. Definitely agree. The most recent accusation I have faced when asked for more support is that I should be using the child DLA funds for accessing support. Where else am I using their DLA funds? I have 3 children with special needs and only get 4 hour support! Each time I ask for support they say it’s enough. It’s a constant battle which stresses us out, like a did we don’t have enough in our plate! The children’s disability service in my area is a joke!

  4. I am going through exactly this at the moment. I’m a single parent to twins one needs full time 1:1 support because of a brain injury . I can’t physically give my child who has a physical disability the one to one he needs full time and I’ve been threatened with child protection twice because I reported situations when my child wasn’t safe because I needed to go to the toilet or prepare food or I needed to shower or shop or do anything except the nice things in life that we can never access.
    But I will not allow this to continue so have challenged the LA and I hope we get to go to judicial review to highlight this. Thank you for showing me that it isn’t just me and the parent blaming us systemic in this world we call special needs and disabilities.

  5. This is a really important report that mirrors one of the findings of the Joint Chief Social Workers report into Social Work with young autistic people
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-work-and-autistic-young-people-an-exploratory-study/a-spectrum-of-opportunity-an-exploratory-study-of-social-work-practice-with-autistic-young-adults-and-their-families
    which found that practice is too often focused on identifying parenting defecits rather than the support parents need

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been through a gruelling experience even trying to apply for Short Breaks fund. The application even admits how traumatic it is going to be. I get puny amount of time when my son who is disabled is at school provision – during which time I’m trying to deal with OT,SALT, CAMHS…..I’m single parent and no support at home. As others have mentioned I can only dream of ever having nice things of life – relationships, friends a hobby….Even to simply get funds to afford support worker for my son so that I can take him to playground – yes requires two adults to do that – yet Short Breaks rejected application and told me my son’s challenges don’t amount to any more than those of any 7 year old. This is gut wrenching and unjust.

  7. Georgina Bancroft

    I haven’t had this experience in Wales. We have had nothing but support and understanding. However I don’t know what is spoken about us behind the scenes. However we have always had to ask for rather than being just offered up services but I am guessing funding is limited. I am so sad to hear this is happening as this would just add to the overall stress of having a disabled family.

  8. I had this for year’s, to the point we were put on a child protection plan for neglect. In the end there wasn’t enough evidence for them to continue as the children even had an advocate who told them their side. We don’t have social service involvement anymore, instead the primary school has pushed ahead for assessment and an EHCP for my eldest son. And assessment for my younger son, we have received appointments for.
    I felt like if the children were playing with lego, painting, colouring etc, anything that made a mess, if I had clean washing waiting to be folded or dirty waiting to be washed even that I was a bad parent.
    Nothing was ever good enough, I was even told that I should split up with my husband at one point.
    It is wrong how we are treated.

    1. When I asked SS for help with a son who has ADHD, ODD and Autism, they did an assessment and just put him on the at risk registrar. Despite me being a nursery manager for 20 years, having separate special needs qualifications and being a qualified youth leader, they insisted it was a parenting problem, ignoring all the diagnosis my son has. I was advised to leave my husband and told I needed to attend parenting classes 😖

  9. Reading this with tears. I’m a single full time working mum of three mum disabled. I’ve met with nothing but lies and systamatical avoidance of my children’s fundamental rights in order to avoid providing support. I work on both sides and understand the budget constraints but there is without question a default position of parental blame and a process that is impossible to navigate…many give up. The whole system is dysfunctional and needs a complete over hall to make it family centred. No family expects an ever ending pot of money but they need understanding and encouragement not derision and blame.

  10. English children’s services need abolished.
    They aren’t interested in supporting or helping.
    They destroyed my life & my children’s lives
    I’m a disabled adult with a broken back, to get their way They lied and claimed it was a stomach bug despite having the surgical reports. They hurt my oldest son then gave him to a dangerous individual when I was in hospital.

    When pregnant with my youngest son, they hounded me even though I no longer lived in England.
    Scottish social services helped me during England’s harshest bullying though sadly my son suffered a brain bleed during my pregnancy.
    Now he’s thriving in Scotland with good support because Scottish social services actually did support & help.

    English social services, need abolished & held accountable for breaking law after law after law.

    I’m more qualified than the majority of the social workers in cumbria, but they seem to have a hatrid for intelligent people with disabilities.

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