Last night I attended a seminar hosted by BASW and the University of Wolverhampton. It was called 'Family, What Family? Unpicking the tangled knot of human rights in child protection practice' and delivered by Allan Norman. You might have heard of Allan before. He qualified as a social worker in 1990, and as a solicitor in 2000. He specialises in the law relating to the practice of social work, representing both social workers and service users through his own legal and independent social work practice Celtic Knot. He's also an Associate Lecturer at the University of Birmingham and now works as BASW’s lead on Policy, Ethics and Human Rights and International matters.
The seminar was fascinating and I came away with a greater clarity regarding the impact child protection processes have on both the rights of the child and family. Allan started by saying that Social Work as an international profession is fundamentally about human rights. The International Federation of Social Workers say just that in the Global Definition of Social Work. But for those working in areas of safeguarding that commitment to both positive and negative rights becomes complicated. We also find that absolute rights always trump qualified rights. So, a child's absolute right under article 3 ("No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment") trumps the parents qualified right under article 8 ("Right to respect for private and family life"). Allen questioned whether low level neglect was sufficient for article 3 to be engaged. No doubt the impact of austerity and the increasing threshold for support and preventative services will muddy these waters even more.
Earlier today I read that all four UK Children’s Commissioners have called on the UK Government to stop making cuts to benefits and welfare reforms in order to protect children from the impact of its austerity measures. Tam Baillie, Commissioner for Children and Young People Scotland, said "For one of the richest countries in the world, this is a policy of choice and it is a disgrace. It is avoidable and unacceptable."
It is right that children are safeguarded from significant harm, but removing them from their family is a hugely draconian step which should be reserved as an absolute last resort. How many families might still be together if the government prioritised funding for welfare, support and preventative services? In individual cases it may be that there are no other support options; but as a society do we not have a moral duty to make that support available? As a society are we failing in our duty to meet the positive rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It's food for thought...
Allan has written prolifically on the subject of Human Rights and child protection. If you're interested in reading more, take a look at some of these:
‘Working Together 2013 ignores human rights and we must act on this’
Dealing with the inconvenient human rights of others
You might also like some of these (Not by Allan!):
We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures
I Have the Right to Be a Child
Ethics and Values in Social Work (Practical Social Work Series)
BASW Human Rights Policy (Sort of by Allan!)
I'm a Qualified Children's Social Worker with a passion for safeguarding and family support in the UK.