18 Jan 2010

Seeking Social Policy Solutions

Another rehash of the "Hell Boys" who tortured two younger children in Doncaster last year has appeared through out the news.

The details have not been elaborated on due to an injunction to prevent all of the details being know. When I blogged on this last year, I referred to the case as the next generation's Jamie Bulger, and indeed this case has been compared to the notorious 1993 Jamie Bulger case..

Police were alerted on April 4 after the nine-year-old boy who was attacked was found wandering, covered in blood, in the former pit village. The youngster told the people who found him where to find his 11-year-old companion, who was discovered unconscious in a nearby wooded ravine.

Previous court hearings have been told that the two victims were hit with sticks and bricks, one had a sink dropped on his head, one had a noose put round his neck and the other was burned with a cigarette on his eyelids and ear. Their tormentors also tried to force the boys into performing sex acts on each other.

During the attack the older victim begged his attackers to kill him, such was his torment.

This case raises several strands of concern. The failings of our public services and the systematic rise in child to child violence that the Legal System is not equipped to deal with.

Failing Public Services

The BBC have had access to a document which identifies 31 incidents which Social Services had recorded but not acted on. This must be a relief for Haringey.

Joking aside, this raises serious concerns about thechildren's services department of Doncaster council, where seven children officially marked as being at risk have died since 2004.

Newsnight is revealing the details of the report into Eddington as I type, and reporting of matters in the public interest

"Corporate and Organisational Inadequacies" are cited by the report as the main cause of the failings of the system.

Ultimately, it is not only Eddlington that is failing children, it is systems across the country.

Underfunded, badly staffed, managed by CEOs who transfer through directorates with alarming ease and no experience, all cite reasons for a serious review.

Articles litter the web on proposals and analysis of cases and systems. Political parties have limited proposals and it is as unappealing a job as reviewing the benefit system.

Reviews need to be done with all members of staff, not just quality and target assurance managers who do not practice the trade . Case loads need to be reviewed, more administrative support needs to be provided.

After all, Doctors automatically have secretaries, why not Social Work professionals?

The premise of a right to parenthood has dominated public services for too long. If someone has a child taken away from them, it should follow that all subsequent children are removed until they are deemed to be a stable parent. The case in Eddlington shows more evidence of drink, drugs and violence in a home with seven children.

Early intervention would have decreased the risks of the boys then attempting to murder other children, among other offences.

Nefarious Youth

The convicted killers of Damilola Taylor identified a serious trend of youth violence in Britain in 2006. Yet this, and other high profile cases of attacks and murder of children by children have failed to accelerate a solution within the public services that are failing these "hell boys".

To take a political slant, the "tough on crime, tough on causes of crime" soundbite Blair was so good at has created a decade of clunky bureaucracy and pseudo offences for the young criminal population. Antisocial behaviour orders, a brilliant concept with no back bone or implementation what so ever, have failed the justice system and the perpetrators.

Antisocial behaviour orders remain difficult to achieve, taking an average of 3 years to achieve and only when a system of reprimands such as Acceptable Behaviour Agreements have been tried first. In turn, 45% of ASBOs are breached in the first year.

Many groups question the suitability of ASBOs for young persons and how they are worked separately from the Social Care system.

With The Children’s Society saying "Asbos are never appropriate for children". and fighting for abolition for under-18s, the Youth Justice Board saying ASBOs should only be used “with care, and only when necessary” and the Children's Commissioner stating that an Asbo should only be issued when it is “appropriate, sensible, proportionate and just”, it is understandably a confusing area.

The variety of non custodial sanctions employed in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 are repeatedly revealed by statistical agencies as futile, there is clearly a need for a social policy review in this area without soundbites, without tabloids screaming capital punishment and a determined focus on the origins and development of violent behaviour that are increasingly leading to high profile cases such as these.

Inadequate Legal Jurisdiction

The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10 before a prosecution can be brought.

The Youth Justice Board battled for rights for children in relation to criminal prosecution resulting in the Children's Act 1989.

However, it is clear that the Courts are dealing with these children too late. While Youth Offending Officers and Legislation governs for intervention by Social Services, it is clear that, as children cannot be arrested, cautioned or sanctioned before the age of 10, there is no system in place for referral.

Social services are only aware of a situation if it is brought to their attention.

If lesser sanctions were allowed for children under the age of 10 committing offences then it would flag the child's name to social services and allow intervention before the child ended up in Court at 14 charged with serious offences.

Inter Agency Working

Multiagency working, another Labour Buzzword, is the logical conclusion to proceed in a review of these services.

But partnership working suffers with numerous meetings, little action planning and poor results. Bureaucracy and the infiltration of tick box procedures has created an environment where there is little focus on client care or focus. With Police ensuring they make the target on ASBOs and the Social Workers ensuring they have met their weekly visit quota, the client is left to run rings around the system and results in activities with no fear of consequence, no remorse and little prospects other than further crime.

In the UK we are proud of our public services, but they have become so entrenched in bureaucracy and procedure in the last two decades that they are failing the people who really need them.

Where they are not outsourced to corner cutting, profit making businesses, the staff are disillusioned and unable to make a difference in a culture of targets and imagined successes by managerial incompetency.

The only quality assurance a society should need is to protect it's citizens.

Social policy should follow this by ensuring that children's needs are met to allow them to grow up with access to education, a safe and stable family environment, no poverty and a meritocratic system of reward and achievement.

The social agencies are so focused on meeting stringent targets, they miss the bigger picture. When children die, or commit serious offences, they retreat behind excuses of poor facilities or resources.

What about the poor resources the children are left with that leave them in a state of criminal behaviour with no morality and no future?

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