Child protection basically refers to the welfare and safety of a child by protecting them from bodily, emotional, neglect and sexual abuse. According to UNICEF, 2006, child protection refers to prevention and response to violence, abuse, as well as exploitation against children. These include child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, child labour, in addition to other destructive traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and marriage of children.
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Children are subjected to violation of their rights all over the world, but despite of the extent, very few incidences are reported and under-recognized impediments to child development and survival besides being violations to basic human rights.
The convention on the rights of the child (1989), candidly elaborates children’s fundamental rights as encompassing “the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence. The law also ensuring that children will not be separated from their family against their will” (UNICEF, 2006, P.1).
The development of the child protection system in the United Kingdom has been distorted by two factors namely; the impact of media reporting and the way in which celebrated child abuse tragedies have been handled. This essay is geared towards discussing both sides of the coin concerning the two factors mentioned earlier and possible solutions to save the situation.
There are various agencies charged with the responsibility of child protection, for instance in Wales and England, the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) gives statutory guidance to local authorities. In Northern Ireland, it is the department of health, social services, and public safety (DHSSPS) while in Scotland it is the Scottish government, which guides the local authorities.
These agencies have put in measures to ensure cooperation between the agencies through the safeguarding boards. For instance, in England and Wales, the local safeguarding children’s boards (LCSBs) guarantee that the main agencies charged with protecting children work efficiently and jointly in supporting and safeguarding children’s welfare locally (NSPCC, 2010, p.2). LSBCs are more effective as they replaced the non-statutory and core membership is outlined in the Children Act, 2004.
This body incorporates police, local authorities, and health bodies among others. In Northern Ireland, a multiagency ACPCs, (Area Child Protection Committees) is the central point for ensuring local cooperation to protect children who are specifically considered as facing a major harm. Currently reforms are underway to instill change in protection services that include establishing a statutory regional Safeguarding Board (SBNI).
In Scotland there are 30 local child protection committees (CPCs) charged with child protection systems in their relevant fields (NSPCC, 2010, p.4). They comprise representatives from diverse backgrounds like the police, local authorities, children services, voluntary sector, and health bodies. However, in Scotland no Safeguarding Boards have been introduced yet.
Looking at child protection in the UK at the local level, children’s services by local authority are in charge of planning and protection services for the children. In England, all children services’ authorities must have a children and a young people’s plan as per the Children Act 2004 in order to offer premeditated bearing to the entire services to children. They should also establish a trust for children that will oversee planning, commissioning, and adequate delivery of children’s services.
On 1 April 2010, a children’s trust board was established following a statutory direction. The director in charge of children’s services is proficiently answerable for services delivered by the children’s trust for example, social services, and education. In addition, an elected councilor is chosen as “lead member” for the services. The lea member, the director and LSCB are in charge of creating and putting into operation the child protection systems as well as policies for professionals who work with children (NSPCC, 2010, p.6).
Various laws that govern the child protection in the UK and this legislation paves way for prosecution of people accused of child harm or abuse. This legislation has been in existence since the 1880s; however, following a sequence of sophisticated deaths because of child abuse culminated into ensuing inquiries that have birthed the recent systems of child protection. A case in study is the first formal inquiry into a death of a child by the Curtis Committee in England, named Dennis O’Neill in 1945(Laming, 2003).
His foster father killed Dennis at the age of 12. However, Maria Colwell who died at the age of seven in 1973 is the wheel behind the founding of current child protection organization. There were further changes instigated by deaths of other children especially Jasmine Beckford who died at the age of four, in 1984(Laming, 2003).
Today, the legislative structure for child protection system in England and Wales is established in The Children Act 1989. In Northern Ireland the framework is instituted in the Children Order 1995, while in Scotland it is the Children Act (Scotland) 1995 (NSPCC, 2010, p.6). There have been several amendments to the Children Act 1989 following a legislation, which was fueled by the Lord Laming’s inquiry.
This was an inquiry into the death of an eight year old by the name of Victoria climbie back in 2000, which piloted the publishing of Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) by the government (NSPCC, 2010, p.9). Later, the Children Act 2004 was established to provide a legal outline for the program. Although, it did not replace the Children Act 1989, it brought about radical changes to the system through which children’ services were planned in Wales and England: it became fully operational amid 2006 and 2008 (Munro, 2011).
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The media in every society plays a great role in shaping the social aspect of that society. The media is a socialization agent whose importance cannot be overlooked. It changes the behavior of the people as well as their attitudes towards certain issues in the society.
Through the media, the aspects of the society that are inappropriate are easily demonstrated and therefore mechanisms of dealing with them come to place. When an issue becomes a highlight in the media it becomes a central focus for the whole society. This is the same impact that the media has on the child protection system in the U.K. The media reporting on child protection system have had both positive and negative effects. This has been evidenced in a number of child abuse cases reported before (Munro, 2011).
On a positive note, the media has been instrumental in enhancing awareness of the child protection issues, legal structures present in case of harm. They also expose cases where children have been exploited or abused. In addition, they advertise the toll free numbers in case of abuse as well as keeping all stakeholders like social workers and the government on their toes regarding children protection system.
It has informed on the need to report cases of child abuse and thus making it easier for the local authorities and the government to provide children protection services. To some extend it has steered public confidence in the UK protection system especially coverage on a successful delivery to an abused, exploited or neglected child. Through research and its extensive search for information, the media helps expose facts that are not available to the social workers or the local authorities (Galilee, 2007).
This can also be seen in the light of increased number of articles and journals tackling child abuse allowing increased coverage on the issues that concern child abuse. This information is valuable for the success of the child protection policy. The media also passes on very educational and helpful messages using adult fiction, children’s fiction as well as different features or editorials from the print and broadcast media (Ayre, 2001, p.880).
The media differentiates between normal and deviant behavior making it easy to understand child abuse. When some behaviors are exhibited, children may not be able to understand that it is wrong in the first place and that their rights are being violated. Through the media they can therefore differentiate what is abuse and what is not. On the same note, the media acts as a watchdog for the people to ensure that the provisions, for instance, of the Children Act are well adhered to.
It also reflects on the government and society’s failure in handling child abuse. The media will audaciously expose government’s failure in uncovering the death of an abused child. In addition, another child’s death resulting from abuse leads to revisiting of previous tragedies. This is good for holding everyone responsible (Goddard &Saunders, 2001).
However, various researchers have shown that media coverage on child protection in most instances does more harm than good. One of the key concerns is the portrayal of social workers and social work. Views from different individuals and researchers over the last thirty years have indicated that the media misrepresents social work and especially the press reporting by giving undue negative and biased reporting of social workers and social work.
Furthermore, a high percentage of reporting by the media on social work is on child welfare and abuse (Vallianatos, 2001). This has to some extend created hostility and mistrust towards the social workers as he service users feel that they are dealing with incompetent service providers. This further leads to a representative conclusion that the profession is unskilled in speaking to the outside world, moreover is equally apprehensive of journalists (Galilee, 2007).
An interesting feature is evidenced in relating the relationship between social work and newsworthiness. Most of the social work stories especially on child abuse are slow and generally do not meet the requirements of the news value. However, social work stories occupy headlines when there is a case of immense failure. For example in the Beckford inquiry as mush as the news qualified as news values, the image of social workers was put at stake (Elsley, 2010).
They were described as “naïve, susceptible, negligent, incompetent, and untrained besides being powerful, heartless bureaucrats” (Galilee, 2007). In the Cleveland sex abuse case the perspective on social workers were similarly described as incompetent and powerful bureaucrats. Additionally, they were depicted as indecisive when put together to handle a problem. The daily mirror on July, 6, 1988 described social workers for children as having “laid back attitude, lack of accountability, and being too easily susceptible to ‘trendy’ theories” (Galilee, 2007).
The case was also depicted as a dispute between the state’s dedication to look after children and parents’ responsibility to implement a corresponding paternalism. This has led to creation of mistrust in the system and deprofessionalization of social work.
During the three decades, other issues regarding the role of the media and child protection have also surfaced. It also emerged that melodramatic reporting of a string of fêted child exploitation and abuse scandals specifically in England and Wales led to continual denigration in the media of the child welfare organizations considered blameworthy for those children’s’ deaths. The media has contributed to the conception of a climate of distrust, blame and fear which is seemingly rife in the area of child protection.
This is indicative of destructive alterations introduced into the child protection system following the self-protective reactions of pertinent authorities both locally and nationally to the mass media ambush (Ayre, 2001, p.881).
Despite the efforts to use more resources to enhance the intricacy, scope, and legislation of the child protection law, the public confidence has remained obstinately and frighteningly low. This is because of media coverage and handling of the previous tragedies. Those celebrated scandals called for a lot of public attention and increased response in both the broadcast and print media. Whereas this awareness created by the coverage had the potential to have a positive effect on child protection system; it did exactly the opposite.
This is because there emerged antagonistic public pillorying in the media over the child agencies involved (Ayre & Preston, 2010). There was also the publication of the in-depth recommendations following the involvement of the public inquiries into the cases made to the welfare agencies. A climate of blame has also prevailed to this effect. Either this is clearly evidenced in media reporting where it is the government or the child abuse professionals are to blame who turn the blame to the family. This has created more tension working against the protection system.
The urge for the journalists to sell news has driven them into constructing news with immediacy and tailoring drama in order to sell. This has led to a climate of fear, for example there is more coverage on sex abuse scandals. The media portrays sex abuse as coming from unknown assailants and not someone familiar to the child (Goddard &Saunders, 2001).
Moral panic therefore results from overdramatizing these activities to extreme events of sex rings, murder, and abduction of children into care by the social workers and thus over-sensitizing the underlying risks. This fear also extends to not only the public, but also the professional groups and policy makers (Ayre, 2001, p. 885).
Media coverage on child abuse or protection create a mistrust between the public, policy makers and politicians on one side and professionals dealing with child protection on the other. Substantial anxiety is brought forth in relationships through the adversarial nature of child protection system. Severally, child protection professionals have been described as “child stealers who steal sleeping children at night” in the media (Vallianatos, 2001).
They are seen as trusting individual with very liberal working ethics. This has worsened public confidence in the protection system. It is common knowledge that in the media “good news is no news” therefore there is no much regard is granted to the everyday successes of the agencies and the protecting system after a successful detection of abuse, and prevention of fatal injuries or even death.
The focus is to dwell on the failures in order to “produce” news. Although its not only the media will want to display a better image of child protection, those in the child welfare profession want a better image too.
Media reporting and the way previous cases on child abuse and resulting deaths has great an impact on the success of the child protection system in the United Kingdom. This has proven to be a tough fight for the government to win given the public perception, attitudes, and lack of confidence in the system.
The government has tried to deal with the previous cases with a considerable gravity (Boateng, 2003), for instance in Victoria Climbie’s case several changes were introduced in the legislation system better protection for the children.
This was also evidenced in the handling cases of Maria Colwel and Jasmine Beckford; which saw major changes on the Children Act 1989. Despite these measures the blame and lack of confidence still lurks. There is a need to understand that this is not entirely and exclusively the responsibility of the government and social workers (Parton, et.al 1997).
A more feasible solution to these perceptions is the need to emphasize that the family has the greatest role to play in child protection. The family comes in by primarily preventing the abuse and exploitation of children right under their noses, in their homes. Previous research and past cases indicate that close family members and neighbors perpetrate child abuse. As the primary socializing agent, the family has the responsibility of instilling the right morals on its members and teaching them what to do if abused even when the parents are not around.
They should also teach children to check out for early signs of any abuse. The family can also support the protection system by supporting the social workers when required to give any information regarding child welfare. They should also change the underlying perceptions as mapped by the media (Tunstill & Hughes 2006).
Social workers should change the way they handle the media concerning child abuse. There has been a “somewhat” a cold war between the two parties. As much as the media might misrepresent their work, they are not able to face the public (Colton, et.al, 2001). The media on the other hand should respect ethics governing their work and keep away from tailoring news to sell more and in the process creating fear, blame and mistrust among the public.
The media should also give information, which is not exaggerated and unnecessary emphasis on the failure of various stakeholders in this regard. It should stop overemphasizing on strangers or outsiders as the main perpetrators of violence, abuse against the children, and let them understand that people around them even among family members and friends can violate their rights (Ayre & Preston, 2010).
The government on the other hand should ensure that it enhances the image of the protection system. Its legislations should be geared towards enhancing the welfare of the children and not otherwise. For example, the NHS bill passed recently is set to jeopardise the child protection especially if misinterpreted.
Finally, the media, child abuse professionals, and the government should all avoid using child protection as means of enhancing their image at the expense of the children (Hetal, 2010). In addition, child protection should not be driven by the urge to get funding.
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