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News from the field of Child and Youth Care

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13 JULY

UK

Vulnerable children at risk due to social care 'postcode lottery', MPs warn

Children's safety is being put at risk due to differing thresholds across England for intervening and offering support to families, a report by a group of MPs and peers has warned.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) report raises concerns about varied thresholds across councils for a range of support for children at risk of harm or in need of help.

The report includes a survey of 97 DCSs, which found that around three quarters (74 per cent) believe thresholds for supporting children in need differ across councils.

Just under two thirds (64 per cent) of DCSs said there are variations in thresholds for deciding when to put a protection plan in place because a child is at significant risk of harm. Meanwhile, around half (49 per cent) said there are differences in terms of when councils apply for a care order.

In addition, 83 per cent of DCSs said that thresholds for early help varied across councils. The APPGC report concludes that "protecting children has become a postcode lottery".

"The level of need a child has to reach in order to access support was found to vary across the country," states the report.

"Inconsistency appears to be particularly stark in relation to the provision of early help and wider preventative services."

"Local authorities should be empowered to set local priorities that respond to the specific needs of their populations.

"However, the APPGC believes that a postcode lottery in children's social care is unfair to children and families and is not acceptable."

The APPGC's report also details the results of a survey of 1,700 social workers, in which 70 per cent felt children in need thresholds had risen and half said that child protection plan thresholds had increased in recent years.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry by social workers and researchers indicates that funding constraints are influencing decisions on whether to intervene to support children.

"It is unacceptable that children's safety is potentially being undermined by a lack of sufficient resources," states the report.

Among recommendations made by the APPGC is for government to improve funding for children's social care and put in place a sustainable, long term funding settlement for early help services.

It also wants ministers to launch a consultation on whether councils should be legally obliged to offer early help.

"Children and families around the country with the same urgent needs are getting significantly different levels of help, and in some case, no support at all," said APPGC chair and former children's minister Tim Loughton.

"This is true for families who struggle to cope on low income, living in poor housing which puts their children's health in jeopardy. It's true for children who are harming themselves yet are kept waiting for treatment because they aren't at immediate risk of suicide. These people need help now, regardless of where they live.

"In some places, the pressure on children's services is so acute it is leaving social workers feeling that the only tool available to them to keep a child safe is to remove them from their family. As a result, families may look at these skilled and caring professionals with mistrust. But this is wrong. It is the woeful underfunding by government of a proper breadth of social care interventions that is to blame."

By Joe Lepper

11 July 2018

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11 JULY

UNICEF

Mental health needs of children and young people in conflict need to be prioritized, conference says

More action is needed to address the devastating impact of prolonged conflicts on the mental health of children and young people, experts said at a conference today.

Rebuilding Lives – hosted by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, in partnership with UNICEF and with the participation of representatives from governments, United Nations agencies, humanitarian and civil society organizations – called for more support to programmes offering mental health and psychosocial services.

“When children grow up in armed conflict, their deep mental scars are often overlooked,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore, speaking from Berlin. “Prolonged exposure to violence, fear and uncertainty can have a catastrophic impact on children’s learning, behaviour and emotional and social development for many years. If ignored, toxic stress from witnessing or experiencing traumatic events can lead to an increase in bedwetting, self-harm, aggressive or withdrawn behavior, depression, substance abuse and, at worst, suicide.”

Nearly 250 million children live in countries affected by violent conflicts, and an estimated 68 million people, half of them children, are displaced by conflict. In crisis countries in the Middle East and Africa, the impact of violence poses a heavy burden for a whole generation of children and young people. It also results in the marginalization of vulnerable groups, such as those with pre-existing mental conditions, the elderly, or persons with disability.

“Some of the things that children who are caught up in wars and crises see and experience remain with them and affect them for the rest of their lives. Our job is to give them back just a little bit of their childhood, in spite of everything. That is why the BMZ and UNICEF are working together to help hundreds of thousands of children in countries like South Sudan or in the crisis region around Syria by offering psychosocial support and programmes that are specially conceived for traumatised children. These children have a right to return to a normal life, with our help. The work that UNICEF is doing is of inestimable value and the UN children’s organisation is an important partner for us,” said Gerd Müller, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Some children impacted by war, displacement and other traumatic events – such as sexual and gender-based violence – require specialized care to help them cope and recover.

Families and caregivers who have experienced serious traumatic events cannot be overlooked. Some may require specialized attention before they can continue to meet the needs of children in their care.

Participants in the conference called for collective action by policy makers, humanitarian and development agencies and academics to improve and scale up evidence-based and sustainable services, in support of the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable groups.

Existing community support networks, including parents, teachers, health and social service workers, and religious leaders, can play a critical role, they said.

UNICEF aims to provide psychosocial support services to 3.9 million children and young people affected by emergencies this year in countries like Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan. Community-based mental health and psychosocial activities, such as sport, art and games, promote safe, nurturing environments for children’s recovery, psychosocial wellbeing and protection.

Additionally, UNICEF ensures coordinated care through the development of referral systems for children, youth and families who may be at risk or need more specialized mental health care.

“As we witness an unprecedented number of complex and long-lasting humanitarian conflicts and crises, we can and must do more to prioritize the psychosocial needs of children and young people,” Fore said.

Source: UNICEF

5 July 2018

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9 JULY

USA

Governor: Trump officials view placing migrant kids in foster care equal to family reunification

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said Friday that Trump administration officials have told him and his staff that they view placing separated migrant children in foster care as an equivalent to reuniting them with their families.

“The secretary told us on a conference call they do not have an intention to reunify these children with their parents,” Inslee said on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes,” appearing to refer to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“They’re going to call it good if they can find anybody else who can serve as a foster parent or anybody else who can serve as familial relationship, and these kids don’t even know these strangers,” he continued.

Inslee claimed that the Trump administration doesn’t plan on complying with a court order requiring that officials reunify all of the immigrant children separated from their families at the border under a since-ended Trump policy.

“It’s clear they do not intend to be humane and it’s clear they will continue on this course until he is removed from office,” the governor said, referring to Trump.

Inslee and five other Democratic governors signed a letter Friday to Trump officials, saying they were “deeply concerned that wholly inadequate resources and procedures are in place to ensure children and parents are reunified safely and securely.”

The letter also states that during a June 29 meeting with governors’ offices, administration representatives “shared that reunification may include the placement of separate children with any long-term sponsor,” including long-term foster care.

“If true, this interpretation appears to blatantly ignore the terms of the court order,” the letter reads.

Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo (New York), Dannel Malloy (Connecticut), Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania), Phil Murphy (New Jersey) and Kate Brown (Oregon) also signed the letter.

A court order last month gave the administration until July 10 to reunite separated immigrant children under the age of 5, and until July 26 to complete reunifications for children aged 5 to 17.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday requested an extension on the deadlines to reunite the children with their families.

"The government does not wish to unnecessarily delay reunification," DOJ lawyers wrote in a court filing, according to NBC News. "At the same time, however, the government has a strong interest in ensuring that any release of a child from government custody occurs in a manner that ensures the safety of the child."

By Jacqueline Thomsen

6 July 2018 

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6 JULY

AUSTRALIA

More support for Aboriginal kids in care

The Andrews Labor Government is expanding key supports for vulnerable Aboriginal children in care to ensure they remain connected to culture, community and country.

At the Aboriginal Children’s Forum today, Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos announced $13.7 million to continue Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care (ACAC), which enables Aboriginal agencies to assume legal responsibility for the welfare of a child in care.

The Australian-first initiative – which began last year – allows a child to receive culturally sensitive planning and case management from an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) that understands their needs.

Under the new funding boost, two extra case work teams will be recruited by 2020, to triple the number of Aboriginal children to receive case management to 108.

This funding – part of $53.3 million announced in the Victorian Budget 2018/19 to support Aboriginal children – will also enable ACAC to be delivered by a further two ACCOs, with a total of 216 children authorised plus a fourth ACCO in pre-authorisation phase by 2020.

A further $6.4 million will be provided to ACCOs to grow their services, and support an estimated 331 Aboriginal people to complete a VET or higher degree – including in social work or community services – or traineeships.

The Labor Government is also working to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system by enhancing culturally appropriate programs.

As part of the $10.8 million investment through the latest Budget, $5 million will be used to continue to expand the Koori Youth Justice Program, which provides community-based intervention and responses for Aboriginal young people at risk of entering the criminal justice system.

The program provides early intervention assistance to Aboriginal young people while at school, as well as camps and other connecting-to-culture activities. There has been a 27 per cent increase in the number of young people engaged in this program since 2017.

The Labor Government is prioritising Aboriginal child and family services under its landmark Roadmap for Reform agenda and the ground-breaking tripartite agreement, Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement.

We are building family and community capacity, reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care and keeping children who cannot live safely at home connected to their extended family, culture and country.

Quotes:

“We’ve invested $225 million in Aboriginal child and family services since 2014 – more than doubling the investment by the previous Liberals Government.”

“The future of Aboriginal children matters – and that’s why we will continue to prioritise Aboriginal self-determination and focus on improving outcomes for them.”

Minister for Families and Children

27 June 2018

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4 JULY

UK

Risks to children 'the biggest social justice challenge of our time'

The children’s commissioner for England has said the risks faced by deprived young people are “the biggest social justice challenge of our time”, after publishing research that suggests one in six minors live in families affected by parental addiction, mental illness or domestic violence.

Anne Longfield said that of the estimated 2.1 million children in England in vulnerable family situations, as many as 1.6 million were “invisible” to a social support system that effectively ignored them until their problems escalated to crisis point, at which they risked being taken into care.

“I am increasingly frustrated by the number of vulnerable children who cannot meet their own ambitions because they are let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them,” Longfield said.

About 825,000 children under the age of 18 live with an adult who has experienced domestic violence in the past year, the research calculates, 470,000 live with an adult who is dependent on drink or drugs and 890,000 live with a parent who has severe mental health problems.

An estimated 103,000 children, including 52,000 under-fives, live with an adult with what is known as the “toxic trio”, meaning they carry the burden of all three risk issues simultaneously.

Longfield said the government had a moral and economic imperative to invest in so-called early intervention services, from psychological counselling to youth clubs, that could help at-risk young people overcome challenges and give them the best chance in life possible.

“The social, educational and economic costs of failing to help these children are clear,” she said. “However, beyond all of this is a moral argument about whether we are prepared to deny children who need our support … I believe that supporting vulnerable children is the biggest social justice challenge of our time.

“I don’t pretend that meeting this challenge will be easy or that it can be done for free. It will require additional resources. But more than that, it requires a paradigm shift in our approach to children so that we move from a system which marginalises vulnerable children to one which embraces them.”

A child would not necessarily have a poor life because they were identified as being exposed to high levels of risk, she said. “For a good proportion of these children, the support of families and a good experience in school will be enough to ensure they have happy and fulfilled childhood, despite adversity.”

About 570,000 children receive support through children’s social care or the troubled families programme, meaning that up to 1.6 million get no known structured help outside of a “patchwork provision” involving their family and/or community and voluntary services.

The researchers admit there are “substantial weaknesses” in the data, drawn from statistics and surveys compiled by various government agencies and departments, but insist they are conservative estimates that provide “the best available ballpark figures” of child vulnerability.

Government spending on early intervention services for children through local authorities has been reduced by 60% since 2010. The research says investing in these services is cost-effective compared with the expense of putting a child into care, which can be as much as £55,000 a year.

Local authorities have said there is a growing crisis in children’s social care caused by increasing numbers of children being taken into care or made subject to child protection plans as a result of the failure to provide early support for families.

Javed Khan, chief executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s, said: “These shocking figures bring home the impact of domestic abuse on children. We know from our specialist services that they are victims and not just witnesses, even if abuse and violence isn’t aimed directly at them.”

Imran Hussain, the director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “It’s our most vulnerable children who are paying the price for the punishing central government cuts to council budgets and being left without the early help they desperately need.”

By Patrick Butler

4 July 2018

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2 JULY

USA

Less than a quarter of American youths previously treated for anxiety disorders stay anxiety-free

For the majority of affected youth, anxiety disorders are chronic, even after a successful course of evidence-based treatments, reports a study published in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).

Pediatric anxiety disorders are common psychiatric illnesses, affecting approximately 10 percent of children. In one of the largest comparative treatment studies, researchers found that 12 weeks of sertraline and/or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were effective in reducing anxiety and improving functioning. In the newly released follow-up study, researchers re-contacted these youths an average of six years later and then re-assessed them annually for up to four additional years.

Researchers found that 22 percent of youth who received 12 weeks of treatment for an anxiety disorder stayed in remission over the long term, meaning they did not meet diagnostic criteria for any anxiety disorder (defined as any DSM-IV TR anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder). 30 percent of youth who had received treatment remained chronically ill, meeting diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder during each year of follow-up, and 48 percent relapsed, meaning they met diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder at some, but not all follow-ups.

"When you see so few kids stay non-symptomatic after receiving the best treatments we have, that's discouraging," said one of the study's principal investigators, Dr. Golda Ginsburg, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Hartford, CT, USA. "However, we found no difference in outcomes by treatment type. Children were just as likely to stay in remission after treatment with medication as they were after treatment with CBT," Dr. Ginsburg added.

Specifically, 319 youth and young-adults (the mean age at first follow-up assessment was 17 years) were followed from 2011 through 2015 (65 percent of the 488 youth included in the original treatment study). The researchers conducted annual evaluations that assessed, among other factors, diagnoses, school and social functioning, and service use. Findings indicated that at each follow-up year, approximately half of the youth remained in remission. When examined across all years of the follow-up, that number dropped to 22 percent, while 30 percent continued to meet criteria for an anxiety disorder at every annual evaluation.

The researchers found several factors that predicted which anxious youth were most likely to be in stable remission over the follow-up period. These factors included those who showed clinical improvement after 12 weeks of treatment; males; youth without a social phobia diagnosis; youth who had better family functioning; and those who experienced fewer negative life events.

The researchers concluded that while it may be optimistic to expect that 12 weeks of treatment resulted in long-term remission, it is now clear that more needs to be done to help anxious youth – including treatments that are more durable and a better mental health wellness model that includes regular check-ups to prevent relapse and improve outcomes over time.

28 June 2018

Source: Elsevier
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