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The Concept Of Risk And Public Protection Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4592 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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All activities and behaviours that people have can have different positive or negative impacts on their lives, partially because of potential risks which are easy to predict or manage. According to Leitch (2009) the word risk does not have any physical existence; rather it exists only within the mind, like many other abstract words such as idea, concept, attitude, emotion, and culture.

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This essay will firstly discuss the concept of risk and public protection, and how it has developed, with particular attention on the meaning of risk assessment and risk management. Secondly, it will focus on government inquiry and its effects on legislation and policies, as well as the benefits and failures of inter-agencies and inter-disciplinary policies with particular reference to risk and public protection.

The concept of risk can be defined simply as the probability of suffering some damage or injury, catching a disease or in some circumstances even dying. At a more complicated level, it can be defined as the chance or probability of an undesirable event happening with an undesirable result (Duffey & Saull, 2005).

The term risk, like many other concepts, can be used in different ways. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term risk as, “hazard, danger; exposure to mischance or peril” (Alaszewski et al., 1998 p3).

Risk could be the probability of losing a valued resource. For instance, the risk of investing money could be losing that money; the risk of going rock-climbing might be getting injured or dying. On the other hand, some people take that risk in order to gain positive outcomes such as profit from investing that money and a feeling of adventure or thrill at going rock-climbing (Neill, 2003).

Duffey and Saull (2005) explain that risk is the chance or likelihood of a disaster occurring, and its potential cost, during a specific period of time or under specific circumstances. Giddens (1994) argued that the nature of risk has resulted in a crisis in the welfare systems of contemporary society. However, he had suggested that using it can lead to a rethinking of welfare.

Duffey & Saull (2005) argue that risks regarding health are defined in terms of the probability that an individual will suffer from disease or injury within a given time period. In fact, there are various sources of risk. For instance, some risks could be environmental, such as those caused by natural disasters, poverty and war. Furthermore, community, family, school, and friends are all causes of environmental risk, while some risks are due to personal lifestyle, such as smoking, lack of exercise, un-balanced diet and so forth.

According to Alaszeweski et al. (1998) in the seventeenth century the word ‘risk’ seems to have appeared in the English language derived from the French risqué, that had in turn come from the Italian ‘risco’ which means to run into danger. When the word risk came into the English language, it indicated both chance and consequences.

Most people classify the components of risk as follows; occurrence of something bad, the chance of such an occurrence, and the consequences of occurrence. These components could be used to evaluate risk (Merna &Faisal. 2005).

Martin (2002) identifies different sources of risk. For instance,

Physical- damage to individuals, equipment, and buildings, as a result of accidents or natural disasters.

Labour- people unable to do their job because of health problems, career changes, or work pressure.

Political/ social: policy change, protests from community, patients, or service users.

As it is difficult to admit a mistake, whether personal or professional, most people tend to shift the blame and allocate responsibility to others such as the state, agencies, and officials when things go wrong. Therefore, the concept of blame can be defined as follows; “blame is the process of allocating responsibility and punishments when accidents occur” (Alaszewski et al, 1998 p13).

According to the report of a Thematic Inspection, (1995, p12) a risk assessment can be defined as, “an assessment carried out to establish whether the subject is likely to cause serious physical or psychological harm to others”. When the term risk is used, it is generally not thought of as having positive consequences, as most people believe that if there is a risk there is less chance of protection, (Kemshall, 2002). Negative risk is represented by possible events that could harm a plan and which should be avoided. On the other hand, positive risk refers to risks that we initiate ourselves because we see a potential chance of success, along with probable failure.

There are five steps to risk assessments, which are as follows;

Classifying the risk.

Stating who could be harmed and in what way.

Assessing the risks.

Reporting findings and implementing them.

Updating evaluations if necessary (Health & Safety Executive, no date).

Alaszewski et al. (1998) think that risk management is the complete process of identifying, measuring and minimizing the chance of uncertain events affecting resources. Effective assessment and management of risks is a major professional practice in human service professions. It is the main part of any organisation’s strategic management; it is the process of addressing the risks so as to be able to work with the goal of achieving sustained benefits. Effective ‘risk management’ should be able to identify and treat these risks so as to increase the probability of success, and reduce the potential for failure. ‘Risk management’ has to be a continuous and developing process which runs throughout the organisation’s strategy and its implementation.

According to Thematic Inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation (1995) any effective risk management plan should begin with identifying the potential risks in all its manifestations. Once risk is identified, it must be assessed as to its likelihood of occurence and the extent of any possible damage. After that, all risks should be prioritized so that each can receive the appropriate time and resources. In order to achieve a meaningful and efficient assessment, it must be done thoroughly and accurately and in a timely manner.

Public protection can be defined as the desired result of effective risk assessments and successful risk management (Report of a Thematic inspection, 1995). Due to a lack of safety strategies in organisations and drawbacks in some state policies, the idea of public protection was developed mainly by the public (Becks, 1992). It meant that governments and organisations should play a greater role in ensuring the protection of citizens by evaluating and managing risks.

Currently, there are many agencies that attempt to produce policies and practices in order to address the issue of risk and public protection for vulnerable people like the elderly, children, people with mental health problems and people with learning disabilities. However, there is the problem of how to implement these policies as there is little practical guidance and training (Kemshall & Pritchard, 1996).

In fact, there are many kinds of risk, including the risk of specific diseases, accidents, assault, drug abuse, child abuse, adult abuse, heart disease, cancers, disasters, and poverty. As child abuse is a highly controversial issue and a contested area in contemporary society, this essay will now focus on conceptions of child abuse with reference to a government report on the subject and its impacts on legislation and policy.

Child abuse or neglect may happen intentionally or as a result of negligence towards a child by an adult. According to the report ‘Childhood Matters’, child abuse contains several things which can be harmful to children or which can damage their ability to have a healthy development either directly or indirectly (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

Despite the international consensus regarding children, that they should be treated with respect and must be protected from any kind of abusive exploitation, there is still a lack of clarity about what exactly constitutes abuse, (Cloke & Davies, 1995).

There are four kinds or categories of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, which are explained below;

Physical abuse is the type which has been most studied. It is defined as: “any non-accidental physical injury to the child” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009 p1). It is a feeling of pain or injury to the body or even a feeling of intimidation (Suryanarayana et al, 2010). Physical abuse’ may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child’ (Polney, 2001 p129).

The explanation of sexual abuse is forcing children or adolescents to take part in sexual activities, regardless of their awareness (ibid). Using pornographic material such as pictures or videos of children or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways are regarded as non-contact forms of sexual abuse, (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

Emotional abuse is considered as ‘the most elusive and damaging form of abuse in childhood’ (Terreros, 2006 p1). Psychological or emotional abuse includes a child or young person being continually frightened, rejected or berated. There are a number of adverse effects of this type of child abuse. For instance, a child who is brought up in a home where there is no love or warmth will find it difficult to respond to other people’s emotional needs, (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

Neglect is when a child’s basic physical and psychological needs are not met. Types of neglect include failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing or hygiene. In addition to health care neglect, there is also educational neglect and other physical, emotional, and environmental types of neglect, (Polney, 2001).

Over the last three decades a number of children tragically died as a result of abuse and resulted in the emergence of a number legislations and many reforms in agencies and policies. For instance, the death of Victoria Climbie was one of the most major news stories in the UK and all over the world, and has led to the revision of newer policies to protect children from any aspects of abuse. According to a public inquiry there were at least twelve chances for either social services or the police to save Victoria’s life, (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

Adjo Victoria Climbie was born near Abidjan on the Ivory Coast in West Africa, and died in the intensive care unit of St Mary’s Hospital in London in February 2000 after suffering months of multiple injuries as a result of abuse and neglect from her aunt, Marie Therese Kouao and the aunt’s partner, Carl Manning. Both of them are now serving life sentences in prison (Laming, 2003). According to her parents, Victoria was the fifth of seven children, and she had a good life with them. She was also good at school. The tragic story of Victoria started when her aunt Marie took her from her parents to travel to France, where she had been living for some time, in order to give her a better life and good education. However, they only stayed there for about five months. Victoria began to appear unwell at school and the school was concerned as to whether this was the result of child abuse. Kouao told the school that she wanted to remove Victoria from the school and travel to London in order to get her the necessary treatment. They travelled to London in April 1999, (The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report, 2003).

The year 1999 was a year of suffering for Victoria, especially once she moved in with Manning, her aunt’s partner. Before that Victoria had spent much of her time with a childminder, Priscilla Cameron, while her aunt was at work. Mrs Cameron noticed the way in which Kouao treated Victoria. When Kouao met Manning she and Victoria moved into his flat, and it was at this time the abuse of Victoria started. Mrs Cameron noticed that the bruises and marks on Victoria’s body and face become worse during the period she was living with Manning. On 13 July, 1999, Victoria was kept overnight in Mrs Cameron’s house because Manning did not want her living with them. The next day Mrs Cameron’s daughter took Victoria to the Central Middlesex Hospital, as she suspected the injuries were not accidental. After the examination the doctor performed, he referred her to the paediatric registrar, and although Victoria was admitted to the hospital and Brent social services and the police were informed, none of these agencies intervened to protect her (Laming, 2003). During his trial, Manning said that Kouao would hit Victoria every day using different items such as a coat hanger, a shoe, a cooking spoon and even a hammer. In addition to this, Manning admitted that he would hit Victoria with a bicycle chain. According to the Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report, (2003) Victoria was treated like an animal, barely fed and forced to sleep in the bath in an unheated bathroom. As a result, her death was due to all kinds of abuse, (physical, emotional abuse and furthermore neglect).

The outcry about Victoria’s death led to the Laming Report, which was published in 2003 by the government to investigate the involvement of the various agencies in the case and to make recommendations for change in order to avoid such a death in the future. Moreover, this case led to the reshaping of services for children and the reform of child protection agencies in England and Wales, (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

The Laming report discovered the circumstances surrounding Victoria’s death, and it indicated the failure of the social, health and police services in safeguarding her. Furthermore, it attempted to address the concept that some of the professionals in Victoria’s case might have been obstructed by accusations of racism if they had followed a particular action. Thus, the Laming Report suggested that, ‘child safety comes first,’ meaning child protection is the entitlement of every child regardless of his or her cultural heritage or background (Garrett, 2009).

There are other cases of children who died as a result of cruel abuse, such as Marria Colwell in 1973, Susan Auckland in 1974, Tyra Henry in 1984, Chelsea Brown in 1999 and many other cases whether known or unknown. While the circumstances of each case might be different there are points of similarity, especially when the following features which occur more than once are taken into account;

There is no communication between people and agencies.

Inexperienced social workers who lack necessary skills.

Lack of resources to meet demands (The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report, 2003).

Every Child Matters was published in September 2003 and issued some recommendations to be implemented in 2004. These included;

The job of the Children’s Commissioner is to raise awareness of the interests of children and adolescents.

The duty of local authorities is encouraging cooperation between agencies.

Legislation for the setting up of databases so that children’s basic information will be there to help professionals in providing support to young people.

A director of children’s services and a lead member will be appointed by local authorities in order to be responsible for education and social services with regards to children

The production of a single children and young people’s plan would be demanded of local authorities, (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

The focus of the Children Act 2004 was on encouraging partnership and collaboration between health, welfare and criminal justice agencies, as well as raising their awareness of responsibility (Stafford et al, 2010).

According to Foley et al (2002) the child protection system in the UK for dealing with child abuse and neglect has not been effective enough at dealing with the problems of a large majority of families and their children. The development of such a system can be traced back to a number of high profile child abuse cases and has been dominated by a preoccupation with surveillance and investigation. The major concern of such a system was with only a small number of the total incidences of neglect and abuse; a total which is expected to rise every year. Such a system was also not successful in providing the necessary services which are essential for meeting the needs of most of the families and the children who were investigated.

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However, over many years the fundamental aim of policies has become to push different agencies and professionals to work together where there are concerns about child protection, or safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children. This was promoted and strengthened in 2006, by the establishment of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) for improving safeguarding practices, polices, training and quality control in every local authority area. They identify accountability and compile information for Serious Case Reviews, where a child has died unexpectedly or been seriously injured and abuse is obvious or suspected to be a factor (Stafford, 2010).

Interagency means two or more agencies working together in an official way in order to achieve an aim or several aims (Fitzegarld et al, 2008). Hence, each agency supports another by giving information, experience and other provisions when they are needed. It can be said that they act as a public body towards definite purposes.

Currently, many agencies such as the police, social services, health services, and other relevant agencies attempt to produce policy documents in order to address the issue of risk, but there is little training or practical guidance with which to apply these policies (Kemshall & Pritchard, 1996).

Inter-agency co-operation, whether for community care or for child protection, is often directed by central government. However in practice this often causes difficulties and so these organisations tend to keep their own independence rather than attempt to co-operate. Hence, agencies are unlikely to change certain roles unless they are persuaded that it is their duty (The Scottish as Government, 2003).

Over the last three decades, the deaths of children in the UK have caused changes to both policy and practice, especially after Victoria Climbie’s death. This case highlighted a failure by child protection services and indicated a lack of effective communication between health professionals and social workers. “The extent of the failure to protect Victoria was lamentable. Tragically, it required nothing more than basic good practice being put into operation. This never happened” (Lord Laming, 2003).

Due to so many children dying because of different types of abuse, it has led many agencies to improve child protection systems. However, because of the shortage of resources and staff, especially in social services’ child protection division, there are still concerns that these improvements and changes will not be enough to protect children. Therefore, it is important to increase the quality of child protection in order to raise social awareness (Kendrick, 2004).

The main weakness regarding protecting a child was often a lack of proper evaluation of the child’s needs and demands. Individual errors, poor investigations and poor communication between agencies are also important factors (Kendrick, 2004).

In fact, before the outcry caused by Victoria’s case, there were many attempts from different agencies to save children’s lives. For instance, in 1986 child line was established by the NSPCC as a confidential help line which children can call when they are unable to get help elsewhere, and in 1999 the UK government published Working Together to Safeguard Children, which focused on setting a national framework for child protection for anyone who wanted to work with children and families. In addition to this, it encouraged the need for protection to be recognised, and for people to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of a family and look more widely at children and families’ needs (Hobart & Frankel, 2005).

As doctors are in an ideal position and are often the first to see and treat serious injuries and trauma they can report abuse allegations to Child Protection Service (CPS) social workers who have a responsibility to protect children. This is especially true considering that victims and offenders will not self-report to the CPS and thus the responsibility for reporting it must fall to others (Vulliamy et al, 2000).

Polney (2001) highlights the crucial role in protecting a child from harm that must be played by health visitors, because they are well placed to assess whether a family’s circumstances may lead to abuse or neglect, and to appreciate whether children are safe or not. As communication and co-operative working is the key, their work must be done in partnership with other agencies and colleagues in order to meet families’ and children’s needs and to safeguard children from harm.

The starting point in providing an integrated service for children and young people was when the UK government published the Every Child Matters (ECM) Green Paper (2003) after the death of Victoria Climbie, and the Children Act 2004 that led to a number of changes in children’s services (Dunhill et al, 2009)

The importance of inter-agency cooperation in the development of children’s services was emphasised by the labour policy. For instance, the National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services reflects a strategy that demands all agencies work in a way which complement each other in order to address some issues like social exclusion and the children’s fund (ibid).

However, the priority of the new labour policy was to intervene in children’s lives at an earlier stage to avoid and prevent problems that may occur in the future, such as anti-social behaviour, unemployment and crime, before they become chronic problems. Therefore its concern with child abuse was only partial (Stafford et al, 2010).

According to Frost (2005) the way to avoid interference and conflict between inter-agencies is that inter-agency working must be based on formal structures. Moreover, clarity must be one of the aims and objectives of the team members.

There are many elements that are a key to the successful work of a multi-agency, including clear leadership and a clear focus, with common purposes and common knowledge between professionals. This process demands commitment by professionals to regular meetings and to allocating time to learn basic and necessary communication skills (Dunhill et al, 2009).

According to Fitzgerald & Kay (2008) interdisciplinary teams are those who are from various disciplines and backgrounds with different qualifications, experiences and training that play a significant role in making decisions and minimizing risks.

The framework for interdisciplinary training introduced by the Green Paper as a part of its proposals on ‘workforce reform’ had the following key elements:

“Understanding the developmental nature of childhood

Parents and family life

Managing transitions

Understanding child protection

Understanding risk and protective factors

Listening to and involving children and young people” (Williams, 2004 p422).

Parents and carers, early intervention, local and national integration, and workforce are the main four areas of action covered by the Green Paper (ibid).

‘Working Together’ indicates that inter-agency policy is an initiative to address the needs and demands of the most vulnerable individuals in society. The assumption is that improving co-ordination and co-operation between agencies will lead to better consequences in terms of child welfare. However, the inter-agency cultures and structures must be taken into account (Morrison, 2000).

Paragraph 5.54 of Working Together declares that a strategy discussion between the local authority, children’s social care and other services such as school, health and the police should be present whenever there is a suspicion of a child suffering significant harm. The aim of the strategy discussion is to share information, to plan how the enquiries will be carried out and by whom, to agree what action is needed to protect a child, and also to decide whether any legal action is needed (Beckett, 2007).

However, inter-agency and inter-professional communication face some inherent difficulties in some common areas which are as follows:

}Status differences and different areas of expertise;

Negative stereotypes of other agencies or other professionals;

Focussing on different aspects of the problem~ (ibid, P: 29).

According to Lawrence (2004) active dialogue is needed to be kept between managers and practitioners in order to resolve some problems when they arise. Also, it is vital to interact satisfactorily in the lives of children and their families.

Local authorities, differently to other agencies, have statutory commitments and have their own specific aims. However, in working together to protect children, they need to appreciate that they are not only trying to achieve their own purpose, but they are also making a significant contribution in advising and assisting to protect children (Department of Health, 1991).

Social services departments, health workers, medical practitioners, the police, schools, and voluntary sector and others working in a partnership is, in addition to being a way to monitor and review child protection policies, is also a basic strategy for child protection (ibid).

In conclusion, it can be said that risk is a word that means a probability of suffering harm or damage during life, or even of dying under specific circumstances. There are many sources or factors of risk which threaten individual’s lives, in particular the lives of children. These factors include homelessness, financial pressure, living in a disadvantaged community, parental unemployment, environmental factors and many others which impact on people’s behaviour and their treatments of their children. It is undeniable that children rely on their parents or others who care for them to meet their needs, and it is unfortunately also undeniable that sometimes children are abused or even killed by these same people. This has made the relevant authorities develop many policies and strategies to ensure children live in safety and to protect them from maltreatment, as well as to encourage inter-agencies to work together to promote children’s welfare. According to Blair (2003) our children are everything to us: our hopes, our ambitions, and our future.


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