Working to transform the child welfare system.


Systems Spotlight: United Kingdom

""Continuing our “Systems Spotlight” blog series, we will share a few child welfare system experiences from across the world and within our own country that were highlighted in UW graduate student, Eugenia Ho’s comparative study. First up, the United Kingdom!

Like the U.S. and Washington State, the U.K. also has a long tradition of maintaining a child protection-oriented child welfare system. The legislative framework for the child protection system is provided for by the Children Act 1989 [1]. Beginning in 1995, upon the recommendation of a government research on the child protection system, a “child welfare policy re-orientation” began. In the following decade, changes in policy and practice slowly began to refocus and prioritize supporting families with children in need and prevention, rather than simply concentrating on investigating incidents of abuse in a narrow, forensically-driven way [2]. Broadening the role of child welfare beyond child protection was a strategy for the U.K. government to combat social exclusion. The new emphasis was placed on the behavior and development of children and young people, minimizing a variety of risk factors, including those within their families [3].

Throughout the years, several major policy and program developments have been affected by the child welfare policy re-orientation in the U.K. By the end of 1990s, the official government guidance dropped the words “protection” and “abuse” and was re-entitled Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-Agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children [4]. The content of the guidance had also been substantially rewritten to identify many other issues as “sources of stress for children and families which might have a negative impact on a child’s health, either directly, or because they affected the capacity of parents to respond to their child’s needs.” [5]

In 2006, the U.K. government launched the Every Child Matters: Change for Children program. The priority of the program was to intervene at an earlier stage in children’s lives in order to prevent a range of later-life problems related to low level of educational attainment, unemployment, crime, and antisocial behavior, thus improving their outcomes [6]. This model was derived from “the paradigm of risk, and protection-focused prevention”, as well as evidence-based research on the risk of negative outcomes in children [7]. An influential report conducted by Professor Eileen Munro in the U.K. – Munro Review of Child Protection – shared research evidence that “preventive services will do more to reduce abuse and neglect than reactive services,” and will be more cost-effective [8].

Building on the success of the Every Child Matters: Change for Children program, the Troubled Families program, a large initiative across the U.K., was launched in 2011 targeting families with multiple problems. The program aims to help 120,000 troubled families in England to turn their lives around by 2015 [9]. Supported by evidence of effective practice of family intervention [10], the program appoints a single caseworker so that a range of different help and support can be provided in a focused and targeted way. The worker’s role is to manage the family’s problems, coordinate the delivery of services and use a combination of support, rewards, and the possibility of sanctions to motivate families to change their behavior [11]. Each worker has a small caseload of about six families at any one time and on average works with a family for around a year [12]. The program aims to attend to each family’s problems as a whole rather than responding to each problem, or person, separately to: 1) get children back into school, 2) reduce youth crime and anti-social behavior, 3) put adults on a path back to work, and 4) reduce the high costs these families place on the public sector each year [13].

Local governments in the U.K. are trying to come up with innovative funding mechanisms, allowing them to take a more holistic approach to working with troubled families with complex needs across multiple services. One of these mechanisms iscommunity budgets – pooled resources that can be shared between local authorities and various agencies. A rigorous evidence-based evaluation is being conducted on community budgets in the pilot sites. Although there are no results yet, the Munro Review had recognized this tool for creating “space for innovation, working collaboratively across services to create a joined up approach dedicated to tackling family problems and investing in service redesign to meet the specific needs of children, young people and families.” [14]

So what do you think about the system experience in the U.K.? Is there something in particular you think would work in our own country or specifically in Washington State? Please share your thoughts!

Next up – we will turn to our peers within the U.S. and look at the child welfare system approach in New Hampshire.