Stories of shock and despair

5 January 2017: News round-up

A FILM produced for Leicestershire Police to highlight the dangers of online grooming has been criticised for showing depictions of rape and violence to children who might already have experienced sexual abuse or exploitation. The film entitled “Kayleigh’s love story” narrates the grooming, rape and murder of 15 year old Kayleigh Harwood in November 2015. Produced with the support of Kayleigh’s parents, the five minute film featuring Italia Conti acting graduate Stacey Harcourt documents the final two weeks of the 15 year old’s life as she was groomed by Luke Harlow, a man she had never met. Kayleigh was then raped and murdered by Harlow’s next door neighbour. While the video has already been used in schools in the Leicestershire region during the latter half of 2016 it only went on public release this week and reached over a million people on the first day.

Although the film was generally widely retweeted and praised via Twitter, academic and speaker Jessica Eaton warned that it should not be used with children at risk of, or who had suffered child sexual exploitation or abuse. She warned that though the story was true the message was wrong, under the hashtag #victimblaming. Eaton, who is undertaking doctoral research on victim blaming and sexual violence said in a Facebook post, “Rather than accepting that 100% of the risk originates with the sex offender, authorities and workers become fixated on ‘reducing the risks the child is taking’.”

In a separate blog post Eaton explores how we could better approach the education of secondary school pupils on the risks of CSE. “The time has come to realise that some of our messages are now outdated; not only outdated, but no longer culturally relevant to this generation. In a time where their entire lives, self-worth and popularity are based on friend lists, likes, retweets and comments on their photos and extreme porn is sent around for ‘laughs’ – it’s no longer adequate to advise them not to be on these sites or to stop sharing their information.”

Meanwhile the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield says that social media companies are getting control over children’s online data without any accountability. A year long study Growing up Digital found that children using social media “sign up to impenetrable terms and conditions that they could never be expected to understand”. These waive their right to privacy and allow the content they post to be sold. Longfield wants new legislation to protect children’s privacy and data online.

JUST BEFORE Christmas an article in the Guardian explored the impact of the arrival of child refugees in the UK following the closure of the Calais camp. A shortage of foster placements has led to councils like Glasgow exploring new ways of accommodating youngsters while Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services says that local authorities have been struggling to find scarce placements with private fostering agencies having taken advantage of the shortage by hiking up their prices.

In a separate article Joan Smith warns of the terrible psychological damage that the current total of 8 million child refugees are facing. “Such harm is less obvious than physical wounds, but most European countries haven’t had to deal with childhood trauma on this scale since the end of the second world war.” Sexual assault of both boys and girls among people smugglers is commonplace. She says of the refugee children, “They desperately need foster parents who are used to dealing with children who have been sexually abused, and even then it will take years of hard work before they are able to trust adults.”

BETWEEN CHRISTMAS and the New Year Carol Sarler caused apoplexy with her Daily Mail article that described adopted children as “the offspring of our drunks, our derelicts, our damaged and our junkies”. Rather than adopting unwanted babies from misguided but otherwise healthy teens adoptive parents are now unwittingly taking on a “hurricane” of problems, with the children they adopt suffering the effects of trauma, foetal alcohol syndrome and other pre-natal and early years problems. “And the result is an untold scandal, blighting the lives of thousands of well-meaning families.”

Unsurprisingly the tone of the article provoked outrage among some while others were more sanguine. The article quoted Adoption UK head Hugh Thornbery who said that a quarter of adoptive families were “in crisis” while adoption support charity the Open Nest said: “The article highlighted the desperation some of us feel with its truthful descriptions from parents about what it is like for them to live with a traumatised or displaced child and have no support….We cannot however, accept that this truth and the reality for some should be used to smash other people over the head with nasty words.”

Staying on the subject of adoption, CYP Now reported a debate on the Children and Social Work bill just before Christmas in which shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck lambasted the government for its “obsession” with adoption that neglects all other options for long-term care. “What the government should be doing is advocating the form of care that is right for every child, not what they believe is right,” she said. The bill is scheduled to be considered in a Commons’ public bill committee between 10 and 17 January.

SHARON SHOESMITH, former head of Haringey children’s services talked to Radio 4 presenter Eddie Mair about her experiences and subsequent sacking in 2008 by then children’s minster Ed Balls, following the death of Peter Connolly. In the 30 minute interview (available as a podcast) she raises some uncomfortable questions about the government, police and other processes as well as the media influences that were happening following Peter’s murder. She finishes by reflecting on the state of current of children’s social care. “When Peter died there were barely over 50,000 children in care in this country – there are now 70,000. If that figure is 100,000 in 2020 have we failed or have we succeeded as a nation?”

AND FINALLY the Social Care Institute for Excellence is calling for good examples of effective practice in improving mental health outcomes for children in care. The deadline for evidence is 20 January and the institute is also running a professional’s stakeholder event on the issue in March.

For updates, links to stories of interest, opinion and comment, head for This Week in Fostering’s Facebook page, and ‘like’ it to get notifications of new content. You can follow @TWiFostering on Twitter too.

Photo by Steinar La Engeland

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