The emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk : a model for planning interventions
Child abuse remains a major problem within communities, despite all efforts to date to try to intervene with children and families. There have been countless policies drawn up which aim to protect children’s rights and prevent child abuse including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, African Charter, South African Constitution, and the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. Some cases of severe abuse result in children being statutorily removed from their families in order to protect them from further abuse. Internationally, there are policies in place which guide professionals in how to go about this emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk. However, within a South African context, this model for practice within emergency child protection situations appears to be greatly lacking. Without a model to guide social workers in these already difficult and challenging situations, this leaves professionals separating children from their families without the proper frameworks for practice. The removal of children from their families is often traumatic and devastating for the children, family, and even social work professionals involved; and this situation is further aggravated by the fact that professionals are not working from a standardised, evidence-informed, ethically based, and theoretically founded practice model. This study aimed to address this gap identified in literature and observed in practice by means of developing a model for planning interventions for the emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk. Although emergency child protection takes place immediately, it is important for professionals to be working from a structured intervention practice model which sets out the necessary strategic interventions which need to be followed, to ensure effective services are rendered to children and families. v The study utilised the design and development model of intervention research, consisting of six phases. The first phase involved interviews and focus groups with designated and residential social workers and child and youth care workers, to explore and describe the current intervention strategies used for the emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk. The findings showed that there are many challenges in the field of social work which are contributing to the poor services received by children and families, which included: lack of supervision, no multi-disciplinary team approach to services, limited infrastructure and a lack of resources, staff shortages and high caseloads. These challenges obstruct child protection services, leading to an approach to child protection which is very rushed, chaotic, paperwork focused, and is deficient of an emotionally caring response towards children and families involved. Results from the first phase of this study showed that there was no practice model to guide social workers in how to remove children and place them in safety. As there is no practice model, and a gross lack of supervision, participants from this study indicated that child protection practice is instead guided by their gut instincts and cultural values. The second phase of this study consisted of interviews and discussion groups with participants who provided information on various social work theories and how the best interest of the child standard should be incorporated into a model for planning child protection interventions. Significantly, the findings showed that the best interest of the child standard is not applied as a whole principle throughout the child protection process, but rather in a fragmented way whereby bits and pieces of the standard are used to justify specific actions. The findings from phase two highlighted the need for an integrated and holistic approach to incorporating the best interest of the child standard and social work theories throughout the child protection process. For phase three, the researcher developed an observational system (after the model was developed) as a means by which to observe and assess the implementation of the model to provide further insights into its effectiveness. In phases four and five, the knowledge, skills, and experience of designated social workers, residential social workers and child and youth care workers were used to inform the development of the model. The participants provided information on intervention strategies, procedures involved with the emergency removal and safety placement, and integrated the best interests of the child standard and social work theories into the development of a model for planning interventions for the emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk. Based on all the data collected from the above-mentioned phases, as well as an indepth literature study, phase five of this study involved the development of a model for the emergency removal and safety placement of children. The model was discussed with and evaluated by social workers in the field of children protection as well as a legal expert from the children’s court. Feedback obtained from the evaluations was used to adapt and finalise the model. Phase six consisted of the writing up of the research findings within three journal articles that will be submitted for publication in various academic journals. The results of this study have addressed the gap identified in literature and practice by means of developing a model for planning interventions for the emergency removal and safety placement of children at risk.
- Humanities