Balancing looked after children's protective, provisional and participatory rights in research, policy and practice
2015-06-22T15:16:56Z (GMT) by
In England around 68,000 children are currently looked after by the state. Sixty two per cent of this population are admitted to care or accommodation in response to abuse and neglect. As the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child acknowledges, the state has a unique responsibility for these children and is expected to ensure their safety, wellbeing and development. Underpinned by a rights-based framework the publications in the thesis make an original contribution to social work research, policy and practice, in respect of looked after children nationally and internationally. Three cohering theoretical strands - the new sociology of childhood, attachment theory and focal theory, and different methodological lenses, (from participatory research with young people to cross-national analysis of administrative data), are employed to advance understanding of the balance of protective, provisional and participatory rights ( 3 Ps ) for these children and young people. The work focuses upon their life pathways at two key stages in the lifespan: early infancy and adolescence into adulthood. Consistent with the theoretical underpinnings of the research, the methodological approach employed in two of the four core studies sought to promote children s active participation in the research process, and to give them a voice . The participatory peer methodology adopted moved beyond involving care experienced young people in interviewing their peers, to training and engaging them in several major aspects of the research cycle, including analysis of the data and the design and write up of the findings, to produce accessible peer research reports for young people. At the national level the work undertaken demonstrates how a needs-based discourse, and orientation towards considering looked after children as objects of concern, can mean that young children s protective rights may be prioritised in policy and practice, at the expense of their provisional and participatory rights. Children s participation rights are also constrained due to assumptions about the (in)capacities of younger children to express their wishes and feelings. In this context parents rights tend to be prioritised at the expense of the rights of the child. Whereas parents rights may take precedence when children are young, in adolescence the rights of parents are more peripheral. Cross-national comparisons reveal variations in how young people s provisional, participatory and protective rights are balanced as young people negotiate the transition from care to adulthood in western societies, as well as different drivers for reform. Empirical research on recent policy developments in England also illuminates the tensions and dilemmas professionals can face as they attempt to protect and provide for young people, whilst recognising their evolving capabilities and their right to autonomy and active participation in decision making processes. Finally, the studies highlight that young people with the most complex care histories may be denied the right to decide for themselves if they want to remain in foster or residential care into early adulthood.