Discuss ways in which current legislation and policy in childcare contribute to or work against ‘child-centred practice’ in social work - How do children’s rights issues impact on this debate?

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Discuss ways in which current legislation and policy in childcare contribute to or work against ‘child-centred practice’ in social work.  How do children’s rights issues impact on this debate?

The main principle of ‘child-centred practice’ is to set the welfare, rights and needs of the child as the primary focus when dealing with children and young people (hereafter referred to as ‘the child or ‘children’ for simplicity).  This approach seeks to minimise the power imbalance between children and adults and to take account of the wishes, opinions and rights of the child to have an input in decisions which will impact on their lives.  This approach is relevant from different professional perspectives, for example, health, education and social care.  For the purposes of this essay I shall approach child-centred practice from a social work perspective.  I will discuss the main policy and legislative frameworks and how these might be compatible with the concept of child centred practice and discuss some of the inconsistencies and difficulties in implementing child centred practice in social work practice, with particular reference to child protection issues.

There has been evidence in the past of the failure of social services to properly address issues of child centred practice and children’s rights issues and that this has had a derogatory effect on children, particularly ‘looked after’ children and children in need. The ‘Lost in Care’ Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Care in the Former County Council Areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974 (Department of Health) looked into allegations of abuse of looked after children and how these allegations had been dealt with. The report found many instances where the rights of children had been disregarded; where children hadn’t been listened to and where no proper consultation had been carried out with children.

Kay (2001) argues that until quite recently children didn’t really have individual right at all but that rights were “conferred via their parents” (pg 14).  This meant that decisions could be made about what was ‘best’ for the child without having to consider the wishes or opinions of the child.  Children were seen as the ‘property’ of their parents and the overriding philosophy was one of ‘parental rights’ rather than parental responsibility (Kay 2001).  Children all over the world suffer from neglect and abuse because of the failure of adults to protect children and accord them with basic human rights.  During the last few years in the UK, as advancements have been made in human rights and civil rights, so there have been advancements in the rights of the child, with more and more weight being accorded in law to the rights of the child.  Evidence of the move towards children’s rights in the last few years can be seen, for example in the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and the calls from various pressure groups and individuals to outlaw the ‘smacking’ of children by parents.

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The United Nations UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the UK in 1991, set standards for participating nations to work to, in order to protect the rights of the child. The principles of the Convention include “the belief that children have equal rights to adults and that adults have a responsibility to ensure that children’s rights and welfare are safeguarded and promoted” (Kay, 2001: 13).  The question of ‘children’s rights’ can be difficult to negotiate because of age-related issues.  On the one hand there is the argument that children are simply ‘miniature adults’ and ...

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