On 16 March 2021, to mark Global Social Work Day, the Departments of Law and Criminology (LAC), and Social Work (SW), here at Royal Holloway University of London held an important online forum.
With key contributions from a range of speakers from within Law, academia, social work practice, and the wider community, the event shone a light on the ways in which the professions of law, and social work have been responding to the needs and concerns of vulnerable families and children during the Covid-19 pandemic. The symposium was chaired by Professor(s) Ravinder Barn, and Anna Gupta.
Following a welcome address from Robert Jago, Head of LAC/SW, Sir James Munby, a former judge and President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales (2013-2018), set the scene with a magnificent talk on vulnerability, cross-examination, children and the public care system. In highlighting the need to reduce the current numbers of children entering the care system, he asked: Should we not be considering, for example, how to re-set ‘threshold’, not as a matter of statute but as a matter of understanding and practice?
Sir James Munby’s full paper can be accessed here.
Two powerful and moving presentations from the perspectives of parents and families were provided by Lareine from ATD Fourth World and Taliah from Parents, Families and Allies Network (P/FAN).
Lareine spoke of the enormous impact of the Covid19 pandemic on families and children affected by poverty. Her presentation highlighted the emotional, financial and practical pressures on families trying to ensure their children were fed, safe and supported. Alongside the constant challenge of managing increased heating and food bills, and the cost of Internet access when raising children in poverty, she shared common feelings of exhaustion, worry, and shame at having to ask for help. Highlighting parents’ concerns about the future impact on families and children, Lorraine reminded us of the challenges of raising children in poverty, with an important message for social work and other professionals: ‘Associating poverty with negligence is so inhuman. This is wrong. And when we finally get out of the pandemic, our children will need time to get back to normal again’. Lareine’s presentation can be accessed here.
In an equally powerful presentation Taliah spoke about the multiple pressures heaped upon parents and families, especially those separated from their children. Drawing on a study by PFAN undertaken with parents who experienced family court hearings during the first lockdown, Taliah’s presentation revealed parents’ sense of exclusion and not being seen when court hearings moved online. The inequalities of parents having to ‘make do with accessing their hearings over the phone’ and the significant barriers families experienced in crucially important legal processes ‘that could have forever effects on their families’ were reinforced. Highlighting the negative impact on parental mental health, Taliah reminded us: ‘Families are the building blocks of our communities’. The full presentation is available here.
In an extremely stimulating presentation titled – ‘From the individual to the social’ - Professor Brid Featherstone concluded with an important message about the need to tackle social inequalities: “Children will not thrive in a society riven by poverty and inequality, no matter how skilled the social workers are”. Prof Brid Featherstone’s slides can be accessed here.
The symposium ended following an invigorating panel discussion involving the above mentioned speakers. In addition, we were joined by Elise Jeremiah (Barrister at 33 Bedford Row), and Bharti Dhir (Child Protection Chair, and Independent reviewing Officer in Reading; author of ‘Worth’, a moving story about abandonment, and adoption at birth).