= Parents Advocacy & Rights

Presentation given by Maggie Mellon and Catriona Grant to The IFSW European Conference which was held in Reykjavík on May 28th – 30th 2017


By Maggie Mellon and Catriona Grant
Independent Social Workers
Edinburgh, Scotland


  • To help parents to use their experiences of child protection and child care social work to make positive changes to social work practice.


Context we work in

  • Scottish children’s hearings = a welfare and not a rights model. Originally designed for offending and truancy among adolescents, but now dealing mainly with children under 5 years.
  • Rising numbers of children in care Children in care numbers Since 2000 the number of children who are looked after in care in Scotland has increased from under 6000 to over 11000. Compared to England nearly twice the rate – 111 in 10000 compared to 60 per 10000
  •  Rising Child protection investigations and registrations

Child Protection referrals on rising

  • According to statistical analysis by the University of the West of England, child protection referrals have risen by 297% since the Children Act came into force 23 years ago, and assessments by social services have risen by 359%. The proportion of cases in which abuse was identified has plummeted from 24% to just under 8%.
  • “We are now at a situation where up to 5% of all families are now referred for assessment every year,” said Dr Lauren Devine, principal investigator of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded study. “The vast majority of those do not injure or seriously harm their children, but government policy requiring risk assessment at quite a low threshold means that rather than feeling supported by social services, some families now feel fear.”

Children in public care in Scotland

  • 15,404 children were in the care of local authorities on 31st July 2015.
  • Of these, 25% (3,927) were looked after at home (Compulsory Supervision Orders)and 36% (5,478) were looked after by foster carers.
  • 4,198 children started to be looked after during the year ending 31st July 2015 The rates of looked after children per 10,000 under 18 years is 176.

Adoptions in Scotland

Registered Adoptions

  • 373 adoptions of children by non-relatives were registered during 2013*
  • 337 children who ceased to be looked after in the year ending July 2014 were adopted
  • 504 adoptions of children were registered in 2015.
  • Statistics on adoptions i Scotland are provided by the Registrar General for Scotland,
  • which registers adoptions under the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 (previously the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act 1930).

Social workers getting more involved in family life

  • Early intervention’ and ‘prevention’ have led to lower thresholds for intervention – Getting It Right For Every Child and Named Person.
  • Poverty – one third of all children in Scotland, much higher in some areas of Glasgow and other areas of multiple deprivation. Poverty and neglect being conflated together.
  • 58,000 police call outs for domestic abuse – 6,000 children in Edinburgh alone every year reported to social work by police.

Our basis

  • Equality –not professionals and service users
  • Collective approach
  • Co-production and co-creation
  • Women supporting women, parents supporting parents
  • Learning from each other : we all have knowledge and experience that can help others. As social workers we learn from parents and vice versa
  •  Not been a linear process – dynamic and learning

Things we have done

  • Pride in practice conference – invited back
  • Edinburgh university social work students -invited back
  • East Lothian joint social work and health staff training day
  • Seminar at Edinburgh university on research about child protection
  • Open meeting to welcome new members
  • Regular meetings, presentations to conferences and seminars, a
    Social media and
  • Closed Facebook Group have all promoted strong group identity, and generated shared reading and discussion.
  • Got a website and closed group on facebook.
  • Regular meetings Serenity café run by and for people in recovery

Theory into Practice????

  • What happened to the practice of user led and empowering social work have passed social work with children and families by.
  • Parents are suspects. Practice blames and marginalises parents rather than works with them to change circumstances that damage them and their children.
  • Children’s rights are reduced to ‘having a voice’ and having choice rather than their actual human rights and rights given to them from UNCRC
  • ‘Services’ are understood to be better at protecting children than their parents, and services not parents are empowered.

Theory into Practice????

  • Recent Child Planning Meeting a Head Teacher stated “we are the voice of the children” when we were trying to explain how PTSD affected a woman’s mothering and there needed to be some adaptions made. The school spoke about getting to school on time and homework. We and the mother were trying to talk about all the domains of the children’s life and how their mother’s PTSD affected them and about their experience of trauma!!
  • Inspiration – that it is possible…Tobis – NYC pariahs into partners. BUT he had money! We have none, more of that later….about power and economics.


Par Closed Facebook Group


  • Domestic abuse
  • Lack of power
  • We love our children- we want the best for them.
  • We should be allowed to challenge your decisions, and be listened to with respect
  • We grieve for our children
  • We have relationships with our children that you need to consider
  • Stigma and labelling us do not help you to engage with us
  • Mental health
  • Understand the impact of trauma –on health, on behaviour, on ability and resourcefulness:

Social Work Audiences

  • Those who invite us are mostly open to listening.
  • Some minimise harm done by our interventions and the impact on families, and by poor experiences in care.
  • Social workers  often want to explain and justify their decisions and actions and are defensive.
  • Tend to want to minimise their responsibility and power
  • Want to hear  that women have ‘changed’ and accept that they were wrong, that social workers were right,  before they listen to messages from parents. But don’t want to do that about their practice.
  • Social workers seek and find  satisfaction in helping others but may be reluctant to accord that right and that satisfaction to parents – parents are experts in their own lives and experiences.

What are we doing?

  • Mothers have been attracted by word of mouth and we ask little of them, “change” is not PAR starting point.
  • System is oppressive – stunts and denies humanity
  • Long process and not a short one
  •  This is not an intervention or change model – it is an uncover, discovery and recovery model
  • Co creation and co production – we do it together
  • Narratives are important – stories that explain what happened and why – The last chapter has not been told yet
  • Systemic – not a single focus or explanation
  • Listening –not telling
  • Experts in their own lives
  • Trauma informed
  • Its not change its recovery

What women have said

  • “That’s the social work favourite thing to say to me “stop being angry”
  • “Always got high expectations of the woman. ‘You’ve got to change’ but as long as the man can walk and talk they are alright.”
  • “They screamed and shouted at my daughter in a meeting – I could not believe what was going on. They said that because I was taking her side, I was wrong too”
  • “No compassion,. I am treated like an idiot. So cruel.”
  • “When T had a bike accident they didn’t tell me. He was in hospital over night. I wasn’t told.”

What women have said

  • “My children were never hurt or in hospital till they were in care”
  • “What is the purpose of supervised contact? What do the social workers think theyare doing. Is it to stop parents trying to kill?”
  • ”I wasn’t allowed to cuddle or to say I love you at contact sessions
  • “If children are upset then they blame the parent having contact and say the child needs to settle without being upset”
  • “I was not allowed contact for five years because they said it would stop him settling.”

What women have said

  • “Ive been in a meeting where there were 20 people and I did not know any of them except the teacher.. They don’t know you but they think they know all about you and that they know your children better than you do”.
  • “It is frightening and you are not allowed to challenge them at all or it is held against you. You have to agree with them. Your family have to agree with them or they will be called abusive too”.
  • “They don’t like it when you have a supporter with you– especially if it is an independent social worker or a lawyer. They don’t want to talk about anything or answer questions”.

What women have said

“Because you have a witness – so they try and say as little as possible and not answer any questions. They say ‘That’s not appropriate’. Or they just cut them off. If your supporter points to something totally obvious they start pissing themselves to stop the conversation. Like if your supporter asks how come they did not tell you about your child being in hospital? They just change the subject or say ‘that is not helpful’ or ‘I think the social worker has explained that already’. They don’t want to answer to anybody”.

Contact us

Catriona Grant, Independent Practitioner & Domestic Abuse Consultant
[email protected]

Maggie Mellon, Independent Social Worker and Writer
[email protected]

Thank you