Cruelty to children must stop - full stop

SHARED CAUSE Tracy Buckley, left and Nusrat Younis
SHARED CAUSE Tracy Buckley, left and Nusrat Younis
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It’s the hopelessness that spurs Tracy Buckley on. She sees it in the eyes of children time and again in a town with the highest numbers of youngsters in child protection for neglect.

But Tracy is ably placed to do something about it. She is manager of the NSPCC Blackpool Service Centre, a stand alone building offering six projects to help vulnerable children.

In size and scope it is the equal of a city NSPCC centre - in response to Blackpool’s inner city style problems.

It is celebrating its first anniversary - and is already a triumph for the vision of those who campaigned for just such a base here in Blackpool.

It’s just off busy Plymouth Road roundabout but the signs are as self effacing as the small but dedicated team who have handled 300 cases in the first year of operation. But the writing on that wall, within those walls, reaching into each and every child’s home in and around Blackpool and beyond, is unequivocal. Cruelty to children must stop. FULL STOP.

The block capitals are the NSPCC’s. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children .

Tracy has been spelling out that message for each of her 23 years with the NSPCC - manager here for almost a year.

Pioneering child protection measures are already making Blackpool a safer place in which to grow up.

Action steps up with the NSPCC Glitter Ball at the Winter Gardens next month in aid of the charity’s ‘Turning the Tide for Children’ appeal.

It aims to raise £2.5 million to help vulnerable children and families in Blackpool. The charity already has a network of local fundraisers and volunteers - and the guarantee that money raised locally stays locally with some also going to support ChildLine too.

“It does take calls from children from this area too,” adds Tracy.

It’s a charity which definitely begins at home.

Tracy adds: “The innovative and responsive nature of the projects we run here really appeals to me.

“The NSPCC has an excellent reputation in child protection and it also gives me time to practise what I want to do well.

“The NSPCC is about so much more, research, developing, training, lobbying and frontline stuff.

“We’re one part of it in children’s services, a crucial part as we deliver the services but are backed up so much by others.”

Project team managers Nusrat Younis and Clare Law are in it for the long haul too.

Nusrat’s worked with the NSPCC for 18 years,.

“I wanted to make a difference to the lives of children and families - particularly children who have experienced abuse or sexual abuse.”

Clare’s worked with the NSPCC for five years.

She explains: “The NSPCC’s strategy and vision in ending child cruelty and their emphasis on child protection makes it a no brainer for me.”

The projects are all evidence-based leaving less room for error, human or otherwise.

Tracy says all three workers have seen far too many vulnerable children slip through society’s safety nets.

“Each time it happens society says never again - and it happens again. That’s got to stop.”

Nusrat reports real success with the new Baby Steps programme for more than 100 new parents.

“We involve dads from the start. We have two male practitioners who talk about their own experiences. One dad said it was the first time he felt he could talk about his feelings on becoming a father.”

It’s aimed at parents who might miss out on antenatal provision. They may be disadvantaged, new to the area, have no support, or chaotic lives.

It prepares parents for the impact a child can have on their lives.

An allied I Promise programme has also been set up to avoid non-accidental head injuries of children - such as by violent shaking of the child.

It’s run in Blackpool Victoria Hospital - midwives handing an NSPCC produced DVD to parents.

Tracy adds: “Midwives show the parents the DVD shortly after birth, when dads are usually there.

“In America it reduced the incidence of non-accidental head injury by 47 per cent.

“We hope to focus on parent groups to find out whether it helped them when times were difficult at home.”

A brand new Now I Know programme trains volunteers to help children understand abuse, give them the confidence to talk about it, the knowledge to prevent it, and the courage to find help if they ever need it.

Tracy adds: “We also have an Evidence Based Decision programme for children in complex neglect cases.

“Our referrer is the local authority so we work closely to support them in decision making as neglect cases are notoriously difficult and can drag on and children can suffer in the time frame.

“We are testing a family assessment scale which has worked in America and Canada.

“Clearly what went before here wasn’t working.

“Blackpool has the highest number of children in child protection for neglect.

“We go in at the heavy end before it goes to proceedings and look at evidence, patterns, visit, speak to the children, look at what interventions may be needed to raise the bar for the family and bring them to acceptable consistent standards.

“We go back and measure what has happened. If there’s no improvement the social worker has evidence to decide whether to take it to court.”

Specialist worker Clare says: “We have a balance between families able to engage with support services and those who don’t demonstrate any capacity to change.

“Neglect is often down to not being able to measure change - so it’s a big step in the right direction.

“Some families respond well, even those with problems relating to the official face of social work.”

Another breakthrough is the Blackpool FEDUP (Family Environment: Drug Using Parents ) programme, the title coined by the children of parents or care givers who misuse drugs or alcohol.

Tracy adds: “The children join a 10 week structured programme developed by the NSPCC. We are testing and evaluating it. It works alongside parents or care givers giving children the space to share and talk while another worker talks with their parents about the impact of drug or alcohol or misuse .

“The whole family benefits. Only five children attend a group and the ratio is three practitioners to a group.

“Children may have significant behaviour issues - which is hardly surprising. We look at safety planning for the child.”

Clare explains: “The feedback’s positive. One parent said it was the first time they had considered the impact on their child of what they were doing.

“One professional worker told us it was like looking at a different family later.”

And while children come first Tracy adds: “Parents each have their own back story - what do we know about that? It’s not about being judgemental. We need to understand them to help them understand themselves and how they respond to what life has brought to their door.

“Most parents want to be good parents.

“But with each generation there’s another layer that makes it more difficult and challenging for the next set of parents.”

Crucially, the team also assesses the risk of abuse - within the home. “We have a service called assessing the risk, protecting the child, which works with the whole family where there have been allegations of abuse.

“That includes the alleged perpetrator, the safe carer and the child. The child’s voice is paramount in all we do to minimise risk factors.”

Nusrat admits it’s a new approach to an age old problem.

“We get referrals from children’s services, risk assess the alleged offender and assess his partner’s ability to protect the children. And we talk to the children too. It’s vital their voice is heard.

“It’s about how or whether the risk can be managed or not. This is protecting children from people who haven’t passed into the criminal justice system.

“Any seaside resort attracts a certain type of person. We work within the home or beyond if the alleged offender wants contact with the child.” And finally - the aptly named Letting the Future In helps children aged four to 17 who have been sexually abused. Clare adds: “It helps them explore and express their feelings. Many children and young people tell us they feel confused and upset about what has happened.

“They say just having the chance to talk really helps. We meet with them, get to know them and assess their needs. A practitioner will then provide up to 24 weekly sessions tailored to those needs. We also meet parents or carers separately to understand their needs. It really does help them let the future in.”

Families can contact the service centre directly to discuss any of these services on 01253 307810 or email blackpoolservicecentre@nspcc.org.uk