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PSW: Better guidance for cross-border social work needed

Research shows one in four children known to services travelling abroad remain at risk

Children and families across borders

Guidance for cross-border social work needs to be strengthened following research showing one in four vulnerable children known to services travelling abroad remain at risk, it was warned.

The study also highlighted a “lottery of care” in how local authorities handle such cases, a lack of resources and patchy understanding about effective safeguarding procedures.

Charity Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB), which audited 200 cases for the study, called on the Government to update and clarify guidance to local authorities.

Chief executive Carolyn Housman said: “In an increasingly globalised world, cross-border cases of child protection are becoming more complicated, whilst local authority children’s services departments have fewer resources to navigate these complexities.

“Sadly, our report shows that there are significant delays and inconsistencies in the handling of these cases, so these children can face a potential lottery of care when they reach local authorities in the UK.

“This must be set right, because we really shouldn’t be increasing the risks for children who are already vulnerable by virtue of their circumstances, simply because of a lack of clear guidance for social workers.”

The research titled Cross-border child safeguarding: challenges, effective social work practice and outcomes for children also found:

  • It took an average of 45 days for a UK local authority to make a referral to CFAB for a child protection alert when a child had travelled abroad
  • Delays were often caused because the child’s location was unknown and there was a lack of understanding of effective procedures when a family flees abroad
  • Significant differences in local authority approaches to assessing international placements, the legal orders used and post-placement support provided
  • The response of UK local authorities to requests from overseas authorities varied. There were also delays in obtaining decisions from UK local authorities on whether they would act on a request from abroad
  • In some cases, overseas authorities placed children with a family in the UK without a full assessment. This occurred in a few cases where a UK local authority had refused to complete a kinship assessment at the request of the other country
  • There is a lack of understanding of long-term outcomes for children placed abroad

 CFAB said it was important social workers understood what information they needed to gather in such cases. This includes contact information for a link family abroad and processes for border alerts and child protection alerts.

In a list of recommendations, it also said local authorities needed guidance on how to act on different types of requests from abroad and clarification on their assessment responsibilities.