TRAIN has been working to support Traveller and Romani families who are experiencing child protection involvement since 2015. It was set up to respond to urgent need and because no other specific support for Traveller and Romani children and families in child protection existed in the UK.
Since 2015, TRAIN has been providing free telephone advice and support to parents whose children are in need, at risk, or are in the care system, and with members of the wider family or community who are raising children unable to remain at home. TRAINs main aim has been working on capacity building to help Traveller and Romani communities to help themselves. TRAIN has always been managed by two volunteer social workers and each year the work that TRAIN has been involved in has grown. In 2017, for example, TRAIN provided help and support to 61 families. TRAIN enabled people's voices to be heard, and it has enabled the situation of child protection to reconsidered and to be taken seriously. Whilst advocating for one family a Judge made it clear that without TRAINs involvement the outcome of Care Proceedings would have been quite different.
Today a growing number of organisations are beginning to see and exploit the need to provide help and support to families in matters related to child protection. There is now money available to organisations so that they can fund advocates, online media tools, training videos and information services and all of the other things that TRAIN has been providing. What TRAIN has done for the last 3 years on a free and voluntary basis, other well meaning organisations are now receiving payment to do as well. For this reason, the work that TRAIN has been championing has come to a natural end.
The fact that more organisations are working to support Traveller and Romani families who are experiencing child protection services is fantastic. As many of these organisations are also grassroots Traveller and Romani Community groups, TRAIN's aim to work on capacity building to help Traveller and Romani communities to help themselves has seemingly been achieved, not through consultation though, but by example, innovation and leadership.
TRAIN hopes that those people who found the strength to ask for help in the past will enable others in the future to speak out about the situation that they are in and to seek support early and without delay. It hopes that other well meaning funded services are able to understand and cope with the complexity of child protection policy, and it hopes that the new organisations taking over TRAIN's role are sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled to spot and challenge procedural irregularity and to fight for natural justice, without compromise, in a way that Traveller and Romani families urgently require and deserve.
Most importantly TRAIN hopes that the unique challenges faced by Traveller and Romani families in Child Protection will not be dismissed, minimised or denied. If the significant discrimination that Traveller and Romani face in child protection is not taken seriously, all of the work that TRAIN has tried to achieve and all of the lobbying work it has done will be undone.
Traveller and Romani Advice and Information Network
The Signs of Safety (SoS) is an innovative strengths-based, safety-organised approach to child protection casework. The model of its approach was created in Western Australia by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards and has attracted international attention and is being used in jurisdictions in North America, Europe and Australasia. However, it application with Traveller and Romani families has not been fully explored.
The primary assumptions of SoS
If social works are not careful, SoS could lead them to center on the welfare of the child by identifying interfamilial strengths and risks only. This is because it might be easy to overlook structural discrimination in a way that orientates social work away from social justice and structural determinism. Instead, the human agency of individuals become the focus of intervention. If the risk to the child is to decrease, family behaviours must change. This position might not address the fundamental principles of community based social work and ecologically based approaches to practice. Like any theory or model, SoS is only as good as the person using it, but might do well to include relevant social and structural factors identified above:
Signs of Safety
SoS and structural determinism?
Referrals are usually accepted where there is indication that a child is in need or at risk of harm. There are clear thresholds in Local Authority protocol. When suitable, SoS works to promote family strengths and brief intervention. But, how can this approach work with families who are systematically disenfranchised through structural discrimination? What happens if the child is considered to in need or at risk of harm because a parent or carer is unable to maintain and protect the child due to social injustice? Can SoS effect social justice and change, or does it require parents and carers to cope with situations beyond their control? For example, we know that:
Trailers, not houses (not suitable for all communities)
The basic argument presented here is that a Signs of Safety approach might be used as a tool to blame Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents for a position that might be exacerbated by structural inequality.
Where structural inequality is ignored, Serious Case Reviews have shown us that Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller families can be coerced to come to terms with and then cope with the social challenges that they face. Forcing families to cope with injustice can then lead to unwanted outcomes.
If a Signs of Safety approach is used, it should be applied in conjunction with good eco- mapping and include social factors which are impacting on the child. This might include, for example, limited access to safe and secure accommodation, education, and health care services, or even extend to recognise the potential impact of fear that might exist between social works and the family themselves.