Catherine Powell’s career in nursing and health visiting has embraced practice, strategic leadership, academia and national policy. Specialising in safeguarding and child protection since 1994, she has published and presented her work to local, national, and international audiences and built up strong networks across the child protection community. Between 2009 and 2012 she was national Chair of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (BASPCAN).
In 2013, after leaving her post in the NHS, Catherine began working as an independent consultant providing expert advice, leadership and support to a range of statutory and professional bodies. This includes being commissioned to lead serious case and learning reviews, undertake child protection-related research, service audit and evaluation, clinical supervision and the design and delivery of bespoke packages of learning (face to face and e-learning). She has been described as driven, motivated and passionate about the health, education, safety and welfare of children and young people, and in supporting those who have a duty to protect. Catherine is also a Chair of a primary school governing body. She is a Fellow of both the Institute of Health Visiting and the Royal Society of Arts.
Catherine Powell PhD, BNSc.(Hons.) RN, RSCN, RHV, FiHV is an independent Child Safeguarding Consultant
Are children today seen and heard?
BASPCAN (now AoCPP) and I share a similar vintage in terms of starting out in our vocation. It is pleasing to be able to reflect that over the past 40 years, scholarship, practitioner discourse and inter-professional collaboration have led to notable improvements in both of my worlds(i.e. in child protection and my roles as a children’s nurse and health visitor).
This blog, which is aimed at all those whose work brings them into contact with children and young people, questions why, despite these improvements, the burgeoning children’s rights agenda, and the promises of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, children continue to be marginalised, with their disenfranchisement contributing to both their invisibility and the risk of harm.
Let me indulge in a few examples. It is now some 30 years since Butler-Sloss commented ‘he child is a person and not an object of concern’ (1988:245). Today babies continue to be referred to by health professionals and others as ‘it’; their needs trumped by the needs of their parents, in direct contravention of the ‘paramount principle’ referenced in legislation for children (Children Act 1989).
That is not to say that we should not be sensitive to the needs of parents in our child protection work. I am clear that parents are often trying their best in extremely challenging circumstances, including a system that penalises those who are forced to live in poverty. Yet, keeping a focus that centres on seeing and hearing the daily lived experiences of the child is the mantra of successful child protection work.
Conscious of a link between serious case review findings and children’s missed health care appointments (Powell and Appleton, 2012), we looked at professional follow-up in cases of children are not brought to their appointments. Our research elicited responses that indicated that the parent was sometimes viewed as the primary client i.e. ‘when she comes to the appointment’ referencing mother, not her son (Appleton et al., 2016). Sympathy for parents excused a failure to meet a child’s outstanding health needs.
The danger of losing sight of the child remains ever present in a range of health, education, social care and criminal justice settings. My more recent work in reviewing serious cases of child harm has brought to light examples of children who are seen and not heard. The teenager seen as ‘being drunk and disorderly’ rather than a sexually exploited child; the disabled school-aged child, hidden from view alongside his ‘home-educated’ siblings, and ‘Rosie’, hidden in plain sight in the context of parental learning disability and other significant needs (Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board, 2018).
So, my closing message, is simply this; see the child, hear the child, and whatever your role, continue the brilliant, challenging and yet rewarding work that you do to ensure that children are healthy, safe and protected from harm. The improvement journey will continue apace.
Catherine Powell PhD, BNSc.(Hons.) RN, RSCN, RHV, FiHV is an independent Child Safeguarding Consultant. She was Chair of BASPCAN from 2009-2012.
Appleton, JV., Powell, C., Coombes, L. (2016) Children’s missed healthcare appointments: professional and organisational responses Archives of Disease in Childhood doi:10.1136/ archdischild-2015-309621.
Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board (2018) Serious Case Review: Rosie (author C.Powell)
Butler-Sloss, E. (1988) Report of Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland 1987. London: HMSO.
Powell, C, Appleton, J (2012) Children and young people’s missed health care appointments: Reconceptualising ‘Did Not Attend’ to ‘Was Not Brought’ - a review of the evidence for practice Journal of Research in Nursing 17:2, 181-192.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/ (accessed 18/07/19)