This essay examines the legislation, policy and carepractice relevant to the case study of Sebastian and Belle Yanovsky, and theirparents Ms. Jo Butler and Mr. Zalman Yanovsky. The main issues for discussionare: the legislation relevant to the case study, the role of the family courtsystem, the role of the ‘looked after’ children review system, child protectioncase conferences, the criminal justice system, and the practical issues whicharise from these.
The purpose of the essay is to analyze each of these areas tosee how they are intended to contribute to the protection and welfare ofSebastian and Belle Yanovsky. The essay also examines closely how the variousagencies and services involved in the care of Sebastian and Belle maximizeinter-agency communication so as to reduce the risks and maximize theprotection available to the children. The four principal pieces of legislation relevant to theYanovsky children’s case are the Children Act 1989, the Protection ofChildren Act 1999 the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and theChildren Act 2004.
The Children Act 1989 sought to carry intolegislation the belief that where possible’ children aregenerally best looked after within the family, with both parents playing a fullpart and without resort to legal proceedings. The welfare of the children isthe paramount consideration. ‘ (Children Act, 1989). Thus the ChildrenAct sought where possible to protect children within a family environment. Thus the act introduced a number of provisions designed to protect children byimproving their home and family environment.
The report stressed the need forvarious care agencies to increase inter-communication so as to best determinethe risks posed to a particular child or children and so to most effectuallyprovide the protection from abuse that they required. Sections 27 and 47 of theAct – significantly titled ‘Co-operation Between Authorities’ and ‘LocalAuthority’s Duty to Investigate’ – sets out the governments demands for closeragency communication.
Section 27: 4 for instance defines the need for agenciesto co-operate on educational care, stating ‘Every local authority shallassist any local education authority with the provision of services for anychild within the local authority’s area who had special educational needs’. Therelevance of this act to the Yanovsky case will be shown shortly. The mainthemes of theChildren Act 2004 were an emphasis upon ‘integratedplanning’, ‘delivery of services’, ‘multi-disciplinary working’, ‘increasedaccountability’ and, especially, more provision for those children ith’special needs’. The Protection of Children Act 1999 and the Adoptionand Children Act 2002will be discussed in the forthcoming paragraphs. This legislation provides the following short term and long termsolutions for the Yanovsky children’s case. In the short term, the ChildrenAct 1989 states that, where possible, the welfare of the children must beattempted inside the family environment. Thus the Children Act allowsfor various professional carers (social workers, mental health practitioners,police etc. ,) to monitor the home situation of the Yanovsky children.
The ChildProtection Act 1999 makes provision for Child Protection Conferences (discussedlater in this essay) and a conference for the Yanovsky children would be animportant short term measure to assess the risk to the children and toco-ordinate a Child Protection Plan for them. Earlier legislation also allowssocial workers to put the Yanovsky children on the Child Protection Register ifthey feel it necessary. If these short term measures prove unsuccessful, thenit may be necessary to bring a public law case (family court) against theYanovsky’s as set out in the Children Act 1989.
If the court thinks itnecessary to remove custody from the Yanovsky’s then the Adoption of ChildrenAct 2002 makes provisions for the long term care of the children under thestatus of ‘looked after’ children. Thus, both long term and short term, thereis a comprehensive range of legislation to protect the Sebastian and Belle. The role of a family court in child protectioncases is to make rulings about the rights to custody of the child or childreninvolved in a particular case.
A family court can be convened under two sets ofcircumstances as outlined in The Children Act 1989: in the first instanceare private law cases where two parents dispute in court rights to custody of achild or children. The second instance is that of public cases where the stateon the advice of care agencies seek custody of a child or children. In bothpublic and private law cases the responsibility of the court is to decide whois most fit to care for and support the child or children in question.
Inpublic cases the family court hears evidence and recommendations from socialservice workers, doctors, mental health workers and other professionals. Thisevidence is intended to evince the potential risk that the child or childrenare exposed to. If the family court finds that the potential risk to the childor children is too high then the court may rule that custody should be removedfrom the parents and given – either temporarily or permanently – to the State(Schepard, 2004). Such children are referred to as ‘looked after’ children, andprovision for such children has been the subject of much recent governmentdiscussion and legislation.
Family courts have recently been the subject ofmuch controversy and criticism. The ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ campaign hasbeen particularly prominent and is scarifying of the tendency of family courtsto seemingly always grant custody to mothers and to neglect the human andlegislative rights of fathers. The group has even published the ‘Blueprintfor Family Law in the 21st Century’ towards this end. AndrewSchepard, amongst many others, has written of the need for radical revision ofthe family court system so as to promote parity of rights between fathers and mothers.
Only when this happens, it is argued, will family courts be able to makerulings that ensure the best and fairest outcome for the welfare of the childor children involved. The case of Sebastian and Belle Yanovsky has not yetreached the point where a family court has been convened. Mr. Yanovsky and Ms. Butler are still together and so there has been no private application byeither parent for sole custody of Sebastian and Belle. Nonetheless, given theseriousness of Sebastian’s and Belle’s physical and emotional abuse, it may bethat care services feel it necessary to recommend in future that custody beremoved from both parents.
If such a recommendation were made then Mr. Yanovskyand Ms. Butler would have to attend a family court to decide whether they werefit to have the custody of their children. The basic function of the ‘looked after’ childrenreview system is to maximize the government’s provision of care for ‘lookedafter’ children. The government has pledged to ensure that ‘looked after’children receive exactly the same opportunities for education, healthcare,social experience and security as other children. There should be no discriminationor prejudice against ‘looked after’ children.
The government has made severallegislative and policy requirements of local government with respect to ‘lookedafter’ children. For instance, a review of existing ‘looked after’ childrenprovision is integral to the Children and Young People Plan (CYPP) whichevery local authority is obliged to have begun by April 2006. Local governmentimplementation of the Adoption of Children Act 2002 is also vital toboost rates of adoption for ‘looked after’ children and to increase thelikelihood of such adoption succeeding. Integral to the view is the EveryChild Matters ethos, whereby the government seeks to uarantee equalopportunities for all children in the United Kingdom. The government’s proposedpackage for improving the provision for ‘looked after’ children includes someof these features: a national helpline to recognize carer help, theintroduction of minimum allowances, increasing training chances for fosterworkers, the introduction of a reward scheme and so on. These measures are allintended to improve the lives and educational and social opportunities for’looked after’ children. This educational responsibility of local governmentwas set-out in the Protection of Children Act 1999.
The ChoiceProtects scheme was also introduced in March 2002 to ensure that ‘lookedafter’ children find more secure homes and have a greater choice over their ownlives. The government’s 2003 Social Exclusion Unit Report: A BetterEducation for Children in Care made numerous recommendations about possibleimprovement to the educational provision for ‘looked after’ children. Perhapsthe most important of these measures were the introduction of explicitguidelines for school governors as to the educational needs of ‘looked after’children, and, secondly, advice for foster carers about the educational needsof the children under their protection.
Sebastian and Belle Yanovsky are not yet ‘lookedafter’ children, since Ms. Jo Butler is their biological mother. As such, theabove provisions for ‘looked after’ children are not directly relevant toSebastian and Belle. Nonetheless, given the seriousness of the risks posed toSebastian and Belle there is a strong chance that these children will become’looked after’ children in future. If this happened then clearly all of theabove provisions and changes to provisions featured in theAdoption ofChildren Act would affect the Yanovsky children directly.
The purpose of a child protection conference isto convene in one place and at one time all the relevant people interested inthe care of a particular child: care professionals, medical practitioners, police,lawyers and so on. Before the introduction of child protection conferences thechild protection system was often highly inefficient and ineffectual sincevarious agencies worked independently of each other and had little or no communicationbetween themselves. This confusion increased a child’s risk of abuse sincethere was little or no sharing of information between the various relevantagencies.
Child protection conferences aim to increase communication betweenchild protection agencies and therefore reduce the risk of abuse to the child. Child protection conferences are convened when care services have made aninitial assessment of the risk to a particular child and then decide thatfurther investigation is necessary. The professionals who attend childprotection conferences must make an evaluation of the welfare of the child,determine the likelihood of physical or emotional abuse to the child, anddecide whether that child ought to be placed on the Child ProtectionRegister.
Care professionals must also decide whether legal proceedingsought to be brought on behalf of the child, and whether there ought to be acriminal investigation also. If these professionals think it necessary to placea child on the Child Protection Register then they must also design a ChildProtection Plan to control future proceedings towards ensuring the safetyof the child. These plans clearly define what duties each care agency has forthe protection of the child, and ensure that there is coherent and productivecommunication between these individual agencies.
After the initial conference afurther meeting can be convened after three months and then further six monthlyconferences if felt necessary. Applied to the Yanovsky and Butler case study, a childprotection conference might have the following consequences. The Yanovsky’ssocial worker (no name), Mrs. Wilma Connelly (the health visitor), arepresentative from the Garthdee Family Centre, the police and otherprofessionals would meet to discuss the risk posed to Sebastian and BelleYanovsky.
These professionals would use various criteria to produce a total riskassessment posed the Yanovsky children. In this instance, the risks to theYanovsky children might appear to be very high. There are serious questions therisk Mr. Yanovsky poses as a sexual predator: he offended a seventeen-year-oldchild in 1992 and he was recently arrested for a Breach of the Peace for anincident in a womens’ public toilet. Moreover, Mr. Yanovsky and Ms. Butleradmitted to police incidents of ‘mutual violence’ between themselves.
The medical reports for Sebastian and Belle are also extremely concerning. Belle was recently admitted to Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital because ofvomiting; upon inspection she was found to have a fractured right leg, threesimilar injuries and two cracked ribs. The medical staff thought these highlyunlikely to be caused by accident. A further risk for consideration by theconference might be the quality of housing of the Yanovsky children. Based uponthese various risk factors the members of the conference might decide to placeboth Sebastian and Belle on the Child
Protection Register. The conference wouldalso need to produce a Child Protection Plan; this plan might stress the needfor greater care provision for Ms. Butler, and counseling for both Mr. Yanovsky, Ms. Butler and, separately, their children. Given the particularlyharrowing details of the case, the conference might recommend that Sebastianand Belle be removed from their parents for their protection. The conference mightalso recommend criminal proceedings against the Mr. Yanovsky and Ms. Butler onaccount of the injuries caused to their children.
The criminal justice system, under the ChildProtection Procedures of the Children Act 1989, allows and sets outguidelines for the prosecution of particularly serious offences againstchildren. The Child Protection Team (CPT) has the responsibility to investigateallegations of abuse against vulnerable children. In the Yanovsky case, theinjuries against Sebastian and Belle were thought by Dr. R. Williamson andPolice Surgeon Dr. Mike Heron to be ‘obviously inflicted upon the child’- they were deliberate. The police felt that both Mr.
Yanovsky and Ms. Butlerhad failed to offer plausible explanations for the injuries to Belle. Given theseriousness of the injuries to Belle, the Child Protection Team might decide torecommend that charges of abuse be brought against either Mr. Yanovsky or Ms. Butler, or both. If it became so serious that charges of sexual abuse were deemednecessary by the CPT then these would be issued under the Sex Offenders Act1997. In conclusion, the main practical issues to beaddressed in the case of the Yanovsky children are as follows.
Paramount, ofcourse, is the issue of the safety and welfare of Sebastian and Belle. Clearlythere is a high risk of continued physical and emotional risk against bothchildren. Temporarily and short-term, the Yanovsky’s social worker hasrecommended that Jo Butler receive extra care provision for Sebastian. Theprofessionals involved in the case may decide to convene a Child ProtectionConference, where after Sebastian and Belle may be placed on the ChildProtection Register and have a Child Protection Plan drawn up to determine howthey should be cared for in the coming months and years.
The suggestions ofabuse against Belle are so serious that the State may decide to seek to removecustody of the children from Mr. Yanovsky and Ms. Butler. The Child ProtectionTeam may also consider it necessary to bring criminal charges against theparents for physical abuse. If custody were removed, then, under the Adoptionof Children Act it would be necessary to give Sebastian and Belle thestatus of ‘looked after’ children and so to implement the provisions that arejoined to this status. BIBLIOGRAPHY Booth, M. (1996). Avoiding Delay in Children Act Cases.
Routledge& Paul Kegan, London. Hanson, R. K. (1997). What Do We Know About Sex Offender RiskAssessment. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 4. Holder, W & Corey, M. (1986) Child Protective ServicesRisk Management: A Decision Making Handbook. Action for ChildProtection, Charlotte, N. C. Rushton, A. (2003). The Adoption of Looked After Children. Social Care Institute for Excellence, London. Schepard, A. I. (2004) Children,Courts and Custody. Hofstra University, New York. Warman, A. Adoption and Looked After Children: InternationalComparisons.
Family Policies Study Centre, Oxford. The Children Act (1989), Her Majesty’s Government. www. dfes. gov. uk/publicaions/childrenactrepor The Children Act (2004), Her Majesty’s Government. www. dfes. gov. uk/publications/childrenreport The Protection of Children Act (1999), Her Majesty’sGovernment. www. dfes. gov. uk/publications/protectionofchildrenact The Adoption and Children Act (2002), Her Majesty’s Government. www. dfes. gov. uk/publications/adoptionofchildrenact The Sex Offenders Act (1997), Her Majesty’s Government. www. dfes. gov. uk/publications/sexoffendersact