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Anti-MMR jab parents run risk of social services investigation

Anti-MMR jab parents run risk of social services investigation

🕔08.Apr 2013

jabParents who refuse to have their children immunised against potentially deadly viruses like measles could find themselves under investigation by social workers, according to new guidelines published by Birmingham City Council.

Failing to make sure babies attend health appointments and immunisation clinics features in a list of early warning signs that could warrant intervention by social services.

Patterns of regular absences from school are also highlighted as an indication that there may be problems at home. Any child with a less than 95 per cent attendance – more than nine days off school a year – should be regarded as a cause for concern, according to the guidance.

In these cases, social services is proposing selective use of the Family Commons Assessment Framework, a multi-agency conference of child welfare specialists, to “determine the family’s needs leading to a single agency action plan”.

The Meeting Children’s Needs document comes into force on April 15 and coincides with growing concern nationally about health risks to children who have not been given the MMR vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella.

Emergency measles clinics in south Wales were inundated recently with about 1,200 people being given the jab following an outbreak of the potentially fatal virus.

A sharp increase in the number of adults with measles is believed to be associated with fears in the late 1990s that the MMR vaccine could cause autism – a claim that was later found to be groundless.

Birmingham’s new approach is an attempt to simplify the complex rules setting out when social services should intervene in cases where it is suspected children could be at risk of abuse.

Social workers will be given a chart setting out three areas of concern, ranging from the lowest level where non-appearance at health clinics or too much time off school is a sign that something is wrong, to the highest level where severe or chronic health problems and signs of physical abuse warrant immediate intervention.

The second of the three levels kicks in when school attendance falls to below 85 per cent, or a child is excluded from school, or is exhibiting extremist language and becomes aligned to a street gang.

Other factors that may warrant intervention by the authorities include an “acrimonious” divorce of parents and any “change in behaviour or routine suggesting development of an inappropriate relationship”.

Birmingham children’s social care is in its fourth year of Government ‘special measures’ following a number of high-profile child deaths over several years. The department was branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and will be re-inspected shortly.

Social services bosses have been developing a new strategy aimed at identifying children that might go on to be at risk at a far earlier stage. It’s hoped that ever-increasing cost of taking youngsters into care can be trimmed by intervening at an earlier stage and keeping children with their families.

Peter Duxbury, appointed strategic director children, young people and families a year ago with a remit to shake up the failing service, said his new approach would make it easier for social workers to decide what action to take.

Mr Duxbury added: “One of the reasons for us not effectively meeting children’s needs in the past has been the passing of cases from one team to another and also the discussions between professionals and repeated assessments to decide which level of need the child can be fitted into.”

The new Meeting Children’s Needs model would provide children with “the right service at the right time”, he added.

Mr Duxbury continued: “This is a very important initiative. It sits alongside the work we have done on improving the quality of referrals and should lead to less time being wasted on discussions about thresholds and whether a child meets the criteria.”

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