GIRFEC for those of you who do not know stands for Getting It Right For Every Child and is a framework for a multiagency approach to meeting the needs of our children here in Scotland.
In theory and principle it is hard to disagree with much of it I feel, but our personal experience has left me with serious doubts about it.
At one level it really is a horrible example of ‘care speak’- the kind of language that creates barriers between ‘professionals’ and families affected. Take a look inside and you will find more. My son has recently been through the SHANARRI wheel – that’s Safe Healthy Achieving Nurtured Active Respected Responsible and Included- and the My World Triangle which is made up of many more vague and (conveniently ?) difficult to quantify concepts – learning to be responsible, guidance supporting me to make the right choice, local resources and enough money – are among the ones that can get to me – but there are many more.
At another level it bothers me that we have had to invent a concept and language for principles that should be at the centre of any civilised society. In essence GIRFEC is a tick list for all the components that should be there for all children but has developed out of a recognition that we are failing our future generations, while funding ridiculous monstrosities like W.M.D. and a bulging House of Lords.
What we have discovered to our children’s cost unfortunately is that GIRFEC is poorly understood and inconsistently applied by many professionals, often senior ones at that. Our social work manager thinks that reaching out to families with disabled children , who have not had social work input, should not come from him but from the ‘named person’ who would be the head teacher apparently. In our small rural school that means the headteacher has responsibility for close on 200 children to keep an eye on while responding to their changing needs. This simply does not work. If social work do not ‘reach out’ to children with disabilities pre and post diagnosis these families often have no idea how to access services. If the disability is not obvious – eg high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome or Tourette’s Syndrome, a teacher with ‘named person’ status might well struggle to engage with the issue affectively or at all. Our parent’s support group has many such cases even within our small town. Often such children can drift towards mental health problems associated with the anxiety from their undiagnosed / unrecognised/ poorly supported condition. Diagnostic services have long waiting lists and are stretched thinly often meaning considerable delays in diagnosis and therefore the correct supports. The average age for diagnosis of Asperger’s is often beyond a child’s primary school years. That means 7 years of struggling in many cases and a potentially unhappy and difficult childhood.
In our experience if social work can be seen to be struggling, education are running around in a fog of confusion, with no clear idea of what their role is.
To be fair to these agencies they are operating in a very difficult financial climate where services are being squeezed often out of all recognition of their intended functions. Managers are under severe pressure to conform to budget constraints and appease their seniors often to the degree of losing sight of their purpose.
Even with funding gaps, GIRFEC, is however enshrined in law and Local Authorities have a statutory obligation to fulfil these duties to our children. Similarly Additional Support for Learning needs require legally to be met adequately for every child.
In our locality it appears that due to savage cuts in budgets and services and professionals taking time to understand their roles in this new framework that the introduction of GIRFEC may not have improved life for many children yet.