Issues for the safety and wellbeing of children in families with multiple and complex problems

The co-occurrence of domestic violence, parental substance misuse, and mental health problems
NCPC Issues No. 33 – December 2010

Social exclusion: The wider context of multiple and complex problems

Families referred to child protection services are also commonly living within a broad context of isolation and disadvantage. Social exclusion manifests through multidimensional and interlinked problems - primarily poverty - but can also include unemployment, poor housing or homelessness, crime, substance addiction, teenage pregnancy, victimisation, poor education or job skills, poor health, lack of social capital and family dysfunction (Social Exclusion Unit, 2001). Bromfield (2005) concluded that the characteristics of "the socially excluded" mirrored many of the common risk factors for child abuse and neglect and that the majority of families involved with child protection services were socially excluded. Furthermore, research has also shown that early childhood trauma contributes to social disadvantage and exclusion (Frederick & Goddard, 2007). Poverty and social exclusion are major causes of the problems that child protection services deal with in practice, yet it is unrealistic to believe that child protection and family services practitioners have the power to end poverty and social exclusion (Beckett, 2003; Munro, 2005).

Systemic responses to social exclusion require attention to be focused upon the causes of structural, relational and distributional disadvantage that contribute to exclusion (Room, 1995). The role for practitioners is to focus upon the conditions and characteristics of the excluded, which require redress through the provision of holistic or "joined up" services (e.g., to tackle homelessness, poverty and isolation). Practitioners need to be supported to think outside their service silos and work with other services to ensure that the unique needs of families are met.