Written by The Guardian Social Life Blog
In a response to the growing number of child sexual abuse allegations, David Cameron has argued that social work interventions and specifically child protection work can be delivered by using “common sense”. Higher education institutions delivering social work education and training have also been criticised for focusing on theory and avoiding practice issues, being too left wing, and concentrating on sociological and intellectual materials at the expense of training students how to be social workers.
These criticisms aren’t levelled at other professions, such as nurses and lawyers, that work with vulnerable groups and individuals. And this leads me to question what these criticisms are really about.
Social work education and practice is distinct from other professions, and is underpinned by a commitment to social justice. Social work seeks to tackle inequality and discrimination by bringing a unique perspective to society and human behaviour. It’s also important for social workers to have a willingness to change and critically reflect on our work. In addition, we are governed by a set of professional values that students and practitioners must abide by.
These critiques of social work education are not new, and are largely ideologically driven, espoused by politicians and commentators who view childcare social work as about rescuing children from wicked parents.
In England, there is a political appetite to remove social work education and continuing professional development from universities, and instead fund private businesses to train student social workers and future social work leaders (such as Frontline). There is, as yet, no evidence that these training programmes work or are effective or able to resolve the issues, such as rescuing children from abusive parents before it’s too late. Nor, as far as I am aware, is there an appetite for privatisation of social work education in Scotland.
Students who attend university are motivated by more than just their course of study. They establish long-term affiliations with an academic institution and access many other developmental opportunities, including sporting activities, societies, community volunteering, as well as making new friends and relationships. In the universities I have worked in, I still meet students who are the first member of their family to go to university. The widening participation agenda is particularly pertinent to social work students, who often enter study through a non-traditional route, bringing a wealth of personal experience as well as a drive to make their world a better place.
Contrary to political opinion, social work academics are not divorced from practice once they are based in universities. There are many ways in which we retain involvement in and understanding of practice – through partnerships with agencies, undertaking research with and about social work services, and people who use these services, including parents and carers. Most social work academics work directly with students and placement providers, supporting students through their practice learning as well as in their academic work.
Social work academics are also willing to fail students who do not achieve the required grades, or meet the standards for social work practice. Student social workers have the same opportunities as other students to retake assessed work, whether that is academic or practice based. But regulation of the profession means that students must achieve specific learning and professional goals in order to register for practice. In a nutshell, social work academics in universities take the training of their students very seriously.
The decision follows a review that the College took of its business model with the Department of Health and Department for Education. The College had proposed taking on additional roles, such as post-qualifying training, as other professional bodies too. That would have helped secure the necessary funding to continue.
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Jo Cleary, chair of the college, told Community Care: ”I’m devastated with the government’s decision about the future of The College of Social Work. This is a very dark day for social work and for the people that social workers support.
“There has never been a more critical time for social work to be a well-regarded and well-respected profession. The College is very proud of what it has achieved over its very short life.”
A Government spokesman said: “Good social workers can transform the lives of families and individuals in vulnerable circumstances. That is why we are committed to improving the quality of social work, investing over £100m a year to improve the status of the profession and boost the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, and have invested in driving up quality in frontline social work. We have also set high standards for the profession and are backing quality training and development and new teaching partnerships to improve practice.
“It was always the objective of the College to become financially self-sufficient and independent from government. The decision to stop funding the College has not been taken lightly and follows years of Government backing to establish the College and help it become an important advocate in raising the status and standards of the profession.
“Since its inception in 2009, we have supported the College with over £8m to establish it as an independent organisation. We have also invested £100m through the Innovation Programme to kick-start new approaches to support vulnerable children and families. We will continue to work closely with the Chief Social Workers and the profession to champion and improve the social work profession sector.”
Source – BBC News
Police have been investigating the conduct of social workers involved in the case of an alleged paedophile ring, a court has heard.
Six women and four men deny playing any part in the sexual abuse in Norfolk.
The abuse is said to have been carried out against two boys and three girls in and around Norwich and London.
Norwich Crown Court was told two social workers working for Norfolk County Council were alleged to have “tidied up” documents.
Prosecutor Angela Rafferty QC told the court the children were “sexually and physically abused and neglected… in the early parts of their lives”.
Marie Black, 34, from Norwich, denies 26 offences, including four counts of rape and two of conspiracy to rape.
She also denies charges including neglect and ill-treatment, sexually assaulting children under 13, conspiracy to cause children to watch sexual acts and causing child pornography.
Nine others are accused of offences including rape, child cruelty, causing children under 13 to engage in sexual activity and sexual assault.
They are Michael Rogers, 53, from Romford; and Jason Adams, 43, Carol Stadler, 59, Anthony Stadler, 63, Nicola Collins, 36, Andrew Collins, 52, Judith Fuller, 31, Denise Barnes, 43, and Kathleen Adams, 84, all from Norwich.
All deny all charges, except Mr Adams, who admits four of five child cruelty charges against him.
Source: The Guardian
Yiannis greeted me at the entrance of the drop-in centre for homeless people in Athens, Greece. You could sense that there was a time when he would have been considered a good-looking man, but now his hair hung in un-kept strands and his clothes, while clean, were ill-fitting and crumpled. He spoke English reluctantly but thoughtfully, pausing while he searched for the right word.
Yiannis acted as my guide, showing me around the centre. “Anyone can come here. All you need is a need. No papers – it’s okay, no ID,” he explained. “We have only one rule in this building.” He raised his thumb and two fingers to his nose. “It must smell like a home.”
We walked from one room to the next, meeting other members of the community and applying the sniff test as he told me his story. A lifetime ago he was a construction worker in Athens, but in 2009 everything stopped. “One minute you went to work, and then … nothing.”
Before the financial crisis, which saw unemployment rise to 28%, Yiannis dreamed of sending his two daughters to university. They lived in an apartment that he had refurbished. His wife worked part-time in a café and together they nearly earned €900 (£652) a month, enough to live on.
The first sign of trouble was having the electricity cut off when they could not pay the €200 the company wanted. Later, when they were evicted from their apartment, they moved to the home of his wife’s parents in another province. His family of four slept in the lounge, but not being able to provide for them was too much. “I thought everyday I will have a heart attack, no sleep, I wasn’t so nice to be around,” he said.
Yiannis left his family and went back to the capital in search of work. He slept next to a bookshop because there was lighting that made him feel safe, and looked through rubbish bins for food. “An old friend walked past and looked right at me but didn’t recognise [me],” he said. “Thank God. I would rather be dead.”
After saying that he would be delighted to show me around the centre any time, Yiannis introduced me to one of the social workers, Christina, a woman in her late 30s, with perhaps 15 years of post-graduation practice behind her. She told me that she had worked in both the public and NGO sectors and liked this agency. “I can just be a social worker,” she said. “I don’t have to justify social work to my managers because they understand it.”
I asked for an example of what that meant. “This is a community of people, not a day centre for the homeless,”she replied. “Everybody’s dignity and humanity is safe in here.”
The centre runs entirely on donations from those less aversely affected by the financial crash. There is a community pharmacy, where they collect medications that people don’t need anymore, and a small examination room staffed by a volunteer doctor.
Greeks and migrants that have no papers or fixed address cannot access healthcare. Since government austerity began, the poorest people in Greece have lost 86% of their income, causing widespread social insecurity. There has been a sharp rise in men carrying out suicide, often because there is no work and they cannot provide for their families. Social spending has been dramatically reduced in both the private and public sectors.
As a result, grassroots organisations made up of social workers, neighbourhood committees, students and social movements have created organic networks of social solidarity that support people who do not have access to the shrinking welfare services. In addition to projects like the centre, social workers and community members voice their concerns by peaceful protest and have created an environment of solidarity and hope for the future.
As I was leaving the centre, I asked Christina if her pay had been cut. Her expression changed. “I haven’t been paid for nine months,” she said. I tried to reconcile how she had conducted herself with such professionalism and commitment in an agency that had not paid her wages. I asked how she had survived. “My husband and two children, we are all staying with relatives and our food comes from the Red Cross,” she said.
I asked what it was like working in a centre for the homeless without a permanent home herself. “It’s not always easy. I have to keep my family’s needs out of here so that I can stay focused on my social work role,” she said.
The most worrying thing is that Yannis and Christina’s experiences are normal. Christina has helped Yannis to re-establish contact with his family and they are again living together in an over-crowded house without electricity. He is now helping many others who have found themselves homeless and without food. Many middle class professionals like Christina have tumbled into poverty and insecurity. Their bonds and informal networks have kept them alive but these are wearing thinner, and after six years of austerity everyone is wondering how much longer they can continue.
Source – BBC News
The caseload of Nottinghamshire social workers has left it impossible for them to do the job safely, an expert claims.
Newly released figures showed that last year social workers in the county dealt with an average of 23 cases at any one time. The English average was 16.
Ex-social worker Ailsa Pearce said it was impossible to do the job safely with that number of cases.
County Hall said it had been recruiting staff and the average caseload figure was 13 this week.
The government recently compiled the figures, revealing that across the East Midlands the average caseload is higher than anywhere else in England and higher still in Nottinghamshire.
‘Relentlessly flat out’
Ms Pearce was an experienced senior social worker who left the county council because of the pressure of the job.
She said social work standards in Nottinghamshire remained “very high”.
“[But] the quality of overall social work has to be affected when you are working relentlessly flat out with very, very stressful cases and very, very difficult circumstances,” she said.
“Some social workers had 35 children on their case load and one person had 42.”
Nushra Mansuri from the British Association of Social Workers, said the figures were “worrying”, pointing out that each case could include a family of several youngsters.
Because of cuts, she said, it also meant only the most serious of cases are dealt with.
‘They are manageable’
“Children’s services should not be crisis driven,” Ms Mansuri explained.
“There needs to be proper investment… financial investment, but also investment in support services.”
Steve Edwards, the county council’s service director for children’s social care, said that this week the average caseload was 13, but admitted it could be much higher.
“That doesn’t mean social workers always have caseloads of 13, they don’t. [But] they don’t have caseloads of 35 or 40 plus, generally that wouldn’t happen.
“On average, caseloads in Nottinghamshire are between 14 and the low 20s, so they are manageable.”
He added the council had invested in and recruited staff who do an “excellent job keeping children safe”.
Written by the Guardian:
Officer leading Operation Hydrant inquiry says out of 1,433 alleged offenders 76 were politicians, 43 were from music industry and 135 were from TV, film or radio
Police across the country are investigating more than 1,400 men – including 261 high-profile individuals – over allegations of child abuse in the past, a senior officer running the national operation has revealed.
The scale of alleged child abuse across society – both recent and non-recent – was stark, said Ch Const Simon Bailey, who runs Operation Hydrant, the national coordinating team overseeing the various inquiries.
Figures from police forces in England and Wales published on Wednesday reveal that 1,433 men have been identified in reports of alleged abuse by victims, since the operation was set up in 2014.
Of these 216 are dead, 76 are politicians, both national and local figures, 43 are from the music industry, 135 from TV, film or radio and seven from the world of sport. The cases include recent high-profile convictions, including Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and Max Clifford.
Hundreds of institutions have been identified by victims of non-recent abuse as places where their abuse took place. These include 154 schools, 75 children’s homes, 40 religious institutions, 14 medical establishments, 11 community groups, nine prisons or young offender institutions, nine sports venues and 28 other places including military establishments.
Bailey warned that the number of victims could run into the hundreds of thousands, and called for much more support for survivors of child abuse. He said he believed that the enormous increase in reports of all types of child sexual abuse – which have risen by 71% since 2012 to 116,000 reports this year – was not just down to more victims coming forward.
Instead, Bailey warned that the internet was creating the opportunity for more abuse to take place, and said live-streaming of child abuse on mobile phones was the next challenge facing law enforcers.
Bailey said the number of reports of abuse, both by adults of historical abuse, and by children today, was increasing on a daily basis, and the figures released on Wednesday were just a snapshot of the challenge faced by the police and society as a whole.
He supported calls for much more funding for victims of child abuse. “The government has allocated millions of pounds to provide additional support, but I am not sure that is going to be enough. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of victims,” he said.
Of the 116,000 reports of child sexual abuse this year, 52,446 are allegations of sexual abuse in the past, some involving cases going back decades. This amounts to a 166% increase in reports of non-recent abuse, said Bailey.
Detectives on Operation Hydrant are coordinating the many investigations into non-recent abuse involving both high-profile individuals and institutions, from a hub in Sheffield.
A team from Operation Hydrant is liaising with Justice Goddard to support the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.
Each of the 1,433 suspects has been put into a major crime database, which is cross referenced to ensure that no inquires are being duplicated and to identify suspects whose offending crossed borders. So far 30 individuals have been identified in one or more of the investigations.
Bailey said the figures were stark. “This year I am anticipating an estimated 116,000 reports of child sexual abuse will be received, that is a 71% increase since 2012, so it gives you some idea of the scale of this.
“What we are seeing is an absolutely unprecedented increase in the number of reports that are coming forward. That has brought about a step-change in the way the police service has had to deal with this. We are rising to and meeting the challenge, this is what Operation Hydrant is about.”
Bailey said the Hydrant team was working to create a database which would try to ensure that the failures of the past – as identified in the Jimmy Savile case – would not be repeated.
During the investigation of the late Radio 1 DJ it emerged that intelligence and information, including reports of abuse, were buried in the system – in some cases to prevent leaks – which meant when individual police forces with their own allegations checked the national police computer database his name did not come up.
“One of our primary objectives is to make sure where we get intelligence and where we get evidence of abuse it is being coordinated so we don’t make those mistakes. That particular case showed mistakes were made and he was able to go on and continue further abusing. The whole idea is that we don’t make those mistakes again,” he said.
Bailey said everyone from teachers, GPs, parents and wider society had a duty to look out for signs of abuse. He said: “We face a massive challenge in terms of resources, time and expertise to balance offering routes of justice for those who suffered in the past while safeguarding and protecting children in a vulnerable position today.”
Sheila Taylor, from the national working group on child sexual exploitation, said a massive public health campaign was needed to address the scale of child abuse within society.
John Brown from the NSPCC said the failure to support victims amount to a public health problem. “That is the issue. We are not helping children and adult victims to recover and there are huge costs to society, there are economic considerations and individual psychiatric costs.”
Tom Watson, the Labour MP whose claims made in the Commons that there was a paedophile network linked to parliament triggered a Scotland Yard investigation, said: “The sheer number of allegations just shows why there should be a dedicated national police response to child abuse inquiries. Intelligence gathering and data sharing will be far easier were there to be a dedicated team comprising of specialists from around the country.
“We are only just beginning to understand how as a country, over many generations, we managed to turn a blind eye to Britain’s child abuse scandal. The survivors deserve justice and future generations require greater protection.”
Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac), said: “The scale and scope of sexual abuse of children committed in the past can often seem overwhelming. What these figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council do is to provide some degree of measure of the issue.
“And what a measure it is; prolific offenders from all spheres of society, thinking they were untouchable, abusing children and the most vulnerable in settings where they should have been safest , including schools, care facilities and religious institutions.”
Coming in the wake of horrific stories of neglect in places such as Rotherham and Oxfordshire, the plan is to be put forward by the prime minister at a Downing Street summit. Cameron will say: “Professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.”
Child sexual abuse is to be upgraded to the status of “a national threat”, so that it is placed on a par with serious organised crime by police chiefs and elected police commissioners in their strategic planning. They will be required to cooperate with other police forces across county boundaries to safeguard children.
Cameron believes his plan to extend the offence of wilful neglect beyond the health service and adult social care sector to a far wider group of public service workers will send out a message that child abuse can no longer be regarded as a second order issue by public service workers. He hopes the reforms will herald a culture change and come close to meaning that public service workers would lose criminal immunity if they failed to report or act on clear evidence of abuse.
The wilful neglect or ill treatment offence was first introduced in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act passed earlier this year. It applies to individual care workers or care provider organisations looking after children and adults in the NHS and adult care homes. Some critics have claimed that the measure is likely to threaten the desired culture of openness in dealing with the problem and could lead to scapegoating, whereby individuals are blamed for organisational failings or lack of public funding. But Cameron will say: “It is about making sure that the professionals we charge with protecting our children – the council staff, police officers and social workers – do the jobs they are paid to do.”
Police and social services in Oxfordshire are expected to be heavily criticised on Tuesday in a report that will conclude that more than 300 young people, mostly girls, have been groomed and sexually exploited by gangs in the past 15 years. One social worker in Oxfordshire recently told a trial that nine out of 10 of those responsible for the wellbeing of the girls were aware of what was going on.
In Rotherham, it was estimated by Professor Alexis Jay in August that at least 1,400 children were sexually abused over a number of years. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has sent commissioners to run almost all aspects of the council for four years.
Cameron is to order that exit payments be denied to senior staff found to have ignored evidence of abuse. Local health and child professionals, in conjunction with councillors, will be obliged to prepare long-term practical plans to uncover child sexual exploitation and bring more offenders to justice. Failure would incur tough consequences.
Cameron said all the inquiries into child abuse had found a systemic failing and a culture of denial. He has already proposed the implementation of joint official health, police and education inspections and the creation of a child sexual abuse taskforce of professional troubleshooting experts in social work, law enforcement and health to provide support.
Cameron said: “We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country. Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet – often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness. That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated.”
Cameron is aware that Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been trying to exploit the evidence of child abuse by members of ethnic minorities to demand tougher action. Speaking on Fox News in the US last week, Farage said the reason child sexual abuse in Rotherham had not been dealt with earlier was that “the police and the authorities were frightened that because the perpetrators were predominantly Pakistani Muslim men that, if they said anything about it, they might get called racists. So, we have been frightened of our own shadows.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the Cameron plan did not go far enough. “Stronger laws are needed to protect children. The government should bring forward a legal duty to report child abuse, a new specific offence of child exploitation, and new child abduction warning notices. However, ministers voted against these last week.
“Most important of all, we desperately need proper, compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to teach young people about consent and healthy relationships. However, the government is continuing to refuse to bring it in.”
Written by The Independent:
And now, here he is again, peering up at another brick building on another urban street in another city that’s dabbling with his models. “This building,” he declares of the Irving Street structure, “is great.”
He pauses for a moment, eyes flashing.
“See that sign over there? It says, ‘Now Leasing.’ That’s what we look for.”
It’s that simple, he said. Give homes for the homeless, and you will solve chronic homelessness.
To the uninitiated, this may sound strange. Not because it doesn’t make sense. But because it’s so simple that to call it innovation would seem an insult to the likes of Thomas Edison. To think that, however, would underestimate how utterly radical Tsemberis’s proposition — give homes to addicts and drunks and schizophrenics without preconditions — once seemed. And still kind of does.
The truth is, we thought the earth was flat,” said Richard Bebout, a Washington scholar of homelessness who was once critical of Tsemberis’s work. “But here he was saying the earth is round, and we said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Homeless services once worked like a reward system. Kick an addiction, get a home. Take some medication, get counseling. But Tsemberis’s model, called “housing first,” said the order was backward. Someone has the best chance of improving if they’re stabilized in a home.
It works like this: First, prioritize the chronically homeless, defined as those with mental or physical disabilities who are homeless for longer than a year or have experienced four episodes within three years. They’re the most difficult homeless to reabsorb into society and rack up the most significant public costs in hospital stays, jail sentences and shelter visits.
Then give them a home, no questions asked. Immediately afterward, provide counseling, a step research shows is the most vital. Give them final say in everything — where they live, what they own, how often they’re counseled.
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“People thought this was crazy,” said Tsemberis, who today runs Pathways to Housing. “They said, ‘You mean even when someone relapses and sells all the furniture you gave them … [to pay for] drugs, you don’t kick them out?’ And I said, ‘No, we do not.’”
Born in Greece and raised in Montreal, Tsemberis was never trained in how to treat the homeless. He repeats this point often. “I’m a psychologist,” he said. “I’m a clinician.”
And so, it perhaps came as a surprise when, in the early nineties, he took a job in New York City doing outreach for the mentally ill, which brought him into close contact with the homeless. He soon sank into their hidden world, noting the complexity of its social rules and survival tactics. How some experts perceived homelessness, he said he realized, was fundamentally flawed. This world’s denizens, in fact, were profoundly resourceful.
“We were equating the severity of diagnosis with ability to function,” he said. “But surviving in homelessness is labor intensive, exhausting and complicated. It calls for a skill set of functionality.”
Tsemberis’s task was to find the homeless, bring them in for help — sometimes against their will — and medicate them. “But I would see 30 percent of those people over and over and over again,” Tsemberis said. “We knew them by name and location and habit. We knew all of them.”
There was need of a change. So he assembled a very small, very unusual team. None of them had any training in homelessness. They, too, were outsiders. One was a recovering heroin addict. Another was a formerly homeless person. Another was a psychologist. And the last, Hilary Melton, was a poet and a survivor of incest.
“We were people who weren’t that far removed from the people we were serving,” recalled Melton, who runs Pathways Vermont. And so, over long conversations, they fashioned the rough contours of what would become housing first. “This was totally off the walls radical,” Melton said. “I remember the moment we took someone’s shopping carts in right off the streets and through the front door of an apartment, and left them there. It felt like Christmas morning.”
Tsemberis soon received $500,000 in federal funding, which he used to track what happened to 139 chronically homeless people who were immediately housed and offered counseling. In 1997, the results arrived. The small team couldn’t believe it. It showed a retention rate of nearly 85 percent. The next best model’s retention rate? Sixty percent.
Word spread. Tsemberis published another paper in 2000, this time in the respected Psychiatric Services, which ignited fierce debate in the homeless services community. Some loved it. Others thought Tsemberis was, if anything, naive.
Bebout, the Washington homelessness expert who now leads Green Door, a mental-health center, couldn’t understand why Tsemberis cared so much about housing aesthetics. Isn’t most important to just find a house, any house? “I said, ‘We’re not in the business of running pretty houses,’” remembered Bebout, who today is a fierce proponent of housing first. “The whole thing sounded nutty to us at the time. … But the data became so overwhelming.”
Jerome Jackson spent two decades on the streets struggling with mental illness before he heard about housing first (Terrence McCoy)
Success begat success. Several years later, the federal government tested the model on 734 homeless across 11 cities, finding the model dramatically reduced levels of addiction as well as shrank health related costs by half. “Adults who have experienced chronic homelessness may be successfully housed and can maintain their housing,” the report declared.
Around that time, the District got into the game. Between 2008 and 2010, the city added more than 1,200 units for the chronically homeless. One case study, which tracked 36 participants, showed 84 percent retention over two years. But then, the number of added homes plummeted. In 2012, only 121 units were added, and the District is still home to more than 1,700 chronically homeless, though Mayor Muriel Bowser’s new budget has since made the program a larger priority.
That inconsistency, Tsemberis and other experts say, can devastate the program. “We committed,” said Utah’s Gordon Walker, explaining how his state succeeded at eliminating homelessness — and saved millions. “It was costing us in state services, health-care costs, jail time, police time, about $20,000 per person. Now, we spend $12,000 per person.”
Still, in the District, stories of success poke through. Take Jerome Jackson. A drug addict with schizophrenia, he lived two decades on the streets. Then he heard about housing first. He wondered if the stories were true.
“They said they could find me a place fast; they told me not to worry,” Jackson said, at first alarmed that his addictions would exclude him from services. But they didn’t. “And lo and behold, they were right. I had a place in three months, and haven’t been homeless since.”
Written by Guardian 4th May 2015
A teenager younger than 18 who takes a nude selfie using a cameraphone is, under current law, guilty of the serious offence of creating child pornography. Photograph: Wavebreak Media/Alamy
Teenagers are being unfairly labelled as sex offenders for sending explicit messages to each other, campaigners have said.
They say criminalising 16- to 18-year-olds for sending explicit pictures to one another shows how disconnected the political establishment is from changes to technology and social values.
A teenager younger than 18 who takes a nude picture of themselves using a cameraphone is guilty of the serious offence of creating child pornography. This is the case even if they are over 16, the age of sexual consent.
In one case last year, a schoolgirl received a police caution for texting a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend. Police at the time warned that youngsters could find themselves on the sex offender register.
Myles Jackman, a lawyer who specialises in obscenity law, said: “It’s just not clear enough for young people to know that, despite being over the age of 16 and therefore the age of consent, they can’t take erotic selfies and send them until they are 18.
“This disparity between the age of consent – where a person can perform an act – and the age of representation – where a person can record or view that act – seems counterintuitive and dangerously against sex education.”
Jackman is a legal adviser to Backlash, an anti-censorship civil liberties campaign group that is raising the alarm over the discrepancy in the law. The group is extending its remit to give legal advice to young people threatened with prosecution for making sexual images of themselves and sharing them consensually on digital media.
A spokesman said: “When authorities find these images, teenagers themselves become subject to laws originally aimed at stopping child abuse, even though no abuse has taken place. These prosecutions cause immense mental distress, and disruption to education. A prosecution, regardless of sentencing outcome, severely harms the future life prospects of young people.”
The warning comes amid heightened moral panic around young people’s sexuality that campaigners say is being used to justify increasing internet censorship.
A since-discredited NSPCC survey claimed last month that a tenth of 12- to 13-year-olds had reported the “fear” that they were addicted to pornography.
Despite the subsequent revelation that the survey was produced by a marketing company, its results prompted the culture secretary, Sajid Javid, to declare that the Conservative party would introduce further measures to protect children from harmful material.
Concern over the impact of online porn in 2013 spurred the government to announce a scheme to force internet users to decide whether they wanted their provider to block websites showing adult content.
Most major internet service providers have signed up to the scheme, but a report published last year by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, found that about 60% of customers had chosen to switch them off.
In December, the government introduced widely criticised rules that ban producers of pornography from filming sexual activities such as spanking and bondage.
SCOTLAND’S social work chiefs have raised significant concerns about the impact of welfare cuts on the country’s most vulnerable children.
They believe the changes championed by Iain Duncan Smith when Work and Pensions Secretary will increase the number of youngsters living in poverty, placing them at a higher risk of abuse, poor health and low educational attainment.
They also said the reforms may lead to more children and young people ending up homeless, turning to drugs and getting involved in anti-social behaviour and crime.
The intervention comes as the debate over austerity and the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms continues to be a key issue in the lead-up to General Election on May 7.
The stark warning was made in a written submission by Social Work Scotland, formerly the Association of the Directors of Social Work, to a Holyrood committee.
“Scotland has achieved a decrease in child poverty rates in recent years. It is anticipated that welfare reform will undermine this progress,” it said.
“Research consistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are vulnerable to certain types of maltreatment – particularly neglect and physical abuse.
“Children in poverty have an increased risk of adverse experiences or negative outcomes – both long- and short-term. These include poor health (physical and mental), death from illness or accident, educational disadvantage and disaffection, unemployment, poverty during adulthood, criminalisation from anti-social behaviour or offending and are more likely to be victims of crime.”
It added: “Poverty is linked to violence, criminal damage and drug use more than other types of offending.”
Among the sweeping reforms introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster were a tightening of eligibility for sickness and housing benefits and a reduction in help with childcare for working parents through changes to tax credits.
The reforms also included a stepping up of sanctions on jobseekers breaching rules as well as the introduction of the the so-called “bedroom tax”, which reduces housing benefit to claimants assessed as having a spare bedroom in their home. The SNP have said they are scrapping the tax in Scotland.
The Social Work Scotland submission to Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee raised particular fears about the impact of Universal Credit – a new “super-benefit” replacing six existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, tax credits, Income Support and housing benefit.
It will mean households will have to pay their rents to a landlord rather than the rent being paid directly to the landlord by the state. The social work bosses fear households on tight budgets may end up not paying their rents and being evicted.
Their submission said: “Basically, children who experience homelessness are more likely to group up with respiratory illness, poor mental health and are twice as likely to leave school without basic qualifications.
“Increased homelessness is widely anticipated as a result of Universal Credit being paid directly to individuals.”
They also believe the reforms will increase pressure on frontline local authority services tasked with supporting the vulnerable, and that councils may lose revenue as households on tight budgets find it difficult to pay rent.
During the General Election campaign SNP and Labour have been battling over which party has the better alternative policies to welfare reforms, while the Conservatives insist the programme was necessary as a means of getting more people into work while strengthening the economy and cutting the budget deficit.
The Tories have also pledged to step up the reforms if re-elected, reducing the welfare budget by a further £12 billion a year by 2017-18 and reducing the benefits cap to £23,000 per household a year.
Last month Professor Steve Fothergill, of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, said welfare reforms would cost Scots £1.5bn a year by 2018, and households with young children would be hit by about two-thirds of the benefit losses.
The most recent statistics found more than half a million Scots were trapped in “severe or extreme poverty”, with the numbers rising by 100,000 a year.
The Scottish Government report found 510,000 people in Scotland living in “severe or extreme poverty” in 2012-13 – a sharp rise from 410,000 during the previous year. Severe poverty is defined as living with an income lower than £11,500, or 50 per cent of UK median income, while extreme poverty is defined as lower than £9,200, or 40 per cent of UK median income.
Alistair Gaw, vice-president of Social Work Scotland, is among the experts due to give evidence tomorrow to members of the welfare reform committee on the impact of welfare reform on vulnerable children and children’s social work services.