A report into safeguarding in the Jewish community in Barnet has found evidence of a “massive” increase in mental health issues for children and young adults, with support services struggling to keep up.
The extensive report on family support and children’s services across the borough by two university researchers was presented at a meeting on Wednesday, attended by both local authority and Jewish representatives, and ended with a warning that cuts and financial pressures meant that Jewish kids “may fall through cracks”.
In the special report commissioned by Barnet, Professors Eleonore Kofman of Middlesex University and Margaret Greenfields of Buckinghamshire New University looked at why there was a “relative under-representation of Jewish children” in relation to safeguarding statistics.
Over 50 interviews, Kofman and Greenfields heard of the Jewish community’s “concern about the emotional wellbeing of children and young people and the limited routes available to them,” noting that parental separation and divorce are “major events” for Jewish children from strongly family-oriented and tight-knit communities.
Jewish respondents told them of a “massive increase” in mental health issues for youngsters in recent years. “Proportionally, it was argued that the strictly Orthodox community has exploded with mental health needs,” they wrote.
In a report highlighting several action areas, the authors said referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or Jewish charity JAMI were “not always suitable, particularly in relation to the cultural competence of some CAMHS staff,” noting “lengthy delays accessing services, by which time a child might have declined significantly”.
The problem was compounded by a lack of resources and support, they said. “Schools are often so overstretched that they are not able to deal with families under stress,” write the authors. “As a result, a combination of cuts, lack of resources and overstretched families could lead to children falling through the cracks.”
The professors said rising poverty played a role in the mental health of Barnet’s 54,000-strong Jewish community, with a “70-80 percent increase in take up of [poverty alleviation] services in the last 2-3 years,” as charities step in to help families who can’t afford kosher food or school uniforms.
Among the more positive points was evidence of Jewish organisations networking “both across and between denominations,” with frequent mention of “collaboration between more mainstream agencies including JAMI, JWA and Norwood and smaller, targeted services such as the London Jewish Family Centre,” which provides family support to the strictly Orthodox.
In addition, the authors said agencies supporting young people outside school, such as Noa Girls, the Boys Clubhouse and Gateways at JW3, “will at times cross-refer or address one another’s educational provisions, even if there would appear to be strong cultural or denominational barriers to engagement”.
One issue the council needed to consider, said Kofman and Greenfields, was the increasing use of services in Hackney by Barnet’s strictly Orthodox, who “will not use services they feel are not sufficiently observant… for example, where a TV, internet-connected computer or mainstream newspapers are visible”.
The authors say Barnet’s “less developed mechanisms” for Charedi Jews puts them at “a significant disadvantage” and suggests the council “develops closer engagement with this group” as well as mimicking Hackney’s model of joint commissioning with Jewish organisations with specialist knowledge.
Another recommendation was “cultural training” for social workers and others dealing with child protection, safeguarding and parental support, because “the most basic knowledge about the Sabbath, such as when it starts,” as well as customary practices with the strictly Orthodox, such as “not shaking hands with the opposite sex and dress codes for women,” was found to be “often lacking”.