Child protection is a fine tightrope and the consequences of getting it wrong are horrific. Panorama shown on Monday night looked at whether faulty medical evidence associated with bone fractures in infants had resulted in parents being wrongly accused of abuse. It was clear that some had, with devastating results. It was utterly heart-breaking to watch.
It is a story that should be told, especially in the context of the secrecy of the family courts. Parents expressed their experience of feeling bull-dozed by the system, kept in the dark over crucial evidence and silenced. There has been a campaign to open up the family court to more scrutiny so that justice where families and children are concerned is done in public. With the right safeguards in place, this is the right way to go.
The problem with secrecy and silencing is it creates a vacuum which gets filled with conspiracy theories (fools rush in) and sloppy and sensationalist reporting. Miscarriages of justice, without proper public scrutiny and opportunity to learn lessons are translated into frightening fantasies about baby-snatching social workers. An environment of mistrust and hate develops and before you know it we are all in a state of panic: good (parent) is pitched against evil (social worker). Parents are given terrible advice (‘leave the country’). The bests interests of children are not served.
Opening up the family courts to more scrutiny will take bravery and care. In return we must come to a more thoughtful and less simplistic understanding of a complex subject. Social Services may have to find more courage to defend their decisions, the media will have to give them the right to reply, medical experts may have to exercise a little more humility and the public and the media will definitely have to ready themselves to face some uncomfortable truths.
My own experience is this. I am an adopter. Our children were abused and neglected in a way which is not pleasant to read about in a newspaper. Their birth family were given many, many opportunities to improve and did not. The children stayed in their care for too long. The court process took too long. The consequences for the children have been devastating and will be life-long. There were no doubts over the medical evidence and social workers acted professionally and as quickly as they were able to. Birth family members professed their innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Justice in the true sense of the word was not done but our children were found a place of safety, by the state. Child protection is by it’s very nature imperfect, messy and complicated.
This is not an experience which fits the moment or suits the conspiracy theorists but it’s one which will have to be faced, just like the miscarriages of justice, when the family courts are opened up.
Panorama was right to highlight the issues it did but it was annoyingly sloppy and sensational in parts. It blamed social workers for what was faulty medical evidence and it suggested that miscarriages of justice were associated with panic surrounding the deaths of children such as Daniel Pelka and Peter Connelly. It also failed to robustly question advice given by a Member of Parliament that families who believe themselves to be wrongly accused take their child overseas, out of the reach of social services. Some people abuse their children and lie about it . And that’s an uncomfortable truth too.
Very well written.
My experience with children’s services is that if anything the parents are given the benefit of the doubt and often 2nd and 3rd chances while the children continue to suffer in and out of care until they are too old or too damaged to be adopted.
What this programme showed is the inconsistency in the family courts. Children being taken away from innocent parents is inexusable and children being returned or left with abusive parents.
Something definitely needs to change,
I completely agree with you. Thanks for commenting.
Thanks Sally for a very calm and reasoned response. I watched the programme and had very mixed emotions. none were very hopeful! As an adopter I have experienced both the good and bad sides of the social work system. I have to confess to having very terrifying thoughts of running away with my daughter when the system response to her post adoption needs were to blame me and institutionalise her. The thought of losing her was one of the most painful feelings i have ever had. However running away would have been utterly the wrong thing for me to do for her in the long term. Families have to cooperate, remain calm, think of positive solutions and not expect social workers to perform miracles or take risks that may lead to further harm to children. My daughter also stayed too long in a birth family situation where she was being damaged. It was right she was removed but it could have been done woth more honesty, empathy and better professional practice. I would like to hope that support, humanity, honesty and kindness is cultivated and offered to all who become involved in child protection, parents, kin, social workers, foster carers and adopters and most especially to children and young people who are the most important people to focus on.
The whole system needs to open up to scrutiny and be honest, showing the reality of successes and failures, the horrors of abuse and the tragedy of dysfunctional patents in an effort to bring people together in children’s best interests rather than as you say create gaps within which divide and misinformation is created.
Would love to read your response to the programme on adoption parties tonight!
Thank you for your very thoughtful thoughts! I haven’t directly experienced feeling marginalised and ‘branded’ (well, maybe within the health system) but I have seen at close quarters how easily this can happen and how difficult it is to counter. There is some great social work practice out there and some not great at all. Unless it can be spotted and examined and learned from no one benefits. I wonder if there is a need for some kind of independent body, similar to OFCOM who can be approached by families who feel unfairly treated. Good private-sector companies encourage customer complaints because it gives them the opportunity to improve the service they provide. Why not the same in this field (or perhaps it exists and I don’t know about it).
Beautifully written, my thoughts exactly, you managed to put it all in to words much better than I could have even began to translate in to text the sadness and anger that swirled in my own head
Thank you Mrs Family of 5. I watched it the following day which helped, after I’d absorbed my twitter feed (which contained some very rude words).
Have read all you wrote and will say that in some cases parents are given chances
But on the other there are cases well known to myself where no chance was ever given to the parent who was left grieving after her child was removed for reason beyond me and no matter what the social services have them no chance at all
It started to become a personal battle between parent and social workers and the main issue of the child was just forgotten
That parent never have up and never will as evidence showed no harm had happened to the child or a prior child … Never the less due to the mother being subjected to a horrendous ordeal ( raped and beaten from a young age ) and after fleeing from this she and finding a new life she lost her baby at birth
I have been campaigning for years against draconian acts like forced adoption.
The real crime is the fact that social workers work to targets and get paid incentives for reaching them.
Imagine a village where there is no bad parents but the targets exist. If the council does not reach them they are branded unfit for purpose.
Do you think in that village kids would be safe. Of course not