Kate Morris, Brid Featherstone and Sue White are right to suggest that we need to question the ways in which we protect children. And they are right to consider alternative approaches. In their Guardian article today they make some telling points.
I was particularly struck by their account of contemporary practice reality for child protection social workers: dashing from family to family, visit to visit, completing forms, directing parents to change their behaviour or to expel abusive partners immediately or by next week at the latest. It is a grim vision, but it has the ring of truth.
However, I do not think that in the end they deal satisfactorily with the inherent contradictions with which we are all faced. They write:
“However tempting it looks in the face of another tragedy, there is no easy moral mandate to rescue more and more children from impoverished families and communities. We need to understand and work with the relational ties of blood, kin, friendship, place and community. These are the primary contexts for the resolution of children's needs.”
Progressive as this argument sounds it does not deal effectively with the dilemma that confronts every social worker in every encounter that she or he has with abused and neglected children and their carers. In an ideal world ‘ties of blood, kin, friendship, place and community’ would be capable of being woven to prevent the catastrophic breakdown of care. But in the real world brutal and unrelenting social forces often result in these ties being irretrievably severed. The hopelessly addicted mother of Hamzah Khan or the viciously sadistic carers of Daniel Pelka are not easily seen as candidates for rehabilitation and support, no matter how optimistic the observer. And false optimism blinds us to the terrible dangers they pose. So for a particular child on a particular day there may be no meaningful choice between kinship and community on the one hand and state intervention on the other. The only choice may be that between the child facing continuing maltreatment in the home or being rescued and protected.
Sadly there is a stark analogy. We cannot transfer resources from the emergency ambulance service before road safety campaigns have been effective in reducing the number of accidents; at least not unless we are prepared to leave victims to die by the roadside.