Sunday, 22 April 2012

Learning lessons not scoring points

Inevitably journalist Christopher Booker writes at length in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph about the Baby Jayden case. 

Inevitably he uses this tragic case to bolster his general attack on the child protection system and the family courts with what seems to me reckless talk of “‘experts’ paid to get it horribly wrong” and of “judges who too readily accept it (experts' evidence)”.

But his blanket criticisms seem to offer no way forward. What would he have medics do when they are faced with what they believe to be a case of non-accidental injury? Go home and forget it?

There seems to be no question that all involved in this tragic case acted in good faith. Medics may have got a difficult diagnosis wrong, but no-one is party to a plot to rob caring families of their children. Those who believed the case was one of non-accidental injury were genuine in their belief, even if they were in error.

As I tried to argue in a previous post, cases like those of Baby Jayden are particularly risky because everything turns on one piece of crucial medical evidence. If it is true then urgent action is required to protect a child; if it is false then there is no reason for any concern. So on the rare occasion that the medics get it wrong, nothing stands in the way of injustice.

Rather than railing against the courts and the medical profession, critics such as Christopher Booker would do better to try to contribute ideas about how we could reduce the risks of getting it wrong.

We might begin by considering:

(1)   Whether such cases could be referred for second opinions at a very early stage; and if necessary for third fourth and fifth opinions before criminal charges are brought
(2)   Undertaking careful reviews of the diagnosis at an early stage
(3)   Treating parents who find themselves in such circumstances with greater respect and care
(4)   Devising better ways of maintaining high levels of supervised contact between parents and any surviving children while court cases are in progress
(5)   Being less concerned with issues of guilt and conviction and more concerned with achieving the right outcomes for children