Tuesday, 16 October 2012

At it again ...

It is hard not to despair when faced with yet another article in the Daily Telegraph by Christopher Booker.

Booker’s thesis is that the child protection system in Britain is ‘dysfunctional’. He says that there are “…scores of cases of children seized from their parents for what appear to be quite absurd reasons”. But when we read the detail we are faced with accounts which seem to turn very much on the author’s own assessment of what has happened, rather than on independent empirical fact.

What he describes as “the strangest and most disturbing” case he has covered is described at length in his most recent article. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9606161/The-worst-scandal-I-have-seen-in-my-50-year-career.html

It is clear from Booker’s account of this case that not only were matters dealt with in the Family Court, but also that the parents were successfully prosecuted in a jury trial in the criminal courts. Apparently, they were subsequently imprisoned.

Nobody would deny that miscarriages of justice occur. But Booker must do more than simply assert that this case is a 'travesty of justice'. The only evidence he offers is that he knows ‘enough’ about the family and that he has followed the case for two years. Clearly he is convinced of the parents’ innocence, but to convince others what are required are hard facts – not simply a reporter’s opinions.

The child protection system can be a soft touch for campaigning journalists. Professionals involved in complex legal proceedings are unlikely to rush to be interviewed. Family members inevitably, and understandably, will often provide only a one-sided account. Crucial evidence may not be in the public domain.

I find it difficult to believe for one moment that there is some sort of conspiracy between medical experts, local authorities, the police and the courts. Yet that appears to be the only possible explanation of cases like the ones Booker recounts.

In my view the child protection system in Britain has important weaknesses and from time to time it fails. Things are by no means perfect. That is because the task is complex and difficult. There are frequently resourcing issues and there are important procedural and bureaucratic obstacles to good practice. But there is no conspiracy. When things go wrong they are usually failures, not felonies.

And most of the time things are broadly done correctly, even if that is with some difficulty.

The least helpful approach to creating a climate of improvement in child protection is to foster a myth of child snatching conspiracies – in Booker’s words “...cases of children seized from their parents for what appear to be quite absurd reasons”. I have been involved with child protection since 1977 and I have yet to meet a social worker who wants to split up loving families. Most go to work hoping that they can keep children with their birth parents wherever possible, even though they know that is often hard to do.

One of the aims of the new College of Social Work  is to engage with the media to promote a more accurate and positive portrayal of social work. Perhaps they should invite Christopher Booker to meet some child protection social workers?