Friday, 27 April 2018

The case of Alfie Evans and the confidentiality of family court proceedings

If ever there were proof of the foolishness of allowing the tabloid media access to family court proceedings, the tragic case of Alfie Evans is it. Gaby Hinsliff’s powerful piece in the Guardian reflects on the case and critically examines a wide range of issues raised by it.

But my interest is focused solely on the issue of the confidentiality of family court proceedings. Ever since the dying years of the last Labour Government in 2010, I have opposed the media being present in the family courts. 

Of course, those of us opposed to the changes lost the argument. The journalists were allowed in. Inevitably the end result has been that debates about individual children are now being conducted on the pages of newspapers, some of which are driven more by political ideology than by concern for the best interests of the child.

Decisions about children’s lives should not be made by journalists and their editors. Complex, painful and sometimes tragic cases need to be dealt with sensitively, calmly and rationally. They should not be the subject of screaming headlines and whipped up moral panics

Friday, 20 April 2018


During the last couple of months, I have been moving house. It has seemed at times that the moving process has taken over completely and I have found myself committed to onerous tasks and pressing schedules not of my own making. Often the things I usually do – such as writing this blog - have had to be abandoned because of the demands of moving. At times, I have felt overwhelmed.

That word – ‘overwhelmed’ – caught my eye when I was scanning the pages of Community Care the other day. It is reported there that an adults’ social worker who was ‘overwhelmed’ by work following an organisational restructuring has been disciplined by the Health and Care Professions’ Council (HCPC), despite a previously unblemished 26-year career, being new to a management role and having an “extensive” workload, which included an additional 200 (yes two hundred) cases! Apparently, he did not always maintain accurate records. While it was acknowledged that he did not receive management support, the HCPC panel decided that he had to receive a caution, but by then, of course, his career was in tatters.

That makes my blood boil. Professional regulators are not there to deal with people who fail to cope in impossible circumstances. They are there to deal with people who deliberately indulge in egregious behaviour – people who tell lies, commit frauds or deliberately hurt other people.

It could just as easily have been a children’s social worker before the HCPC. Indeed, Community Care reports on the same day that a recent survey of children’s social workers found that 80% thought their caseloads were unmanageable. There are some chilling quotes in a separate article from those surveyed, showing that they also feel overwhelmed.

Whether in adults’ or children’s services, disciplining service providers who are victims of circumstance is a ludicrous and completely counterproductive exercise. It fosters a culture of blame which inhibits people from acknowledging and learning from their mistakes. That does nothing to make services safer; it almost certainly has the opposite effect.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Giving young children a better start in life – is it just a lottery?

I was pleased to read, in Children and Young People Now, about improvements to the health visiting service in the English seaside town of Blackpool. 

The improvements consist of increased visits to families expecting or raising young children. According to Children and Young People Now this means that health visitors will now see families for the first time at 28 weeks of pregnancy. They will then visit children within 14 days of birth and then again on four occasions during the child’s first 12 months. The visits will also be more parent-centred, focusing on their concerns.

That sounds to me exactly what a health visiting service should be like. It’s exactly what families need and require. The only sad piece of news is that Blackpool is one of only five areas in England to be receiving extra funding for its health visiting service, not from the government but from the Big Lottery Fund.

I think all areas should receive this kind of service and it should be funded from taxation, not from gambling. The right to a good healthy start to life should never be a matter of chance.