Our social workers normally hit the headlines when some Baby P-type horror story comes to light, showing how they failed to intervene when a child was so maltreated by its parents that it died
By Christopher Booker
Daily Telegraph 7th Aug 2010
What don’t usually make the news, however, are the hundreds of cases when the social workers’ failure is the very opposite: where, aided by police and courts, they seem determined to remove children from responsible parents, to consign them to an often miserable life with foster carers or to adoption.
Having examined many such cases in recent months, some in exhaustive detail, and spoken to experts who are deeply disturbed by what is going on, I have no hesitation in describing this as one of the worst hidden scandals in Britain today.
It is clear that the child protection system created under the Children’s Act 1989 has gone horrifyingly off the rails, leading one High Court judge recently to compare it to the kind of thing which went on in ‘Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China’.
Two general aspects of this system failure are particularly shocking, One is the callous disregard the system shows for both parents and children in failing to uphold the central principle it was set up to protect: the interests of the children.
The other is how the system is shrouded in such secrecy that its workings remain almost entirely concealed from public view.
What is remarkable is how consistently this system displays the same fundamental flaws. From the moment social workers intrude into their lives, the parents find themselves treated like criminals, plunged into a Kafka underworld.
When their children are seized, on suspicions which too often turn out to be unfounded, this is almost invariably with full support from the police. When one mother was recently breast-feeding her newborn baby at 3 o’clock in the morning, no fewer than nine police officers and social workers entered the hospital room to wrest the baby from her.
The parents then find themselves caught up in a court system which seems almost entirely geared to taking their children away. There seems no one outside the system they can turn to. The judges seem predisposed against them, Even their own lawyers can seem as much part of the system as those acting for the other side. When independent experts wish to put their case, their evidence is often ignored.
As parliamentary figures show, the number of applications for care orders averages around 8,000 a year. Of these only between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent are refused.
Often just as evident as the distress of the parents is that of the children, who find themselves placed in the care of strangers for reasons they cannot understand. Where ‘contact’ is allowed with parents this is ruthlessly supervised by the social workers, so that if a mother speaks ‘inappropriately’, as by showing any sign of affection to her child, the contact may be instantly terminated.
All this appears to be in flagrant breach of the original Act, which purports to put the interests of the children first, not least in prescribing that wherever possible if they are taken from their parents they should be kept with their siblings – as so often they are not – or placed with relatives.
Yet Parliamentary figures show that only in one per cent of cases are children placed with ‘kinship carers’ – whereas in Denmark the figure is 45 per cent.
Part of why social workers seem so zealous in seizing children on the flimsiest of evidence is that until recently councils were given ambitious ‘adoption targets’ by central government, rewarded with funds running into millions a year. Huge sums of public money are still available to fund this system. Social worker-approved foster carers can receive up to £400 a week for each child, and not a few social workers are foster carers themselves.
Almost as alarming, however, is the way the system manages to blanket its operations in such secrecy. Nominally to protect the interests of the children, it is forbidden to report anything which goes on in court or which might identify them. But this often goes so much further, as when social workers instruct parents that they must not talk about their case to any outsiders, that the secrecy seems designed to protect not so much the children as the system itself.
Ian Josephs, a businessman based in the South of France, first became concerned about this issue when he was a county councillor and has helped hundreds of distressed families through his Forced Adoption website. High on his list of recommendations as to how the system could be reformed is that parents who find themselves victims of the system should no longer be gagged from speaking to outsiders.
There should be an end to Britain’s system of ‘forced adoption’, almost unique in Europe. Instead of judges deciding behind closed doors, parents should be allowed to put their case to a jury. Contacts between parents and children should no longer be controlled by social workers but by a judge.
Family courts should no longer be allowed to accept mere ‘hearsay’ evidence, Social workers should no longer be allowed to snatch children simply on vague suspicions that they might suffer ’emotional harm’. Finally, the courts should no longer be allowed to exclude evidence from independent experts just because this might challenge the social workers’ case.
With these reforms, says Mr Josephs, much of the rampant injustice of this system might be removed. Since Parliament gave social workers such extraordinary power over other people’s lives, politicians have by and large stepped away from the hideous abuse of that power which has resulted, Only the politicians can now get this tragically corrupted system back on the rails.