After Baby P: what can be done?

Recently, Lib Dem Voice has been snowed under with hits and comments from new readers, all expressing their anger in the face of the Baby P tragedy. (If you’re a regular, you won’t find anything in this post you don’t already know – fear not, normal LDV service will soon be resumed, but this does seem something of a special case).

If you’re one of those new readers, I’d like to suggest ways you can put your anger to good use. We can all talk endlessly about who’s to blame, what should be done with killers, what should happen to the social workers. But the reality is that none of that will bring Baby P back. You cannot change what is already done by talking.

But you can help prevent this from happening in your town. You might feel powerless. But believe it or not, you’re a citizen. You have the power to hold your own local authorities, your local councillors, and your local MPs to account – whether you’re a mother, a father, a grandparent, or even still a child yourself. You’ve probably never thought about getting involved in local politics before. Perhaps you’ve never even voted because you don’t believe you can ever change anything.

I’m asking you, bearing in mind that there may be children in your neighbourhood who are suffering and are still very much alive and saveable, to give it a try. If the government isn’t doing something right, you need to be the person asking why. You have a vote for your local council and for your MP, you pay your council tax, the council and its services are there to serve you. You have the right to demand answers of them.

Here are a few suggestions (regulars might like to contribute others in the comments):

  1. Find out the names of your local councillors. You can do this here. All councillors should hold regular sessions where their constituents can approach them about any worry or problem they have. Talk to your councillor about your concerns and ask him or her to find out about the record of the Child Protection Services in the area. Or, you could go straight to the services yourself and then approach your councillor if you find anything that worries you (see 2 and 3).
  2. Get in touch with your local Child Protection Services (they ought to be in the phone book under “council”) explain your concerns and ask how they can reassure you that nothing like the Baby P tragedy could ever happen in your town. They ought to be able to tell you about their ratings system – whether they’re Excellent, Good, Satisfactory or Inadequate.
  3. Of course, ratings can be wrong – Haringey itself was rated as “Satisfactory”. So get a fresh perspective. Find your local newspaper website (they probably come through your door; if not google the name of your town along with “local newspaper”) and do a search on it for “child protection”. That ought to find any past articles about local mistakes or serious cases. Call the newspapers and ask them what they know about the case, and what happened afterwards. Were lessons  really learnt? Were any mistakes dealt with properly? If the newspapers don’t know, they might be able to point you towards the right people to approach to find out.
  4. Write to your MP. You can find out who they are and how to contact them here. Ask them to sign the two Early Day Motions on child protection put forward by Lib Dem MPs John Hemming and Lynne Featherstone.
  5. Go to the local campaigning section of the NSPCC website. The NSPCC has ten local campaign co-ordinators who run campaigns about problems in their area. Find out if your nearest co-ordinator is running any events, petitions or other campaigns that you could donate time and skills to.
  6. Join the Facebook groups for Baby P and encourage others to take practical action as well – tell everyone about your local investigations on the Facebook wall.
  7. Don’t give up until you’re satisfied. You have rights – exercise them.

Just a note: it’s very important to be firm but polite. This is an emotional issue, but keep it professional. You have a right to demand answers, but you don’t have a right to be rude or abusive. If any local officer is rude or unhelpful to you, ask to be told about the complaints procedure (all councils have one) and complain. If any elected representative (MP or councillor) is rude or unhelpful to you, make sure you vote in your next local elections and in the next General Election to get them out of office.

Lastly, please come back to this site and tell us what you’ve done, and how it went. Any result, however small, is a step in the right direction. We can’t ever stamp out incompetence and mistakes altogether. But the more we hold our public services to account and demand they do a good job, the better they will be, and the less likely it is that any other child will be failed by the system as dismally as Baby P was.

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  • On no. 3 – PLEASE don’t ring your local paper. Read it, perhaps.

    “Could this tragedy happen in our area?” is a classic story that I’m sure local journalists will be already working on in many areas.

    If you don’t think they are and want to help them along, ring a local councillor from your council’s main opposition and ask him to reassure you it’s not an issue in your area.

    If he is concerned, call a local councillor from the ruling group and ask them to respond to the allegations. THEN ring your local paper, tell them you have a story – who you called, what they said and why you’re concerned/upset/angry.

    They will doubtless do 1, 2 and 4 for you and print it in their next edition.

    If it’s not on the website, a local paper probably won’t have back copies they can search for past cases. And, if they do, a reporter who could be covering housing and planning scandals will instead spend three hours in a back room leafing through stacks of yellowing paper. Alternatively, they’ll tell you to call the council.

  • Alix- you’re quite right, we should feel more enpowered to work together to protect children, and that residents who have any concerns should contact their local councillors, or the MP. We’ve all witnessed angry parents swearing at or slapping their children about, and wonder how we can intervene to point out its unacceptable- I know I’ve tried on occasion, and its hard. When I was an Opposition councillor in Hackney, I had a number of social workers, and trade unionists come to me because they felt that there were individuals employed to work with children in the council’s care who should not have been, but, at the time there was a culture of fear amongst staff in Hackney (just as there seems to be in Haringey) where staff feared being vicitimised if they spoke out. I wrote to the chief executive, and the head of the child protection board, asking that the individual be investigated, and I’m still not sure to this day how seriously it was taken. It was hard work getting any response, but I plugged away. I was told that the individual concerned quietly left, and that senior social services managers, were more busy investigating who the whistleblower was!
    I was given platitudes as to how well social services was being run.
    In the case of Baby P, we’ve read that the childminder, and neighbours of the mother and her boyfriend, all saw them playing with him, and of course did not witness any abuse. It was all done behind closed doors.
    Social workers in charge of children on the at risk register, MUST monitor the child very closely, especially as in this case the childminder was reporting cuts and bruises on a daily basis, that don’t seem to have been followed up.
    One thing I’m puzzled about was why the whistleblower- Nevres Kemal, who I’ve met in the past, didn’t write to the Lib Dem opposition councillors, or Lynne Feathersone, when she wrote to David Lammy, and other ministers. She clearly had no confidence in the Labour administration, so why not go to opposition councillors, where there would be no danger of closing ranks for political expediancy?
    I suppose one positive that may come out of this is that all the media and political hype has ensured that the circumstances will not be swept quietly under he carpet, as I suspect Haringey was hoping it would be, following their own ‘internal’ inquiry.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Nov '08 - 6:59pm

    I know exactly what Meral means about officers showing more interest in hunting down a whistleblower than investigating the whistleblower’s concerns. I saw this happen in the 90s when I was an opposition councillor in Southwark (when it was Labour controlled) and I tried to follow up some very nasty incidents that had taken place in a residential home for the elderly.

    What saddens me about much of the ‘discussion’ about Baby P on Lib Dem Voice is the lack of interest in analysing what happened within that family (and particularly in the mind of that young mother). What cocktail of events and cruelties in her own life led to such a dreadful outcome?

  • Lynne – I actually read your blog just after I’d posted my contribution above. You clearly did the right thing, no question, and all the evidence from Nevres points to a lack of interest or commitment from Haringey to investigate.I know what thats like. I think the media and public reaction to all this has been, if anything, worse that it was with the Victoria Climbie case, not least because it wasn’t supposed to happen again, and certainly not in the same borough! I do hope that Ed Balls and the government will take decisive action once all the facts are known. Its not a question of heads rolling, but accountability. The senior officers concerned in the Climbie case, also just walked away to higher paid jobs, while the junior social worker responsible was scapegoated.
    I believe that its time that health professionals were more closely involved with going into homes and monitoring children at risk. If trained social workers can’t see the signs of physical abuse then perhaps health visitors can.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Nov '08 - 8:55pm

    Clive – of course you are absolutely right. The needs of the child are paramount and this child’s suffering could and should have been detected. We need better systems in place – of course we do.

    However, it is surely right to seek to prevent as well as cure. The “normal instincts of a mother” were corrupted in this case – to analyse why just might help us prevent this happening again.

    Post-natal depression in its most extreme form can prevent a mother from bonding with a child or even recognising it as her own. It makes it quite possible to look at your baby and not love it, not identify with it and not want it. I have experienced this as have many women. The support for women in this position is often abysmal. I was lucky – my husband (a former child protection social worker) was wonderful and I got better. Had I had an uncaring, absent or abusive partner who knows what might have happened.

    Of course I accept that better post-natal support might not have prevented Baby P’s mother from becoming what she became but it certainly would not have made the outcome any worse. Intensive post-natal support could clearly have saved three-month-old Delayno Mullings-Sewell and his two-year-old
    brother Romario whose mother was suffering from post-natal depression in its most desperate form when she killed them.

  • Ruth Bright 17th Nov '08 - 7:44am

    Meral is right. Health visitors can make a big difference. It is worrying to see their services so thin on the ground.

  • Lorna Spenceley 17th Nov '08 - 9:27am

    Non-Londoners and those in two-tier areas note that the responsibility for child protection falls to the upper tier (ie county) council, not their district council!

  • I live around the corner from Climbie’s estate – it is still a dumping estate for haringey housing department to rent out. it was built on land owned and sold by the council and so the squalid dwellings are the result of a crudbucket council. The labour party may want the Cllr Santry to take the blame, but the reality is that council officers/complaints procedures and even contact with the police, have all been adulterated and are “unfit for purpose” in all manner of ways – from undermining and bullying social workers with good records who want to (and have the bravery to) complain, it was apparent that the “council system” is set up to fail the complainant and praise the council (and councillors’s) publicity machine. The problem is so imbeded in Haringey that where one sees very long term mismanagement it is because there is a team of poor staff who act collectively to always do what they have always done, and some of that is bully, and victimise the person with conscience. Haringey is not just rotten at the core it is ROT, as people who gain fame and status from being on a board or two, get to work on national boards and so we have the ROT distributed to the arts, to the charity commission and to the audit commission. The ROT is “what the public dont know about wont get us sacked, so cover up, shut it up and send a glossy photo out”.

  • Mark Whitehead 17th Nov '08 - 11:57am

    The way to make sure your local council is doing its job properly – as far as we can, anyway – is to make sure the politicians are accountable and empowered by their electorate.
    DON’T bombard the council with vague questions about “could it happen here….” or “what are your procedures” etc.
    DON’T annoy your local paper with questions about what may have happened in the past.
    DO contact your elected representatives and discuss any concerns you have with them
    DO attempt to find out what your council is discussing and what decisions they are due to make/have made in your name. Do this through your elected councillors. If they don’t seem to know, keep pressing the point. They ought to know, that’s what they’re there for.
    DON”T get involved in angry, vague campaigns against the council.
    DO offer whatever support you can to those who are trying to make things better.
    The Baby P case is truly shocking but unfocused anger will do no good. We need practical, constructive ways to make those who act on our behalf more accountable to us, the electorate.

  • Mike Plumbley 17th Nov '08 - 1:33pm

    You are entirely right that we all have the right but trying to excerise it and get justice for a child is to face the arrogance and indifference of faceless bureacracts at this obscene million pound funded Children’s Services who have betrayed Lord Laming and have bred into over funded oligarchies.

    What is needed is a back to basics fundamental upholding of a child to have their welfare paramount. That is not the case. Until it is day by day children will suffer and some like Baby P will have thier voices silenced.

    I speak from the experience of my own son’s abuse by a children’s service and my weapon against them is a play to bring this whole issue into focus.

  • Karen Helsby 17th Nov '08 - 3:06pm

    we must as a nation go back to basics…the family is splintered…we will always have problems in society..but maybe if we looked back over our shoulders we could learn a few valuable lessons here…a majority of humans will harm children that do not belong genetically to them….familys need to work together as do neighbours…we live now in a society that has no respect for life…a disposable attitude to everything….and maybe just maybe the good old days were just that….This little boys life must not be in vain….we should all learn to be kinder….we were not meant to behave in this manner

  • dreamingspire 17th Nov '08 - 6:15pm

    The isolationist attitude of local govt in this and other subject areas has unfortunately been reinforced over the 1997-2007 period by the attitude from the very top. It is going to take time for the change at the top to trickle down, particularly where there are two-tier authorities. The Information Society helps us – and I remember one senior civil servant (who was close to retiring) telling me about 5 years ago that the only way to bring about change in some LAs is to shame them. Go to it, Ed Balls!

  • David Allen 17th Nov '08 - 6:40pm

    I don’t know a lot about social work. I don’t know how difficult it is to tell abuse from neglect, to cope with squalor and exhaustion, to get every decision right. Pretty difficult, I dare say.

    I do know a little about what happened on a UK power station when the accident rate got embarassingly high and somebody decided to do something about it. They announced that the next contracting firm to suffer an accident would all be off site, out of the job, immediately, whatever the reasons or excuses might be.

    This was a breathtaking case of rough justice. It did, however, produce a marked improvement in the safety record.

    If you are paying someone in social services £100K per year, is it too much to require them to move jobs if a child dies on their watch?

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Nov '08 - 1:22pm

    Part of the problem is that cases like this have resulted in more complexity and paperwork (done by computer now) and formal procedure, because that’s what happens when there’s a public hue and cry “something must be done”. That “something” inevitably turns out to be more bureaucracy which ties down the professionals and stops them from doing real intuitive work.

    The reality is that we have to accept that occasionally the wrong decision will be made. I know a little bit about this area of work, and yes, it is very difficult. It doesn’t help that the downmarket media are forever swinging between “social workers are evil because they snatch kids from their parents” and “social workers are evil because they didn’t snatch this kid when they should have done” depending on whatever was the last tragedy.

    We have seen that Baby P was argued about in many meetings and communications between various professionals. Large amounts of money was spent on this. I have not seen anyone make the case that someone proposed “Baby P stays with his mother” because that person made a personal profit from that decision rather than the other. Taking a kid into care is not something that should be done lightly, so it should be treated as a last resort. There may have been some sloppiness, some of that based on tiredness – if day in day out you deal with dozens of cases of incompetent parents making a mess of bringing up their kids, vicious boyfriends whom the mother seem unaccountably attached to, people who are druggies, dirty, watch too much television, shout at each other, hit each other, smell bad, speak poor English (even though it is their only language …) etc etc, you do get worn down by it.

    Investigations should take place sure, to see where things went wrong, if there was any one place where one decision was made and it should have been the other, if there was a point where someone clearly didn’t do their job. But I have not yet seen a convincing argument that any of the professionals involved in this case were bad people, or deserved the abuse that has been thrown at them by the downmarket media and those whipped into a frenzy about the case. Sometimes it just has to be accepted, things go wrong, people make one decision because it seemed right, in hindsight they should have made the other.

  • i think you need to send a message that this will not be tolerated people out there are dying to have cildren who can’t but yet this sad woman has taken a life of an innocent little boy, it should never have been allowd to reach murder!

    I am pregnant execting a little boy and if i had a single bad thought in my mind i would not go through with it why is she even allowed to be apart of the general public,

    lock her up and throw away the key.

  • NOONE has the right to harm a child – a child should NEVER be smacked. Noone has the right to make a child sad or unhappy. Each child has a guardian and their duty is to protect the child. If you are one of those out there who has hit or smacked a child in the past – for whatever reason (and being tired, annoyed, frustrated or drugged up to the eyeballs is no excuse) STOP! There is NO Justification for it whatsoever. To hit or harm a child is bullying and loss of control. An adult has a duty to be a GOOD ROLE MODEL. This means giving a child LOVE, UNDERSTANDING,and RESPECT. Baby P was given none of these but I know he, as small as he was, would have tried to love his abusers (a toddler will hold out his arms for someone to accept his love – Shame on all those who contributed to his pain torture and subsequent death….and those so called professionals sitting in their comfortable offices at the top – yes you -you who did nothing to help this toddler when you had the chance – you are equally to blame. Baby P and all those children who have been failed by all these so called ‘adults’ must NEVER be forgotten. If you had the chance to save this child’s life and didn’t – get out of your job and let someone more competent do the job. I beg you.
    A loving granma

  • Nobody seems to notice what stares a foreigner like myself in the eye, that there is a large number of people who have children because it gives them access to various benefits, free housing being the most important. This free housing is used to attract and retain various boyfriends, regardless of the children’s interest. Until this will be tackled (by offering single mothers some type of hostel accommodation with social work support on site)there will be more horrible things happening to children and more break down of family and society.

  • Mike Plumbley 20th Nov '08 - 4:52pm

    >Physical torture KILLS KILLS KILLS !!!
    Emotional abuse does NOT
    Poor school attendance does NOT<

    You are entirely wrong to consider that the only concern should be physical, as a father of a vulnerable autistic son induced by his seriously ill mother’s instructions and delusional beliefs, I will say to you that the damage of that abuse not only leads to social exclusion from school and development but leads to severe pyschological damage which has left its scars after eighteen months before a mother was sectioned.

    The Childrens Act quite rightly defines harm as physical and harm that is not physical and also impairment of emotional and developmental well being.

    Social workers have a difficult but not impossible job but they work in a culture that is rotten from the bad apples of bureacracy and the focus is entirely away from the children. Every day children suffer at the hands of this system, it is corrupt simple as that and it betrays the notion that a childs welfare is paramount.

  • Mike Plumbley 21st Nov '08 - 10:23am

    oh dear Ian

    you are missing the point, the damage from all harm that is not physical is equally as damaging as physical harm, short of death that is, they are both given equal weight in the definition of signficant harm by the legislation to protect children. They are not airey fairy definitions but based on solid medical evidence to pass them off as fanciful is in an insult to the welfare of children seriously impaired and damaged by such treatment. Hopefully you are not a social worker and live in the real world.

  • Sack the lot.

  • Mike
    Your ignorance is really quite worrying. No emotional abuse does not kill; it can and does however cause long-lasting, if not permanent, damage to a child/young person’s development. This can include congitive development, the ability to form and negotiate relationships in later life and the ability to parent your own children: Attachment theory underpinned by a raft of research into children denied the opportunity to develop a bond with a primary carer supports this. As for accommodating children at birth ‘using a crystal ball’ – the reason that most children are accommodated at birth is due to serious issues of substance parental misuse and/or long parental histories of inability to care for previous children. This includes a parenting history of physical abuse to previous children. A recent research study commissioned following Lib Dem MP John Hemming’s and others’ claims of child snatching by social services departments to meet targets, found that in only 2.5% of 386 recent child care proceedings brought before court was there not either a care or supervision order imposed suggesting that rather than ‘crystal ball gazing’ social services departments had well founded, and evidenced, concerns about those children’s care. No doubt had any of these departments allowed parents to take care of their children without applying to court and the child had then been harmed, the right-wing press and yourself would have casting blame in their direction yet again. Finally while there do appear to have been unacceptable and ultimately tragic errors in the case of Baby P – the detail of who, when and why needs to wait until we know more – your idea of examining children for bruises again betrays your ignorance – a) this does happen where there are child protection concerns but b) it is not at all easy to either establish or prove on the balance of probabilities (the standard required in court, quite rightly, to remove a child from their parents) that a child has been harmed through physical injury, rather than via normal play or an accident. Unless of course you want to accommodate any child with any kind of bruise or marking on them? In which case we need to find child care placements for almost all the UK’s child population. If you think child protection work is so straight forwardwhy why don’t you try doing it for six months, and then I’d suspect you might hesitate before promulgating your glib, ill-informed views.

  • Sorry I’ve just realised my previous comment should be addressed to Ian and not Mike.

  • Ian

    As for the Baby P case – yes there were serious failings but we need to wait for the full details to come out before jumping to half-baked conclusions and giving into knee-jerk reactions that will do nothing to improve the child protection system in the country, if anything quite the opposite. What I particularly object to is people like yourself trying to use this tragic and horrendous case as part of a pre-meditated crusade to undermine the social work profession (and the fact that you describe social work services as “wicked”, “disgusting” and label them “SS” is unfortunate and indicates your evangelical and unbalanced approach to the matter). Looking at the wider picture Britain went from having one of the worst rates of child murders a developed country in the 1970s to one of the best now, which suggests that, contrary to your claims, the overall child protection system is working better than before and better than in most other countries.

    As for the issue you are really concerned about, your claims of unfair and ‘forced’ adoption, I again repeat that research published this year into those claims showed that child protection services had well founded and evidenced concerns about those parents ability to care, and in around 75% of cases neglect and not flimsy claims about possible future emotional abuse (something you seem to have a bit of an obsession about – where is your evidence??)was the primary issue of concern. Your claims that social work services place children in care at birth without either parental consent or a court order doesn’t ring true either – it would be illegal to do so and it beggars belief that any social work department of social worker would act in this way. Again I challenge you to substantiate this claim with some evidence rather than quoting hearsay and engaging in mud slinging.

    I worked in children and families social work for five years. Placing children in care was one of the most difficult things I have done in my life and those decisions were taken after detailed assessment of parenting capacity involving the parent(s), lengthy discussion within the social work department about the best thing to do, and consultation with other relevant professionals. The number of children I placed in local authority was a tiny proportion of those I worked with and I also agonised over a number of cases where we left children with parents in situations where there were strengths within the family unit but also difficulties and therefore risks to the children, but we were rightly trying to give that family every chance to remain together with supports. Your own claims (and I see you live in Canada and have no first hand experience of the UK child protection system) are so far removed from my own experience and from any acutal evidence I’ve seen that I really do wonder whether they have any basis in fact.

  • Matthew John 22nd Nov '08 - 3:52pm

    Oh Ian!

    Please tear up your subscription to the Daily Mail!
    It’s interesting to see that you’ve used the ‘political correctness gone mad’ line.
    I’m sure there are a few UKIP forums that are more appropriate for such cliches.

  • Ian

    The fact that you have a law degree from Oxford and are a British citizen is neither here nor there; you clearly have no first hand experience of the UK child protection system and appear to have little or no evidence base for your views. Holding off knee-jerk reactions is according to you ‘evasion’; I would say on the contrary it’s dangerous to jump to responses before we have full information, particularly if they’re responses based on ill-informed views. The independent review that Ed Balls ordered reports back next week. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wait for its findings.

    I asked for evidence (EVIDENCE? YES I WANT EVIDENCE!) of your claim that social service departments were taking children out of parents’ care without a court order in place as this would be illegal. You’ve produced none – indeed the cases you quote above all had clearly been through a court process. The first case you mention is one where the social service department applied to court to have a child placed in care and the court turned this down. The department then had to produce more evidence and re-apply to court which considered the case and decided that the child was at sufficient risk for them to be accommodated in local authority care. Surely this suggests the system is working properly in terms of checks and safeguards?

    In X Council v B and others emergency protection orders) [2007] 1 FCR 512, the judge noted, amongst other points that :

    “An EPO, summarily removing a child from his parents, is a draconian and extremely harsh measure, requiring exceptional justification and extraordinarily compelling reasons. Such an order should not be made unless the court is satisfied that it is both necessary and proportionate, and that no other less radical form of order will achieve the essential end of promoting the welfare of the child. Separation is only to be contemplated if immediate separation is essential to secure the child’s safety.”

    The research into claims from people like yourself that children are being placed in care to meet adoption targets found that:

    “There is no evidence that the local authorities brought care proceedings without good reason. Many families had lost the care of children in previous proceedings.”

    John Hemmings’ claims about adoption targets etc. were also debated in Parliament in April this year and rejected by the vast majority of MPs.

    You quote from parents whose children were subject to care proceedings. I didn’t expect, nor did it happen that the parents whose children I placed in local authority care turned around and said “Yes I see you’re quite right about the risks to my child. You’re doing a good job, well done.” They were devestated, resentful, angry and hurt and much of that emotion was directed against the social work department and social workers. While the views of such parents are important and they have every right to voice them, I don’t think their views alone provide an objective perspective on what has happened in care proceedings. If there are concerns about the way care system has operated, in an individual case or more generally, they need to be supported by evidence. You claim that parents who physically abuse their children would not oppose court proceedings to take their children away. This is criminally naive. What do you base it on? I suppose by the same reasonsing you think only people who are innocent of murder charges plead not guilty to them?

    While I think the tone and some of the content of John Hemmings’ intervention deeply regrettable, I think he has made some valid points on the secrecy of family court proceedings and expert evidence. Regarding the transcripts of court proceedings, let me firstly note that one of the primary reasons for this is to protect the identity of the children invovled, many of whom have experienced abuse, from being published. I do however think there is no reason for anonymised transcripts of family court proceedings not to be released, and my understanding is the government is looking into this at the curent time. As for expert witnesses – I think there is an issue with ‘expert’ witnesses being used on both sides in family court proceedings and I think Hemmings’ point about expert evidence in court proceeding needing to be evidenced-based, for example on the basis of peer-reviewed research, is spot on. Neither Hemmings or the right wing press which have lined up so readily behind him to attack the social work profession have produced evidence of the systemic failures they claim however and your own interventions on this page have been full of inaccuracies and unhelpful, ill-advised and ignorant comment which makes reasonable debate about this most important issue very difficult.

    I’ll finish with two examples of this. You make the emotive claim that social workers rush in and take babies from mothers ‘even before the placenta has been delivered’. I know of no social worker who would do this nor any maternity hospital that would allow it. When accommodating a child at birth, the social work department will leave the baby in hospital until informed that the baby is ready for discharge, which will usually be at least a number of days after birth. They will then take the baby to their foster placement. In the period in hospital the parent(s) will, in all but the most execeptional and risky of cases, be able to see the child in the hospital and once placed in care the social work department has a clear legal duty under the Children Act 1989 to facilitate contact between the child and their parent(s) and needs to assess whether there is any chance the child can return to parental care. Only after this assessment is completed and the department has clear evidence which can hold up in court that those parents cannot provide proper care for their child will a social work department be able to successfully apply to have a child adopted. The parent is given legal representation during this process and a guardian ad litem, an indpenedent person usually from a legal background, is there to see that the child’s interests are safeguarded during the process. This hardly ties in with your claims of social workers rushing in (no doubt Goose-stepping) to rip children from the delivery tables for their parents never to see them again. Are there individual cases in which the system gets it wrong? Yes as it’s not and cannot be a perfect system. If you want to prevent children being abused, rather than wait until they’ve already been seriously harmed, you need to make a predcition about a parent’s ability to care based on assessment of parental history including history of parenting previous children where appropriate. That process of assessment and prediction is not an exact science. All a social worker can do is produce an assessment based on the best evidence of parenting capacity they have. The parents have the right to oppose that assessment with legal representation.

    Secondly let me deal with your point about emotional abuse. It has no definition in law you state. So what? A child being placed on the child protection register is an internal social service department measure not a legal measure and it has no legal status. It is a means for social service departments to recognise that a child is at high risk and to set up a plan of intensive support to reduce that risk. Cases I know of where children have been placed on the reigster category of emotional abuse include parents being extremely verbally abusive to children on a regular basis causing them extreme distress and affecting their self-esteem and development (e.g. repeated and severe negative comment about the child’s abilities, characterisitics and identity; telling the child on a regular basis that they are not wanted in the family; threatening the child on a regular basis that they will be placed in care); and children being in a household where there is severe domestic violence and the children witness it again causing them extreme distress and impacting on their development. Do you think it’s acceptable for children to experience this treatment Ian? If the social work department wants to move to get a care or supervision order on the basis of their concerns about emotional abuse they need to then evidence those concerns in court within the framework of legal definitions. If they fail to the court will not grant an order.

    I have no problem with people challenging or questioning the child protection system. But I think they have a responsibility to do so in an informed and reasoned way. On both those criteria your contributions fall badly short.

  • Matthew John 23rd Nov '08 - 7:44pm

    What kind of childhood did you have, Ian?
    Your hysterical ramblings suggest the true power of childhood ’emotional harm’.

  • Edwina McCaul 23rd Nov '08 - 7:45pm

    I work for local council and on friday I e mailed all staff, including elected members to support justice for baby p campaign. Guess what I got disciplined as a Councillor complained about e mail content. I ask you what has society come to!! Elected members disappoint me with their attitude.

  • For some of the background to the Fran Lyon case which Ian’s clippings from the right wing press don’t give see:

  • Robin wrote:

    “A child being placed on the child protection register is an internal social service department measure not a legal measure and it has no legal status.”

    100% balderdash. ALL actions taken by Social Services Authorities have legal status. That is because Social Services Authorities derive every single power they have from statute (from the power to purchase paperclips to the power to take children into care). For the general principle, see the judgment of Laws J in R v Somerset CC ex parte Fewings [1995] 1 All ER 513.

    I am amazed that Robin should feel himself qualified to lecture us all about the child protection system when his understanding of the basics of administrative law is so poor!

    I do not know the ins and outs of the Fran Lyon case, obviously, but what is clear is that Northumberland County Council acted ultra vires by failing to take into account relevant considerations (letters from psychiatrists), and individual officers may well be guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice by inerfering with the witness. If they think this lady is a Beverley Allitt in the making, then they need to prove it, and I rather suspect they can’t.

    There have been numerous cases in recent times where Social Services Departments have simply gone berserk. Anyone remember Cleveland, Rochdale, Nottinghamshire, Orkney?

    In the late 1970’s, many entrants to social work had been incalcated by the writings of “radical” feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon and genuinely believed that all men are rapists. Child abuse was endemic and could only be stopped, so they thought, by getting rid of men. Then along came Evangelical Christian nuts who persuaded these same and other social workers that secret Satanic cults were abusing children. And last, but not least, there arrived on the scene the so-called “recovered memory movement”. No, adults don’t consciously remember being abused as children, because it’s so traumatic (though they have no trouble recalling life in concentration camps). The memory has to be recovered by a hypnotist! Beatrix Campbell and David Icke still insist this pseudo-scientific hocus pocus is real.

    So forgive me if I treat claims by people like Robin with healthy scepticism.

    Now I will speak of what I know directly.


    A few years ago, a Labour council leader tried to have a private landlord sent to a lunatic asylum to stop him exposing corruption in the Housing Benefits Department. Social Sevrices was willing to co-operate, but the man’s GP refused to play ball.


    Recently, a Social Services Department tried to put a 13 year-old boy in a lunatic asylum for the sole and simple reason that he refused to attend school. The Council officer whose job it was to convene a meeting at a local hospital told me he was very concerned about what was happening. Managers were scouring the country to find two doctors who would section the boy. I do not know the outcome.

    So I think Iain Josephs might have a point.

  • Ian

    The news report on the child taken from their mother shortly after birth, if accurate, is appalling practice on behalf of the social work department involved and deserves to be roundly criticised. I would note however from the information posted that the parent did have a right to challenge the process, did so, and then had a Sheriff rule in her favour who was highly critical of the social work department. Not only this the judgment was then publicised in the press. Again that suggests to me that the checks and balances in the system are working in a way that doesn’t tie with your conspiracy-theory like claims. When a court finds against a social work department’s practice you use it as evidence of social workers’ scandalous practice. However in the vast majority of cases where it does not, this is of course not, in your view, because the social workers acted reasonably on the basis of legitimate concerns about child welfare. No. It’s ‘establishment’ judges, other corrupt professionals, social workers lying etc. There’s no evidence which could be produced which would alter your views.

    Again on emotional abuse. You don’t seem to understand what the Child Protection Register is. It is a register that social services department keep onto which they put children found to be at high risk who are still in their parents’ care. Yes Sensco the duty to maintain a CPR is enshrined in law the point I was making is that being placed on the Child Protection Register is not a court decision but a decision by a local authority social service department, it is not about placing a child in care but recognising that a child in their parents’ care is at risk. Therefore the fact that emotional abuse has no definition in UK law is neither here nor there. If a social service department wants to take a child out of a parent’s care they need to prove on the balance of probabilities that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. Therefore in the case of emotional abuse they need to evidence in a court of law how that emotional abuse will harm that child. Of course you don’t appear to believe emotional abuse exists or that it can have an impact on children, contrary to almost all research evidence and theories of children’s needs and child development since (at the very latest) the 1950s.

    You state that:

    “The 4 obvious reforms would be:

    1: Remove the gag from parents involved in family court proceedings.

    2: Forbid judges in the family courts to imprison any parent without a public hearing.

    3: Abolish “risk” as a reason to remove children from a sane parent unless in addition to risk it can be clearly shown and proved that such children have already suffered significant physical harm.

    4: Any parents facing the possibility that their children could be removed for long term fostering or adoption without parental consent should have the right to demand that the final decision be made by a jury not a judge.Better still abolish forced adoption altogether!”

    In reply

    1. Fine so long as the children involved are not identified or identifiable in what parents reveal. Those children have a right to anonymity which should not be breached, period.

    2. I’m not clear what circumstances this refers to and why the parents have been imprisoned – I’d asssume parents found in contempt of court during the family court hearing? Taking the point at face value though I don’t have a problem with this recommendation either.

    3. Great. A child abuser’s charter. So we have to wait for children to be seriously abused before acting. Not only that but we have to wait until they’ve a limb missing because emotional abuse and severe neglect don’t matter to children’s care in Ian’s world.

    4. Do away with forced adoption? Are there really no circumstances in which a child should be removed from their parents against their will? So what do you do when a parent is unable to care but will not agree to their child being adopted even though that is clearly in the child’s best interests? What would you do in the case of Baby P’s mother who’s had another child since being imprisoned?

    I also wonder what assessment process you have before you help all the parents who come to you for help? Or do you just rely on your quixotic view (with no supporting evidence) that no abusive parent would oppose their child being taken away from them? Do you ever wonder if you might be helping parents who will go on to win care of their children and then abuse them or don’t you care because from the safety of your Monaco language school you can write another blog about “corrupt”, “wicked”, social workers not doing their job properly?

  • Robin wrote:

    “Therefore the fact that emotional abuse has no definition in UK law is neither here nor there.”


    “Therefore in the case of emotional abuse they need to evidence in a court of law how that emotional abuse will harm that child.”

    Er… If “emotional abuse” has no definition in UK (actually English) law, then how can evidence be adduced that it will harm the child?

    Or are you an advocate of palm tree justice?

    Believe it or not, I think most social workers do a pretty good job. My concern focuses on the fact that Parliament has given Social Services Authorities draconian powers that affect people’s fundamental human rights, and that because of the regime of secrecy, some of these powers are not properly accountable and the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts has in part been ousted.

    I have given you two recent examples of Social Services Authorities acting in bad faith, and that should alarm us all.

  • Sensco

    Okay. Take a hypothetical example. A child of five whose development and behaviour is age appropriate but who then starts to witness extreme domestic violence within the family home. Their behaviour is affected. They present as withdrawn at school, are sometimes tearful, at other times they start to physically attack peers and staff at school. They also start to soil themselves at school. A referral is made to the educational pyschologist and the social services department and the child reveals what they have seen within the family home. After interviewing parents and a detailed assessment the SSD may place that at child on the CPR, category of emotional abuse at a child protection case conference at which the parents will be present along side other agencies (school, health visitor if inovlved, police as appropriate). If the SSD however wish to obtain a supervision order or a care order they need to evidence in court how the particular behaviours of the parents in the family home which the child has witnessed(based on the child’s statements along side formal reports, including police referrals, reports from school and ed psych on the child’s behaviours at school, and the SSD’s own formal assessment) constitute significant harm to that child. The fact that emotional abuse has no definition in UK law is really irrelevant to that task. I don’t see what’s so hard to get?

  • Robin wrote:

    “The fact that emotional abuse has no definition in UK law is really irrelevant to that task. I don’t see what’s so hard to get?”

    On the contrary, it is of fundamental relevance. The judge has to decide (1) whether, as a matter of law, the conduct complained of amounts to “emotional abuse”, and (2) whether, as a matter of fact, the conduct complained of actually happened.

    That is how the forensic process works in common law jurisdictions.

    The way YOU seem to think it works amounts to arbitrary justice of the kind tyrants dispense.

    Let’s look at it another way. Suppose the social worker is an Evangelical Christian and the parents are New Age devotees who hold channelling sessions in front of the child. The social worker is likely to call that “emotional abuse”. Unless we have a legal definition of “emotional abuse”, the decision as to which kinds of conduct amount to “emotional abuse” is going to depend on the prejudices and personal opinions of the social worker and the judge. How can that we right?

    BTW, my name is SESENCO, which is Iberian for “little bull”.

  • Sesenco first of all apologies for getting your name wrong.

    In terms of your point, the judge doesn’t need to deliberate over the definition of ’emotional abuse’. What they need to determine is whether a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

    Therefore in the hypothetical case I cited they would need to consider what evidence there was of:

    1) The SSD’s assertions about the parents’ behaviour

    2) The child’s welfare being affected by that behaviour

    3) Whether it was reasonable on the balance of probablilities to assume that the child’s welfare was significantly harmed on the basis of the parents’ behaviour.

  • Robin,

    So you have conceded that “emotional abuse” is nothing more than a term of art. I think you have made Ian Josephs’ point for him.

    BTW, one decides matters of fact on a balance of probabilities, not what is reasonable.

  • The current issue of the Local Government Chronicle (20/11/2008) reports that one third of social services authorities have a lower Ofsted child protection rating than the London Borough of Haringey. A caveat is added to the effect that many of the Ofsted inspectors don’t actually know anything about child protection.

    Lynne Featherstone tells us that Haringey Social Services staff are terrified to talk to her, such is the climate of fear and intimidation under the Meehan dispensation.

  • Matthew John 24th Nov '08 - 3:39pm

    Interesting that David Icke has been mentioned.
    Some of the ridiculous conspiracy theories on this forum sound like they have come straight from him.
    Are we to believe that Haringey Social Services comprises of shape shifting lizards?

  • Matthew John,

    To which conpiracy theories do you refer?

    Presumably you must have investigated them in order to know that they are ridiculous?

  • Ian

    Last post from me. We actually agree on some things….though not very much.

    I’m glad to see that you are now recognising that emotional abuse does exist; it can have serious impact on a child’s welfare; and it may require state intervention…..even though emotional abuse has no definition in English law.

    I also think that women subject to domestic violence and experiencing child protection procedures in respect of their children risk being doubly disempowered and careful thought needs to be given as to how to support those women, albeit the welfare of the child must remain the paramount consideration.

    One of the things I most strongly disagree with you about is your view that no child should be removed from a “sane” parent (and I’m not clear why you want to treat parents with mental health issues differently) unless they’ve already suffered significant physical harm. Any child protection system worthy of that name surely needs to also try to minimise the chances of children suffering significant harm in the first place? If we always wait until there has been already been significant harm before acting there will be a lot more child deaths. I also really do shudder to think what your threshold for intervention in sexual abuse cases would be – the discovery of a Josef Fritzl type cellar?

    Adoption vs long-term fostering. There are some good reasons for preferring adoption. It’s legally more secure for the child; related to that placement breakdown rates are smaller; and outcomes for adopted children are generally better. Given that, where a parent is clearly unable to care for their child long-term, I’m not sure why you’d want to deny a child the chance of being adopted if that’s a possibility for them.

    Children abused after being returned to parental care. The first ‘child abuse scandal’ in the UK involved Maria Colwell in 1973, who was privately fostered, but then returned to her mother and step-father’s care. Maria was physically abused and killed by her step-father. Biehal considered the research evidence for outcomes for children reunited with their families in 2006. She found that while there was relatively little research done on the topic, three studies in the UK found that very young children accommodated due to abuse were at high risk of re-abuse and continued neglect once returned to parental care. Studies in the USA raised similar concerns.

    When a child dies in the circumstances of Baby P and a social work department was involved, the public legitimately want answers about why that abuse was not prevented. I’m equally keen for those answers. It’s also timely however to remember one of the findings of the Maria Colwell inquiry – that wider society as well as the state has a responsibility for ensuring the welfare of its children. I think the blame games you’re keen to engage in are at best a distraction, at worst a hindrance, from the task we have of improving the child protection system in the UK and the specific changes you suggest to the child protection system are simply dangerous.

  • Hi shannon crawford again
    i would like to know what i could do i wanted to do HUGE walk and raise money…but who should i send it to ?
    Should i do this ?
    I really cant believe this could happen you see i have a younger brother that is one he will be two on the 28th of december..and if anyone ANYONE so much as slaped him no telling what i could do
    i was saying to my mum and dad that if they ever tried to punch carrick ( brother ) i wouldnt take a second thought …i would have a baseball bat in my hands in seconds
    NO JOKE !!!
    i just cant get my heed around how evil,twisted people can still be alive i just wish child crulty would stop !
    i wish to do anything and everything that i acn to stop this happening 🙂

    I would also like to bring up that yes the social workers are saked and soooo on …
    oh and before i go on i think they also should be beaten senceless !
    But surly something should happen to the police because i have been reading up on baby p for a long time and read that the police new but done nothing and the next morning CHILD DIES what in gods name soo this little boy peter could still be alive have a home for christmas but NO because of them HE IS DEAD

    I couldnt be the only person that wants them all to live the rest of there lives being beaten senceless am i ? i think not 14 years they get in prison if you are going to make that short then let them out tomorro
    oh yeah i will be down there with alot of peole and alot of bats

    Merry Xmas baby p or hi sreal name PETER LOVE YOU I WILL PRAY FOR YOU ALWAYS

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