All calm on the surface

You know how ducks look serene up top but are kicking away furiously below stairs? That’s sort of how I feel about the publication (at long long last) of Louise Tickle’s article about “Annie”, the mum from up north whose case we applied for permission to report on.

It’s a long read, but it’s over with in a few minutes, such is the care with which the reader is taken through from beginning to end. It is powerful stuff, but we graze and we move on.

But I know how much work has gone into this single feature. Its gestation has been as long as a human baby, and in order to create it a gargantuan effort and huge amount of care has been necessary from all sorts of people – not just the journalist herself, not just me as the lawyer who hopped off the Easyjet and asked for permission to publish the then unwritten article way back in September 2015 – but also Annie and her family, the local authority legal, social work, communications and senior management team, the judiciary… All of them made their contribution.

There is some criticism of the local authority in Louise’s article voiced not just by the mother but by others also. For my part I think it is evident that Louise has attempted to be balanced and fair, and the local authority have clearly been offered a right of reply. Using that right of reply they have bravely admitted some failures and talked constructively of change, of making amends – and of learning from Annie herself. Whatever my frustrations may have been at the initial reactions of the local authority to the application they have, since the making of the order, been big enough to engage in dialogue : Although the “a spokesperson said” sections may seem carefully written and studiously anonymous they go far, far further than you normally see – and they voluntarily acknowledge failure where the local authority could have simply put up the shutters and trotted out the “inappropriate to comment on individual cases” response. It is also important to remember that this is a local authority which is still caring for children in this family and who has still to work with their mother – there are genuinely limits on how far they can respond without compromising their primary role.

There is a poetic symmetry in this, for it was Annie who in her blog encouraged engagement where it was painful and anxiety inducing and counter intuitive. In some way this article has enabled Annie’s advice to come full circle and for the local authority to learn from her. I think they each deserve huge credit for that.

And as for the work of writing, editing, polishing the thing. I think sometimes we imagine journalists at old fashioned typewriters hastily writing at midnight to a news deadline the next morning, a haze of cigarette smoke surrounding them as they bash the keys. But there is a reason why it has taken from September until now to get this thing published. This sort of writing, and indeed any sort of good quality writing, takes hours and hours to hone, to tweak, to perfect, to get to the point where it reads so easily that you can be lulled into thinking the writing itself was effortless. It isn’t. It is agonised, anxious, painstaking. Every word matters. And every word counts.

Louise, Annie and I will all be at the “Where do we go from here?” multi-disciplinary conference on 3 June. Details here.

6 thoughts on “All calm on the surface

  1. It’s a tough read, but well worth the effort.

    I don’t know if you are familiar with this article by a retired social worker:

    http://childprotectionresource.online/the-children-act-1989-deeply-flawed-legislation/

    • Thanks, although familiar with the CP resource site I had not seen this particular article. I’ve started to read it and it looks v interesting – but don’t have time to finish the job now…

  2. Once again that isn’t a world I recognise, I sometimes wonder how I have managed to avoid coming across it.

  3. A Social Worker

    As an experienced social worker in child protection that has worked in several different countries and Local Authorities within England, I am becoming increasingly dismayed that in the quest for transparency, transparency seems to be more about exposing bad practice as opposed to developing a more balanced view of the landscape.

    Bad practice should be exposed. It can be devastating for families but most social work practice is better than this and more helpful to children and families that people talk about. What the academic says about social workers is very, very far from my experience and maybe says more about that academic than it does the social workers.

    I manage a child protection team and my social workers work very hard to avoid asking for child protection plans and will move heaven and earth to avoid care proceedings. Care Proceedings represent a very small minority of cases that we deal with. In the pursuit of transparency, perhaps the journalist or yourself Lucy should spend time with and write about good social work practice. Practice that means children stop being sexually abused, that they no longer need to feel frightened by violence in the home and practice that means that they can enjoy some sense of childhood.

    I am very proud of what we do and how we do it and me and my team are regularly sent letters from parents and children thanking us. In the interest of transparency, perhaps some of that should be written about too?

    • Hello A Social Worker,
      I spend time with good social workers often and I do write about them, as I think does Louise Tickle. This is a new item about one case which is in many ways sadly representative of the way things often fall out. On the other hand it is also a story of professionals learning how to do things better and of the potential of parents to make changes. There are some criticisms of the local authority in the case but i have to say it is a far more detailed and balanced piece than most stuff in the papers – and it is a case of the system getting to the right answer eventually.
      I agree with you about this : Transparency as far as I am concerned is not just about exposing bad practice and I deprecate the practice of only publishing judgments which are illustrative of local authority cock ups (excuse legalese). Sadly the President’s Transparency Guidance in my view is not implemented to report positive or run of the mill cases, so one gets a skewed perspective.
      The Transparency Project is looking at this issue and transparency generally and trying to find ways of ensuring a balance of information is out there and there is some research about to commence which will look at how consistently or not the guidance is applied.
      So I think we are on the same page. I would suggest that if you think that the landscape is not balanced – then write something about your experience and publish it! I am sure the Transparency Project would be happy to host a guest post from you. Please also come and contribute to the conference on this topic in June (See the events page on the site) – as we need to get more social work voices in the mix.

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