Crisis in Care – Crisis in Confidence?

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The desperate attempts by parents to get to grips with the rules of engagement with social services and family courts has been a preoccupation of mine recently - it bothers me that so many people are so confused and frightened and that they are turning, often in secret, to strangers to help them. Strangers who are often ill placed to offer informed, objective advice and who all too often whip them up into a frenzy, so they end up doing something daft.

I wrote an article on behalf of The Transparency Project before Christmas for the Family Law journal, and they have very kindly permitted us to republish it on The Transparency Project site. Now that it is up, I wanted to share it here too. It was also written in response to the Family Rights Group Care Crisis Review - there are many reasons why care numbers seem only ever to go up rather than down, but the corrosion of mistrust and fear is one reason which runs alongside all the usual suspects like the Baby P effect and a lack of resources.

Here is the article : Crisis in Care - Crisis in Confidence?

And here is why it still feels very current to me :

This last couple of weeks my feed has again been full of posts from the Facebook groups (I'm not sure if Facebook has changed its algorithm again or if my leaving a comment on something has bumped them back up the feed). Once again I'm torn by the desire to intervene to try and help and the feeling that this a space for parents to talk to parents without know it all lawyers sticking their oar in. But it's a tough balance. Of course I don't go around giving legal advice via social media, but it is possible to give general information and guidance. Sometimes it's easy to drop in a signpost to some service or information. Sometimes it seems helpful to gently redirect a parent to their solicitor for advice based on their actual circumstances rather than someone else's gut feeling or personal agenda. But sometimes it is just impossible say anything useful without ending up in a bun fight with those who carry their own trauma, anger and negative experiences (with the risk of being banned from the group and therefore unable to be of any use in future). This weekend for example, a woman is in hospital having just given birth to a baby. She can't make contact with her solicitor. She doesn't know whether to cooperate with the local authority's instructions to restrict her baby's contact with the father or not. She is being encouraged to wait and speak to her solicitor after the weekend by a few, but the loudest voices by far are those telling her to stand her ground and encouraging her not to cooperate - because the LA don't yet share PR. And they are winning. There are probably over a hundred comments now, and nowhere can I see any information about what risk the local authority are worried about - how anyone can advise this mother what to do without an appreciation of those risks (real or imagined) is beyond me. But they confidently do. And who else does she have to listen to right now, alone on a hospital ward, buzzing with hormones, frightened and separated from her partner?

I wonder if this vulnerable young woman, who seemed quite reasonable at the outset, will keep her baby or if s/he will be whisked away under an EPO because of her increasing belligerence? (And I do also wonder where the hell her solicitor is and why she hasn't prepared her client for this moment - though this too is something I don't have full facts on - it may have been an early delivery and the solicitor may be snowed in for example). And I wonder if anyone at the court hearing next week will appreciate that this young woman is doing her best to do the right thing, has given it a lot of thought - in spite of the apparent lack of a proper pre-birth plan to help her get her bearings - and has desperately sought guidance the best way she knows how - only to be given advice that is most likely to propel her towards the removal of her baby. Or will they just write her off as a non-engager?

So yes, now seems like a good time to repost this article. Because it all worries me very much.


PS I have been meaning to post a link to this interesting episode of Start the Week, with Stephen Pinker and Tali Sharot (amongst others), which I only caught the last half of but which gave some really interesting insights into the limitations of facts in influencing people. I am hoping to review Tali Sharot's forthcoming book 'The Influential Mind' on this blog in due course.


NB I've deliberately made the details of this vague enough to prevent identification of anyone involved. There will sadly be many young mums in hospital this weekend up and down the country in similar situations, and many EPO / ICO hearings at court buildings next week, just as there are every other week of the year. 


Feature pic (facebook in water) - creative commons licence, with thanks to

7 thoughts on “Crisis in Care – Crisis in Confidence?

  1. “non engager”

    Well, seeing as so many parents have been given extremely good reason not to engage with professionals, especially social workers, who lie on record, are biased against them, are ignorant of factors that are vital to understand, are using false information on past records as justification, are engaged in knee-jerk hysterical measures etc. is it any wonder parents resist “engaging”?

    It’s very hard to engage with people you know are not fair and honest, who are threatening you when you know your child is safe.

    It reminds me of this:

    “In the light of their unprofessional behaviour and their negative view of him both as a father and as an individual, as expressed in their evidence, there can be little wonder if the father finds it hard to trust the local authority and work with them from time to time,” the judge said.”

    Professionals are not God. I would turn it on it’s head entirely and point out that in fact there are way too many professionals that do not engage well with parents. And considering that all applicable laws require them to work well with parents and respect them, it’s also in many cases unlawful.

    • I agree EJ, there are lots of entirely understandable reasons why parents don’t engage. There was an interesting discussion on social media recently about the use of terms like ‘hard to engage’ – which puts the focus on the parents rather than on social workers responsibility to do better at engaging parents. I used the term ‘non-engager’ (in inverted commas) in that context – the whole point of the article was to prompt professionals to think harder about why it is that parents don’t engage. The problem may not always or entirely lie with the parents (though of course sometimes it does). And the solution almost certainly doesn’t lie in their hands.

      • I should have said (but I hit reply too quickly) that if my post didn’t make that clear I hope this comment will clarify.

  2. Tempted to ask for a link or two so I can play some sort of helpful role of clarification/signposting – or at least see the content of these groups. I like to know what some of my clients come along with in terms of misinformation.

    • Adam, They are not hard to find. Type ‘social services’ or ‘cafcass’ in the search box in Facebook. But be prepared to explain why you want to join a group. You may not be welcomed if you are unknown – it depends on the group rules. Most of them have no touting rules for example. I always make clear I am a lawyer when I join.

      • Thanks Lucy. Just to reassure you (not that I believe your mind had jumped to this), this would not be a flimsy front for trying to pick up clients!!! A

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