This is a guest blog post by Sarah Phillimore.
For about the past four years now I have been indulging in that respected pass time of Arguing With People who are Wrong on the Internet. This is the electronic equivalent of picking a scab – it’s not going to achieve anything positive and will probably leave a nasty mark, but at the time it is compulsive and enjoyable.
The main arena in which I flex my gladiatorial powers of quick typing is that of child protection law and practice. It is something I know about after nearly 15 years as a lawyer in care proceedings, representing parents, LA’s and Guardians.
Over the years it has become a growing source of concern to me just how frequently and with such conviction various extremely serious and inaccurate allegations were repeated about the family law system. The most alarming in my view were:
- That LA is paid a cash bonus to remove babies into care in order to meet successive government ‘adoption targets’.
- Most of the babies are removed for no good reason and social workers and experts collude and lie to ensure that they are removed.
- Don’t expect any help from your lawyer as he/she is likely to be a ‘legal aid loser’ who depends on the LA for money so won’t make waves
- Parents don’t get to see any of the evidence against them in advance and evidence is routinely withheld from them, with the connivance of the Judges.
- In fact, it’s so bad that you should leave the country rather than engage with a social worker
Obviously, it mattered not how frantically I typed, how measured and reasonable were my arguments, and how sound were my statistics and case law – that is not what Arguing on the Internet is about. Rather, it’s about shouting loudly enough until every one who disagrees with you loses the will to live and goes off and does something else.
But it was clear that this Arguing on the Internet was having dangerous consequences. More and more people began to arrive on discussion threads to agree that they would now think twice before taking a child to A and E with an injury in case waiting on the ward was a Social Worker who would take their baby. People were agreeing that there must be ‘something’ in these Adoption Targets. Many, many distressed and angry people came to argue that social workers and lawyers were liars, were corrupt and that the system was utterly broken. One woman even said she was not prepared to have another child unless the wicked and repressive laws about ‘forced adoption’ were repealed.
The reason why these untruths about child protection have gained and sustained so much traction is partly because, sadly, of the prominence of some of the people who make them, together with the inexplicably eager and uncritical repetition of such allegations by various journalists – some of whom at least should have know better.
Matters came to a head at the end of last year with the case of Allessandra Pacchieri and the ‘forced caesarean’ that has been the subject of much media interest and comment. There is excellent commentary from both Carl Gardner on Head of Legal and Pink Tape should your memory need refreshing.
The most prominent proponent of the advice that it is better to leave the country than engage with social workers is of course Mr. Hemming MP who was given air time by the BBC to repeat this ‘advice’ on Panorama. Shortly thereafter; Radio 4 picked up the baton and ran with it on Face the Facts.
So it is no surprise that these dangerous untruths are gaining a prominence and respectability that I do not think they remotely deserve.
But I also have to accept that another part of the reason is that these criticisms and fears feel right to a lot of people. They have sadly, met a lot of professionals who have been rude, arrogant or dismissive. Who haven’t listened. Who have got things wrong and failed to apologise. Who are struggling under enormous and unsustainable case loads with often limited support in place. Mistakes do get made.
There is also a powerful drive to create a narrative to explain why your child was taken away which means you don’t have to confront your own failings as a parent – it can be someone else’s’ fault, the Evil State that wanted to steal your baby.
Therefore I think that this is a potent mixture to explain where we now find ourselves. Of course, those who are heavily invested in Conspiracy Theories are not going to change their minds no matter how eloquently I argue – last week I was sent a link to a 40 minute long YouTube video which variously asserts that the United Nations is the instigator of international child stealing and a man in Scotland had his child removed because he wore a funny hat.
I am not going to reach these people. They are out of mine, or I suspect anyone’s reach.
But there are others, perhaps parents just beginning care proceedings or worried that they might be, who aren’t quite sure what to believe. Their social worker seems ok, but there is an MP telling them they had better leave the country rather than talk to her.
And then, something really rather amazing started happening on the various internet discussions about the corrupt family system. People started asking for some form of credible and reliable internet resource that could help them find a way though all of this. Some cited the excellent suesspiciousminds blog post "What you should do if social services steal your children" and wished they had found it earlier. A number of us on these threads – lawyers, social workers and parents - began to see that although there was lots of excellent sources of information on the internet, it wasn’t always easy to find unless you knew what you were looking for and also, there didn’t seem to be anything that pulled it altogether and offered perspectives from everyone involved in child protection from the social workers, lawyers, parents and children.
So we decided to create this resource. You will find it at www.childprotectionresource.org.uk.
This is a product of many contributions from many areas of expertise and experience. We hope that it will continue to grow and attract contributions from everyone with an interest in child protection. We would like it to be a real and valuable source of help and information and a way to debate what we do need to see change to make our child protection system as good as it can be.
Because, all of us Arguing on the Internet had at least one thing we could agree about: children need and deserve our protection, within a system that is efficient and as fair as possible.