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Rip it up and start again – rebuilding family justice

 

I was having a conversation on Twitter yesterday with someone who passionately felt that the family Courts needed to be scrapped entirely, rather than improved. That’s not a view that I share, but it did strike me that we don’t really discuss radical options for child protection in this country.

When the Family Justice Review was commissioned, and roved the country talking to ‘stakeholders’ the one group it didn’t really capture was those people who had been through the system and were campaigning against it. It is really easy to just write those people off as conspiracy nuts and bad losers. I don’t think that’s fair.  If you don’t listen to criticism, how do things ever get better?   I don’t necessarily accept everything that the campaigners say uncritically, but in writing this blog I have been able to spend time discussing with the campaigners their real grievances.  The Review never looked at the culture of child protection or whether we could learn lessons from other European methods.

The Family Justice Review didn’t start with a blank piece of paper. They started with a piece of paper that said don’t change much, don’t spend anything, and ideally save us lots of money.

 

So in terms of change, it was rather like having a house that isn’t really working out for the people living in it or visiting it, and arranging for a  cleaner to come in.

You hope that the end result is that things look better, that it feels nice and that everything works a bit more smoothly.  Of course, what can also happen is that things get out of place and not put back quite how you want them, or ornaments get broken.  What we didn’t have, was an architect coming along and saying “we can build a new building and make it work exactly the way we want it to”

So, this piece is thinking of methods you could use to rip family justice up and start again.  I’m not advocating that we do any of these things, but nor is it going to be a piece where I set out the options and sneer at them.  If you never think about the other possibilities, how do you know that there’s nothing better worth trying?

 

Of course, all of these options have pros and cons, some of them have major drawbacks, all of them would cost money and take time that it is unlikely that the Government is ever going to put in. But the current system has pros and cons, has some major drawbacks and costs money and time that is being steadily removed from it.

 

These are just some models that COULD be used, and I’d be interested in a debate about whether any of them are what the family justice campaigners have in mind, or whether they’ve got something different to my thoughts. I don’t want, in this piece, to delineate the pros and cons, because that would be me as part of the System stifling the debate. Let’s have the pros and cons come out as part of the debate.

 

 

1.  The Just Leave parents alone model.   Does exactly what it says on the tin. We stop the child protection systems in the country and leave it to parents to parent.   [Perhaps there is a tweaked version in which there’s a state safety net for the children who are at very very high risk, say about 2% of the current number of care proceedings.]

 

2. The Criminal Justice Model.   If you are a parent and you commit a criminal offence for which you are imprisoned, someone else of your choosing will have to look after your child until you finish your sentence. If you do something which doesn’t result in a custodial sentence, then you get on with looking after your child. Maybe this will result in more prosecutions for child abuse, neglect and possession of heroin, maybe it won’t. But if the law doesn’t think that what you have done is serious enough to be locked up for, let parents get on with it.  We would thus have no family courts (for care proceedings) and a very small number of social workers – for those cases where there is a custodial sentence and the parent can’t find someone who will look after the child.

3.  The Quasi-criminal Model  – the standard of proof is changed to the criminal standard. The rules of evidence become in line with criminal evidence. The case is decided by a jury, assisted and guided by a Judge conducting the hearing and summing up. Perhaps we even just move the process lock stock and barrel into the criminal Courts.

 

4. The Scandanavian Model –  we have social workers and family Courts, but the emphasis is shifted massively to providing support for families and making things work at home, solving those problems. Courts have the power to tell social workers what help a family needs and the social workers have to provide it.  There may be a rump of cases where the risks are just too great to manage at home, but that is something like 2%.  It should be thought of as a failure if the child isn’t able to stay with the family.  We lose the concept of permanence and making permanent decisions about children, and do what is right for them at that time. If a child HAS to stay somewhere else for a time, then the child can and should go home when circumstances change.

 

5. Splitting support and investigation Model   –  is there a conflict between the role of social workers in supporting a family and helping them, and investigating child abuse and making applications to Court?  Could that role be split, so that the people helping a family and looking after the child are kept completely separate from the investigation and prosecution role?  Perhaps the investigation/prosecution role moves over to the police, and social workers stick to support and help.

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

53 responses

  1. An interesting starting point for this discussion would be why do we have the system that we have now? Wouldn’t sane people choose something between 4 and 5?

    • I think like so much of the public sector, you wouldn’t do it that way if you were starting from scratch, but nobody ever wants the expense and disruption of tearing down the existing system and building one from the ground up that works the way you want. So there’s cleaning, and tidying, but no demolition and rebuilding to a different architectural plan.

      For example, if you were starting Parliament from the ground up, you wouldn’t have a huge massive building in the middle of one of the most expensive areas in London to sit in…

      • I would like to demolish and rebuild, there are examples of good practice in social work teams around the country operating in isolation, as well as international models we should explore. There are pockets of great practice, strength based models, the FDAC and similar interventions which empower families despite the 26 week timeframe. (Pre-proceedings work can allow for intervention to divert children from being on the edge of care but are blighted by disguised compliance or non compliance because care proceedings are clearly a possibility).

        I would definitely go for version 5 a criminal burden of proof is too high when you look at the conviction rate for he-said-she-said cases. I might keep the 26 weeks but I would enable more instruction of expert assessments pre-proceedings, SW are not psychologists or substance misuse workers even though they have a working knowledge of those fields. It isn’t so much the legal system I would change, it is not safe for children to remain with their family of birth they should move quickly to permanence, but the building blocks of everything that precedes that process.

        It is a privilege to be a social worker but increasingly hard to feel proud of inhabiting the profession, mainly because of external factors. Cuts, austerity measures and lack of services to signpost to mean early intervention services aren’t available to support families. Experienced SW who are very realistic about family life find it difficult to operate in a system that has no scaffolding for families. We need to acknowledge why LAs have moved from having a front door and a surgery to call centres which assess risk. CYPS is not a service which provides universal access free to all, the pot only stretches to those who present a risk.

        Those of us who entered the profession being able to support families as well as investigate wouldn’t separate the functions because we got to know family dynamics very well, maybe when working under S17 perhaps, well enough to be directive when safeguarding became an issue, perhaps in a time of crisis. Cases would often revolve between without becoming CP cases but when they were conferenced it was often to create a multidisciplinary support plan. Don’t get me started on the culture of manageralism in LAs, the risk adversity of senior managers, and the almost wholesale abandonment of Munro.

        Most CP cases are sad rather than bad and involve complex issues of family dynamics, family history, DV, MH, substances etc. They need the Sure Starts and Children’s Centres that are all but non-existent now but which were the mainstay of some families’ lives. Internally, peer supervision is all but gone because anyone with enough experience to understand the climate either leaves for a different field or works via an agency. Which brings me to, how can CP SW be paid so much less than EVERYONE else in the system & who, in the few cases which do involve psychopaths enter houses to talk difficult stuff with families police visit in pairs with a stab vest on.

        In addition to this I would wish a rigorous debate on outcomes of SGOs, foster care, and adoption and how to create stability and security outside adoption. Where children cannot return home and extended family are either not good enough or present a risk, I am fine with adoption. But sometimes there are family members who cannot provide care but who can be involved in children’s lives. You could call this open adoption if we continue with the non consensual model or we could create a different system. It isn’t enough that recent judgements have told us that adoption should be a nothing else will do scenario when the other options are as rickety as they are at times. I feel like the government and the judiciary are having a row about human rights at the moment and it will affect children’s outcomes. There are cultural differences which make it possible to achieve long term foster carer and kinship care elsewhere in the world and we know enough to explore which aspects could translate.

  2. My tuppence worth:
    A blend of 3, 4 and 5 would eliminate state-sanctioned hysteria and court orders on demand.
    Scrapping the state subsidies funding this invidious industry would be an ideal start, especially at a time of swingeing cuts, in order to do away with the self-serving rhetoric and mindless obfuscation which obstructs effective decision-making and perpetuates instead of relieves suffering children’s misery …
    Great post.

  3. Punishment without crime is wrong,wrong,wrong,.Parents who commit significant crimes against their children or other children usually deserve to lose their children but sane and non criminal parents should nearly always keep their kids………
    That is why 3:- The Quasi Criminal model represents the simplest and most effective way of resolving the injustices perpetrated in the family courts.Most of the parents who phone me open our talk by saying “we have done nothing wrong, we have broken no laws so ,why do they take our children? The criminal sort rarely ring me and rarely fight for their kids in court.
    The Quasi Criminal model where criminal courts( requiring a criminal standard of proof against miscreant parents) replace family courts plus a good dose of model 5 ,”Splitting support and investigation model” seems the ideal solution so that social workers would only be there to help and unite families rather than split them up (what they were founded for !) whilst police would be there to prosecute …………

    • Thank you Ian – I actually had thought that you were Model 2, so it has been a useful exercise in that regard. I think that a combination of 3 and 5, as you suggest has quite a lot to offer. It would be a major shift to implement, and I don’t think it will happen before I retire, but I could see it eventually going that way.

    • I accept that parents who have children removed by a Court Order are going to feel they have been punished, but this isn’t the intention – the initiation of care proceedings which result in the Judge making an Order that prevents the return of the children is made on the basis of a child suffering significant harm, to protect the child, not punish the parents.

      In my view it’s unfair to think in terms of a parent’s inability to keep a child safe from significant harm (in the majority of cases) to be viewed as a crime. Many parents who are involved in care proceedings have had abusive and neglectful childhoods themselves, and this has left them very vulnerable, possibly with mental health issues, and they are ill equipped to offer “good enough” parenting to their own children. We all have one model of parenting (our own) and if we were fortunate enough to be brought up in a loving stable family, then we will almost certainly parent our children in the same way. Conversely if our childhood was characterised by abuse, neglect, domestic violence, etc., then we might repeat that pattern. I am not saying that ALL children who were abused/neglected in childhood will follow that pattern, but it is often the case.

      I know that this is a controversial view because many parents feel they are being unfairly blamed/punished because they were victims of abuse/neglect in their own childhood. But I think many such parents under estimate the way childhood trauma can affect them in their adult life and leave them with so many unmet needs of their own that coping with children is a relentless uphill battle for them, particularly when the odds are stacked against them. By this I mean they are very often in poor sub-standard accommodation, have financial difficulties, lack of support from family/friends, possible domestic violence issues, mental health issues or poor physical health to name but a few. This society has always marginalised the most disadvantaged and deprived section of the community and that has never been more true now that the Tories have been re-elected. They are fully intent on trampling on the rights of anyone, other than the rich and powerful, and care nothing for people who struggle on a daily basis.

      The other issue about criminal offences is that as I’m sure you know, the CPS have to decide whether a case is going to “stand up” in court and unless they are certain that it will, they will not proceed with a prosecution. I think the CPS could well turn down many of the “crimes” of parents towards their children.

      Hmm I think my reply might fit more with option 2 but maybe relevant for Option 3 as well, though the idea of a jury deciding a case fills me with horror, and would I think result in more parents being found “guilty” – I say this because in relation to safeguarding cases, it is essential that you have a reasonably in depth understanding of child development, a child’s needs at differing ages and stages of childhood and the likely outcome if those needs are not met. A Judge doesn’t need to have that but he/she makes a decision based on hearing the evidence and cross examinations etc.

  4. TotallyConfused

    Just my completely irrelevant two pennies. a) I went to my LA begging for assistance. (I could not get ‘my head around’ a particular event that had nothing to do with me) I was told ‘We don’t do that’. Perhaps if someone would have taken the perhaps one hour to talk to me, discuss the impact and give me some ‘strategies’ to manage the situation, my life would not be what it is now….b) I was sent this link this morning: http://www.conservativehome.com/localgovernment/2012/11/social-work-training-is-where-the-seeds-of-scandal-are-sowed.html Now this would not be as disturbing to me if not for the fact that I have been historically been told that while it appears to has not ever impacted on my day to day parenting (not bragging, just saying ‘Day to Day Parenting is More than Good Enough’), I hold the ‘wrong’ political views (Liberal) and am ‘the wrong religion.’

    Keep up the excellent work! I always look forward to reading your blog.
    TC

    • That’s interesting. I’ll tell you what one of the biggest problem with the system is- underqualified and inexperienced social workers. My partner is a newly qualified social worker. Shes worked in care and teaching. She qualified in social work because she cares about children. She’s a great mother and believes enormously that children should remain with their families wherever possible. She would make a fantastic social worker – an outstanding one. Know what the problem is? Despite doing a year’s work as a trainee no-one will give her a job. She’s a very mild, unassuming lady who doesn’t have bags of confidence and isn’t a trendy lefty.

      She’s currently working in a children’s home and doing an outstanding job in very difficult conditions. What a waste eh?

      • I’m new here and am finding the Blog and replies really interesting. I am astonished to hear that your partner Wizardpc is unable to get a social work post, as there is a national shortage and many LAs running at around 30% vacancy rates. In addition Social Work Agencies are “crying out” for social workers for their clients (LAs who are unable to recruit and so have to rely on Agency social workers). Can I ask if your partner has just completed the 3 year degree course in social work. I note you say she has done a year’s work as a “trainee” – was this in a LA Children’s Services – I didn’t think they still operated this system, used to be known as social work assistant. Maybe it was in a voluntary organisation?

        I completely agree with your last paragraph – working in a children’s home (caring mainly for teenagers as younger children are almost always in foster care in this day and age) is indeed working in “very difficult conditions.”

        And you don’t need to be a “trendy lefty” to get a job in social work!

      • Yes she’s done a social work degree the last year of which was working for an LA.

    • Are you willing to say anything more about your experience TC? Just wonder if this was anything to do with you considering fostering or adoption? I don’t know how anyone can be discriminated against for having “wrong” political views (unless you’re a Tory of course!!) and the “wrong” religion. Just curious.

      I have no idea about the content of the teaching on the social work degree course, but I do recall some years ago that there was an over concentration at certain Universities on the 2 yr CQSW on anti-racism and left wing politics (nothing wrong with the latter) I recall one newly trained social worker had pictures of Rastafarian men all around her desk and posters of black Caribbean people. Nothing wrong with that but it was a bit strange really. She was anti anti anti racist and insisted on challenging everyone even when there was no hint of racism.

      Some 98% of the children in the LA where we worked where white UK, and hence we didn’t need to recruit black/Asian families but she was insistent that it was racist not to do so. Hmm………she was a pain in the backside!!

  5. An interesting concept, I particularly am finding number 5 a very good analysis, social workers do have a very split role, my personal opinion is there should be some kind of model built upon the police model. Police Officers have to do 2 years “on the beat” before they can specialize in an area of their choice. Likewise I feel that social workers should do 2 years “on the beat” supporting families to keep children at home. This would create a forceful and robust frontline service whereby families would receive the support so many need to keep the children at home, but also would create a safety net where by less children who are actually being abused would be missed.

    • I find number 5 a good way of addressing current problems – in some authorities there is an urgent need to improve standards of practice in the child protection role. The notion of splitting off investigation from support has many advantages. We know that the competence with which a section 47 investigation is handled will crucially influence the effectiveness of subsequent work. The investigative team should be staffed by social workers who are appropriately trained and would recognise when the incident causing concern is a cry for help and know how to mobilise appropriate support services.

    • I like that Kirsty, good idea to shape perspectives of family life for those who may later move to CP.

  6. Suespicious ,fantastic ! We actually seem to agree on what could be done and I also agree that it won’t happen overnight ! I do believe however that in 50 or 60 years time, some hapless UK Prime Minister will follow the example of Gordon Brown and apologise for the shocking things that happened to children in the beginning of the 21st century(and for 50 years before that) .Alas neither you or I are likely to be there to see it !

  7. Jean Robinson

    When the deluge of letters to our maternity support group began, all requesting help from parents threatened with loss of their babies, my first instinct as a researcher was to look for the evidence base. It was not there. Anecdotal evidence of harm quickly built up in our files, and in 2008 we sent an analysis to Chief Medical Officers in the UK.
    https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=AIMS+JOURNAL+a+letter+to+Liam+Donaldson
    But anecdotal evidence doesn’t count. What matters is “gold standard” evidence from randomised trials, and understandably these are as scarce as hen’s teeth in social work.
    However, the United States had the wonderful example of criminologist Prof Joan McCord, who believed that there should be inbuilt monitoring of all interventions intended to reduce crime. Her long term follow up of an earlier randomised trial of providing a mentor to boys to reduce crime rates, showed that the outcomes were in fact harmful. Her work should be required reading on all social work courses.
    A randomised trial was done in Minnesota of social work, where, after exclusion of immediate high risk cases, families were allocated to normal (what our families call ‘witch-hunting’ SW), or supportive SW, and the families were followed up.
    http://www.iarstl.org/papers/ARFinalEvaluationReport.pdf
    This trial showed many harmful effects on the normal SW group, and many benefits in those families receiving alternative SW. The children were if anything safer, and the cost was no greater. My only complaint is that there was not a third, non-intervention group.
    This trial has been repeated in other states, and there are many publications on this subject, which surprisingly have not been understood by the DoE, , despite our efforts.
    How can we justify the expenditure on huge amounts of scarce resources on damaging thousands of families, when a proven beneficial alternative method exists?
    Jean Robinson
    President
    Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services

    • I absolutely agree that proper research as to the efficacy of practice and different approaches would be incredibly useful. I wasn’t aware of the Minnesota study and it does seem to me that it would be worth replicating in the UK.

  8. None of it would make any difference because the rotten culture is as embedded in the criminal justice system as anywhere else. You want to trust the CPS with child protection; the same mob who won’t prosecute Janner and others? And what difference will it make when judges inadequately versed in family law and society continue to sit on cases, wherever they are? What’s needed is a tribunal-type, multi-disciplinary team using the inquisitorial model, from central funds.That team to have no personal or professional or financial connections to other agencies: tribunals to be a distinct career path.

    Mandatory minimum 5 year sentence for child protection fraud /dodgy reporting. Courts then rubberstamp the decisions made and full procedures and reasons given by the Tribunal. Decision not to be made until all arguments covered; not a sham system where a judge spouts an approved judgement and nobody is allowed to express concerns over the massive holes in the decision before leaving the arena.

    Forensic experts to sit on tribunal panel to check procedures; he/she to be liable if rotten practice has been ‘overlooked.’

    Local authorities to compensate families for unnecessary intervention in the same way as the police are liable for wrongful arrest etc.

    And all procedures to be transparent, so parents know what is expected of them, and how to operate within the system BEFORE they enter it.

    The government to be responsible for proactively producing literature on optimal and ‘good enough’ parenting: that is to be based on science, not doctrine, and not open to interpretation. A ban on removing children based on what might happen; removal of financial incentives; NO private agencies or interests anywhere in the system

    • Dear Stu – a lot of very good points there. And I omitted to include a model which would be “Scrap Risk of Harm and only intervene for things that actually happened” which is a valid model for discussion.

      I agree with you on just about everything in there, particularly your very last paragraph.

      Thank you for taking part in the debate.

      • The system is teeming with private agencies. The way care homes are run is shocking beyond belief and it’s all about money.

    • I’m wondering what you mean StuG by “mandatory 5 year sentences for child protection fraud/dodgy reporting? I suspect given your comment about “rubber stamping” that you mean social work reports that are perceived as containing blatant lies? I know this is a view held by parents who have had children removed, but I think it is a very rare occurrence. I wonder if it’s a matter of difference in perception rather than truth v lies. I can’t understand how a social worker (or anyone else) would not be found out in Court if they had lied.

      I am always amazed at the belief that Judges are merely engaged in a “rubber stamping” exercise and you only have to read a few Judgements to see that this is absolutely not the case. Indeed the amount of detail in Judgements is staggering, and Judges do not hold back on criticising reports or oral evidence if necessary. Care proceedings can last 4/5 days and the Judge has already read all the documents and then listens to all the evidence and cross examinations etc., before making a decision.

      Your comment about “LAs being liable for compensation for unnecessary intervention in families in the same way that the police are liable for wrongful arrest…………….” made me almost choke on my coffee……….the police tell lies a great deal of the time and get away with it, never mind wrongful arrest! What about the newspaper seller at the G20 protests where someone filmed a Police Officer pushing over a man, in a completely unprovoked attack. The man later died and they police got some “dodgy” medical practitioner (by virtue of the fact he was at the time under investigation for gross misconduct) to say that the cause of death was heart attack. Later 2 independent gave the same cause of death: internal bleeding commensurate with a heavy fall to the ground. Was anyone charged – course not. OR the Chilean man who was shot 7 or 8 times by as many police officers on the Tube in London, believing he was a terrorist. Passengers on the train all claim that the man was lying on the floor before he was shot. Police later lied and said the man had jumped over a barrier and was wearing a puffer jacket that might have a hidden bomb inside – another blatant lie. And Hillsborough……………enough said! “Unnecessary intervention pales into insignificance with death, sometimes of hundreds of people.”

      Your final paragraph leaves me cold……….”the government to produce…..etc based on science not doctrine. I wouldn’t trust this government to produce guidelines on the optimal care of a goldfish. How can “good enough” care of children be a science? Impossible! Science is a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systemised observation and experimentation of certain phenomena.

      You call for a ban on “financial incentives” – there aren’t any (not as far as LAs are concerned) – conversely this government is intent on demanding massive savings from all public services, leaving them unable to fulfil their statutory duties.

      I agree with “no private agencies” but there are no “private adoption agencies” only “independent fostering agencies” (IFAs) who recruit and approve foster carers and then “sell” them to the LA at vast expense, depleting LA budgets still further.

      I gather you are a LA lawyer “suespicious” – am amazed that you agree with Stu’s last paragraph.

      I do think the issue of “likely significant harm” is worthy of a debate and would welcome this as I think the provision is largely misunderstood or misinterpreted.

  9. stella aka toni macleod

    ohhhh fantastic way to start my friday morning 🙂

    il just chuck my two pennith in because youve caught my attention fully this morning enough to close the ‘social networking’ tabs and pausing the music channel …….a task significantly hard to achieve

    i personally think looking at the above options that it shouldnt go any of the above ways i honestly think it should have slight bits of every option placed within our current system which i will explain below

    1) is a totally idiotic unrealistic option the child protection system is there for a reason granted currently its a shambles however without it many more baby p’s victoria’s and baby johns would be a frequent occurrence which in itself is unacceptable

    2) social services involvement from criminal justice interventions shouldnt just simply leave them to get on with it and bounce the child in and out of family placement not only that but how many drug addicts and sex offenders get community orders those children shouldnt simply be left with them or the prolific offenders who are in and out of jail every two minutes that child wouldnt know whether their coming or going and it would be cruel in itself

    3) i dont agree with the criminal standard of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt for care proceedings either due to sheer amount of criminals that get off with crimes they clearly have done but wiggle out of again this would fail the child although for years iv said care proceedings should be decided by a jury also how to manage to prosecute things like screaming at a child although you could twist it to affray of the alike i suppose but just no any way

    4) i do actually like this option however where realistically is the funding coming from ??? as me gran used to say ……wish in one hand sh*t in the other see which comes first …..and i doubt the magic millions will be the one appearing first for this option

    5) splitting the roles of child protection and family support workers has and is sometimes done however the resources are over stretched and it never works that way as the support worker still retains the duty to report concerns so you cant realistically split the two roles as they always over lap regardless of it being a nice idea to build trust

    which leaves me to my views of what should be done to the system ….there’s lots !! lmao !

    1) actually reinforce the laws that are in place they arent that far off the mark … if a social worker lies then they get done for perjury and JAILED which will act as a deterrent to lie to get their end goal if there is child neglect or child assault prosecute them quite simply in criminal courts the witness protection laws protect the child and bail conditions are there for a reason to protect the victim even section 17 of the CA89 states la’s have a duty to support families …….its there so reinforce and utilize them !

    2) go back to what social services were originally founded for to support families if a parent is struggling with tidying their home they should grab a tea towel and muck in or take the kids to the park for a few hours to give the parent a chance to tidy up or if they cant cook pop in and show them how to do something simply like spag bol it takes 20 mins tops yet that could last a life time if they cant budget pop in and help them set up standing orders etc then they know where they stand with expendable finances common sense really removing their kids isnt going to help any of them in the long run

    3) instead of having judges who are out of touch with the reality of working classes and social workers who are younger than the parents and fresh out of college with no life experience let alone kids of their own put in place 3 judging parties that must be either parents or grandparents who have the life experience behind them and are working class so understand joe public’s daily struggles to decide the outcomes and set a limit that a social worker must be 30 years and above so they actually have life experience there is nothing more derogative to a parent or grandparent in proceedings when some snotty nosed brat whose barely 18 is stood telling them that blowing bubbles is a safe guarding issue !!! and YES thats a frequent occurrence !? or that a daddy long legs was a poisonous spider lol just lmao !

    4) remove all financial bonuses for achieving safeguarding results its sick twisted and simply designs the system to not work in the best interests of the family and yes i will no doubt get a influx of they dont do them any more YES they do check private adverts for social worker agency workers they openly state the bonuses during the interviews 😦

    5) use the finances that are wasted on legal teams (sorry andrew but true!) and adoption and fostering payments unless needed for the childs safety foster carers get approximately £300+ per week for one family if their kids werent removed that cash could be used to hire a cleaner send them on cooking and budgeting courses send them to counseling provide child care etc again common sense utilize the money in better ways

    6) work with the family under part III of the CA89 that reunification isnt just a lip service theory but an actual target how many cases have you seen that once the child is removed the family doesnt see the social worker ever unless its a lac review !? how is that working with the family ??? its not if the need arises that the child should be removed them immediately the resources should be put in place to fix the family issues

    7) this one is no doubt going to cause outrage however i dont care i think it should be done if a parent has been seen to sexually abuse or severely neglect physically abuse to the extent broken bones or tab burns etc occur or spit kids out a dozen at a time and have every single one of them removed due to the repeated same failures they should be whether they are male or female forcibly sterilized end the cycle there n then human rights or no human rights tracy connelly is a prime example of this one

    8) build more supported housing so that families with issues can live safely supported but with their children

    9) do daily drug and alcohol testing for those with substance issues its a wee test hardly hard work if they fail they loose their kids to foster care it gives them something to focus on and a firm but fair process to prioritise their children above their substance issues

    10) have all contacts and communications with professionals recorded the police do it with body cams and interviews so why cant the local authorities and guardians how many parents have said the sw said this and that or a sw said the parent said or did this end the speculation and have hard solid proof of who is at fault it will end the whole he said she said bs that goes on

    11) treat the kids as kids actually empathize with them far to often they are bounced from placement to placement here there and every where yet no one considers that it screws a child up for life and la line of they will settle eventually its in their best interests is bs the parties to proceedings to be equal if a parent can be criticized for to many house moves as being ‘unsettled’ then quite simply whats good for the goose is good for the gander

    12) have automatic fines for local authorities and cafcass that fail in their duties not the company but the actual individuals if they are shown to fail to file on time or organize a meeting or sort therapy etc fine them nothing hits home quicker than a hole in ya pocket

    13) abolish forced adoption hardly any other countries do it its proven to be detrimental to the emotional and psychological well being for every one involved so stop it happening quite simply theyve only just apologised for the ones 50 years ago as they were seen as social engineering of single parents hmmmm hold on future risk of emotional harm ……. ohh yeah thats this century’s social engineering that will no doubt deliver apologises in another 50 years

    i think im about done now 🙂 ahhhhh thanks andrew much appreciated getting that little rant out fab topic choice 😉 xx

    • Yes, I did anticipate that under about three of those Models I’d definitely be out of a job, and probably in at least one of the others I’d be unlikely to remain employed. Tried not to have that as a consideration – if the costs of legal proceedings could be successfully channelled into something that would benefit children, it is worth looking hard at.

      I’m sure that I would find a way to monetize being able to read fast and be sarcastic about what I’ve read…

      Apart from your eugenics point, I think you are on to something with most of your other suggestions. (I don’t think failure to jail for perjury is limited to social workers – hardly any witnesses ever get prosecuted for perjury, and prison sentences are fairly rare. It might actually be one of those few areas where the law cracks down more harshly on MPs than any other section of the community… But if a Court finds that a witness has lied, rather than just is mistaken or has an opinion that the Court disagrees with, I’ve no problem with proper consequences for that)

      • stella aka toni macleod

        yeah but would you rather be out of a job and be reassured that justice was prevailing ?? ………. careful how ya answer that one lmao !

        yeah im shocked at my turn around in position on the eugenics point given i was very much strongly against it but through the years dealing with parents i have come to a point that sometimes there is no other option 😦 sad but true as they say you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink no matter how much its dying of thirst 😥

        i do agree with the perjury angle even in criminal courts they rarely ever prosecute it even when its blatantly clear for all to see …….

        which is a waste the original founding principals of law which were empowered for a reason so that truth and justice prevailed as it is we have lost grasps with reality of why we have a justice system that isnt fit for purpose

        if more matters were dealt with under the wednesbury reasonableness principal throughout the whole of the legal system not just limiting it to family law the country would be a better place although its slightly off track ….

        take for instance the elderly gent that when burglared had to pay the intruder damages because he injured himself doing it !?
        or the sex offender that got his sentence lessoned as the victim had been raped previously !?
        or that a drug addict shop lifter gets jail time where as a pedophile doesnt ?!

        in my mind thats not justice its not even sane yet this is the reality of the country we live in

        if we brought the whole country back to merely a few simple points it would be a better place

        1) punishment for those who harm others
        2) support for those that need it
        3) equality for all
        4) recognizing that no matter how dysfunctional a family may appear from the outside blood will always be thicker than water if theres no actual harm aid and support it not divide and conquer it

        xx

    • I enjoyed your post Stella. I’m new here so assume Stella is a female but could be Stella (as in the beer) no matter – I will reply.
      I totally agree with your points 1 – 5 with a few reservations. (Is the current cp system a “shambles” or maybe “room for improvement” is more apt – I don’t know. Am now retired! I agree with 3 other than the “trial by Jury” which really horrifies me. I’ve given reasons in another reply, so won’t repeat myself.
      Couldn’t agree more with your No. 4. It sounds a fine system but it just isn’t possible to equate the social policies of the Scandinavian countries with what we have in the UK. I don’t claim to have any detailed knowledge about the differences, but I am aware that Scandinavian countries generally have a far more “family friendly” slant to their laws and social policies. There is a more caring attitude and they value their citizens and have excellent child care facilities for pre school children. These values will be reflected in their economic policies. Contrast that to what we have here………..dear god there is NO comparison is there. We have a government who are systematically dismantling the welfare state, starving public services of financial resources by demanding massive savings in budgets, and at the same time, wanting improved services. This is having serious repercussions on Children’s Services, and they are struggling to cope with their statutory responsibilities. There is a national shortage of social workers, high sickness rates with stress related illness and a reliance on agency staff, further depleting budgets. (I noticed you were talking about social workers going in to help cook a spag bol or help with housework…..) those days are gone, and not because of any lack of will. I think many social workers would prefer that to sitting in front of a screen for around 70% of their working day, on a box ticking exercise. (Not sure what your gran would make of that…..!)
      Totally agree with your No 5 without reservation. Nice idea but unworkable in practice for the reasons you give.

      I don’t have time to comment on all your own suggestions but will have a quick stab (for want of a better expression)

      Your No 3. The difference in the social class of some social workers, most lawyers and every Judge and most parents involved in care proceedings is a real problem. I wrote a piece in Child Protection Resource about this if you’re interested. But I don’t agree with the grandparent judges regardless of their social class because anyone making decisions in safeguarding cases needs to have a reasonably in-depth understanding of child development, the needs of the child through the ages and stages of childhood and the likely outcome if those needs aren’t met. Whoops I’ve already written that in another reply………..it’s getting late and I need my bed. And the snotty “barely 18 year old” – agree that there’s a problem with young newly qualified social workers with no children of their own and very little understanding of the difficulties parents are facing……but they’d have to be at least 21 because they do need to do a 3 year degree and couldn’t start till they were 18 following A levels, but 21 is far too young………..so yes agree 30 is about right.

      And finally – your No 4 – aaaargh the Bonus Business again! I think this myth is one of the things that frustrates me most about this whole debate. It is true that Tony Blair (in his wisdom…) decided that older children living in temporary foster care or residential care should be adopted and promised extra funding for LAs who met their targets. What TB didn’t realise that there weren’t actually people forming a queue to adopt 9 year old boys who had a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties. Most adopters want children aged 1 – 4 years. SO it was largely unsuccessful and the targets were dropped as was the extra funding. Many people believe that this funding was actually divided up amongst social workers (!) whereas of course it meant an increase in the allocation of funding from central government to the LA and went into the “central pot”

      The thing about Social Work Agencies advertising for staff for their clients (LAs who are unable to recruit social workers) and have to rely on agency staff, YES these Agencies advertise “bonuses” for social workers who they can place with their client (the LA) but these are “one-off” bonuses of around £200, which they will no doubt re-claim from the LA in the guise of “administration fees” or some other made up cost on their invoice to the LA. Social workers are NOT paid bonuses by LA. Never have, and never will!

      And so to bed………………

  10. Option 5 has been on the table and brushed under the carpet since Lynne Wrennall put in proposals to the parliamentary enquiry in 2004.
    http://www.academia.edu/339801/Wrennall_L._2004_Miscarriages_of_Justice_in_Child_Protection_a_brief_history_and_proposals_for_change._Paper_presented_to_the_parliamentary_conference_held_by_the_All_Party_Group_on_Abuse_Investigations_Attlee_Suite_Portcullis_House_2_December

    …And as Stella says, the separation would have to be real, otherwise it would merely be more horrible icing on the mouldy old cake. If Early intervention a la SpringConsortium wasn’t just about privatisation by the back door, then it might create some opportunities for separating support and investigation.
    Option 3: the quasi criminal route would go some way to clearing up the terrible and all too frequent miscarriages of justice, where social workers say enough to pass a threshold of probability and get the children taken but there isn’t the follow through of any criminal investigation of what the S/w has alleged – or even ABE interviews half the time.

    Isn’t it really about the money – in the end? …So my suggestion to add to all these other ideas, would be making the teaching of parenting skills a central part of the curriculum, and thus perhaps reduce the numbers getting into trouble in the first place.

  11. Perhaps under the principle of nominative determinism, it would be worth looking at whay the new system would be called? Irrespective of one’s views about the legal system, the focus would not be court centred. So what would the new style system be called? It helps to focus the mind on what is wanted.

    Also, I a year or so ago I looked around on the net for outcomes in Scandanavia, where there is no non-consensual adoption. The little that I saw suggested that it wasn’t that good, in terms of stability, staying in education and so on. I was suprised at how difficult it was to find out. It would be so good have information about alternatives and outcomes.

  12. Number 2 keep it simple no crime against your children, no punishment for the whole family the criminal standard is the only way to go.

  13. Turn the clock back ! Go back to how it used to be. Replace family courts with criminal courts demanding criminal standards of proof and 99% of injustices would in my opinion be avoided. The idea that too many criminals escape because of lack of proof implies that people should be imprisoned on the balance of possibilities (51%) rather than beyond reasonable doubt. This would probably end up with more folk in prison than out of it ……….
    Parents are surely entitled to the same protection as hardened criminals? Leave criminal courts to judge allegedly criminal actions…………..

    • Balance of probabilities is much more helpful than beyond reasonable doubt. Too many cases where children weren’t safe would result in not guilty verdicts if there was a criminal burden of proof.

  14. So FA what about parents who sadly are unable to care for their children safely because of complex and enduring mental health problems (and I don’t mean depression or anxiety) Take the case of a single mother who has a long psychiatric history and recurring psychosis (as in being deluded, out of touch with reality) and frequently needs to be an inpatient on a psychiatric ward under a Section of the Mental Health Act, sometimes for as long as 6 months, as she is a danger to herself or others. She doesn’t realise when she is getting ill because that’s the nature of psychosis, and so doesn’t seek help but her child is most definitely at risk of significant harm, as people suffering psychosis can become paranoid and have dangerous delusions.There is no one to support her or care for the child. Do you want her in front of the criminal court?

    What about parents with moderate/severe learning disabilities who regardless of the support they are given, are just not able to keep a child safe and free from significant harm. Many such parents can perform tasks under supervision but can’t recall how to do something without supervision. Do you want them in front of a court?

    How about the parent who has been horrendously ill treated as a child and suffered childhood trauma of one kind or another. Do you know the effects of this follow the child into her adult life and seriously effect her ability to offer “good enough” parenting. She is very vulnerable, has low self esteem (so often forms relationships with violent men) she can’t sustain relationships, she gets angry very easily, she has “flashbacks” to the trauma she suffered (undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and horrendous nightmares, and intrusive thoughts that she can’t stop and they scare her. She has trouble coping with herself let alone coping with the demands of young children. She’s possibly diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder – there’s no real treatment for that – it means you’re screwed up because you were screwed up as a child. These poor women struggles to care for her children but the odds are stacked against her, and finally the Court makes an Order to remove them. Do you want her in front of a Court?

    People who talk about “replacing family courts with criminal courts” don’t in my view have any understanding of the myriad of reasons behind a parent’s inability to offer “good enough” parenting.

    I think while ever we live in a society that marginalises people who are distressed, mentally ill, poor, have learning disabilities, and are otherwise seriously deprived and disadvantaged, there will be problems. This has NEVER been more true today with Cameron and his ilk intent on trampling of the rights of such people. SO what’s the answer – REVOLUTION.!! BUT Revolutions are said to be “fought on empty bellies” and that may be within the realms of possibility during the next 5 years of this “shower of shite” who care only for the rich and powerful.

    • Oh Kate how typical ! You speak of “parents sadly unable to care for their children” and who is to decide this? Why you of course plus a gaggle of social workers whose decision will be rubberstamped by a compliant family court judge.Either parents are crazy,nuts,and completely round the twist or they are not .If they are utter fruitcakes they will be sectioned so the kids will have to be cared for elsewhere.Not however because they do not engage with professionals or have a hostile and aggressive attitude causing judges to frown and say ponderously “you have not changed” .Nobody who can read and write and shop with cash needs a university degree to parent and any normal mother will be aggressive and hostile to those who wish to steal her children !
      You ask “do I want them in front of a criminal court?” Well yes I do if they have committed a crime against their children or any children but otherwise not.
      You contradict yourself wildly when you speak of a mother so illtreated as a child that she scares her children and after a family court has removed her kids you actually ask “do you want her in front of a court?Well the mother in your example has already been in front of a family court and been robbed of her kids “on balance of probabilities and been punished for being abused or in care when she was young.Yes I prefer a criminal court if she has neglected or hurt her children rather than a bent family court where a judge prattles on about hostile attitude and a past record and then deprives the children of the love they need more than anything else !
      As for marginalising the poor and deprived that is what you and your kind do legally stealing their children and making a living doing just that ! If you really want a revolution just scrap useless heartless social workers and corrupt family courts and return to the original concept of law and order !
      There can NEVER be justification for removing babies at birth for “risk of emotional abuse”.I deal with over 1000 cases a year by phone and nearly half of them complain “we have broken no laws ;we have done nothing wrong so why do they steal our babies?We are all at risk every day but nobody (not even a burglar fresh out of jail) is punished for looking in a shop window for the risk they might steal something;
      Judges and social workers dare to foretell the future(with Crystal balls?) and legally confiscate kids on the strength of ridiculous prédictions……..How wicked especially when it’s newborn babies !
      That is why I refund travel expenses for any pregnant woman wanting to avoid forced adoption by fleeing to Ireland,France,Belgium, and other countries where it does not exist ………….

      • Had I known who you were I wouldn’t have bothered to reply Mr Josephs. I am well aware of the trio of “conspiracy theorists” – you, Hemming and Booker and wonder if there are any females who share your warped views.

        I’m sure you’ve enjoyed ranting to a social worker rather than a lawyer, cus WE are the evil child snatchers of course. Thing is I’m retired see – so haven’t been able to steal any babies or children for some 6 years now. Anyway I’m not so nimble on my feet these days, so wouldn’t be as adept at “snatching” babies as I was in my younger day.

        I’m not going to bother arguing with you or pointing out your absurd inaccuracies because it’s utterly pointless. BUT before I go, this big rubber stamp that Judges have. Have you ever seen one – No? Well I haven’t either but I’m told they’re huge, and the ink pad where they are depressed is bright red and when stamped on documents it reads “Case proved – Placement Order made” AND I can’t say for sure but I’ve been told by a “reliable source” from the Daily Mail (there’s a contradiction in terms if ever there was one…….) that an admin worker stamps all the documents before the case is heard……….imagine that!!

        Re your comment about refunding travel expenses to allow parents to “flee the UK” well yes, you’re definitely acting in the best interests of the parents but the law requires social workers to act in the best interests of the children, so that’s what makes the difference. Got it now? No – I thought not.

        Good night.

  15. These are questions that urgently require consideration. My initial response is:

    1. No child should be subject to forced adoption on the basis of a decision by a single judge at the balance of probability level of evidence, where there are, as a present, very limited grounds for appeal.

    2. The actual total cost of contested care proceedings is never determined: local authority costs; court costs; solicitor/barrister costs; GAL costs; costs of experts; costs of adoption agencies etc. Total costs of each care proceedings case should be audited and published.

    3. The care proceedings (and forced adoption) criteria of ‘risk of future emotional harm’ should be removed. The validity of ‘emotional harm’ as a concept, and the reliability of predicting it in the future, are far too weak to serve as justifiable grounds for State removal of children. The amount of money saved by removing this criterion (see point 2) would be enormous and could be re-directed into constructive family support services.

    4. The purpose of Cafcass should be reviewed. The role of the Guardian ad Litem has moved far from the original intended independent professional perspective by very experienced practitioners. We have arrived at a situation where the local State (local authority) brings proceedings, and the national State (Cafcass) largely rubber stamps local State care plans. The independent professional perspective of social work practice has been removed by means of central control of Children’s Guardians, and removal of legal aid for independent social workers.

    5. The government (apparently supported by all main parties) appears to actively support an increase in the numbers of children being adopted from the care system. The article ‘Adoptions plunge to crisis level after judge’s warning’ (The Times 15/5/2015) is actually good news for many children and families. Substantial numbers of babies/infants/young children have been placed for forced adoption (often on the highly dubious grounds of ‘future emotional harm’), when they could and should have remained within their natural families. Adoption is not a panacea. Breakdowns occur, and adoptive children can be returned to the care system without contact with either their natural or adoptive families. In cases that do not result in actual breakdown, high levels of severe family dysfunction often develop; and there is a dearth of therapeutic services able to provide constructive support. The strong desire to search for natural family knowledge and connection, aided by social media, means that eventual reunification with the natural family is increasingly inevitable. This leaves ill-prepared yet well-intentioned adoptive parents feeling abandoned, bewildered and bereft.

    • Very good suggestions Peter. On point 5 I would add that the process of recruiting adopters needs to change. At present social workers spend ages gathering masses of pointless information and are insufficiently focused on identifying people who are emotionally equipped to care for older children in foster care who need permanency.

      At the root of the problem is the way children’s services lurches unevenly between too much and too little state intervention in family life. Also, there are too many social workers who lack the capacity for making fine judgements about risk. I would therefore add:

      6. Social workers should pass a written test to ensure they have a sound understanding of the law and recent developments, and a balanced sense of ethics and values, before they are permitted to do court work.

      • What is your evidence Hilary for your assertions? It isn’t a question of “identifying people who are emotionally equipped to care for older children who need permanency” – the sad fact is that once a child reaches 5 his/her chances of being adopted grow more remote by the day. Most adopters want children under 5.

        Re: the written test. Social workers have to complete a 3 year degree course and pass practice placements before they are qualified. And then (like most professions) you learn “on the job” so to speak. I wonder what a “balanced sense of ethics and values mean” – wide open to interpretation I think. Can you say exactly what ethics and values you would like to see social workers possess?

        Of course newly qualified social workers should not be “permitted” to do court work and I’m sure they would be heartily relieved to be spared this onerous and stressful task at the beginning of their social work career. However I’m not sure if you are aware of the perilous state of Children’s Services at the present time, especially in terms of safeguarding work. There is an absolute dearth of experienced social workers and managers and many LAs with large vacancy rates, high levels of sick leave with stress related illness and a reliance on agency workers.

        Social workers (like every other professional) will differ in their competence and will make mistakes and in my experience there have always been problems with under resourcing. Now that this govt have demanded massive savings from the budget of ALL public services, the situation will worsen………..considerably. Most LA CSs are “on their knees” with social workers struggling with overwhelming caseloads.

        Have you ever lain awake at night worrying about a family – I have – many times in the past. Thank god I’m retired.

      • I know you left me a link Hilary but it seemed to disappear but I remembered “Barefoot” was in it and had read your profile before. I can see that you have had a very long career in social care, in a wide variety of settings, but I can’t help but notice that 4 years (between 1993 and 1997) were enough for you, and you took early retirement because of the stress of the job. You were fortunate to take such an action at aged 50 and this isn’t an option for most social workers.

        I wonder why you don’t feel the need to reply to my post, other than to direct me to your profile?

      • I wouldn’t agree re assessment of adopters, but I would agree that more consideration needs to given to who adopters are in the UK. They are the last people the system should be about but their capacity is significant. If we accept that most adopters are childless couples who have tried to have their own children we must also accept the grief and loss of that journey. We are asking people who planned to have their own children to look after other people’s. Not only that we are asking traumatised adults to look after children who have experienced trauma. The assessment is a risk assessment and an assessment of parenting capacity which takes those people on a different journey to find out if they can parent our children in care.

        There remains a huge mismatch between who the children are and who adopters wish to parent. Lower numbers of children mean that the children who are waiting now are the children who wait longest, older children, BME children, children with additional needs and siblings. The DfE prefer to blame waiting children on LAs not working effectively. We have some great adopters who are for whom that assessment process is one of self- reflection and self-interrogation and who emerge with a knowledge base they need.

        Where the state needs to intervene to ensure children can grow up within a loving nurturing family we do adoption better than long term foster care in this country (though I hate the phrase languishing in care because most foster carers are loving nurturing families too). Adoption is heart transplant surgery and nothing anyone with any sense would rush. The danger of SG0/kinship placements replacing adoption at the rate they are is that some will be unsustainable and we are affecting the outcomes for those children if we don’t achieve permanence for them.

        I would wish to redesign it all really… and one of the factors I would look at is open adoption/securing permanence in foster care so that there is less of a draconian separation except where that needs to take place for safety reasons. Everyone will find each other of FB anyway.

    • I think many of us were hoping that the Supreme Court would put an end to future risk of emotional harm (and perhaps emotional harm altogether) in Re B, but only Lady Hale really went near that question. I honestly don’t see very many emotional harm cases, and certainly none that would get close to adoption. I’m also not reading many in the reported cases under the President’s Transparency guidance (but we clearly aren’t seeing all of them, and I’m sure there are such cases around.)

      Totally agree with you on the dilution of CAFCASS and the very unappealing politicising of a drive towards adoption.

      • Why does everyone talk of “future risk of emotional harm” – when the wording of the CA is “significant harm or likely significant harm.” I don’t understand why there is so much dissent about “emotional harm” – surely a child who is physically or sexually abused or seriously neglected also suffers emotional harm – how can they not? Emotional distress/harm lasts far longer than the actual abuse or neglect, which is the cause of emotional harm, and people who suffer childhood trauma often continue to suffer emotional distress of one kind or another throughout their lifetime.

        I think there is a lack of understanding about “likely significant harm” and parents talk of “social workers looking into crystal balls” – I can think of many reasons why a LA would request a Court Order for a child to be removed under this term, and the “crystal ball” business is in my opinion a failure of parents to make any link between the past and the present. I know this is an abstract concept and many people think in very concrete terms and are unable to understand or conceptualise abstract thinking.

        Suespiciousminds. Is it ok to ask if you are a LA lawyer? If so, I am surprised at some of your comments.

        I do think that the issue of “emotional harm” and “likely significant harm” are in many ways separate dependent obviously on circumstances, and are worthy of a new debate. Would you be able to start one?

      • Dear Kate – I am a local authority lawyer, but bear in mind that this debate is about what a wholly different system might look like. I am not myself advancing any of these methods, but I wanted to start a discussion about what an entirely different system would look like. I have my personal views that the current system does offer safeguards and protections for both parents and children, but I’m afraid that as I read so many Court judgments it has become apparent that the checks and balances that need to be in place for the system to always be fair are not always present. I think that there are good social workers, good Judges and good advocates for parents, and I happen to think that they are the majority, but there’s enough of a minority of bad ones to cause a great deal of pain and trouble.

        Emotional harm as a component of other harm I have no problem with – I completely recognise and agree that the emotional fall-out and pain for a child from sexual abuse can be the most important and harmful element of it. The issue with emotional harm, and likelihood of emotional harm is when they are deployed as stand-alone reasons for State intervention. I.e there is no neglect, no physical harm, no sexual harm, no drugs or alcohol. And the case is put on purely emotional harm, or the possibility of it (which is what happened in the case of Re B). The problem there is that it becomes so subjective, and so open to interpretation that it becomes open to abuse. Like I say, I honestly don’t see many cases where emotional harm is the sole or major concern, but there clearly are some.

        Thank you for commenting Kate – I know that it is not always easy for someone from a social work background to contribute and I’m always really pleased when they do – a mix of viewpoints and perspectives massively add to the debate. I don’t think it helps when the debate polarises into purely demonising social workers – I’ve never known any who hadn’t come into the job with the intention of helping children and families. Sometimes the system in place makes it harder for them to do the job that they signed up to do, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

  16. This is a reply to suespiciousminds – thank you for your post and I take your point……there wasn’t a blue Reply symbol under your post. I really think this issue of “future emotional harm” and “likely significant harm” needs to be discussed because as I said I think there’s a lot of confusion, and I get so irritated by this “crystal ball” thing………….am beginning to feel a bit defensive about the criticism of social workers and I know that’s not helpful, but it seems everyone has something critical to say.

    I haven’t read all those excerpts of the Judgement you recently posted but intend to do so as it’s a very interesting case. I read that the Judge (Wall LJ I think) or maybe some precedent now thinks the social workers in Adult care with a specialism in Learning Difficulties should make the decision about whether or not the parents with LDs can care safely for their children or not. I absolutely agree there should be joint working between these services and I’m sure this already happens. It certainly was the case when I was in LA social work; likewise we worked collaboratively with social workers in adult mental health when necessary. BUT there is no mention of a collaborative approach – why does the Judge think that the social workers for adults with LDs will have the relevant child care experience to make such an important judgement. Seems anyone is deemed to be more able that CSs social workers.

    Last night I read a blog by someone (a paralegal who usually worked in private law) talking about “an interesting thing is happening in adoption” and then talked of “forced adoption” – it was obvious that she knew very little about care proceedings and requests for Placement Orders. She commented something like “children can be taken and re-allocated to new parents by a relatively easy legal process…………..” “Re-allocated” FGS. I sent off a fairly “robust” reply.

    Also now I read in Community Care that a similar process to “Teach First” is happening with social workers, whereby they will have 5 weeks at a summer school and then a 12 month placement in a LA and will then be qualified. Assume they will have to be graduates with a 2:1 or above. This is how “Teach First” works – dreamed up I think by Gove, on the basis that anyone with intelligence can teach. Maybe they can, I don’t really know how it works out in practice or the success rate. But look out for more problems with Children’s Services – as this is not only “throwing people in at the deep end” in my view, it’s throwing non-swimmers in without a life-jacket.

    And then there will be more criticisms from lawyers, Judges , parents and anyone else who wants to take a pop at social workers. Oh god this post is getting intemperate, but I spent 2 hours on the phone last night talking to my niece (a social worker 3 years qualified) who is giving in her notice. She can no longer stand the pressure that has “taken over her life” – an incompetent manager, a culture of bullying from senior managers, and suffering from stress because of an unmanageable workload. Her career is in tatters and she started out full of hope and wanting to make a difference to disadvantaged people. She is by no means alone – many social workers are totally de-moralised – it’s always been a tough job, even when caseloads were manageable and there were experienced workers to coach newly qualified workers, but now neither of these things happen, and the criticisms continue. The govt are starving the LA of funds (in all public services) and at the same time demanding improved services and no doubt will be looking to privatise Children’s Services. Surely G4S or Centro will put in a successful bid – won’t improve services, but who cares, they will make big profits for themselves and shareholders. And who will the government blame then? When these private companies cock things up, (as they do, and commit fraud) there is not a whisper from the government.

    Children’s Services are starting to be deemed as “unfit for purpose” by OFSTED and small wonder. That is a very apt description, but not always because of the poor quality of social work practice, although that is a contributory factor of course, but when Senior Managers are putting pressure on middle managers to save money, then they in turn are putting pressure on frontline workers, and this doesn’t create a situation where newly qualified social workers can steadily gain the experience and confidence that is so necessary in safeguarding work.

    Recruitment and retention of social workers is an enormous problem. I wonder why?

    OK sorry for the rant ……………..I just needed to get that out.

    .

    • Not a problem Kate, rant away.

      We can see the power grab to privatise adoption functions today, with the publication of the Education and Adoption Bill, which has a power which would allow the Secretary of State to make any Local Authority either merge its functions in relation to adoption with another LA or to hand them over entirely to an adoption agency.

      Obtaining a Placement Order is certainly not easy, and there really are no rubber stamps. Is the process always as open-minded, creative about problem solving and mindful that adoption is not a magic bullet solution as it should be? Probably not.

      There are a lot of very good social workers out there (I know that some of my commentators would disagree, but that’s the thing with free speech) and it is not a job that I would want to do for twenty times their salary.

  17. Hi Suess – I’d had a quick look at the Education and Adoption Bill and as you say this looks like the path to privatisation of adoption – why should we be surprised, as the Tories are intent on privatising all public services. It will be turning the clock back though because in the 1950s/60s there were many Adoption Societies all over the country, some run by religious organisations, and before that of course, there was “private” adoption, in the sense that the local GP often made the arrangements to place a baby of an “unmarried mother” with a coupling wanting a child. The “assessment” for adopters in those times (and I use the term loosely) were awful. So long as the home was clean and the garden tidy and the couple had a reference from the local vicar priest, there wasn’t much else to it……..I’ve read these a/ments in old files and recall some phrases e.g. “Mr and Mrs X’s home was beautifully clean and tidy and the garden was well tended with a pretty herbaceous border. They take an annual holiday in Wales every year and would bring up a child to know “right from wrong” and in the Christian faith. All that was required then was that the couple went to the Mother and Baby Home and picked up their 6 week old baby. There were hundreds of babies adopted in the 50s and 60s as it was an absolute scandal to have a child born “out of wedlock” and these poor young women were indeed FORCED to give up their babies for adoption, unless their family were willing to support them. It was just not possible in those times to be a single parent. I was a “fallen woman” myself at the age of 22 but was fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who supported me and welcomed me home with my son.

    Could be that this is just what the govt would like to happen – why bother with lengthy assessments of adopters by social workers who are perceived to be largely inept in any event. Of course Michael Gove was adopted so he’ll know all about adoption won’t he!

    The thing is that no matter how they re-organise the Adoption service it won’t result in older children being adopted because the fact is that the vast majority of adopters want a child under 5 years of age, and this is demonstrated in that the majority of children adopted are aged between 1 and 4 years. Once a child is of school age his/her chances of being adopted grow slimmer by the day.

    Re my rant – I’m glad you recognised how utterly stressful social work is and why there is a massive problem nationwide in terms of recruitment and retention. It’s not a job for the feint hearted, but it’s one that so many people want to tell us how it should be done!

    I wasn’t at the conference on Monday (Sarah did invite me) but I wasn’t able to make it – I didn’t know my “speech” was available to read. You presumably mean the one about the differences between parents in care proceedings and social workers and the use of language and how this can cause parents confusion and misunderstandings. Sarah must have made it available – which is fine. I have started sending notes to Sarah and she edits them and posts them on CPR and then tweets about them – I am somewhat limited where IT is concerned and am still struggling to get to grips with Twitter!

    I have recently sent Sarah some notes on legislation from the past in relation to child-care, Children Act 1948, and Children & Young Persons Act 1969 and looking at the proof required by courts for removal of children, as opposed to the proof of “significant harm” CA 89. You might already know that there was in the 48 Act an “assumption by the LA of parental rights” on a child and (Section 2 Resolution)) and was indeed “rubber stamped” by the Social Services Committee. Parents had one month to object and if they did so, the matter was dealt with in the Juvenile Court. One of the reasons for this action was due to “mother’s habits and mode of life………..” judgemental or what and open to wide interpretation! I was talking to an ex colleague who is now aged 80 and he recalls that in his experience very few parents did object to these “Resolutions” as there was a more subservient attitude to authority in those days. I reckon the Tories would like to see that again – you know the “lower orders” should know their place!

    • Yes, when the people who dislike the Children Act talk about turning back the clock, I do tend to think just how small a role parents had in the process in the older legislation – it was pretty close to a rubber stamp in the fifties.

  18. @HelenSparkles My comments about adoption come from my own career as a social worker. It struck me that the process of assessing people who want to adopt was based on a pseudo-psychoanalytic theory which required social workers to gather masses of information about the applicants’ own upbringing. There seemed to be an assumption that potential adopters are people who have been traumatised and need help in working through unresolved feelings. I’m afraid your response simply confirms this! There are many reasons why people choose to adopt and past trauma is only one of these.

    Of course the assessment should be rigorous. However, I have friends who have recently adopted siblings, aged 4 and 6, and they felt that some of the delays (e.g. SW being on sick leave, problems in getting reports to panel) were due to inefficiency in the system. They were also annoyed that towards the end of their assessment they had to answer some questions a second time. Potential adopters might be lost unless we can guarantee that the service is more efficiently run and is better at identifying and supporting those who can take older children.

    • Hi Hilary, I read back my post and the phrasing was clumsy, but I couldn’t edit. I was tired – still being a SW! I don’t think that at all, I was making the connection between the loss of not being able to have one’s own children and parenting children who have experienced loss. It can be traumatised adults parenting traumatised children. There isn’t enough acknowledgement of the pain of that journey and grief doesn’t go away just because you stopped having IVF and decided to adopt. Adoption agencies often put a time limit like 6 months since your last round which is highly artificial. Probably a good idea to have a space of some description but that oversimplifies something that you are going to live alongside just as we do all of our stuff. Those who make a positive choice to adopt differ but this is the main cohort of adopters. I don’t mean all adopters are traumatise people though.

      I recognise there could be a different model but I think there are key areas which indicate resilience, safeguarding and parenting capacity. They are only pseudo psychoanalytical if you think the psychodynamic theory base is flawed. We don’t generally think it is irrelevant to assess if someone’s parenting or childhood has an impact on them. We do so in life, in court and in placement services. We also know the same issues that can cause difficulties for one person may cause none for another. Adoption is transplant surgery.

      There is a journey to being an adoptive parent or foster carers, it moves from the phone call where people think they will be able to adopt a baby or orphan and don’t know who children in care are at all. It is an educative process which moves through assessment and preparation and most people need time. Just asking someone to care for someone else’s child when they had planned to have their own is an adjustment. Some will of course go through it much more quickly. There are probably aspects of most systems in social work that aren’t as efficient as we would like them to be. Nobody wants anyone to wait but the sick social worker is often off because there is too my pressure and caseloads are too high. When it is all privatised I am sure it will be better!

      • I think that’s an excellent response to Hilary’s post Helen. You have said far more eloquently than I could what is entailed in the adoption assessment. I have enjoyed reading both your posts and will see that my background is largely in LA fostering and adoption if you read my post to Hilary. In relation to your first post I’m wondering why you feel that SGOs might not achieve the permanence they are designed to do? Given that it’s mostly members of the extended family who apply for these Orders, do you not think that’s a good thing, fulfilling the duty to place in the extended family wherever possible, and SO much better than the Residence Order that I think is now defunct. I carried out a significant number of SGOs after I retired from LA work, as an independent practitioner, and the applicants were mostly grandparents and aunts/uncles. I think there were only 2 or 3 cases where I was unable to give a positive recommendation. I liked the fact that the LA had to carry out an Assessment of Need too. I think the SGO Regs state that where a child has previously been a LAC, the LA should pay the equivalent to fostering allowances for 2 years, but I think this might have changed and that some applicants have managed to get it agreed in Court and documented that the LA pay until the child reaches 18 years. I’m not 100% certain of this though.

        I might be wrong but I think it was Tony Blair who decided that all these “older children” in temporary foster care (and like you I hate the term “languishing in care”) and children’s homes could be found permanent homes, by virtue of the SGO. I certainly recall talk of these children not wanting to change their last name and didn’t want to be separated from their family by way of adoption (hence one of the 3 issues that could not be done without consent of the birthparents was “changing the child’s last name”) The trouble was there weren’t people forming a queue to apply for an SGO on 9 year old boys or sibling groups of 3 older children etc. Instead SGOs are being used (quite appropriately I think) in kinship care of babies and young children, and hopefully some older children.

        I’m not sure I can agree with your idea of open adoption as I think this will mean far fewer applicants coming forward. As you will know, most adopters want children under 5 and to put it bluntly don’t want the birthparents popping up to visit on a frequent basis, and I don’t think that would be right for the children either in most cases. And permanent foster care, with frequent contact with birth family, even shared care, where appropriate …..YES indeed, but HOW are they to be (in Hilary’s term) “identified” ???

        I totally agree with your comment about social workers needing sick leave because of stress related illness. If you read Hilary’s profile she clearly states that she took early retirement at 50 because of the stresses of the job (4 years in a LA setting I think) but a wide experience of non statutory work beforehand.

        And yes now privatisation is on the agenda – what a surprise! The only thing is LAs won’t be able to afford to “buy” the families recruited and approved by the Independent Agencies, just as they can’t afford to “buy” from the IFAs……and it won’t mean more successful placements, but of course Michael Gove was adopted himself, so he’ll know all about adoption…………and I’m sure G4S and Centro etc will put in successful bids, and when it all goes pear shaped, we won’t hear a whisper from the government and neither will they care about the children at the heart of the matter.

    • I know you have had a very varied career in social work but can I ask if you have actually been involved in assessing adopters? I did take issue with you earlier when you criticised social workers for not “identifying” families who could care for older children on a permanent basis. In my long experience as a social worker and manager of a Fost & Adoption team for many years, people coming forward to apply to foster “older children” were as rare as hen’s teeth. Where this did happen it was quite often carers who had fostered an older child on a short term basis and decided that they could meet the child’s needs on a permanent basis, and unsurprisingly these placement “conversions” was very successful.

      You talk of “gathering masses of information” about prospective adopters/fostercarer’s past lives and see Helen’s post as confirming this, which I think was unfair. She merely mentioned that it was often a case of “traumatised parents considering traumatised children” and I know she has since responded to you herself on this issue.

      Of course there needs to be discussions with prospective adopters about their past lives, how they were parented, education, employment, present and significant past r/ships, family lifestyle, their own parenting capacity with their children (if relevant) interests etc etc. Of great importance is how much they learned from the prep courses all applicants attend, especially in relation to loss and attachment.

      In respect of your friends who have adopted, I find it astonishing that they think a social worker being off sick and hence a delay in getting a report to panel is due to “inefficiency in the system.” As for being “annoyed at having to answer some questions a second time” I would have serious concerns that they are somewhat exacting in disposition and this does not in my view accord with the need for flexibility, patience and sensitivity, essential personal qualities in caring for children who have been significantly harmed.

      The inefficiency you talk of may well be the case in some LA Adoption Teams but like other sections of Children’s Services, there is a national shortage of social workers and high caseloads, and there can be no guarantees of the system always running perfectly, as is the case in many other professions. You are still talking about “identifying” people who can take older children. Can I ask a) what age are you calling “older” children and b) how do you propose social workers IDENTIFY these prospective carers?

      I imagine you are talking about “middle years aged children” (7 – 12) approx. I recall that some years ago we ran a “Middle Years Scheme” in the LA in which I worked. The aim of course was to place these children in permanent foster care. Fostering allowances were (as far as I can recall) particularly generous but the scheme was largely unsuccessful due to a lack of interest in prospective carers coming forward, and was eventually disbanded.

      Please tell me what ideas you have for “identifying” these prospective carers.

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