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Your very best friend


No, not this guy


I also hate that duck, and he is not my very best friend, despite what he claims in song form

I also hate that duck, and he is not my very best friend, despite what he claims in song form


I want to do a little thought experiment with you.

Step 1. Imagine your very best friend. Try to get them in your mind. For shorthand purposes, as I don’t know the name of the best friend of each and every one of you, I’m going to call this notional best friend Janice.  Imagine that friend, get them firmly in your head. I’m also going to assume that out of 100, you’re going to score this friend 80 or above – so it’s someone you like a lot, and someone you can count on.   (On this friendship scale, Bert and Ernie, or Joey and Chandler are 100, Ant and Dec high nineties.)


Step 2. Imagine that you feel like you might have put a little bit of weight on. Not a lot, just a bit. Christmas, orange matchmakers, a bit too cold for running. So you say this to Janice, and you also say “I want you to help me lose weight. I know I’ve got no willpower, but with your help, I can do it.”  Janice kindly agrees.

Step 3.  Janice suggests that you give up some of the things that you like. It’s not ideal, but you know it is for your own good, so you agree. Janice says “I know you’re weak-willed, so I think maybe I should pop in on a Tuesday, make sure you’re not eating that bad stuff, and sticking to salads and quinoa and whatnot.” You agree.

Step 4. Janice pops round every Tuesday. She watches what you eat, asks you about what you ate yesterday, maybe what you’re going to eat tomorrow. She says “Maybe I should just check in your cupboards, while I’m here. Make sure there’s no jaffa cakes in there.”

Step 5. You get home on a Thursday. There’s a note from Janice pushed through your letter-box. “Called round – disappointed you weren’t in. Decided it would be best if you didn’t always know which day I was going to come check up on you.”


How much, out of 100 are you scoring Janice on the friendship stakes now? Remember, this is your best friend, and you did ASK her to help you lose weight. And you do WANT to lose weight.  Still, though…


Maybe your friendship is becoming a bit more like this...

Maybe your friendship is becoming a bit more like this…


Let’s continue.

Step 6. Janice calls round on a Monday. She has some weighing scales and a measuring tape.

Step 7. Janice says that really, to find out why you’re fat, she wants to talk about what you used to eat when you were young, find out what the patterns were then.

Step 8. Janice wants to check your phone, make sure you haven’t been dialling for pizza or takeaways. She asks if you’ve got an itemised bill she can look at.

Step 9. Janice suggests that you join a group, weightwatchers to help you with your problem.


How are you feeling about Janice now?  Are you contemplating making a voodoo doll of her out of macaroni and pesto?

Step 10. You ask her to stop. You don’t want this any more. You regret ever involving her. You’re happy as you are. Janice says “I’m not going to stop, not until you’re slim enough”.  You ask her what “slim enough” means, and she says “I’ll tell you when you’re slim enough”


If you’re not hating Janice with a burning passion now, then hello Dalai Lama, it is a real honour to have you read my blog. Thank you. And “Free Tibet!”


I’m sure you’ve clocked what this piece is really about. But let’s see it through.

Now imagine that Janice ISN’T your best friend, who you scored 80 out of 100. She’s a complete stranger.

Now imagine that you DIDN’T ASK her for help, she came along uninvited.

Now imagine that you don’t even want to lose weight, you were already pretty happy with how you were.

Finally, imagine that we’re not talking about weight at all, we’re talking about how you parent your children.


How do you feel about Janice now? Worse, or better?


This one? Or THIS one?

This one? Or THIS one?



It is pretty hard to imagine, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of it, what it must be like to have a social worker come into your home. It hasn’t happened to me, so I can’t really capture it. I suspect it hasn’t happened to 75% of social workers.  So this heavy-handed metaphor is a way of capturing it.

All of us disliked Janice really early on in that chain of events, even though she started as our best friend and she was doing us a favour. We all wished her bodily harm by about step 8.  (Not you, obviously Mr Lama)

I’m not saying that social workers shouldn’t visit homes – sometimes it is necessary, and important to safeguard children. But we should always try to think about what it is like being on the other side of that doorstep, how it must feel, and to respect that. Because even when it is your best friend doing this sort of stuff, at your request, and when you wanted them there, it makes you bristle and get irritated.


What we ask of parents, even when it’s necessary, is no small thing.  It sometimes helps to pull back perspective and remember that.


About suesspiciousminds

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

18 responses

  1. suzanne Loveridge

    From the opening paragraphs I knew where you were going. I have used a similar example. In over 30 years working with SW I have come to know they are not your friend and to invite a black widow into your home is a safer thing to do. I mainly work with the elders care ones- I wouldn’t trust them to manage my affairs.
    My personal association with them destroyed my family among a web of lies and conspiracies with other agencies involved in safeguarding.
    I counsel friends very carefully if they were to go to hospital with a child or elderly frail relative with an injury. The “Safeguarders’ are equally as dangerous and quick to pass the buck in SS direction in light of the grotesque failures of the past

  2. I’d be interested to know what makes you think SW don’t think very carefully all the time about what it feels like to be on the other side of the door? Since a large number of SCRs discuss losing sight of the child as a key factor, I am sure you do understand that visiting announced or unannounced is important particularly in CP cases.

    • Largely because when I do this exercise in training, there’s a palpable air of having not thought about it like that. Of course visiting children is vital. Article 8 is also vital, and I think it is easily jedi-hand waved out of existence without really engaging with it.

      • Yes, the simplest illustrations are the most effective. Made Helen bristle too, which is an added bonus. Heaven knows how patronising she must be to her clients!

        Anyway, talking of Jedi-hand waving away Article 8 rights – how about this forced adoption case from Peterborough:

        “Para 6. The child’s birth father is not a party to these proceedings. He has no parental responsibility. Indeed, his identity is unknown to the applicant. The mother has declined to identify him and she has explained very clearly in her statement why she has done this. She describes the father in her statement as a violent man with a history of being violent towards her and to other ex-partners and to be an obsessive character. Were she to reveal his identity and were he to be involved in these proceedings in any way, she felt that would only cause harm not only to her but to the child. She felt that the child would be at risk from the father, even though in foster care.”

        Oh well, if the mother says so, it must be true so let’s just glide over the awkward fact of the State’s collusion in a complete breach of the unknown father’s Article 8 rights – never mind that the child is being taken into care precisely because the judge doesn’t accept what the mother says, she being an ex-heroin addict with an “emotionally unstable personality disorder”, whatever that may be – a Red Queen condition, if ever I heard one!

      • Thanks, I was genuinely interested, & that is alarming because it was an integral part of SW training.

        & Mike, no idea why asking a question tells you anything about me bristling (I wasn’t) or being patronising, but extrapolate away.

      • Hi Helen – I think there are social workers for whom this empathy and respect comes naturally, others who try their best but have their bad days like everyone, others who haven’t thought of it like that, others who started with those intents and needed to be reminded and some who just aren’t suited to it. The piece was really aimed for the third and fourth category.

  3. Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

  4. Firstly a complaint, all this talk of food combined with the winter freeze has just promoted me to eat an unnecessary pudding.
    Actually this is excellent,and it needs to considered how much getting the parents back up results in the so called non compliance especially when you have a social worker that is great at talking and less skilled at active listening.

  5. Very controversial amongst my colleagues, I’m sure. It certainly speaks some truth. And it goes back to the ethernal balancing exercise.
    But social work, just like any other job, is done by people. And the people have different skills, different experiences and different managers. That’s why having training opportunities “to see from the other side ” are ever so helpful.
    The analogy is funny and powerful and I would imagine it would make a strong impact when talking with social workers about their practice.

  6. Social workers snatch babies at birth for risk of emotional abuse and their actions are nearly always rubberstamped by complacent family judges (unless they run into the President,Sir James Munby!).
    There can be no plausible scenario where such procedures can be justified.and I defy any person to devize one .”
    In 2010 there was a film shown with Tom Cruise called” Minority Report”.It showed life in 2056 when half human robots predicted the future and people were arrested for crimes they had not yet committed !
    Incredibly that is what is happening in the UK right now where sane law abiding mothers lose babies at birth because social workers and judges pretend to read the future and predict that these mums might harm their babies one day…………. Off then go the babies to be adopted by unknown strangers who will often abuse them.
    There can be no excuse for not at least giving these mums a chance to keep their babies , (maybe under a supervision order if that is thought necessary.)

    • I think in the last five years of reading every single reported case, I’ve seen one reported one of risk of emotional abuse, and that was the Supreme Court in Re B (where I said that on the threshold allegations as reported in the judgment , I didn’t think the LA had made out their case)

      I honestly can’t think of a case I’ve ever done where the threshold was based around risk of emotional harm. I think I’ve done two or three ever with actual emotional harm. I think emotional harm is an additional feature in a lot of cases, but in my experience it is only extremely rarely the main or sole feature. Your experience is obviously very different, and I’d certainly accept that the statistics of care proceedings issued per 10,000 children clearly show that there’s not one common threshold criteria across the country and that different Local Authorities have different approaches to managing risks.

      (Also, one can’t simply assert risk of future harm – the risk of future harm has to be based on facts which demonstrate that risk, those facts being either agreed or proven. To use the diet metaphor, Janice can’t simply allege that there’s a risk that I will eat cheesecake in the future, but she could do so if with evidence, she is able to show that I have a history of eating cheesecake in the past more than a reasonable person would and I either admit it or she proves it)

      I’m as opposed to what you describe as you are.

      (Also, the predictors of the future in Minority Report weren’t half human robots, they were human telepaths… /endgeek)

  7. I have helped some parents ask Janice to leave! the response is entitlement to stay noises, that gets a threat of the police.

    After she leaves there gets issued a SW visiting rules agreement.

    It includes things like don’t bang the door and disturb neighbours if you don’t get an answer to the doorbell, it works but sometimes we are out when you call round unannounced. ETC

  8. Janice is worse than JWs

  9. What a great post. You describe your blog as law and the nonsense of law, but actually this is about people and the nonsense of people. may i suggest that you rename it ” I’m only Human”, in order to call upon the spirit of “Rag ‘n’ Bone” man” , who is a current popular song solo artiste m’lud.

  10. ashamedtobebritish

    Everyone knows Janice does what she has to, but it’s up to Janice not to be an asshole and alienate herself, when she goes back to the rest of your group of friends and lies about you having lost half a stone, she cannot expect a warm welcome!!

  11. I’m sensing Janice would be right about now writing “Lack of Insight” on her notes because the person she was helping could not see the issues!

    • ashamedtobebritish

      That is in fact very true in a lot of cases, however, Janice would do well to observe before making her mind up about what she predicts will happen.
      Get in touch, I’ve tried to call you x

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