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Social Services were like the SS of Nazi Germany

It won’t be the first time anyone in family cases has heard that comparison, but it is certainly the first time I’ve heard it from a Judge.

I’m very grateful to Ian from Forced Adoption for bringing this story to my attention. It arises from an appeal in Sheffield Crown Court from a criminal trial, where a father was convicted of harassing a school.

The conviction was upheld on appeal but the Judge was extremely sympathetic to the father and extremely critical of the social workers and social work that had put him in that position.

We don’t have a judgment in this case – you’d only really get a judgment in a criminal case if it was a criminal Court of Appeal decision, otherwise you just get judicial summing up and sentencing remarks, which are not generally published. I don’t know whether the Ministry of Justice will publish these judicial comments in full (which are a matter of public interest, if anonymised) .

So the quotations come from the Court reporters who were present, and we have to proceed on the basis that they are accurate. If the Local Authority involved want to respond to this, I’m more than happy to print their response, but I appreciate that for data protection and confidentiality issues they may not be able to.

Here’s the Press report. (I expect some of the nationals might well be in touch with the Barnsley Chronicle to run this story.)

From the story, four things seem to have happened

  1. A six year old whose mother had committed suicide ten weeks earlier told her school that she ‘wanted to be with her mummy’ and that was reported by the school to social workers
  2. A referral was received by social workers suggesting that the paternal grand- father had sexually abused the child, that allegation was not substantiated.
  3. The father was either asked or told, to agree to a child protection medical (or one took place without his consent – the article gives two conflicting accounts on this), where the child was intimately examined to see if there was any sexual abuse.
  4. The father became outraged at the school for putting the child through this, and started a campaign of harassment including derogatory leaflets about the school and headteacher.

The father was then convicted of harassment against the school. He appealed that, unsuccessfully, but the Judge attributed a lot of responsibility for the situation on the social workers.

However, he blasted social services for their handling of the case. They became involved after an unrelated allegation – which police said was unfounded – was levelled against his father. That led to social services investigating the youngster’s welfare and temporarily stopped her from seeing with her grandfather, contact which has now resumed.

“Social services were like the SS of Nazi Germany,” Judge Moore said. “They’re literally the SS in their name and their manner of working is somewhat draconian.

“But the facts are clear. I have sympathy for the appellant as I did at the beginning of this case, but what came afterwards was the harassment of a headteacher when really the school were only following their orders.

“Had the headteacher have argued against social service officers’ intervention, they would have found themselves before a disciplinary hearing.”

Generally speaking, either parental consent or a Court order should be obtained before conducting a medical examination of a child, particularly an intimate one.

It isn’t clear to me whether the father consented (but felt under duress to do so) or wasn’t asked.

The article opens with

A JUDGE likened Barnsley social services to the Nazi Party’s SS after a young girl who had expressed suicidal thoughts was subjected to a naked medical examination without her father’s consent.

which suggests no consent

But later, the father is quoted as saying

Speaking after the hearing, he told the Chronicle: “Despite previous investigations finding no evidence of any risk of sexual abuse, I was forced to allow Barnsley social services to take my daughter out of school and transport her to Barnsley Hospital where, without my consent, she was stripped naked and examined from head to foot.

Which suggests that he did allow the child to be taken for the medical, but did not know or agree to the medical being of the nature it ended up being. Obviously have no way of knowing whether or not he is right about that, because we don’t have a forensic judgment looking at all of the evidence and reaching a conclusion, but he was certainly left feeling considerably aggrieved after the investigation, and a Judge felt that there was considerable force in some of his complaints, to the point of using extremely strong language of condemnation.

What I don’t know in this case is whether it was the circumstances in which the medical came about that the Judge was appalled by, or whether he was just appalled that the child was medically examined at all (which rather depends on exactly what the original allegation about dad was about, and whether the medical examination was proportionate to the allegation). I don’t know whether this Judge also has a care ticket, but I’d expect even a Judge who exclusively does crime to be familiar with medical examinations for alleged sexual abuse. It might be that the allegation, on examination was so patently threadbare or malicious that the child should not have been put through a medical and wasn’t a credible allegation. I don’t know.

About suesspiciousminds

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

18 responses

  1. They use that word draconian not disappointing

    Sent from my iPad


  2. ashamedtobebritish

    Wow. Just wow. Where was the best interest of the child in this? Hadn’t she been through enough?
    I hope the father sues for this intrusion upon his child’s body

  3. I think you will find that it was the child’s paternal grandfather, not her father, who was suspected of sexual abuse. Also, on the question of consent to the medical examination the Press report does not makes this clear. My assumption is that social workers decided that a medical examination was necessary and father agreed to take her for this. But … did he realise this was going to be an intimate examination? His response suggests he did not.

    What is most alarming is that social workers lost sight of the potentially oppressive nature of a child protection investigation. They should have shown much more sensitivity to the family trauma of the mother’s suicide and thought very carefully about how to intervene in an empathic way. They also needed to recognise that the nurturing and support, which was apparently being given to the girl by the school, should continue if possible. Their response was heavy-handed and the judge was right to criticise them.

    • Thank you Hilary. Quite so, grandfather and I have corrected those passages accordingly

      • & also, a child saying that they want to be with their dead mother does not necessarily indicate suicidal ideation … we assume it does from the report but it i the fantasy of most of us that we would like to be with those we have lost.

  4. How does a 6yo child saying she ‘wanted to be with her mummy’ equate to (1) meaning she was suicidal (it just sounds like she wanted her mummy) or even worse (2) her having been sexually abused?

    What a horrific case, that poor child, having lost her mum she was then forced to be iatrogenically abused by an intimate examination, which must have caused her distress, embarrassment and confusion. How the heck is this in the child’s best interests? Nowhere does it say there was anything that led anyone to believe she was being sexually abused. No wonder the poor father felt this way. A dad’s job is to protect his daughters from everything and this was almost like having his daughter raped. It’s beyond appalling.

    As for “when really the school were only following their orders” what orders? How does a school instigating a referral off their own back because a child “told her school that she ‘wanted to be with her mummy’ and that was reported by the school to social workers” show they were acting on anyone’s orders? They made the referral, from the content of this article they had absolutely no cause to and a child saying something which they might construe as suicidal should always be discussed with the parent first and their agreement sought for a referral to be made. But if this child really was suicidal, (a 6yo doesn’t have sufficient age to understand truly what suicide means) this was a job for a child psychologist or child grief counsellor not social services.

    Social services have been every bit as bad as this judge said here, but the school caused all of it and I feel so sorry for this dad getting a conviction he did not deserve.

    At the end of the day, having both suffered immense trauma and grief, they were put through this, an experience that will probably forever haunt them and a child has been sexually abused by a council. May they hang their heads in utter shame.

    • The abuse allegation was completely separate and we don’t have any details. Agree completely that on what is reported a child’s ordinary expression of sadness was over reacted to.

      We do have to bear in mind that for a criminal appeal, the Judge wouldn’t have heard any evidence .

      • The Barnsley Chronicle states ‘The court was told the girl was put into group play sessions for vulnerable children, which her father agreed to, although these often became one-on-one sessions involving staff and the youngster.’

        By joining up the dots I thought this may have been where something was said by the girl about possible sexual abuse.

  5. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    When foxes all too often run the henhouse what other words bar Draconian SS are apt to raise awareness and express public outrage?

  6. Reblogged this on finolamoss and commented:
    As over 76,000 now in care and increasing. LAs even courts are merely outsourcers for the multimillion pound adoption and fostering industry run for profit not care with poor outcomes and many children going missing yet billions spent and LAs bankrupted. Enforced for profit unseen child non protection.

  7. Oh my goodness.. Am I the only person still practicing who remembers the Cleveland Report and stands by it..The concept of subjecting a child to an intimate examination on the flimsiest of information – aka a fishing expedition is something that appears to be rearing its head again in modern social work..its as outrageous now as it was in the late 80’s and needs to stop. Not only should the SW’s hang their heads in shame but the medics,school and probably the police should join them.

    • I’ve asked at various training courses whether workers know of the Cleveland Report or were taught about it at University and it’s a very small minority. It’s very sad, I think it ought to be mandatory. Can’t see how you learn to do the job unless you are told about the dreadful examples from our past where excesses of power (Cleveland, Orkney) led to injustices and harm to children

  8. The Chief Social Worker needs to respond to this apparent forgetting of the Cleveland Report. We must ask hard questions about the difference between safeguarding a child on the flimsiest of information and the statutory duty to carry out a child protection investigation under s.47 of the 1989 Children Act. The social work profession has much practice wisdom in this area and many authorities carry out investigations with sensitivity and respect and in a proportionate and lawful manner. They know that the competence with which a s.47 is handled will crucially influence the effectiveness of subsequent work. Unfortunately, the absence of appropriate training for the s47 duty is leading to very unprofessional practice.

  9. In my experience, subjecting children to intimate examination is very often a police lead issue and one that social workers don’t appear to understand they are well within their rights to oppose if the evidence isn’t coherent and clear.. Regretfully, by the time the matter lands on my desk the damage has been done pre-proceedings. I don’t know what is being taught at University either because when I ask questions re the fundamentals of my training, ie institutionalised thinking, anti oppressive practice or critical analysis to name but a few, I’m looked at as if I have just grown two heads. Ten years ago I would be confident that bad practice or professional error would quickly be picked up by the court and swiftly challenged however, in the era of an overstrained family justice system with an obsession for speed sadly, I’m not so sure.

  10. Very typical of family court judges to heavily criticise the local authority (To show how fair minded they are?) and then find in their favour ! This father ended up with a conviction for harassment and consequently a criminal record because he broke secrecy (sorry was it privacy ?) on the internet ;
    Most fair minded people would agree with that judge’s comments but disagree with his verdict !

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