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October 13, 2012 permalink
Christopher Booker calls Britain's child protection system the worst scandal he has seen in 50 years. He continues with three cases.
The worst scandal I have seen in my 50-year career
Our 'child protection' system is severely dysfunctional, but it has not come to the centre of national attention because it hides its workings behind a veil of secrecy
Scarcely a week goes by without more evidence emerging to indicate that our “child protection” system is so dysfunctional that it should be looked on as a major national scandal. On one hand, we see the number of applications by social workers to take children into care soaring to nearly 1,000 a month, having more than doubled in the four years since the tragedy of Baby P. On the other, we hear of horrific episodes, like those recently reported from Rochdale and Rotherham, where social workers and police turned a blind eye to the systematic mass-rape of underage girls, many themselves in state care.
For three years I have been investigating scores of cases of children seized from their parents for what appear to be quite absurd reasons. This outrage has not yet come to the centre of national attention only because our child protection system hides its workings behind a veil of secrecy. I have been amazed to discover how our family courts routinely turn all the cherished principles of British justice upside down. The most bizarre allegations, based on hearsay, can be levelled against parents who are then denied the right to challenge them.
Although I have reported on several such cases more than once, they drag on through the courts so long that I haven’t been able to explain how they ended. I summarise three of them here to indicate why this is the most disturbing story I have covered in all my years as a journalist.
The fateful fall
Earlier story on this case: link.
My first case centres on a mother who, five months after the birth of her daughter, fell from a first-floor window. Lying in hospital, temporarily paralysed from the neck down, she took a call from a social worker who told her that her baby was being taken into care. Although no one had suggested that her fall was anything other than an accident, the social workers made out that it was a suicide bid and that she was an alcoholic and a drug addict. A psychiatric report and clinical tests found that none of these accusations were true.
The mother had to make a weekly 80-mile round trip to have “supervised contact” with her daughter. The contact supervisor wrote glowing reports on how closely they seemed to be bonded. But when, at a case conference, a social worker was challenged by the supervisor for having excised any references to this from her reports, it was the supervisor the council suspended. After a succession of hearings at which, I gather, the judge became increasingly impatient with the social workers for their sloppy handling of paperwork and repeated requests for adjournments, it seemed the case was going the mother’s way. Her wish for her daughter to be returned to her was supported by the child’s “guardian” (an official appointed by the court to represent the child’s interests).
But then, for no clear reason, fortune swung back the other way. Two years after the case began, the judge ruled that the child should be sent for adoption. As the mother made a final plea to the Appeal Court, a lurid report in the local paper repeated all the original claims of the social workers: that the mother was an alcoholic, a drug addict and had tried to commit suicide. A family friend tells me she witnessed the distraught mother being allowed a “goodbye session” with her daughter, the centre of her life for three years, whom she will never be allowed to see again.
My second case centres on a mother who fled to Ireland with her teenage son because social workers had been making enquiries about them, due to the fact that the father, who had been out of their lives for six years, was an alcoholic prone to violence. When they had been happily settled in their new home for six months, with the boy doing well at school, British social workers brought the father to Ireland and persuaded an Irish judge, on evidence that mother and son were not allowed to see, to order the boy’s deportation back to England. He was so depressed that he attempted suicide. (I spoke to the boy in hospital shortly afterwards).
After being taken to England, the boy was placed in foster care, where he managed repeatedly to convey to his mother that he was desperately unhappy. Although bright, he was initially sent to a special needs school, where he was bullied for being so different from the others. He was denied the right to attend court to express his wishes, in contravention of the UN Convention on Children’s Rights. Neither he nor the mother had anyone to speak up for them and, although there is no evidence that she ever harmed her son, it was ruled that he must remain in foster care until he is 18 (normally, children are released from care when they are 16). The mother continues to work in Ireland, denied any further contact with her son until he is old enough to return to her.
Parents who lost their six children
My third case is the strangest and most disturbing of any I have covered. I first came to it shortly after the mother of a large family had given birth to her sixth child. Her new baby had been torn from her arms in a hospital bed by six policemen and three social workers just three hours after the birth. Three months earlier, the social workers had removed five older children from the family home in the belief that the mother was a “sex worker” engaged in child trafficking with her husband, whom they claimed was not the father of any of the children. The social workers also had a letter, allegedly written by one of the children, claiming that her mother had beaten her.
What made all this particularly odd was that, one by one, these claims seemed to crumble. DNA tests showed that the children all came from the husband. The letter was in a different hand from that of the child supposed to have written it, but no graphological tests were allowed and it was eventually admitted that the letter had been “destroyed”.
For a time, the parents were allowed occasional supervised contact with their children, although for this they had to travel for four hours. The oldest child claimed at one meeting that she had been sexually interfered with in her foster home – after which she was never allowed to see her parents again.
But the case against them began to seem so flimsy that the baby was returned to them. However, they subsequently took the baby to a hospital to ask for advice on a puzzling complaint. A junior doctor carried out blood tests which apparently showed nothing amiss, but when the family’s name came up on a computer, the social workers were summoned. More tests were carried out, the parents were accused of giving their child a dangerous drug and the baby was again taken into care.
Events then took a still more serious turn. The couple were arrested, accused of planning to abduct their older children (even though they had no idea where they were) and fly them abroad in a private plane. They were sent to prison on remand, while a long list of further charges was compiled, ranging from physical abuse of their children to a claim that they had sought to kill the baby.
At their trial, 44 prosecution witnesses were called. Only two were allowed for the defence. The children spoke on video link, but their parents were not allowed to question them. The parents were given long prison sentences and a family court then ruled that the children must all be sent for adoption.
However odd all this may seem, I know enough about this family, and a story I have followed since 2010, to believe that it represents a travesty of justice which says much about what our child protection system has become.
Source: Telegraph (UK)