Families who need support and the language of ‘casual disrespect’



Thanks for this guest post from a parent who is concerned about the priorities for those making  high-level decisions about funding around healthcare, and the impact this may have on families who need support in the age of austerity. She also raises important questions about the language we use; for example how does it feel to be called a ‘challenging family’ in the context of support that might be offered? Her central point is stark – the only fixed point in a shifting landscape of support provision is to see the families who need it as ‘incompetent’ and requiring ‘intervention’. 

I had a strange day recently. I left work at lunchtime to attend a NHS Transforming Care meeting where transfer of funds ( ‘dowries’ ) from the NHS, accompanying people with learning disabilities transferred from secure accommodation to homes within the local community arranged by and paid for by local area Clinical Commissioning Groups, was discussed.

There were a number of ‘Experts by Experience’ present. One tabled a list of acronyms that he asked not be used during the meeting. This list included ‘spec. com’ (short for ‘Specialised Commissioning’). He also asked that those speaking refer to ‘people’ not ‘patients’. His request was assented to by all before the meeting started.

During the meeting as people around the table made presentations, a person from NHS Specialised Commissioning repeatedly referred to ‘spec. com’ and ‘patients’ throughout his presentation. The Transforming Care programme will succeed or fail in large part depending on whether funding follows people. If I understood the presentation correctly, it appears that except in very limited circumstances it won’t. It is hard to know how to react to this in the context of a meeting when none of the decision-makers are present.

It seems as though the impact of the Winterbourne View scandal is fading and there are new priorities for those making high-level funding decisions around healthcare. I know that for many local Clinical Commissioning Group commissioners charged with delivering the Transforming Care programme, who will have to compete for funding at a local level to deliver a programme that will incur considerable additional costs for local areas if delivered, it is very difficult to accept. For people with learning disabilities in long stay institutions (over five years) and for people whose cause of death can be listed as ‘Leaning Disability’ on their death certificate when they die of constipation it will be felt in ways, you and I cannot even begin to imagine.

What hope to deliver a programme for systemic change as complex as the Transforming Care one is, if professionals cannot even keep to rules they agreed to about the use of language that respects the wishes of those they hope to help?

It really was a strange day because I then went on to another meeting where the great and the good and the well-intentioned were listening to care experienced young people sharing their thoughts about the system they spent many of their childhood years within, some with no clear idea why or where their siblings that had been adopted, were.

Social workers also spoke about being asked to ‘do much more with much less’ and how it was impossible to deliver a service where everything from what services are provided by what agency to the social work workforce itself is in flux. Teachers also reported that they were now doing social work in schools, well beyond their capability and training. It was summed up as ‘Challenging Families were being passed between services without getting the early intervention they needed’.

The language of ‘casual disrespect’

I have to say this was a depressingly familiar story to me, so again I chose to reflect on language. Would anyone have thought it OK to refer to my family in a one-to-one conversation with me as a ‘challenging family’ needing ‘Intervention’ and if most would not, then why is it OK to refer families like mine, in this casually disrespectful way? Is it OK because parents of children in need of services are not meant to be listening into this intense conversation or is it that our opinions just do not matter or that we are not expected to have anything of value to contribute unlike the great and the good and the well-intentioned? Or is it that people are afraid of what we might say? Are we that much of a challenge and to whom and what exactly? The only fixed point in this shifting landscape of service provision seems to be to regard families in need of services as, at best, incompetent and in need of an ‘intervention’.

If I’ve understood correctly then what chance do families ( those groups of people – not systems – that in normal circumstances, nurture children and prepare them well for adulthood because of bonds of love ) have of ever being heard when asking for help, not intervention, when we ask for it for ourselves or our children and indeed what chance have the great and the good and the well-intentioned of improving the life chances of young people like my son, without respectful engagement with us, their family members?

41 thoughts on “Families who need support and the language of ‘casual disrespect’

  1. Sam

    We are the other people, we ought to behave in the way that the great and the good expect from us. My Mum went through an exercise at work once, where people had to guess at each others habits. Mum has a strong regional accent and she thinks because of this the person guessing classed her as a certain type of person. She supposedly read the Sun, her favourite food was fish and chips and she had between four and five children. All completely wrong.
    There is so much conscious and unconscious bias in society which also transfers to the system; I would say it would amount to discrimination.
    As for the care experienced children , I am afraid theirs would not be isolated experiences. Even more troubling is a number would believe it was their fault they were seperated from their siblings.

  2. looked_after_child

    I’ve never watched the Jeremy Kyle Show..that must be my mistake?
    I could have learned so much about how I live apparently..the great and the good and the well-intentioned, clearly do and have figured it all out…

      1. looked_after_child

        Lets see..maybe there is an expert someone on the books, paid for by the page, who could write a report on how ‘deranged’ I am? ‘Something’ seems quite ‘deranged’ to me too although who cares what I think?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      My view is that the problem is that the majority of parents in child protection proceedings have a multiplicity of problems, circling round issues of poverty, drug addiction, violence, sexual abuse etc. So ‘professionals’ develop a particular way of dealing with them, which – if they are not careful and continually checking themselves – slides into ‘othering’ these parents as something less than human or the lazy architects of their own misery (Even though many of these parents were in care as children themselves)

      So when professionals meet a parent who is educated, can speak ‘nicely’ and has clear decided views of their own, this is of course a very different set of circumstances and very challenging for many professionals. I have seen it myself with the medical profession. I had cancer in 2013 so when my mum was dying in 2014 I had already picked up quite a lot of vocabulary and some superficial knowledge about treatment and prognosis. I had some very interesting exchanges with Senior Registrars, one of whom asked me if I was a doctor. No, but I was using their language back at them and it caused an immediate and obvious shift in our dynamic.

      The experience of the Kitzinger sisters in trying to get doctors to understand the wishes of their sister Polly after she suffered massive brain injury following an accident, is another illustration. They were labelled difficult and obsessive.

      Challenge is difficult for us all. I can understand why many professionals can’t cope well with it, but I can also understand that many parents are overwhelmed by grief, frustration, tiredness and are not sometimes able to communicate in a ‘reasonable’ way. So round and round we go and every one retreats and blames the other. That’s because its the easiest response, rather than check your own behaviour or remind yourself of the balance of power in the professional/parent relationships.

      1. looked_after_child

        This is all true Sarah BUT it seems to me that there are so many similarities in the way people who lived in Grenfell/live in social housing were/are viewed by LB Westminster – there is a culture of disrespect by those responsible for provision of services to families, that makes it OK, even ‘good’ to view people in this way, because it supports the world-view of those making decisions.
        Some of the children’s charities and service providers play along with this, because it is the only way to be invited to the table and in a position to shape the agenda. This is collusion of sorts. Challenge is a good thing but you have to have maturity to be able to give and take it. It is a two-way thing and should’ent be a problem just some good ground rules.

        Changing the subject a bit, there is a perfect storm when you combine what is happening to families generally with what is happening with healthcare funding.
        See this :-

        It seems as though policymakers have given up on anything with the word ‘social’ in it. Social justice, social responsibility – even society itself has been jettissoned.

        There is no discourse between policy-makers and people – just ugly diktats by people with ugly attitudes to anyone who is not like them.

          1. looked_after_child

            I think it is coming to the point that professionals have to ask themselves which side they are on – The cosy insiderer side or the bleak outsider side – what is happening on the ground is often horrible and horrifying.

      2. Angelo Granda

        Sarah, I agree and the Children’s Act recognises the problem described in your first paragraph. Hence the strict working together frameworks laid down and the requirement that parents are put in touch with an advocate who can mediate in their own language and use professional parlance when addressing SW’s etc. The problem was anticipated. The conduct of each case must be checked scrupulously.
        Whenever a legal guideline is not implemented , there is always an effect and a consequent ripple effect which can lead to disproportionate,unsafe decisions.
        Please note that in London only ,apparently, the FRG does provide advocacy free to families but it depends on the particular Local Authority funding the intervention. It would be a bold move were every LA nationwide obliged to fund FRG advocacy services.

  3. Angelo Granda

    I agree with you, Sam.Bias and discrimination ( conscious or not) which when held by professionals in a position of power ( the authorities) leads to the degradation and inhumane treatment, emotional disturbance,mental torture and physical restraint etc. of the victims.
    I believe article 3 (ECHR) is contravened and,like you, I think it happens regularly.
    Thousands of citizens are affected.
    Where were their lawyers?

  4. looked_after_child

    “Gillies, Edwards, and Horsley (2017) build a powerful case for understanding contemporary policy as something of a perfect storm. The coming together of a social investment policy framework, brain science and corporate interest has generated and justified an unprecedented growth in early intervention programmes targeted at impoverished mothers. The racist, classed and sexist implications of this approach have gone largely unexamined:”

  5. looked_after_child

    State-sponsored processes of surveillance and behaviour management interventions take the place of a politics of social rights and economic redistribution: poverty in this analysis isn’t caused by systemic inequality – it is caused by the dangerous poor and their hapless parenting. Gillies, Edwards, and Horsley argue that a resurgence of child-rescue-driven practice in what might be described as late-neoliberal times amounts to the state being mobilised on behalf of the market to ‘secure the production of clear thinking, flexible, self-directed brains able to withstand the pressures of a global competitive system’ (p.38). This is the neoliberal take on social justice if you like.

  6. looked_after_child

    It is really important to challenge this – no matter who you are. There is no ‘them and us’ – there is only ‘us’ – slicing and dicing people in need of services into good and bad, deserving and undeserving, young and old, adopted and in care, rich and poor and then throwing a bone in the direction of the most vocal (adoptive parents?) is never meant to deliver anything to people who just do not matter to policymakers.

  7. Angelo Granda

    As far as child protection is concerned , in my view , put simply the problem has always been false ideology. Whether it is neo-liberal, old liberal ,fascist, Marxist, Saddam Hussain party or Monster Raving Looney, it is illegal and against the Human Rights Act to interfere with the lives of citizens disproportionately , without a fair hearing and unlawful to discriminate for reasons of poverty, ethnicity, antecedents or whatever.
    It is unlawful under the law in place right now to take children from natural parents for adoption, fostering ,residential homes etc. unless everything contradictory to removal has been fully considered and it is found that the circumstances are so dire that nothing else will do! No doubt about it ,permanent removal is inhumanity to children and causes devastation and both mental and physical distress as well as degradation. The Law makers and the High Court are adamant that removal is never in the paramount interests of a child’s welfare if it can be avoided. It is a monolithic myth that they are taken into the care system in their best interests. It is only really healthy and profitable for those responsible for organising the care.
    The Local Authorities often therefore have to create a situation using any number of dodgy lawyers and legal arguments that the situation is very, very dire. It’s the only way to procure children under the law. To do it, they make wildly untrue statements, assessments, false allegations and so on but by disguising them as fact. When parents protest which it is planned they will , it is said they do not acknowledge professional concerns, are in denial ,over-defensive and that they are not likely to change and work with the professionals in time-scales .It may be claimed they are in the precontemplative stage etc.etc.
    The Law says it is wrong but they continue to get away with it because of inferior lower courts and the lack of access to justice via appeal due mainly to the problem with funding .
    It is a legal problem we face not a political one. Whether you vote tory or labour ,these awful authorities will still abuse the system as they have done for centuries.

    P.S. Another tactic used to fake dire circumstances is to somehow establish mothers have some sort of depression, polar disorder or that they use drugs or drink. They can then claim falsely that treatments are not available in time-scales relevant to children. Rubbish but they get away with it.

    The solution is for the system to ensure fair hearings .

  8. Angelo Granda

    As far as child-protection is concerned, in my view, to put it quite simply the problem has always been false ideology. Whether it is neo-liberal, old liberal, fascist, marxist, right-wing, left or monster raving looney, it is illegal and against the Human Rights Act to interfere with the lives of citizens disproportionately, without a fair hearing; unlawful to discriminate for reasons of poverty, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, religious denomination, antecedents or whatever.

    It is unlawful under the law in place right now ( Children’s Acty) to take children and permanently liquidate families unless every possibility contra-indicative to removal has been fully examined, reasons given for their rejection and it is found that the circumstances are so dire that there is no alternative .
    No doubt about it, liquidation is humanity to children and causes devastation ,mental and physical distress as well as degradation.
    The law-makers and the High Court are adamant that removal is never in the paramount interests of a child’s welfare if it can be avoided. It is a monolithic myth that they are taken into the care-system in their best interests also illegal, in my opinion. It is only really healthy and profitable for all those responsible for organising the care-system.

    The Local Authorities, therefore ,have to create a situation using any number of dodgy lawyers in their employ and persuade the Court with legal arguments that the circumstances appear very, very dire. It’s the only way they can procure enough children to fulfil their aims under the law. To do it, they make wildly untrue statements and declarations , false allegations and so on under oath whilst disguising them as fact. When parents protest as it is planned they will, it is reported they will not acknowledge professional concerns, are in denial, over defensive ,unlikely to work with professionals and unlikely to change. It may be claimed they are at the pre-contemplative stage etc. etc.
    The law says it is wrong but they continue to get away with it because of the inferior, civil, lower courts and the lack of access to justice via appeal due mainly to the problem with funding.
    It is a legal problem we face not a political one. Whether we vote Tory or Labour, these awful authorities will still abuse the system as they have done for centuries.

    P.S. Another tactic used regularly to fake the direst circumstances is to somehow establish an argument that Mums have some degree of depression, polar disorder. personality defect ,are suicidal or that they have used drugs or alcohol. They can then claim falsely that treatments are not available in time-scales relevant to the children, Rubbish but they get away with it.

    The solution is for the system to ensure fair hearings and stop the abuses!

    1. HelenSparkles

      This is totally inaccurate but as it is the same thing you have been saying for years, I’m not responding again.

      Could you just clarify why you think in your world of conspiracy, that any LA wants to procure children?

      1. Angelo Granda

        Helen,if readers will forgive me for saying so, your comment smacks me as ‘ the language of casual disrespect’ !

      2. Angelo Granda

        Any readers who object or aren’t happy with my use of the word ‘procure’ please take note. I make no apology. Procure is generally a legal term which I selected in preference to ‘child-stealing’ in the nasty Chitty- Chitty Bang-Bang sense, or taking unlawfully which I had used previously. I felt it was a less pejorative term thus would be more amenable to our esteemed moderator.
        In my dictionary ,procure means to obtain, acquire or secure the management of the affairs of a subject.
        Procuring ,procurement or procurating by legaI procurators is not and has never been conspiracy in my book and the suggestion I am in a ‘world of conspiracy’ is just darn right insulting .
        To clarify why I think the LA wants to procure children.
        a) the ‘culture’ of sex-abuse of innocent children which has been common to many Social Services departments over at least the last 80 years to my knowledge. See previous comments on this resort to Operation Cleopatra and more recent confessions and comprehensive apologies made by departments in the Channel Islands, Rotherham and other places including Australia and Canada. It is known that in Rochdale thousands of children in care were neglected and exploited both for profit and self-gratification by M.P’s and others in positions of authority also that many teenage girls were put into circulation outside their residential homes as virtual prostitutes. the offences were covered -up for years , complaints procedures corruptly flouted and so on. Sexual exploitation is one reason why people occupying positions of power might want to flout procedures and procure children for the care system.
        b) For reasons of financial prudence. Because it is easier and preferable for LA’s to take children into care than keep families together. This is a general complaint. As I’ve said recently ,money is at the root of most abuses of power.

        Please readers don’t fall for the notion that Child Protection Professionals procure children only for well-meaning ,legitimate aims and motives. They often act maliciously and they would do so with anyone, you too! Don’t let good-heartedness, empathy towards the C.S. ( which I share) or your tender ,unsullied friends who have never,ever seen them at work persuade you to fall for it. There are many soft-hearted folk who I know of who don’t like to have their feelings ruffled and when you tell them truths which they don’t like, it shocks them. They will say it is shocking but no matter how true it is ,they stop their ears and say or cry out,’Oh, that is too horrible! We can’t believe that! They say the truth. They can’t believe it because they WON’T believe it.
        Even now, after so many revelations, convictions and apologies, there are millions of people in Britain who are such born, drivelling ‘WON’T BELIEVERS’ that they still think the LA’s only act illegitimately and take the wrong children occasionally ,by mistake but I am fairly certain that the malice within the system is such as they will attack not only vulnerable families but each other. Whistle blowers and well-meaning angels who join the payroll are castigated and sacked or demoted .They do it not for spite but for pleasure. Some awful people like to belittle and marginalise the good social workers and lawyers. Likewise ,they prefer to attack innocent families than any other.
        The turning of blind eyes, minimising of issues and nimbyism is behaviour about which we should all be appalled. To suggest that we who bring these revelations to the CPR comments columns have invented our own narratives is just scurrilous.
        All comments welcome including disagreements and differences but, readers please don’t be too soft on the system. Accept the truth. Let us have our own ‘Weinstein’ moment.

  9. looked_after_child

    I was recently made aware of this material prepared by adoptive parents. It portrays an very ugly picture that all parents of children who enter Care are neglectful and abusive.


    I spoke to the chair of an adopters and special guardianship group about it afterwards .She was pretty horrified and would have preferred a film that showed the results of abuse and its impact on a child and family. ( This is verifiable unlike “virtual reality”)

    The reality is that children enter Care for lots of reasons often to do with poverty and or illness and the lack of resources to address these.

    False narratives s just create distrust. Why are there no checks and balances to prevent this happening?

    1. HelenSparkles

      Children do enter care for all sorts of reasons, including abuse, and risks that adults pose to them. It isn’t a false narrative, it is just one facet of the narrative. One group who have decided to focus on their area of interest and need, in order to develop something that might be more helpful than sitting in a room looking at powerpoint slides. It doesn’t mean ALL children who enter care are abused as far as I can see, just tells us something about the impact for those who are, and some people are visual learners. I suggest your group concentrates on the area of your interest and needs, i.e. where other factors lead to children being accommodated by the LA. I am glad that your experience is not of children who have been abused, but please don’t negate their narrative and lived experience, whilst pursuing your own.

      1. looked_after_child

        I’ve seen too much of this Helen and I’ve checked with a parent to a young person who is physically abused. For me this stuff is akin to creationism – stick to the facts ALWAYS – conjecture just shifts over into prejudice too easily. Any carer watching this stuff is very unlikely to understanding what shared PR means

          1. HelenSparkles

            This is preparing carers for looking after children who have experienced trauma and abuse.

            Carers are often (just because you would be) naive about the impact of trauma and about.

            It isn’t a prediction, it is just training about what the impact can be. It is also known that some children are (for whatever reason) more resilient and some children just survive abuse and trauma in a way that doesn’t have an impact. It is complex and multifaceted and good that carers are prepared to understand those children who may just not be able to name their emotions.

            I don’t know how many people who have been abused that you have spoken to, but I suspect I have spoken to more, and all of them say they wished they had carers who really understood their emotional landscape.

          2. HelenSparkles

            BTW when I said just survive – there was no minimisation there, just acknowledgement that children are different.

            For e.g. a boy I know was in care and his mother drank buckets of vodka during her pregnancy. He doesn’t have FAS. The more we know the less we know sometimes.

          3. looked_after_child

            Thanks Helen
            I have heard looked after children speak about their carers in the most positive terms imaginable – about love and care given and received. I do not think carers who are like this need to be told birth parents are vile before they can understand how to love a child and try to reach a child irrespective of how unlovable they may first appear because they are hurting so much.

            I do’nt think Social workers should need this stuff either – surely a basic understanding of, interest in, care for humanity should inform what they do.
            Why do we need to paint anyone as a demon before we can care about their child – even though that is the job all take on?

            This is not reality – it is a cartoon and it is highly unethical. This is acceptable only in a world where it is not acceptable to need services. The Victorians gave ‘moral instruction’ via the pulpit before the destitute could access access parish funds. We see their empty churchs all around us today – the congregations just swelled and swelled to accommodate them.

            We have nowcreated an identical system with a new language – much of it based around the language of trauma. We are not encouraged to consider rights, ethics and injustice. This is reality not ‘virtual reality’ – reality.

      2. looked_after_child

        I have no difficulty understanding your point about different experiences or that being a parent to a child that has been abused will be hugely challenging and all will need support. It is the lurid, biased nature of this kind of material and the harm it can cause that I object to.

        It should never be left to adoptive parents to produce this material, then call it ‘virtual reality’, use it to raise money and promote their business, promote a ‘saviour adopter’ and ‘saviour carer’ and ‘saviour sw’ narrative and so on.

        This is by no means to under value what loving adoptive parents and carers bring to a child. This material is unethical by any measure and a massive error in judgement at best. It should be withdrawn.

          1. looked_after_child

            Or why not use the Dursleys to explain about Kinship Carers or Cinderella to explain how it can all go wrong with a new mum or whatever… Life is always a lot more complicated than a pen picture. When you are in a position that you are filling people’s heads with information, you should not be able to fill with poison.

            When you do that against people who cannot fight back, getting money from the taxpayer to do so..it is just so, so wrong. Govt policy is way off track…

          2. HelenSparkles

            Ok, I need to look at the material more closely, I did look, but didn’t see it describe birth parents as vile so it warrants close examination when I have time.

            Your argument partly seems to be that a film about adoption made by adopters doesn’t cover other matters. I don’t quite see that point. It is about adoption, not anything else. I do see a number of times when people take on an argument and say what about xyz, when the argument was about abc. Nobody can take it all on. Nuanced or not.

            I don’t disagree about government bias towards adoption, in practice the law dictates that it is only when nothing else will do, and the law hasn’t changed. Until it does, neither does practice.

        1. HelenSparkles

          Saying that adoptive parents shouldn’t be left to put together material about adoption seems absurd to me. It would be like me telling you that I will talk about your experience not you when actually, user led content is often invaluable for everyone.

  10. looked_after_child

    I’m going to make a complaint to Ofsted about the LAs who use this material – how it spreads hatred and mistrust and is dreadful for community cohesion. I’ve already asked one group to break their association with them given the vile, nasty, prejudiced, lurid, portrayals of families who have need of children’s services or explain why they have not so I can take further via parent forums, my MP and the like.

    No Innovation Funding for us though. We are on our own unlike this lot who have the great and the good and even the well-intentioned behind them.


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