Social Workers Speaking Out – What Should they Say?

This is a post from a social worker who wishes to remain anonymous. She discusses her frustration about the constraints on social workers speaking out about who they are and what they do and her particular concerns at the way ‘Social Work Tutor’ recently chose to frame the narrative, in terms of ‘monster parents’. 

Over the last couple of years I have been involved in various real world and online discussions about social workers speaking out, mainly why they don’t as individuals. As a general rule, if you are independent or in academia you can talk about social work, in an LA you can’t without representation or approval from the directorate (and usually under the auspices of the comms team). As far as social networking is concerned, most employment policies are restrictive enough for social workers to be anonymous if they work for an LA. I’ve felt my share of frustration with the barriers to communicating about social work as well as with the voices who claim to represent me at times. There are several aspects to this for me. On a personal level I feel silenced, and in a field active with anti oppressive practice, that feels a bit oppressive. For families who encounter social workers, not knowing about social work limits their understanding of what we do and creates a barrier of fear, barriers can be ameliorated, but it’s a shame there is one there in the first place. More widely it contributes to the air of secrecy that surrounds social work and the family justice system and I would like more transparency.

 

It won’t be a surprise to know that I was therefore interested to the Facebook page of a social worker who has a large “fanbase” (their words) and who also contributes to Community Care. I haven’t read all of the Community Care articles but this is someone with who I agreed completely when they wrote recently about feeling like social worker’s voices have been heard for the first time since Munro. There were almost 20,000 followers on the Facebook page and, from what I read, SWT appeared proud of their high profile. Reading further, some of the posts gave me pause for thought. I really didn’t like the way social work was ramped up, I didn’t like the notions expressed that social workers are heroes, or working on a frontline. I also didn’t like some of the memes, because although they might be funny in another context, they read as being jokes made at the expense of the people we work with. I also strongly objected to a very emotive post about the Ellie Butler case. Others have written very fluently about the case and I don’t intend to repeat that here, I will though tell you why I minded about it so much and thought you might wish to read the original post first. It has now been taken down, this was copied before it was, and screen shots were taken.

 

Social Work Tutor

21 June at 19:38 ·

Ben Butler is the kind of violent monster that Social Workers fight to protect children from on a daily basis…

Ben Butler is a man who used violence, control, intimidation and fear to rule those around him. He has a history of robbery, intimidation, assaults, carrying offensive weapons and domestic violence.

He admitted that he “hoped situations might present themselves where he could engage in violence” and believed that “violence used to help him improve his mood when he was upset”.

When his daughter Ellie was just seven weeks old, she suffered a “triad” of brain and retinal injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome. Ben Butler was convicted of grevious bodily harm and child cruelty, and sentenced to prison as a result.

Using his controlling and dominant personality, he used a legal technicality to quash that conviction then proceeded to engage in a media tour to campaign for the return of Ellie to his care. Supported by the convicted sex offender Max Clifford, Ben Butler did the media rounds and portrayed himself as the doting father who simply wanted to care for his daughter.

He convinced The Sun, he convinced The Daily Mail, he convinced This Morning. Most sadly of all he managed to convince Mrs Justice Hogg who commented of her ‘joy’ at seeing a ‘happy end’ when she returned Ellie to the care of the man who would go on to murder her.

Justice Hogg dismissed his violent past.

Justice Hogg dismissed the doctor who raised concerns about aggression and bullying.

Justice Hogg dismissed the burns Ellie experienced to her head and hand at only seven weeks old.

Justice Hogg dismissed the concerns of the Local Authority who did everything they could to prevent Ellie’s murder and fought all the way to save her from her father.

Justice Hogg dismissed the heart-felt plea from Ellie’s grandfather, who warned her she would have “blood on her hands” if Ben Butler regained custody.

Eleven months later, Ellie was murdered in a fit of violent rage.

This vile creature subjected his six-year old daughter to a fit of murderous rage and then attempted a cover up with his partner and Ellie’s younger sibling; staging a scene so that the sibling would find Ellie’s limp and lifeless body.

Those last eleven months of Ellie’s life must have been hell.

She was blocked from having the support of her local Social Workers.

The independent service brought in stopped engaging seven months before she was killed.

She was living with a man she told her Grandfather she was terrified of.

She was referred to as a c**t by her own father.

Neighbours reported her as being so scared of him she wet herself.

In the weeks before her death she experienced a broken shoulder.

I could go on but even writing these words brings tears to my eyes; I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Ellie to be subjected to such a life.

And yet these are the monsters that Social Workers save children from on a daily basis. These are the vile creatures we fight to protect these vulnerable little souls from.

People so dangerous that they will kill their own children.

People so controlling they can convince the media and judges to bend to their will.

People so evil they will attempt to portray death and injury as accidental; using their other children to hide their heinous deeds.

We will keep fighting to save children from harm, just as the unheralded heroes of Sutton tried to do for Ellie.

We will be there for children who have nobody else.

The sad truth is that Ben Butler is not an isolated figure. There are parents like this up and down our country that Social Workers are having to deal with every day.

These are the terrors that we are trying to save the world from.

These are the parents who will tell the media that Social Workers are ‘stealing their children’ at the same time as living with the awful harm they have caused.

These are the monsters that we keep from children’s doors at night.

SWT”

 

So, I minded all that because I am horrified that anyone in my profession can imply that the people we work with on a daily basis are monsters or that Ben Butler is the face of social work. I would always say that most of the people I work with are sad rather than bad, their stories are often ‘there but for the grace of God’ and the Ben Butlers of this world exist but are thankfully few and far between. I minded that a view was being expressed that social workers work daily to save children from monsters, as a child protection social worker I think I’m working with families because they need help to look after their children safely and with the need to ensure those children live elsewhere when that isn’t possible. The rescue narrative which can describe vile creatures and protecting vulnerable little souls is not mine, neither is the battle motif. I am not saving the world from terrors or keeping monsters from anyone’s door. If there really is anyone who could be described as a monster who might be in need of restraint, that’s a job for law enforcement not me.

 

So, then I minded the legal stuff because social workers work within the law. Ben Butler didn’t use a legal technicality to quash his conviction. The court considered evidence and, however terrible anything might now seem, there was no other decision that could be made based on that evidence. It is also wrong to say that Mr Butler convinced a judge, the evidence was used by the judge to do what judges do, make a judgment. This was no act of control or anyone bending anyone else to anyone’s will. It is indeed true that this returned Ellie to the care of the man who murdered her and this is very sad indeed, nobody can think otherwise. The Judge also did not exonerate Ben Butler of all of the issues, she exonerated him of the crime the evidence supported he did not commit, if you read the SCR, the LA seem to have taken this further. I suspect this is not the only time that a judge has been warned they will have blood on their hands, I have no evidence to support this but cries from the public gallery are not unheard of.

 

So why does this matter? It matters because this person is representing social workers, not just in a publication that only social workers read, but also on a public Facebook page and they are crowdsourcing £15k to publish a book that will tell people about social work much more widely. My view is that any narrative including monsters and rescuing children demonizes the people with whom social workers work, and that narrative marginalizes social justice in the context of a time of austerity and savage cuts and with a government in power whose rhetoric about adoption is akin to social engineering. I am not the only social worker who thinks this and I would always want families to know that a large following on Facebook is not representative of any social worker I have encountered in real life or online. In the meantime, having spoken for myself, I am going to have a bit of a rethink about who represents social workers, I’ve been quite critical of BASW at times, but they are doing sterling work at the moment.

 

92 thoughts on “Social Workers Speaking Out – What Should they Say?

  1. Sandra Lewis

    Thought provoking and articulate. I recognize what you are saying and share your concerns. I shall be interested to see where this goes. Interesting thank you

    Reply
  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    I am grateful to the author for what I agree is a thought provoking piece. I too am very wary of narratives that attempt to frame parents as ‘monsters’.

    Ben Bulter is thankfully an extremely rare kind of parent. He should not therefore be allowed to drive the narrative about how we talk about parents and how we work with them. If social work is really going to slide inexorably into the ‘child rescue’ narrative (which would seem to be what this Government requires with its focus on adoption as the solution) then I think we all need to be aware of that and understand where it will inevitably lead.

    Reply
  3. Angelo Granda

    Nevertheless the post ( unfortunately now taken down) was an honest illustration of how ‘child-savers ‘ see themselves and what they see to be their duty. I dare say it was the writer’s truth as he or she sees it , somewhat impassioned but not unlike the views of parent victims of the system in that respect,in fact we parents could easily adapt the same post almost word for word to describe how the LA manipulate and come to our doors as ‘monsters’ to cause atrocious harm to our families.
    Of course, the post was entirely negative towards service-users in general being based on a murder-case .However, it was honest,as i said and tells us about the mind-sets of quite a few SW’s.I wish it had been posted on this forum because i doubt iof it would have been deleted.
    The best part of the anonymous post to this forum for me is this:-
    QUOTE: I am not saving the world from terrors or keeping monsters from anyone’s door. If there really is anyone who could be described as a monster who might be in need of restraint, that’s a job for law enforcement not me : UNQUOTE
    The SW who wrote it is right. It is not their responsibility to protect children from
    risk of harm. Those with parental responsibility are the only ones legally responsible. Education,medical and social worker are here to help and support them. If a child needs protection from parents then the duty lies with the Police Public Protection Department. If the Police refer a case to the CS then the department has a duty to assess the risks involved and work with the family concerned , to support them in protecting the child. Should the LA decide to apply to share PR then the CS has the duty to support both them and the family. It is not for the SW’s to decide on removal or make decisions on adoption etc. They only have to investigate impartially and report.
    If they can understand their duty properly ( better training and management necessary) then they will find it much easier to do their job.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I have to say, that if the view expressed by SWT about monster parents is common in the profession then I am coming round to your way of thinking Angelo – that we should leave ‘monster catching’ to the police.
      I do however think it is a shame he/she took the post down. I think it would have been much more productive to have had discussion and debate about it. That is the only way we are going to move things forward.

      Reply
  4. Angelo Granda

    Going back to Ben Butler and what went wrong. I would have thought that there must have been psychiatric and probation reports made following his historic crimes.If not ,there certainly should have been a psychiatric report made when he was convicted and gaoled for shaking Ellie .
    Those reports will surely have revealed him to be an extremely dangerous man. Judge Hogg was right to clear him but why was he not offered support and sent for treatment ( possibly as an in-patient) until it was safe for him to return home?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      But those earlier convictions were overturned on appeal. So in the eyes of the law, he was not guilty. So even if there was a psychiatric report saying he was dangerous, the court would ignore it once the conviction was overturned as it would be based on a false premise.
      What I don’t understand about the Ben Butler case is why his violence in other areas of his life (I think he had served a 3 year prison sentence and/or been violent to a girlfriend) did not take more prominence in the particular case relating to whether or not his daughter was safe with him.

      Reply
      1. helensparkles

        Whilst some criticise LA’s I think there was a real issue in this case about divesting the LA of responsibility and I would like to know more about that really. Most LAs have cases where it becomes impossible to work with a family at one time or another, not many, but another team in the LA are usually able to take case responsibility. If that wasn’t the case this case should (in my view) have gone to neighbouring LA such as Merton. It isn’t ideal that it is easier to access files in another LA as an LA SW but it is true that it is. I would like to know more about how robust the independent SW assessment was and what information they had access to.

        From what I have read, it appears to me that the LA may not have met threshold without the disputed evidence (although I don’t know that and access to various other documents not yet available due to the need for time to appeal would be helpful) but that doesn’t mean that the child/ren should have returned home. Had the assessment been thorough, evidence may have been gathered during that process which took the LA back to court. I am not sure how exactly that would have progressed but children’s voices are heard and had Ellie been able to say how scared she was, that should have informed rehab home as should her grandparents reports of her fears.

        It is also true that Ellie appears (again from what I have read) to have developed a secure and healthy attachment to her grandparents, this being disrupted for a return home should not be a given when the best interests of the child are prioritised. Social workers are not the experts, psychologists are but this should have informed part of their assessment.

        I will never tire of saying that SCRS are benefit of hindsight reviews and their value is severely limited until they can provide systematic analysis,. They need to be a truth and reconciliation process or whatever doctors do in those ethics meetings when they work out what went wrong. I do completely understand the tone of this SCR, if I was the Sutton SW I’d probably have informed that belligerent tone, because they were telling a judge how dangerous they thought this dad was.

        Ben Butler was exonerated of ‘a’ crime, it appears that there were still safeguarding issues and I suppose what I really think abut this is that if I was the SW at the receiving end of the judges comments, would I think I had nowhere else to go? It is very difficult. I absolutely think there was an assessment of risk that would be at the core of child protection practice. I think if I was Sutton, I’ve been told off by the judge, child is to go home, and all those risks I am really scared of are dismissed?

        Reply
      2. Angelo Granda

        Sarah and Helen, It may be helpful to consider the advice i was given by a criminal lawyer . This was that any criminal case and any family proceedings are entirely separate and the cases must be kept separate. The standards of evidence are different. The only real relevance of the appeal court decision was that Ben Butler was cleared of one particular criminal offence. This indicated that Mum was right to support him when he denied causing harm on that particular occasion to Ellie. She was right on that one occasion.
        The family proceedings should not have been concerned with the physical evidence of the criminal case.

        Reply
  5. Sam

    I don’t know if it is relevant but there is not joined up thinking with regards to child protection between different police forces, at all times. For instance if a member of the public reports a concern and there is no arrest, it is only recorded on a local database, so if the offender moves police area they effectively have a clean sheet. I know this through talking to the police.
    I also know that family courts do not always see as relevant a persons record of violence despite what the former President of the Family Division, Lord Justice Wall, ” we should continue to promote the message that it is not possible at one and the same time to be guilty of serious violence to your partner and to hold yourself out as a good parent. The old approach that a man may have abused the mother of his children, but that he had not struck the children and that he was still a good father will no longer wash in the over-whelming majority of cases.”
    Or it could simply be that no one picked up the violence or the conviction , having spent some time in court quite frankly some of what goes on is riddled with mistakes.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      As a child protection worker I obviously receive convictions and prosecutions but I also have intelligence and i can discuss with the date protection team how that information can be shared. It can always be shared in court.

      Reply
      1. Angelo Granda

        Helen,you have mentioned that you have’intelligence’. I don’t really know what to read into it.
        In the military and in security work, they also gather intelligence and they have special units to do so. Much of the intelligence gathering is done covertly.
        At what stage does the CS begin to collect intelligence on a family. Before a referral is made sometimes,perhaps? Where is the intelligence stored and who informs you? Do you have agents in the community? I do happen to know that SW’s can be sent on attachment to the Police,for example. Any information you can give us will be much appreciated. Do you have informants who can access school cp files covertly?

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          My comment about intelligence was about information the police share with children’s services. It is called intelligence by the police when it is information which has a safeguarding relevance but where the outcome wasn’t a prosecution or conviction. It can only be requested if there are safeguarding issues and they need to be justified to the police. There is nothing covert, no secret agents, no special unit, no operatives in the community or informants.

          Social workers who work with the police are usually part of a multi agency team rather than being on attachment to a force, a MASH team or CSE team. They don’t all have access to each others information.

          I don’t know anything about school files, only that schools need to share any safeguarding info with CS/the police.

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            Do you mind if i ask whether you can can ask the school to give you information about families even when no official child-at-risk referral has been made by any agency. Can you have a general trawl through the files of all pupils on a trouble-shooting basis? Likewise can you conduct fishing expeditions through GP or hospital files? I do know you have access to them at will.
            The only reason i am curious is that many parents who make subject/access requests and see their CS files,they claim they are full of wildly wrong and derogative nonsense and ,of course,there will not be one piece of positive intelligence.

          2. Angelo Granda

            Do LA’s have mass surveillance technology available to them just as the government and Police do? Where public records and telephone records can be scoured en-masse by computers which home in on various key-words. I do hope your answer is no! I agree the Police have to protect children ( and adults) and i do know that the Government employs these big-brother methods in security applications. Just wondering whether LA’s do. I am not suggesting any conspiracy just nosing.

          3. helensparkles

            No to absolutely all of that.

            CS do not have access to any files at will. At all. Ever. There is a data protection act & there is no fishing allowed.

            I’ve never done an agency check without consent, so that would be with any statutory agency, unless for some reason gaining consent increases risk.

          4. Angelo Granda

            Thanks,Helen,for your answers.Just one more thing please. Abbreviations. What are MASH teams and CSE teams?

          5. Angelo Granda

            Thanks for your reply to my query about abbreviations. Can you say whether SW’s ever enter intelligence received from Police into their own computer database which we already know is used as an ‘evidential base’ for use in the Family Court?
            If so,I suggest the practice is ‘iffy’ to say the least.

          6. helensparkles

            Safeguarding information is shared with CS by the police to protect children and it is kept on their CS file. That information can be used in court and, were you to be at that stage of care proceedings, all parties would have access. Should any information be disputed, not just that from the police, I would expect a family to be instructing their solicitor to that effect. We’ve discussed files before and I can’t ameliorate your fears about that, you just need to look at SCRs where information sharing has not taken place to know why it needs to be.

          7. Angelo Granda

            Quite right Helen,I agree with you completely about solicitors disputing evidence and would also say the Guardian should too.
            The problem parents have is that solicitors are reluctant to dispute LA evidence because of court protocol. Too much reliance is placed on the integrity of the LA evidence. You do realise that Police intelligence notes and reports are not based on facts ,don’t you? Open source intelligence may often be untested,unreliable and uncorrobarated. Closed source intelligence is generally considered reliable but has to be corroberated before submission as evidence. Police intelligence reports and notes consist solely of tendentious observations and critique designed to assist in full enquiries. They will never supply intelligence reports to Court for use in evidence as fact.
            Parents are often amazed at the crazy information in LA files when they manage to gain access. When you present evidence from the database to Court,you are actually disguising shoddy hearsay and ‘intelligence’ as fact. In all honesty, why don’t you tell the Court your evidence is based on untested and unreliable information received? The Lawyers ought to be made aware of it.

    2. Angelo

      Sam, Maybe one mistake the Police made was not to charge the father simultaneously with lesser charges such as dv, controlling and coercive behaviour or child neglect causing emotional harm.He might not have been acquitted of all of them.

      Reply
    3. Angelo Granda

      May I add that Sam is quite correct that Family Courts do not always see past records of violence as relevant.
      I am not a lawyer but I understand convictions over ten years old are considered by law as irrelevant generally. Under the LAW , a person’s record is wiped clean under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act after five or ten years depending upon the seriousness of the offence.
      In child-protection cases , enhanced disclosure can be requested and usually respondents will agree to it. If they do not agree,the Court can make an order for enhanced disclosure i.e. it can order that criminal convictions over ten years old are disclosed. However, apparently it is laid down in the practice guidelines that only those ‘spent’ convictions specifically related to child-abuse can be disclosed to the Court or used against a respondent in pre-court proceedings.

      Reply
      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        Of course, a conviction for violence ten years ago and no convictions or even reports since, will not carry much – if any – weight. People are entitled to be given credit for changing. BUT i do not think Ben Butler’s conviction was so far into the past.

        Anyway. I think the real problem here was that he was able to control and dominate his partner into being collusive with his violence which meant that two adults presented a picture to the authorities that everything was fine, when in reality she was trying to find spells on the internet to make him less violent ! that is a truly tragic picture, not least of course for Ellie who could not rely on either of her parents to protect her.

        The reason I uneasy about using Ben Butler as any kind of template for discussions about the child protection system is that thankfully he IS so unusual. I accept that children are all too frequently killed by their parents/care givers but the majority of these deaths are not as a result of long standing cruelty and deception of state agencies.

        I think it was a massive mistake, in hindsight, to turn post proceedings assessment of Butler to a 2 man band independent social work team. That cemented the attitude that the LA should keep away and stop bothering this family.

        But of course, the only person responsible for Ellie’s death is the man who killed her. I hesitate to say her mother was also responsible because I suspect she was also a victim of this man’s violence. But I am sure people will agree that to criticise SW for not ‘saving’ Ellie in this kind of case is unfair criticism.

        I also hope people will agree that talking about parents as ‘monsters’ on the back of this case, doesn’t help.

        Reply
        1. Angelo Granda

          QUOTE : Anyway. I think the real problem here was that he was able to control and dominate his partner into being COLLUSIVE with his violence which meant that two adults presented a picture to the authorities that everything was fine, when in reality she was trying to find spells on the internet to make him less violent ! that is a truly tragic picture, not least of course for Ellie who could not rely on either of her parents to protect her : UNQUOTE

          QUOTE : I hesitate to say her mother was also responsible because I suspect she was also a victim of this man’s violence : UNQUOTE

          I hope this comment is constructive and helps lawyers when considering the real problem you mention, Sarah.

          1. In a criminal court, man and wife are regarded as a unit and Ellie’s Mum would not be expected to give evidence which would incriminate Dad. She would not incriminate herself for supporting Dad which is considered to be only human. Also it can be said that she would have a completely different view of Dad’s character based on her own experience despite his violence towards herself. Like many other women she may not have understood the effect on her of coercive control etc. It is tragic but human and she should not be adjudged to be collusive in any violence. She is a victim of violence.
          2. If, as often happens in child-protection proceedings, legal guidelines and Working Together frameworks were NOT followed scrupulously, then she may not have been told of her rights to an advocate right at the outset AND the CS may not have been open and honest telling her in advance of proceedings what the concerns were, what change was expected of her and what the time-limits for change were. Had an advocate explained matters fully to her and conveyed her feelings to the authorities and if the CS had acted lawfully, she would have been less likely to have been such a willing victim of the violence. She would have understood the concerns fully and may have responded less tragically. My opinion, as a parent, is that each guideline and safeguard is prescribed for a very good reason and when ignored, there is a resultant effect on justice.

          So add these to the list of concerns when examining the case in retrospect.

          Reply
          1. helensparkles

            Nobody is a willing victim. Mum was a victim of coercive control and violence as far as we can tell from what we can read. I don’t think it would matter if she had the best service in the world from CS, those relationships are very very hard to end.

          2. Angelo Granda

            Ity cannot be said it is not inhumane for the authorities to try and end those relationships,Helen.
            A Mum and Dad are a dyad and when they give birth to a child, there is a triad.
            No man should break them asunder . It is inhumane to permanently liquidate a family forcibly, in my opinion.
            The solution is to work with and support the family; when d.v. exists and the father is perpetrator,the best we can do is charge,punish and reform him and the next best is to persuade the mother to part from him voluntarily if it is felt the child is at significant risk. won’t reform even if

        2. Sam

          Even if there was a recent history of violence this may not have been a red flag to the judge. There still appears (from my experience) a tolerance of a man being violent towards his partner and or children.

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            Yes, There is too much tolerance,in my view too. Add to that a lack of understanding of the effects of it on a woman and we have injustice.

            I hope you are in good health,Sam. I know i’m being stupid but please keep us all informed as i can’t stop worrying about you.

            Regarding your own case and others like it , why does the LA prefer to place children into the care of fathers even if they are dangerous? Could there be a direct correlation between the father’s financial position ( work etc.) and that of his poor victim ( possibly an unpaid housewife? I believe there is a definite connection.

          2. helensparkles

            As far as I can tell, thresholds weren’t met, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t safeguarding issues. I’d like to read more but it isn’t available yet and that’s fair enough. A robust assessment for rehab home should have flagged up those issues.

        3. Angelo Granda

          Of course, i trust readers will be aware that in a criminal Court as opposed to a civil Family Court, past convictions are not entered into proceedings at all until after judgment has been made on facts alone. The trial would not be considered a fair one because it would be discrimination against the accused were the magistrates or jury to swayed by possibilities / probabilities based on past history no matter how recent.
          Previous convictions are only revealed at the sentencing stage.
          Obviously the Family Court has different protocol and it is considered acceptable for the records to be considered before decisions are made indeed before a case is even taken to Court.The CS don’t delete them after ten years.

          Maybe Lawyers should bear this in mind; whilst it is acceptable ,legal and felt to be necessary to consider past criminal history before and DURING Family Court proceedings and full details are made available to Doctors ,teachers,Guardians,psychologists etc. in order to inform and colour their individual expert assessments , this does mean that the trial is not scrupulously fair by normal standards of justice.
          That is fair enough but a point worth considering when discussing whether limitations should be placed on the severity of sanctions available to the civil Court.If a case warrants permanent liquidation of a family,then an enhanced standard of trial may be needed to satisfy the requirements of Article 8.

          Reply
    4. helensparkles

      There are systems in place to only pass on relevant information but safeguarding information is on a national database that local police can check, this includes information that does not proceed to prosecution or conviction.

      In regard to your other point, research indicates that the impact upon children of witnessing DV is as great as if they directly experience it. People will often say something like they were fine, they were in the bedroom and didn’t see anything. The police report may say the child seemed happy and wasn’t crying. They weren’t fine and they didn’t cry because they know nobody comes when they are busy fighting.

      Reply
  6. Angelo Granda

    To be fair to the SW’s , they are responsible for nothing more than reporting to the other CP professionals ( including the Court) impartially and assessing what they see to be risks. The Judge ordered the child to be sent home; thereafter, the responsibility would have reverted to the core group and the CP conference chair. The Judge did not order that Ellie was to be removed from the Child at risk of harm register. The LA still had a duty to support the family and could have continued with a CIN plan or whatever with all the attached services and monitoring. Did the LA fail in its duties?

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      Any responsibility the LA had was removed by the judge, he appointed independent SW, they had no duty under any plan.

      Reply
    2. Sam

      This is a reply to Angelo. Thank you for asking I am OK at the moment. I know I keep emphasising what has happened, but I am well aware that I am not the only woman in such a position and some are not able to speak up. You may have something there Angelo, this LA certainly expect woman to confirm to gender roles that haven’t been seen in most areas since the 1970’s. They for instance stated that I was just a mother and I did not need to go out to work even though I wanted to and it would have been beneficial. Yet supported my ex so he could. Bizarre.
      As you would expect there are very few male social workers , I think one on every team I have had contact with , so who do they allocate to the case? The male of course and when I had supervised contact once again it was always male workers. It really is most unprofessional and thoughtless. Though I suppose there are many fathers having to cope with female SW.

      Reply
      1. helensparkles

        Dad’s are more marginalised in SW than mum’s so I’m not buying the gender bias. Not for want of trying I hasten to add but services for dads are shot.

        Sam there are indeed v few male social workers and whilst I know managers would love to allocate all their workers the families they would be best matched with, for whatever reason, ‘cases’ don’t come in like that. I don’t know how helpful this is because obviously SW would wish to avoid triggers but they are neutral people in so far as they are often working with people not like them, Muslim parents when they are not, white parents when they are not etc. Our training supports this but if you feel uncomfortable with a man supervising contact you should say so.

        Reply
      2. Angelo Granda

        Helen and Sam, Constructively,it might be better management were the LA to place adverts in the media specifically for MALE trainee SW’s.
        It would not be gender bias ( whatever that is) ,it would be rather like the way employers increase the ethnic representation in the Police Force and positively show a preference to the recruitment of female workers into certain other professions traditionally dominated by men.
        I understand the problem with staff shortages but in an ideal world it might be best if all social work assessments were conducted by one man and one woman particularly when the parents are presenting as a couple. If they are not presenting together then the Mum should be able to ask for a woman and vice-versa the Dad.
        Management should instigate a recruitment drive aimed at men.

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          Social workers work with a lot of people who are not like them in whatever way that may be, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion etc. and even if I worked with someone exactly like me, all families are different anyway.

          Some cases are co worked but that is rare and you don’t understand staff shortages if you think that would be possible more widely.

          There are men in social work but they are over represented at senior management level generally, this is not unique to social work.

          Reply
      3. Angelo Granda

        Sam, I feel there is lots of evidence that cp decisions are made by LA’s with their own budgetary considerations at the top of the agenda. It would not be wild to say that when a father is working and a mother claiming benefits, by placing a child with father the LA saves itself a lot of money.Likewise,if the position were reversed ,it will place the child with Mum . If both were out-of-work, they will tend to prefer Mum and if both are working also choose Mum.
        How would the authorities gain by choosing the working partner?
        No Housing benefit to fork out.No free dinners.No free ‘bus tokens.etc.etc. etc. Plus if Mum is traumatised,no supervision or other support necessary. Think about it.Why else would a child be placed away from his Mum whether the Dad is violent or not?

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          There are a lot of budgetary considerations in LAs for all kinds of support but the departments you mention above are independent of each other. Housing and Children’s Services have separate budgets set by the council at cabinet. They are entirely separate, do not consider each other, and the benefits agency is a completely separate government department.

          I am very confused about your example above. If neither parent presents a risk to a child, and the child could live with either parent, why are children’s services making any decisions about where the child lives?

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            I am thinking about private disputes between the two (perhaps a marriage breakdown) when child-protection has become involved due to the risk of emotional harm.

          1. Angelo Granda

            Not so in Sam’s case though,was it? You are far too idealistic,in my opinion like the Judge’s.
            You think the various Council departments act independently. So are the CS and Conference chairpersons etc. supposed to be independent but they have to follow LA directives. That’s why so many resign. You are lucky in your area,the LA seems okay.
            Money drives LA policy to the detriment of good social work practice.The Councillors who make policy at cabinet be they from Housing Benefit, Education or Police departments all use the same latrines.

          2. helensparkles

            You are giving LAs too much credit for joint working, the departments are all very separate, as are budgets and the councillors responsible for setting them – even if they pee in the same place!

            One of the departments you mentioned, benefits, isn’t run by the LA, it is central government. To conflate the way departments run with the way children’s services are run is an overstretch.

            You would of course be right that cost impacts on the resources available at a time of cuts and austerity made by central government. In my LA we had a consultation document sent around all households, I don’t know what participation was but the outcome was that nobody wanted any money spent on either children or adult social care. Which just made me think I hope they never need any help!

            There is an argument for conference and review chairs to be entirely independent – they are all called IROs btw even if they only do one of those roles, it is the title of the job role for both. That would be on a par with adoption and fostering panel chairs.

          3. helensparkles

            Not sure idealistic is the right word. Social workers don’t give any thought to budgets, that’s for senior managers.

            I wasn’t talking about Sam’s case obviously. I was talking about your example where a child is being caused emotional harm via private law for example, to a degree which is significant enough for them to be subject to the child protection process. That child is then placed on a legal order with an unsafe parent and information about that lack of safety has been seen by the court? That doesn’t have anything to do with money.

          4. Angelo Granda

            I really think idealistic is the right word.You appear to have too much confidence that the aims of the LA are legitimate in these other areas and perhaps your even your own. Yet you acknowledge that they are continually cutting the support and social work budget to the bone whilst at the same time sparing no expense on legal fees paid to procure children into care and exhorbitant charges per week on private residential homes ,private foster-care agencies and so on. Not only I but many of your colleagues have the same concerns ! The choice they make does not seem to be the cheapest option so why can austerity be blamed?
            Sarah advised readers on another thread that were the CS to inform the Judge that removal wouldn’t be necessary were funds available to finance a support and monitoring programme , any decision to remove would be instantly appealable. If the Judge ordered permanent removal for financial reasons,it would be unlawful. Why don’t you tell the Judge the truth? Never mind what the senior managers say. You are the professional practitioner and you have a duty to be honest. It is your job as key social worker professional to recommend support as the best course except in the most dire scenarios.Money is not your concern as you say. Regular monitoring would guard against the home situation deteriorating and reformatory training would improve and lessen the risks.After a year or two ,you could probably discharge the care-order and award yourself a well-earned cash bonus.If the parents are in a bad way mentally or on drugs by all means advise temporary removal but it is cruel and inhumane to children to separate them permanently from their Mum. Why hasn’t that simple message trickled down yet? Do the LA consider all alternatives to removal and give good reasons for their rejection? No they do not.
            I wonder if that is why they don’t even offer support but aim to establish from a very early stage that parents will not understand and acknowledge concerns thus they are unlikely to change and work with professionals.
            Forgive me for continually preaching the same message and to be the bearer of bad news but the fact is the Public have lost trust in the CP system. I hope readers don’t think i’m the only one because i am not.

          5. Angelo Granda

            Hi again, Helen, I know of at least three other cases just like Sam’s.
            All the Mum’s find themselves in a similar position,searated from their children by the Courts. The children involved were at constant risk of abuse from a violent father . Social Workers step in, convene a cp conference quite reasonably. Following the conference , the father has refused to cooperate and leave the home and the IRO fails to act and make a court application for a protection ( no doubt kowtowing to LA senior management wishes) and when the mothers complain, Social workers just start to build a case against Mum although she probably has never been abusive and give the father lots of support. They forget about the father’s emotional abuse and turn the tables to say the Mum’s have mental health issues.
            So,Sam isn’t the only one by a long chalk. It is debatable whether the SW’s are to blame for it because all they do is follow strict directives from management. Surely the IRO’s are at fault for their lack of independence and for bowing to senior management. Probably,as in the Ben Butler case, the LA’s concerned ( as you surmised) declined to waste money on a court application.
            The system seems to have a common fault which is to leave children in situations where they are at significant risk in many cases ; they APPEAR to prefer to spend their money going after innocent ,vulnerable families. Where Public trust is concerned,I am afraid it is APPEARANCES that matter. Protests and pleas of innocence from SW’s don’t hold much water with the Public, i’m afraid to say. Indeed the SW’s may be considered as mere puppets of the senior managers. The IRO’S are the real culprits for their lack of independence,don’t you think?

          6. Angelo Granda

            Don’t get me wrong,Helen. Of course you must comment and explain your case. What i am saying is that the Public and parent victims of injustice make judgements on that which appears to be happening on the evidence they see to be true and on the way SW’s act. Not on how they say they act.
            If you think about it, in this child-protection system and in our family courts that is how families are judged. On what appears to be happening and what it appears might probably happen on the balance of evidence put by professionals. Little attention is given to parents especially when in many cases , Sam’s included, parents aren’t included in the assessment process( loop). Protests and pleas of innocence don’t hold much water with the authorities. They go on what appears to be the truth.
            If it is any consolation , at least i don’t accuse SW’s or lawyers of ‘lying’ when they respond. Parents aren’t afforded that courtesy.Yet who is more likely to give false evidence? The parent who follows his solicitor’s advice and cooperates with the system or the LA which flouts procedures and guidelines on a regular basis?
            I haven’t seen many SW’s on here even acknowledge that they don’t always follow guidelines and safeguards scrupulously. Perhaps they are forbidden from commenting. I don’t even think SW’s who fail to obey guidelines do so maliciously. More likely they are pressured into failure by pressure of work,by management instructions or because of spanish practices within the department which they have to go along with. Either that or they don’t know what the legal guidelines are . They may be just very stupid but i doubt it.
            In my opinion, to put it in a nutshell ,major changes to frontline practices are called for in line with the Government’s plan. So let’s accept the system’s shortcomings and work out how to ensure procedures are followed .
            All comments welcome.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Well, there you are ! That’s what went wrong. An ISW is not responsible for supplying support and monitoring only for making assessments and recommendations. The LA core group,conference,IRO and the LA lawyers should not have dithered leaving the child in serious danger , the LA should have either supplied home support and monitoring pending the ISW assessment OR made a fresh Court application for a supervision order.

    Reply
    1. Angelo Granda

      In theory,the CS will have followed the legal guidelines and safeguards ,i hope, and they will have already considered all less intrusive alternatives to removal and presented them to Court. The Guardian will have done too whilst considering the welfare check list fully. Those alternatives would have been the basis of the contingency plan should the Family Court have decided against removal in the first place.
      The Judge who ordered the child to be returned home might reasonably have expected that to be the case.

      Reply
    2. helensparkles

      ISW do all kinds of work, the whole range, and the child was not on a CP Plan or in care so none of that monitoring was available.

      Reply
  8. Angelo Granda

    Thanks,I had already read that discussion and reiterate that,in my view, is where the system went wrong! Firstly,the Judge might have been more reasonable to expect (or order) that the less intrusive alternatives already examined if due procedures had been followed correctly were implemented. She did not order it and asked for the involvement an ISW. Because of that, the LA and the lawyers dithered and fudged the issue.Bearing in mind Ellie remained on the ‘at risk’ register they ought to have taken more decisive interim action pending completion of the ISW assessment.Maybe instant appeal and /or an e.p.o. I am not a lawyer but i would say they should have done rather than adopt the attitude they should keep away.
    I am not playing the blame game here ,it is very easy to make judgments in retrospect but we should not cast aspersions. We have to look at the affair as a system failure and be impartial.As we know,that is what happens with air traffic accidents.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      The only thing the LA could have done was to have appealed and they appear to have taken the view that the judgement was conclusive and to do so would have been a waste of public funds. There was no dithering or fudging, thresholds were not met as far as I can tell, and the case was given to the ISW for an assessment for rehab home.

      I don’t really know what you mean by less intrusive alternatives, to what? The LA’s view was that there were safeguarding issues at home but Ellie was safe and well with her grandparents as far as we know. I’m absolutely not going to blame anyone here, I think when things go wrong it is helpful to unpack the flaws in the system.

      Reply
    2. helensparkles

      P.S. If Ellie was on an order to her grandparents she would not have been considered at risk, and they had an SGO I believe, so she was not subject to a child protection plan.

      Reply
  9. Angelo Granda

    Thanks Helen.I mean less invasive alternatives to removal. For example , active support in the form of dv counselling,anger management etc. or a supervision order. The LA are supposed to consider them and present them to court fully when applying for the care-orders with care-plans for removal.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      Just a note, anger management is very dangerous in DV cases. It teaches the perpetuator how better to mask their emotions and removes the warning signs the victim reads to keep themselves and their children (relatively speaking) safe.

      Reply
  10. Social Work Tutor

    Hello everyone,

    Having reflected on this post for a week or so, I feel that I’ve now reached a point where I am able to respond to the issues that the anonymous author raises here (having overcome my bruised ego and petty childlike reaction to experiencing my first period of criticism from a person far more experienced and intelligent that I).

    As the author points out, I wrote this blog post in an emotional state as I had spent a lot of time that day reading the media reports about Ellie Butler. The tragic nature of her death, the manner of her father’s media appearances and the reported failings of the judiciary all left me in a mindset that she had been betrayed by those who should have been there to protect her; chiefly her parents, but also the structures within this country that are in place to safeguard vulnerable children.

    At the end of a few months when we had already heard more details about the high-profile deaths of Ayeeshia Smith, Keegan Downer and Liam Fee, the details of this case genuinely left me in tears as I dwelt on the manner in which Ellie was moved back to the care of her father.

    At the time of writing this post, I was not aware of the finer minutiae of the case (thanks in part to analysis by the bright legal minds who are connected to this very website) and was basing my knowledge upon what was presented in the national papers I had read that day.

    Were I to write about the circumstances of the judiciary’s actions now, the post would have been significantly different.

    In relation to my use of the terms ‘monster’ and ‘creature’; I used these words to describe people who murder their own children. Sadly there are three children a month killed by their parents and it is my personal belief that murdering your own child is a monstrous act.

    Re-reading this post, I can see how I could have made more of an effort to clarify that I was specifically referring to murderers and it’s been a shock to see that some people may think I was referring to every parent who has involvement with children’s services. Although my reading of the post still sees that this was the point I was trying to make, the fact that the author pointed out a different perspective made me realise that my message may be unclear; hence the decision to remove the post when this was pointed out.

    I was extremely hurt to see that this post of mine was then given as a reason to question my work in other areas and, most worryingly of all, my practice as a social worker. My practice has been exemplary and my writing (although often based on gallows humour) is something I make significant sacrifices to achieve. Reading that this post brought my practice as a social worker into doubt sent me into a number of days of low mood and my family urged me to consider stopping writing.

    I adore my job as a social worker and to think that one poorly planned post may jeopardise everything I’ve worked for was hard to comprehend. Faced with such potential trauma in my life, I entered ‘fight or flight mode’ and tried to challenge the author and then, when this was ineffective, attempted to shut out criticism.

    Having had time to process everything, I can now see the truth of the situation as I have set out here.

    My apologies for any hurt I may have caused because of my reaction to this criticism.

    SWT

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Thanks very much for posting SWT and I am glad that you can see this post for what it was meant to be – not an attempt to jeopardise anything that you have worked for, but as a reasoned challenge to a narrative that was causing some of us unease.

      Of course, I understand the kind of emotion that the Ben Butler case engenders – I have spent most of this evening reading the 2014 judgment and the Serious Case Review and feeling a new kind of horror as more details emerge and I get a sense of what that last year of Ellie’s life must have been like. I agree with you that I think the legal system has a lot to answer for here.

      I will be discussing this case with other members of the Transparency Project on October 3rd at an event organised by the London Branch of Resolution. More details here http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/lessons-from-the-ellie-butler-case/

      I hope that we can continue to have necessary discussion about what has gone wrong with this case, and how Ellie was left unprotected with such a man, who seemed to have posed such an obvious risk. I can’t criticise you for one moment for feeling anguish about what happened to Ellie. But I do think (hope?) that parents like Ben Butler are rare and I don’t want him being used to cast a shadow on the vast majority of parents who are struggling, not monsters. He’s caused enough grief.

      But the issues this case has raised about the vulnerabilities of the legal system and the elevation of findings of fact to ‘universal truths’ are well worth exploring.

      Reply
  11. Angelo Granda

    A parent’s View.

    Everyone will be horrified by this apalling case .Murder is murder is murder and the criminal system has dealt with it now, Ben Butler is put away for a very long stretch which WILL protect the Public from any further risk and keep his partner and other family members SAFE.
    Perhaps ,had the murderer faced more appropriate charges in the first place such as domestic violence and/or controlling abusive behaviour based on ABE interviews alongside what turned out to be a false charge, Ellie might have been kept safe too. That is easy to say after the event ,of course, and i am not sure whether the powers which the Police have now existed when he was first charged.

    Following an inquiry being published yesterday it seems forensic psychological reports and probation reports indicated that Ben Butler was a very dangerous man and that his family was not safe. These reports had been issued during previous criminal proceedings for violence.They indicate that he was disposed to great fits of violence which were triggered off by stressful situations he came up against which he was unable to control. So can we say that the criminal system failed in Ben Butler’s case?

    Should the Judge in that earlier case have taken much stronger reformatory action.He could have gaoled Ben where he could have been given therapy for his condition. Or he could have been placed under a probation and supervision order on condition he accessed therapy for the stress illness. He could have been sent to Rampton. Should more care have been taken at the sentencing stage?Was he dealt with too leniently.
    Once he was released ,no matter how the CP system reacted ,no matter how many plans and recommendations they made on account of the risk involved, whether or not they acted exemplarily at all times and even if there was limitless funding available to support the family, can we recognise that the system and the Family Court system of justice does not have the orders available to it or the teeth to enforce reform on people like Ben Butler? The professionals cannot lock a child in a safe.

    The only way it can protect a child is to issue orders which permanently part a child from family with all its own risks and attached human rights issues. Maybe it should be allowed to issue probation orders.Possibly that would give the Judge some teeth. They certainly don’t have the power to gaol Ben Butler types or order residential mental treatment at places like Broadmoor.

    No way can the ultimate blame be placed on the shoulders of SW’s involved even those who may have made some procedural errors.It isn’t their job to protect children. Their task is to report impartially and provide support services when asked.

    Looking back on such a horrible event as the death of Ellie Butler ,what mercy ,if any, can we give to Ben,her father? Is he a monster, a vile creature? There can be no excuse for what he did! Above all this ,he is a human being and there, but for the grace of God,we all go.
    With violence,especially murder, why is it that 99% of people can control their violence when under the same or even higher levels of stress than Ben but he could not? Much violence and murder particularly crimes of passion are similar to suicide and self-injurious behaviour. I feel ,as a mere parent, that these acts came to happen because Ben Butler’s ‘balance of mind was disturbed’. If he has any defence then surely that is the only one he has and his condition was diagnosed and presented to Court on the previous occasion.
    Even now he is appealing,sadly he still cannot face and accept responsibility for his crime. It will take two or three years for the reality of his actions and the reality of the court judgment to sink in. It is a well-known fact that the mentally ill take a lot of convincing and a lot of therapy before they will accept they are insane.I hope he takes the pills.

    Reply
    1. Social Work Tutor

      Hello Angelo,

      Thanks for your feedback, it’s a great help.

      I think the question of looking for the drivers behind such monstrous behaviours is a very difficult one and strikes at the very heart of human nature: why do people do evil deeds?

      Unfortunately far brighter minds than mine have struggled with this existential debate over the years and I am in no way qualified enough to look for an answer.

      I’ll simply keep doing the job I love by trying my best to keep children safe, happy and within their family home (if this is in their best interests of course).

      SWT

      Reply
    2. helensparkles

      It was a court judgement Angelo; Court of Appeal (Civil) re: C (A Child) publication of care judgment on sibling of Ellie Butler. It only matters because this wasn’t any kind of investigation of Ben Butler, or the case, and it was a family law case so wouldn’t have been convicting him of any crimes even if it made mention of them. I don’t think we know a huge amount about how the CJS did deal with Ben Butler except for the quote from probation which would have been for the pre sentencing report. There are of course lots of questions to answer but I don’t think anyone is blaming the social workers.

      Reply
      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        Nobody can blame the social workers. They were prevented from doing their job by the 2012 judgment. They were desperate to get the children out of his care. It is hard to see what SW can realistically do in such circumstances. I do think the courts need to be a little more humble about their own forensic processes. They are NOT carrying out investigations. They decide a case on the evidence before them. And if the evidence isn’t there, it isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean they should go further into ‘exoneration’ – or at least that seems very odd in this case where he had so many previous convictions for violent offences.

        Reply
  12. Sam

    It is very difficult for me to add to the debate about Ben Butler. It is very close to home. It does however confirm what I have said above the Family Court and for that matter the criminal court/CPS/ Police/CS do leave children with violent men even when there is a history of violence. Including cases are heard in the High Court. It really is still seen as a domestic,(she could leave couldn’t she) rather than torture/potential murder. Education and change of public perception to me is the key both for the public/victims/perpetrators and those who deal with victims including judges. Something similar to the campaign that worked against drink driving would be a start.
    I would also say that all cases in the family court involving domestic violence need to be published as it is in the public interest.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      Sarah might shoot me but The Archers is doing a very good job of raising the public perception of domestic abuse.

      Reply
  13. Sam

    Agreed but only for Radio 4 listeners , and the demographic there will not cover the whole country though I do hope some judges are listening

    Reply
  14. CT

    Thank you for engaging in the discussion. I think the author was more concerned about an emerging theme, rather than a one off post, particularly because you seem to be raising a profile in the hope of representing social workers and your book is to tell their story.

    “I didn’t like the notions expressed that social workers are heroes, or working on a frontline.” It would be great if you could comment the two posts, now also taken down, in which you presented social workers as heroes and made the frontline sound like a war zone of dangerous families.

    I think the issue in all three is the othering of the families with whom social workers engage. I am not sure that, demonising families, or creating heroes out of social workers will contribute anything towards anyone understanding social work.

    I assume you had second thoughts, since those posts are no longer up, so it would be great to know what they were.

    Reply
  15. Sam

    Actually I think Angelo would enjoy it would confirm his fears about lawyers, though there is rather a lot of time devoted to chickens as well lately.

    Reply
  16. Angelo Granda

    Sam, The problem women have is that if a SW walked into a home and a mum was there with a black eye ,welts on the neck from strangling ,scars on the face from being carved-up and crying uncontrollably from terror of a violent,controlling,co-ercive husband , the worker is not there to help or serve them. They are not from the Public Protection Department ,they are from the Child-protection Department,if you like.They are there to gather evidence and to establish any risk to the child.They focus on the child and the Mum ,to the worker, is merely a factor of the planned risk assessment not someone they are there to help.If the PDSA or RSPCA operative were to be called to attend an accident scene in the case of two dogs or if a bitch was giving birth, they would treat the pair together. A social worker doesn’t work humanely like that.Their mind-set is completely different.
    At a hospital, a school, a nursery, a library,a town hall, down at the chip shop ,Marks and Spencers or anywhere else you care to go whereever you happen to travel in most areas of the world including darkest Africa and the deep Amazonian rain forest ,a mum and their child is regarded as one and the same unit. They are human beings and mum and child and are treated humanely. Most people you meet act humanely but because of the nature of an inhumane law ,the CS ignore the Mum and focus on the child alone. I don’t think they understand how that might be inhumane. I suspect it is pretty pointless asking for help from a social worker. They just look upon that as proof a woman can’t protect themself thus there is a risk she is unable to protect their child.Yet neither are they able to protect the child from a violent father and neither is the Family Court except by taking the child into care which is harmful and inhumane in itself.
    In theory ,the agency responsible for protecting a Mum and child from violence is the Police Public Protection Department. The over-arching priority of the department is to protect you and your child. As i have explained somewhere above the Police will protect you normally. The only time they appear not to do so and the only time they appear reluctant to get involved at all is when you have a child. When they see you have a child,they pass the buck on to the CS.

    Sarah, have you ever invited Police to contribute to the resource or to attend a CPR conference? Why do they abrogate their responsibility to protect BOTH mum and child ? Overwork ,perhaps or do they follow strict management and LA directives too? Police ,we want answers!

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      ” A social worker doesn’t work humanely like that.Their mind-set is completely different.” This is not true. I’ve just been helping a mum in various ways (I can’t go into here) as well as her child.

      There is an issue with women not leaving male perpetrators and that putting children at risk. Leaving is complicated and difficult to do and I think it is a lot to ask of victim of DV to take responsibility for that risk.

      Reply
    2. Sam

      Angelo you are quite right, the police eventually took a history but as CS were involved would not prosecute as matters were in the family court. Hence I did not receive justice in the criminal court as I should have done and the proceedings in the family court were distorted to put it mildly. More importantly my children remain at risk, because the LA and the police continue to cover up rather than admit their initial mistake. I would also like to add I had left the perpetrator.
      In retrospect I wish I had recorded every meeting with any professional I came into contact with and I would advise anyone recently involved with CS to do so.

      Reply
      1. helensparkles

        A police prosecution is dependent on evidence, not whether something is in the family court, that is very odd.

        Reply
        1. Sam

          Yes Helen It was very odd right from the beginning and hasn’t stopped being odd. At the risk of being a conspiracy theorist I do wonder if these practices have been going on for years in this locality.

          Reply
  17. Social Work Tutor

    Morning CT,

    I’ve had some really constructive discussions with Sarah (who runs this page) who encouraged me to engage as, without this, the points made are one-sided.

    In relation to the ‘othering’ you speak of, I think this is sadly rife throughout all aspects of social work practice and to hear that I may be inadvertently doing this myself has given me a lot of pause for thought.

    I’m not 100% sure which articles you’re referring to, but I am in the process of migrating some blogs from one website to another in preparation for my book project being formally launched in the coming weeks. It would be helpful if you could get back to me when these are back up and I can comment on particular points (although you may be better off emailing me directly as I’ll have less time to engage publicly on social media and forums due to other priorities).

    The ‘frontline’ terminology has, in my opinion, become common parlance in social work. In relation to the impact this may have, I think I’d like to see what people who access services think of this language. If this is something that people see as divisive then I will seek to remove this in my writing wherever I can. If it is an issue from within the echo-chamber of the profession itself, then the proliferation of the term probably makes it hard to remove (even Bruce Springsteen used the term ‘working on the frontline’ when dedicating a song to Italian Social Workers at a recent concert in Rome).

    Thanks again for engaging with me and I hope this has helped explain my stance a little better.

    I’m now going to be tailoring down my social media presence and blogging to concentrate on the book research process. In case there’s anything else you’d like to run by me, please drop me an email because I can’t guarantee having the time to check forums and social media comments much over the coming months.

    Reply
    1. CT

      It is very sad to hear you think othering is rife in all aspects of SW practice, and if you just look at their code of ethics, that isn’t what is expected of social workers.

      I shall indeed get back to you regarding the other posts when they are on the new website. There wasn’t a particularly issue with the use of frontline, that is indeed common parlance, although it would indeed be useful to know what service users think. There was a particular post of yours that discussed the frontline in regard to dangerous houses and the police not entering when social workers needed to, it was all very alarmist. Maybe we will both recall it better when you repost. I shall look forward to the discussion.

      Thank you for the offer of contacting you directly, and I completely understand if you don’t have time to engage, but I think these discussions should be held in the public domain and this is a good place to do that because parents read.

      Reply
      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        It would be great to have a discussion about this and I agree that it is always good if such discussions can be in the open. If challenges to our ways of thinking and practice are made constructively then I think they can only be a good thing.

        The narrative that is based on ‘risk’ and ‘monster parents’ is one that makes me uneasy as I don’t think it reflects the majority of parents. BUT I am not a ‘frontline’ social worker and I am protected from direct engagement on home territory with people who certainly have the potential to be both violent and threatening. I think there is clearly a risk to both children and social workers from parents who are violent – but it would be a shame if the spectre of that risk was allowed to loom larger than it really is. As I think that will ultimately be to the detriment of good social work.

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          Most of the time I am not frightened, in danger, nor do I need to think about myself at all. But what I do is often inevitably at a time of crisis and situations can escalate. Social workers are hurt by the people they are working with, and that’s terrible, but it is rare. I stick with the sad rather than bad as an overall rule and even people who are risky often don’t hurt the people they are working with, they tend to hurt the people in their families the most.

          I have been in a situation where the police have refused to enter a home SWs had to enter, and it did astonish me, but a uniform can ramp things up anyway. There are various protocols for personal safety, and when you know there are risks, they can be managed. The difficulty is always the risk you can’t anticipate and there are times when I give my personal safety more thought.

          I will do a lot of stuff to keep myself safe, because otherwise I can’t help anyone else, but I am neither the hero or the victim because if I always think, if I feel fear, what is it like for the people who live here. It isn’t a preconception but it is important when planning safety with families.

          Reply
    2. Angelo Granda

      SWT,Regarding SW language,terminology and jargon,somewhere on this resource you will find a glossary of terms used. It would help if you could add to it. I suggest you start with explaining ‘othering’.

      Reply
  18. Angelo Granda

    My view , as a parent , after having read the Government plan for the reform of the system which was published on the CPR a month or so ago, is that frontline practice refers to what actually is happening as against what could or should be happening. The Children’s Act is couched in terms which can be interpreted very widely.Like all laws there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the wording,the lawmakers have to cover all angles and possibilities and this gives those on the frontline i.e SW’s and lawyers in Court room to exercise a certain amount of discretion.The Lawmakers and the High Court Judges are not on the frontline.
    As far as the LA’s are concerned,if the threshhold are met, this means that the criteria for the issue of a care-order of some type is met.That doesn’t mean the LA lawyers have to go in and remove children indeed the Law seems to say quite clearly it is the least preferred option.Removal,especially permanent is the last thing the Law intends.
    As far as the CS is concerned, the key SW should jump into the hole with dysfunctional families (where children are at risk) and help them. Rather than recommending it, they should be doing everything they can for parents and everything to make removal unnecessary.They should be open and honest with the families and work with them. If the LA lawyers want to remove the children,the SW should do his or her best to stop them. They should suggest and ,if possible,cater themselves for less invasive alternatives and put forward reasons for rejecting the removal option ( except in the most dire circumstances). They have a choice,help the family or hinder them and should choose the former. Tell the parents openly what they have to do to make the LA happy.Consider yourselves on the parents side.Be independent.
    Lawyers and the Judge in court should also change their frontline practises in respect of discretion applied.Show less lenience to false evidence especially on oath. The best direction in which discretion can go is towards the parents.The Public are not daft.They know what the law is and they know when they have done wrong also when they have not.When they have not ,they don’t enjoy being told ,they might have done this or that or there is a danger they may in the future.The Public have an expectation about British Law which is part of our tradition.If there is discretion ,it is expected that where there is any doubt about anything ( including evidential proof ) it is to go to respondents not the authorities. If we are to face civil,summary justice based on inquisitorial documents and assessments, we expect proceedings to be absolutely fair and we don’t think such massive interference with our famioly lives as permanent liquidation is proportionate.. Those at the rear, have written guidelines and safeguards into the Law and those on the frontline have the discretion to reform their current practises.
    Unfortunately,this is unlikely to happen unless parents are granted an automatic right to appeal along with non-means tested funding.

    Hope this helps ,

    Reply
  19. helensparkles

    “As far as the LA’s are concerned,if the threshhold are met, this means that the criteria for the issue of a care-order of some type is met.”

    If the threshold is met to enter into care proceeding the LA will have a plan and make an application but it is for the court to decide the order granted. They may not agree but it is important for cases to be put before the court when threshold is met.

    “That doesn’t mean the LA lawyers have to go in and remove children indeed the Law seems to say quite clearly it is the least preferred option.Removal,especially permanent is the last thing the Law intends.”

    It is the least preferred option but it is also sometimes the only option, P.S Lawyers don’t remove children.

    “As far as the CS is concerned, the key SW should jump into the hole with dysfunctional families (where children are at risk) and help them. Rather than recommending it, they should be doing everything they can for parents and everything to make removal unnecessary.They should be open and honest with the families and work with them. “

    Jumping in holes and helping is absolutely what should be happening but unfortunately families can still be unsafe even with an awful lo of help. Honesty and clarity are important, and it is great when families make changes, but sometimes they don’t.

    “If the LA lawyers want to remove the children,the SW should do his or her best to stop them.”

    Lawyers give LA’s legal advice but they represent LAs and take instructions from them.

    “Tell the parents openly what they have to do to make the LA happy.”

    That should be clear in child protection conferences, core groups, written agreements and pre proceedings letters. Otherwise I would say it should be challenged if it reaches a court room. By the time a case reaches court I will have said the same things to parents about once every fortnight at least.

    “Consider yourselves on the parents side. Be independent.”

    Being on anyone’s side isn’t being independent let alone that not being very helpful for children.

    “Lawyers and the Judge in court should also change their frontline practises in respect of discretion applied.Show less lenience to false evidence especially on oath. The best direction in which discretion can go is towards the parents.”

    Nobody should be getting any discretion. There should be evidence which can be put before a court, if it is false of course it should be challenged.

    Reply
  20. Angelo Granda

    QUOTE: Being on anyone’s side isn’t being independent let alone that not being very helpful for children : UNQUOTE

    How do you work that one out? SW’s should be independent enough to be on the parent’s side and to support them in caring for their children. How can that not help the children? They should not feel they are forced to follow rigid management directives. Independence is the freedom of choice and action and supporting families is your duty.
    Thanks anyway for all your comments. To be honest,Helen ,i think the Government ( who act on behalf of US, the Public) are unhappy with how those, like you, on the frontline are interpreting the Children’s Act and how the frontline practitioners are putting the Act into practice. They want radical reform to frontline practices. The Government and the Public want changes!
    It is absolutely clear to the Government and US that families are being liquidated when there are indeed many other options. We know what is happening and we have written to the Government telling them. Like you, they think what is happening is very odd. They can see that the LA’s are separating families for practically nothing in a lot of cases.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      The government are very pro adoption Angelo or have you not noticed? Their rhetoric is very much verging on social engineering and it has been for a very long time. They would like to ‘liquidate’ some not very nice families and put children with much nicer families. At the same time austerity and cuts, implemented because the rich bankers messed up, creates an environment where vulnerable families reach crisis point sooner. Oh and they moved the goal posts on child poverty. This government absolutely does not agree with you, quite the opposite. They like basing social workers as well but that is just grandstanding a lot of the time because (for whatever reason) social workers are easy to blame. The government are also trying to ditch that pesky Human Rights Act, they tried to ride roughshod over it anyway, but a few judges got in the way which was clearly an irritant. The government also want to privatise SW, and I don’t know about you but if the state wants to take my children, I want them looking me in the eye, not some G4S subcontractor.

      Sides what is it with sides. Being on a side is the opposite to being independent. Nobody has to be on sides, they all need to work together to keep children safe. Being on the parents’ ‘side’ when children aren’t safe is collusion and a SW should be struck off for that. Supporting people isn’t about sides, it is about saying this is what’s going on, and this is what needs to change and this is how we are going to do it.

      Reply
  21. Angelo Granda

    Well,once again,our opinions differ ,Helen ,and this is a helpful discussion. One learns most from those who hold directly opposite views.Thank you for yours.

    I agree with the Government that adoption of children should be the target and that it should be speeded -up when the Court has found that ‘absolutely nothing else will do’. Long term foster care and residential care is not good,adoption is better in such dire circumstances and much cheaper too. We want the best outcome possible for those children,don’t we all?
    Regarding privatisation,i am not sure i agree with the Government about that but that is rather a different subject but i have to say that if i was to need the help of a SW, i would want one who was completely independent of the LA and one that was willing to take my side and help , work together ( collude) with me to improve my situation and to enable me to meet my child’s needs.
    Social workers should not be connected with the LA ( the purse-holders) who ,i fear, often have illegitimate aims and tune their child-protection policies towards their own budgetary considerations. Some say they actually gain from procuring children into care and their actions are not altruistic by a long chalk. I agree with that,not because i have direct evidence of it,.but because I know children are removed for trivial reasons. In every case i have known or read of where an ISW has been brought in, their assessments have been very different and cases have gone onto a more satisfactory and helpful conclusion for children and families. So, i am for the Government that the current SW system should be broken up and consigned to the history books. They have apparently taken the Public lack of trust on board . I think the CS should be a national organisation attached to the civil service and that it should be totally neutral and trustworthy.I haven’t thought too much about it but i don’t see how privatising the current infamous outfits will help. They aren’t fit for purpose now and if any profit motive entered into the equation that will be potentially disastrous. I don’t really know what the Government policy is .Possibly the provision of support services, family centres,sure-start centres, mother and baby shelters,respite care,children’s homes etc. could be placed into private hands but anyone whose aims were ruled by the need to make profits should never be involved in the assessment process or decision-making.
    Your last paragraph indicates a mind-set which i think is wrong . It is not the task of SW’s to keep children safe and you should clear that from your head. Risk is impossible to eliminate completely and your risk assessments should play no part in the Court assessments. You are asked to establish the extent of risk a child faces merely to establish whether the LA should offer help and support to a family. As Dr.Devine’s research proved , risk assessments are not an indicator of the likelihood of future significant harm and abuse by parents. One can’t eliminate risk,one can only lessen them and the way to do it is to put support and/or monitoring plans in place.
    Let’s not go round in circles. You seem to see little wrong with the current system. Do you honestly think due procedure is followed at all times? If not,how do you think we can ensure that it is?

    Reply
    1. Angelo Granda

      May i add that in Civil Service circles, all the assistants,officers and executives are under an obligation not to let their personal political beliefs enter into the way they carry out there duties. They are expected to act with complete neutrality and to serve citizens taking into account the current law alone. They will step on the toes of government officials and ministers as they feel the need arises and they are expected to be loyal to the Crown not the sitting Crown Government and its predilections.If a public servant acts unlawfully in any way,it corrupts the system and the system is officially corrupt.
      If a social worker does not follow legal guidelines and procedures scrupulously ,as a public official ,he or she corrupts the process and makes the CS officially corrupt . We have institutional corruption in those circumstances. One failure corrupts the whole system. That is a fact. It is true.
      So,readers, when parents assert we have institutional corruption , take heed. Don’t say they are inventing narratives etc.etc.

      Reply
    2. helensparkles

      Privatisation = services being provided by people interested in making a profit.

      I’m not interrogating the current system to the degree (here) that you are, I have always said there are systemic issues, I am commenting on your views at the moment.

      I agree completely that risk can’t be eliminated, there are though some risks that need to be assessed so the children are safe and I know that Dr Devine would not disagree with that. It is also worth saying that she is not the only researcher in this field and there is no peer reviewed research published yet as far as I can see.

      The trivial reasons children have been removed for, well they may not have been and you may not have known the whole story. We’ve been here before.

      ISWs often have one visit with a child and their family. I’m not sure what value a superficial assessment is.

      Personal politics don’t come into it, social justice does, it is part of a SW code of ethics.

      Not sure what difference you think there is between the LA and the Civil Service, there isn’t much, just different paymaster. You seem to think that SW go along with whatever their managers say etc. Not in my experience.

      Reply
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