A little less conversation – a little more action.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

‘A patient is the  most important person in our hospital. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our hospital, he is part of it. We are doing a favour by serving him, he is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so’

Mahatma Gandhi

I would like to consider a variety of reports that have come to my attention recently. These are


The Needs and Challenges of  Adoptive and Special Guardianship Families is a report produced by a group of parents who are either Special Guardians or who have adopted children. Their chair comments:

I can see deep systemic problems that affect adopters, and special guardians, which is why we have joined forces. These same problems seem to impact on families where a child has disabilities and special needs where services are required. Austerity has made support harder to achieve, and whether it is from health, education or social care, it so much more difficult to obtain from cash strapped local authorities looking to save wherever they can. We, who rely on services, bear the brunt of austerity, and at the same time can find ourselves victimised by a blame culture that makes us, and our children, extremely vulnerable when our children have behavioural problems and anxiety issues.

Key points from the report

In summary, the report considers the families needs and challenges and their experiences of working together with professionals.

  • Over 500 parents and carers were involved in providing information. Two surveys were conducted and four cases were chosen from group members where children had re-entered care to look at children and lives in context.
  • Over 700 children were  part of these families, many facing very difficult challenges; a high level of disability, numerous complex trauma related mental health problems and life-long conditions such as autism and FASD.
  • Parenting children with such serious needs can make family life difficult and respite was identified as ‘vital’ but often not available or hard to come by.
  • Parents had mixed experiences of working with professionals. Bad experiences deterred adopters and special guardians from help seeking and made them feel frightened of social services.
  • Parents felt that injustices are not adequately scrutinised by the Family Courts as their limited remit is insufficient for such complex cases. The adversarial court system cannot easily ‘problem solve’ and is unable to compel local authorities who do not allocate professionals with adoption or special guardianship expertise to the support of children and families.

The report identified no models, or good practice guidance to assist the safe rehabilitation and reunification of adopted and special guardianship and concluded that this does not seem to be a priority for local authorities.

The report recommends that

  • more ethical policies can be developed through the proper involvement of those with‘lived experience’ at a decision-making level in future.
  • setting up a Task Force to develop practice guidance for when a child re-enters care to enable relationships between family members to be better supported and develop models for reunification for children where family members are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The fundamental point, it appears to me is this:

it is certainly time to have dialogue with those who lives are affected by legislation when the courts cannot be ‘problem solving’ as they should be, when problems are very complex.

Report of the Children’s Commissioner

I do not think there is much, if anything, in this report from the Special Guardians and Adopters with which I disagree. I have been commenting for some time now on the particular pressures that come to bear upon the whole system of child protection which render it arguable ‘not fit for purpose’. See for example this post on ‘Forced Adoption’. 

Its broader concerns that the current system does not work well to support vulnerable children and families, are supported by the recent report of the Children’s Commissioner which sets out in stark terms what is being faced by the child protection system. This report found:

The 2.1 million children growing up in families with these complex needs includes:

  • 890,000 children with parents suffering serious mental health problems
  • 825,000 children living in homes with domestic violence
  • 470,000 children whose parents use substances problematically
  • 100,000 children who are living in a family with a “toxic trio” (mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol and/or substance abuse)
  • 470,000 children living in material deprivation
  • 170,000 children who care for their parents or siblings

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner said

Over a million of the most vulnerable children in England cannot meet their own ambitions because they are being let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them – a system that too often leaves them and their families to fend for themselves until crisis point is reached.

“Not every vulnerable child needs state intervention, but this research gives us – in stark detail – the scale of need and the challenges ahead. Meeting them will not be easy or cost-free. It will require additional resources, effectively targeted, so that we move from a system that marginalises vulnerable children to one which helps them.

“Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support can last a lifetime.

“We get the society we choose – and at the moment we are choosing to gamble with the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.”

About the same time as this report, the revised Working Together guidelines were published – this is a lengthy document of 112 pages. Small wonder its so dense, as it makes the clear point that there are a large number of different agencies/organisations who must be putting the child at the centre of their thinking and are under statutory obligations to do so. Under the heading  ‘Identifying children and families who would benefit from early help’ it says:

Local organisations and agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs of individual children and families. Local authorities should work with organisations and agencies to develop joined-up early help services based on a clear understanding of local needs. This requires all practitioners, including those in universal services and those providing services to adults with children, to understand their role in identifying emerging problems and to share information with other practitioners to support early identification and assessment.


We all know what we need to do. Children need to be at the centre of our thinking, while respecting the principle that children’s welfare must be seen in the context of their families and communities; families ought to be supported to look after their children rather than the first assumption being that they are places of sinister evil from which children must be ‘rescued’.  A stitch in time saves nine, for want of a nail the battle was lost etc etc so we ought to be doing what we can as early as we can because fire fighting is a lot more costly than dealing with problems prior to your house burning down.

But all of this requires time. Time for professionals to build relationships of trust with children and families so they don’t simply become troublesome units to be risk assessed and dealt with in a way that will save agencies from adverse comment down the line. And it requires money. To pay enough professionals to have enough time to be able to identify services and support that could actually help. To devise a coherent strategy of intervention that does not see children and family bounced from a variety of services and individuals.

It is really good that we are talking, and that more efforts are being made to cross professional boundaries. But I am still worried from what I read and hear about the debate around child protection that the compulsion to polarise, to find a ‘gang’ and be part of it remains very strong.  Social workers are either ‘corrupt liars’ or parents are ‘monsters’. I have written on many occasions about the dangers of naive or wilfully misinformed allegiance to a position at the expense of actual fact. See as just one example, Linda Arlig, her hammer and some nails.

But the mess we are currently in is not the product of just one profession or one political persuasion. its been building up over many, many years. It is becoming increasingly urgent to translate talk into action. It is particularly difficult when the court and legal system has become, since the Children and Families Act and the 26 week time limits, part of that framework of potential oppression.

Possibly hypocritically in light of the above, I hope that if you have read this far you will consider joining me and many others on September 15th at the Conway Hall in London to discuss the issue of ‘future emotional harm’ as a justification for removing children from parents. This has been for many years a particular bug bear of parents and not something I think is well understood, even by professionals. The focus of the day will be conversation between what I hope will be a large number of different groups – parents, lawyers, social workers, care leavers – with the aim to turn conversation into action.


Further reading

Abuse and neglect – how is it identified and what support is offered? Post from parent October 2017

Care Crisis Review 2018 Family Rights Group

The Adoption Enquiry BASW – their website is down! but you can read my post about it here. 

MP Tim Loughton, a former Tory children’s minister has blamed the government’s “woeful underfunding” of local authorities for a crisis in child protection that is putting the safety of vulnerable young people at risk. vThe Guardian, July 11th 2018.

Storing up Trouble – July 2nd 2018 report from All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) following September 2017  inquiry into the causes and consequences of varying thresholds for children’s social care. The inquiry found:

  • Vulnerable children face a postcode lottery in thresholds of support
  • 4 in 5 Directors of Children’s Services say that vulnerable children facing similar problems get different levels of help depending on where they live.
  • Children often have to reach crisis before social services step in.
  • Decisions over whether to help a child, even in acute cases, are influenced by budget constraints.
  • Children and young people in care and care leavers highlighted the difficulty they faced gaining insight into their personal histories. They called for better support in accessing and understanding information contained in official files.

Summary of the changes to the Working Together Guidance from the NSPCC



23 thoughts on “A little less conversation – a little more action.

  1. looked_after_child

    One of things I find most difficult to understand is why when professionals talk about ‘working together’, they are referring to working with other professionals and agencies. The working together I’d like to see, is working together with parents and families. We need fresh thinking from people with a real commitment to getting close to those services are for.

    I feel pretty alienated and gloomy at the moment – how many times and in how many ways by how many people does it have to be restated before things change?

    The thing about Windrush is that all these horrible racist policies were deliberate and their effects known but what those who made the decision to go ahead had not counted on was that the people affected would become so awkwardly visible.

    I guess that is the point of always banging the same drum with the same message…

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      A very good point about who are the people ‘working together’. Again, underscores the fact that parents and children are the people who get things done TO them.

    2. Angelo Granda

      Looked after child.As discussed on a previous thread,service users are usually placed at the foot of the hierarchy in child a protection.
      Particularly, spending on practical help and support for families is not prioritised.
      When it comes to public spending, it is inevitable that other professionals,agencies and companies of all descriptions will be queuing up at the LA’s door.I guess they come above families not least because they are very ‘persuasive’.
      It is very important we should make the word ‘corruption ‘ taboo . I don’t think we can honestly use that term.I am adamant there is no conspiracy,it is simple market forces,I suppose.

  2. SG&AT member

    I would agree with looked after child. Take the new ‘What Works For Children Centre’ – there seems to be no opportunity for us to contribute in a meaningful way as parents and carers to this endeavour. Our tacit knowledge, gained from years ‘on the job’, should be a valued resource – but it isn’t – because the dialogue seems to be all about the potential harm we do. We should be celebrating what we do right far more! The love and commitment that we make. The evidence base will be about ‘intervention’. Yet adoption is the policy intervention. Special guardianship is the policy intervention. So is Foster Care. We need to understand what helps us all have better outcomes. Quite how this information is going to be gathered without us properly being part of the discussion is something I struggle to comprehend.

    1. looked_after_child

      I’ve been told in an off the cuff remark that the new What Works Centre will be looking at ‘big data’. (I do not have the brainpower to work with big data this but surely there are lots of problems around this if not teamed up with a deep dive into lived experience? What does success look like for example?)

      This post here looks at some big data

      It is a lesson in how NOT to do things.

      The DfE lead this as they do with the new What Works Centre and there are huge conflicts of interests.
      Survival of the fittest policies within schools many of them being run like businesses outside any meaning control, hit disabled children very hard and are resulting in unprecedented off-rolling. These children are disappearing from view. All seem to hope that when they become adults at 18, adults services, such as they are, will pick them up somehow. That seems to be what passes for a policy with government.

      I fear the same old, same old from the same old set of DfE cronies from the What Works Centre. There is nothing to show it will be any different this time around.

    2. Angelo Granda

      SG &AT member.
      You have to understand one very important point.By the time the What Works for Children’s Centre becomes involved, both the children themselves and the parents have already been dehumanised.In order to meet criteria for help,it has to be demonstrated that children are in need,at-risk,or in a state of neglect and it has to be shown parents are to blame.
      Of course,in order to meet the criteria,the authorities jump the gun in their eagerness and forget investigate facts carefully and impartially as they should.
      Parents are prejudged and dehumanised overzealously and,as a result are not consulted just issued with commands.
      Children are dehumanised.They are merely numbers on the register or LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN .
      Their names cannot be published,their cases not be discussed and they are degraded for life just as their parents have.
      We have to face stark realities.

  3. Tim Keirman

    At the outset, I had better set out that I am on the other side of the fence. As a moderator on the John Hemming closed facebook group, Justice for families, I’ve seen the word “corrupt social workers, courts etc etc” and worse. Whether I am known by the friends that I keep does not stop me from reading reports in the light of personal experience of how the system works, or my personal opinion, does not work(with the exception of FDAC and PAUSE). In fact, I read SGAT’s report and formed the same opinion as yourself and saw commonalites with their report, to the point of contacting them due to the fact that I was aware of a group of social workers looking at some of the issues that they had looked into. It was unfortunately, misconstrued as an approach by JFF to them to work together. It was not. However, there is a need to build bridges by those who have first hand experience of social care and that must include the voices of those who do not have their kids with them. However, their dialogue must be translated better than just “corrupt corrupt corrupt”. If we cannot communicate better than simply a repetitive chant then nothing will ever change. There are however, cases, in which parents find it difficult to have a conversation with social workers about the help that might be needed because of the threat of removal of their child. In some cases, removal is necessary but not always. From the experience I have as a brother of someone who lost two children to forced adoption/non-consensual adoption and one autistic child in long term foster care, I’ve seen the way in which, as a birth family, you feel like you are hacking through undergrowth to find help. We found that we had to do all the work and the social worker stated that extensive work that was done with the family was words alone when we looked for actions. I do believe firmly in early intervention that can help keep the family together and might help avoid costly legal intervention, costly childcare costs and the longer term costs that might relate to mental health issues of the child later in life due to their separation. No one is blinded to the fact that there will be a need for children to be removed from their parents especially if early intervention is not targetted to the needs of the child and family. There does need to be a better way to communicate between parents and social care and I think those screaming “corrupt corrupt corrupt” need to communicate their ideas better to allow them a seat at the table of rational discussion. Otherwise, they will always be in the mob outside throwing bricks and will never be invited inside. I hope what I have written above does make some sense.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Thank you for your comment Tim which is balanced and sensible and agree with all of it.

      It is all the more surprising to me therefore that you are part of JFF – my experiences with that group have been entirely negative, involving deliberate lies and distortions, persuading parents to act in ways utterly detrimental to their interests and clogging up the Court of Appeal with admitted bogus applications.

      I hope that my experience is therefore out of date and that you represent the more constructive part of this necessary dialogue with parents.

      however, I would be interested to know how much John Hemming is still actively involved in JFF’s activities/ethos.

      1. Tim Keirman

        I disagree with you in regards to clogging up the Court of Appeal or it might be that what you are saying is, as i have said in my original post, lost in translation. A parent has the right to appeal a judgement and there are a number of times where a lawyer states to the parent that they cannot appeal. That is not accurate. However, a parent can ask permission to appeal( the numbers are not that high for even that process) and the likelihood of success of being granted an appeal is less than 25%(I have stats from LJ Gloster and LJ King). That is not clogging up the system, for me, it is exercising a lawful right that they have. Furthermore, a parent has a right to oppose an adoption order, although again the success of doing so is rare and even if successful does not mean that the child returns to the care of the parent either. In regards to the general point, on facebook groups, as on social media, there are numerous viewpoints. There are people at the beginning of that journey and there are people who are asking whether a social worker can do x y or z, they might be someone seeking support as a birthday of a child adopted has come along or be frustrated at not receiving letterbox contact or simply commenting on a news story(the amount of rubbish that is put on a news headline can have nothing to do with the story itself). To conclude, I’m not going to comment on JFF or John Hemming because I am sure you know there are ways and means to ask him yourself nor do I speak for him. I am a moderator of the Facebook page and I’ve seen the system and have preached the same thing due to it. I’ve said that we spend x amount of money removing the child and keeping them away from their family whilst money is spent on childcare, legal costs for one/two or more parties, assessments, meetings etc etc and that maybe that money might be better spent on putting realistic help in whilst safeguarding a child. I do think open adoptions should be looked at especially in regards to the issue of identity in adoption. However, this must be thought about in conjunction with keeping a child safe. Furthermore, there are cases where this cannot happen whatsoever and I accept that. Slighly longer conclusion than I was intending.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author


          Julie Haines has said EXPLICITLY that she and Tim Haines bring appeals which they know cannot succeed in order to show the higher courts how fed up parents are with the system.
          Were you aware of this?
          Is it still happening?
          What do you think about it?

          I submitted a formal complaint to John Hemming about the activities of JFF in Jan 2017. I am still waiting for a response.
          Who can I speak to about this if Hemming is going to ignore me.
          Will you look at my complaint and answer the questions therein?

          If you are a moderator of the page for JFF then you stand as a spokesperson for that group. I was very clear with SGAT that I consider
          JFF a criminal organisation and I would be unable to work with anyone who supported them.

          I asked you to tell me where I was wrong about JFF and if my understanding was out of date. The dialogue you seek cannot happen with me I am afraid while the issues raised in my formal complaint remain outstanding.

          1. Tim Keirman

            Sarah, for further clarification, I do not get involved in the legalese ie appearing, writing applications, or have any role in the legal aspects of a case nor do I advise or have a role in the cases jff take on. I’m happy to point parents in the direction of forms online( I can use Google!!). I’m also happy to point to case law which explains how the law is applied as well as useful articles which explain them. I’m not aware of examples of vexatious applications. Similarly I am not in the decision making role apart for moderating a Facebook page except I certainly do not allow Freeman of the land arguments which are utter nonsense as can be seen from a recent permission to appeal case which questioned the legitimacy of the court( which for the life of me, I cannot remember the citation on bailii). I became a moderator a year ago so I can’t help you with a complaint unfortunately. Sgat misrepresented a private email to them from me and I’ve told them that already via email. I understand what you think of jff and sometimes we have to work with people who we fundamentally disagree with. I don’t expect to change your views on that and I doubt you will change my views either. I come into this area wanting to empower parents as to their rights but I’m also in an area where some people will never be able to change their viewpoint, and I am talking about on my side of the fence. They’ll never work with social care and will always believe that the system is corrupt and that money is the only driver. That’s not untrue but, in my view, not in the way that some might believe it to be. I have to say I’m not a big fan of twitter due to the pitfalls of that medium which I know you are aware of. Anyway I think our dialogue is at an empasse because I do not see myself as a spokesperson for jff, but as someone who is rational in approach with a view borne out of contact with the child protection system who is not screaming corrupt corrupt corrupt. Anyway keep doing what you do and I will as well despite the wall that might divide us.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Thanks Tim – I understand what you are saying, but only up to a point. It is important that we keep a dialogue open, even with people whom we profoundly disagree, otherwise things simply stall.
            BUT when I have the awareness of the activities of JFF that I do – and in particular Hemming’s close association with Ian Josephs etc, – it would be morally wrong of me to ignore that in some attempt to gain alliance or increase my sphere of influence. Some games are not worth the candle.
            It is a pity that you are involved with JFF because you sound a voice of reason which I have hitherto found completely lacking in that organisation. But I will have to continue to hold that organisation at arms length for all the reasons I have explained here.
            I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours – for a long time I have thought that parents deserve a better spokesman than Hemming, someone who might actually be able to help them achieve some lasting change, rather than just making it easy to ignore them as conspiracy theorists and Freemen etc, etc.

    2. Angelo Granda

      QUOTE : In some cases removal is necessary: UNQUOTE
      Thanks for your honesty.Please give an example of when you think removal is proportionate to the circumstances of a case?
      Also do you consider that the permanent liquidation of a family is sometimes necessary and if so, when?
      Thanks for commenting on the CPR.

      1. Angelo Granda

        No reply to my question from Tim; i think he has walked away. What i cannot understand,Sarah, is why he wrote at the beginning of his letter that he was from the other side of the fence. All of us on the CPR want reform ,in fact when i first came to visit this site i realised straight away that it was more conducive to candid discussion and orderly posts,comments etc. than JFF. I felt that JFF was too ineffective and too centred on fighting court cases. If anything IT IS LESS CONTROVERSIAL and LESS CENTRED ON CHANGING THE SYSTEM than the CPR.
        That was my impression.However, just one more comment on JFF. I can see why they might make an application knowing there is no chance of success .One has to exhaust all domestic remedies before going to the ECHR ( as recently discussed on another thread).

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Yes but the Human Rights Act gave direct effect to the ECHR in domestic legislation so I don’t think that is a valid argument. Nor is making bogus appeals so you can get to Strasbourg a particularly effective strategy – the Strasbourg court will kick you out. The problem they have is that the Children Act has been held to be compatible with the ECHR by the Strasbourg court on numerous occasions so they need more than just ‘we don’t like the evil system’ to succeed.

          however, I fully agree with you about our respective will and effort for change. JFF seems to concentrate on getting ‘one over’ the current system. Those of us who comment here want to CHANGE the actual system.

          1. Angelo Granda

            The point is that parents want less conversation and more action.It is evident to all of us that , for several reasons, mainly around fair hearings and the lack of proportionality ,LA’s flouting procedures,acting unlawfully etc. helped by other professionals who allow them to get away with it that the circumstances are such that genuine cases ( not bogus at all) stand little or no chance of success domestically.Even Judges can ignore legal process at will when applicant’s lawyers fail to object strongly.They are allowed to exercise their discretion at will for political reasons and appeals are rejected for that reason.The domestic remedies cannot be bypassed. The charade has to be acted out in the hope that the EHCR will overrule the authorities eventually.
            People want action and if they believe their human rights are being contravened in their own country,they have to get a hearing in the higher court.That is the ECHR. Each case is different and when fought in the right way,often decisions are favourable to victimised children and compensation can be ordered.
            Whether the LA’s obey orders made by the ECHR is another matter.Maybe lawyers allow them to get away with ignoring them too!
            As Helen agrees,politics can be blamed for a lot and our legal system is broken but not only that ,by definition that justice has to be seen to be done,we can’t expect true justice,can we?

          2. Angelo Granda

            In my opinion,as happens quite commonly in civil law, barristers should act in anticipation of losing when it is known the domestic system is broken and have further appeals to the Supreme Court and,if necessary,the ECHR prepared in advance.
            Make the Judge aware of it too and he or she might think twice when they exercise their discretionary power and forego correct process.
            I am not a professional,just an ordinary parent.Our children deserve Justice and all tactics are acceptable to me if legal.

          3. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            No they shouldn’t. that’s a ridiculous strategy. It does NOTHING to change the current system, it just clogs it up even more. If there is a hole in your bucket, you don’t keep trying to patch it up with a sticking plaster, you get a new and better bucket.

          4. Angelo Granda

            When the judicial system has a hole in its bucket and children are in the position where their human rights to life with natural family; where they are suffering gross degradation; where they are undergoing gross institutional abuse and neglect from carers; where they are held in secure accommodation with plans it will be for life; with their free speech curtailed; where decisions regarding their future are taken for purely financial advantage of others and where other rights are taken away from them,Sarah,families cannot wait about whilst changes are made and the bucket is replaced with a brand new one.
            They want action within timescales for the children .I don’t know about other areas as much as my own,of course,but here there are hundreds of people in their twenties,thirties and fourties in the streets who have suffered from this system.Continually,they complain of sexual abuse in care,neglect by foster-carers,losing touch with family,cruelty and the lack of access to justice because of cover-ups and professionals ignoring them.
            I repeat they are walking the streets and living in sleeping bags (those of them not in prison).
            Why do readers really think hearings are held in private,enclosed courts without being witnessed by extended family,family friends and the general public? To benefit the children or to allow the abuse of their human rights?
            Why do readers really think that Social Services buildings are like fortresses with bars on the windows,barriers between public and officials inside,CCTV cameras inside and out and even security on the door.Likewise the Family Courts,I suppose.
            Believe me,if families were being helped and supported and received generosity ,compassion etc.from LA’s,these precautions would not have to be taken.
            Alas,_———— it is to protect themselves from their victims.
            Tirade over,with apologies!

    1. Angelo Granda

      Thanks ,as always,to looked after child ,for all the comments and links.Your work for special needs children is tireless and unsurpassed .
      I have recently heard an interview with one very special person with special needs ( blind,deaf and dumb but able to express her feelings).She put it over emotively that she was often happy and positive within herself ,her own mind and her own soul.Her ‘ darkest hours’ were not caused by her disabilities but by the constant knowledge that she was not ‘ normal’ and unable to communicate ‘ normally’.
      Autism is also a ‘ physiological’ handicap not a mental deficiency. In fact the very word autistic means,these children like their own company.They are different that is all and mainly different in that they cannot communicate normally.Usually they are happy in themselves and their family lives are not unhappy ones
      In my view, their darkest times too and the darkest thoughts and regrets of their parents are that they are not normal.
      Often they are bullied and castigated for it in school and mainstream activities by ignorant members of the Public.
      Families do not expect such cruel responses to be mirrored by ‘ so-called’ professional sw’s and pretend experts but they get them.

      The only sin the families are ‘guilty’ of is not being normal.
      For a sw to categorise an autistic youngster as SLD is degrading for them in the extreme.
      Specialists should be consulted.

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