We are grateful for the comments of Angelo, who has participated in some useful discussions on a variety of threads. With his permission, some of his comments are gathered together in this post so that the arguments don’t get lost.
The essence of Angelo’s objections to the current system is that the focus is on child rescue to the detriment of helping families stay together and that the UK is in danger of tipping into a disproportionate punitive response to families, in its legitimate wish to protect children.
As Charlotte Proudman and Frances Trevana commented in 2012
Local authorities would rather punish a particular class of parents for their failures than invest in supportive long-term support packages for parents to enable them to gather the parenting skills required to care for their children. The statistical correlation between parents subject to care proceedings and poverty reflects how society punishes the most vulnerable and impoverished. Historically the state punished the poor by incarcerating them in workhouses and removing their children at birth. Little has changed today, as oppressive state power legitimises the removal of children from destitute parents by labelling them as hopeless and undeserving.
As ever, all comments welcome that contribute to the debate.
We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. Elie Wiesel
Proportionality and removal – only in cases of ‘deliberate malice’
Angelo has raised a number of concerns about the issues of proportionality and procedural safeguards in care proceedings. Is it always proportionate to remove children from parents who are violent? What should we be offering to parents by way of help and support? When do we ‘give up’ on families? And who is going to pay for all this?
The domestic violence and abusive behaviour we have discussed is dire. It is ‘UNCIVILISED’ and beyond the pale in a civilised society. Presented with such a case, any Court will feel bound to issue a protective order and rescue a child.
However,in my opinion, even if a parent IS charged and IS convicted of a criminal offence, permanent removal is over the top. Reform is preferable even if a man has to be gaoled or the family has to be supervised 24 hours a day to force it to change!
Whatever the case,reform and education must be the answer.
Forced adoption and permanent foster-care is totally unacceptable,in my eyes, except when something approaching deliberate malice can be demonstrated and there I mean in cases like that of Fred West who was torturing children.
On the other hand,as a last resort, I recognise there is often a need for temporary foster care whilst immediate problems are sorted out and the process of reform begins to take effect. I guess it might be necessary when both parents are violent or where Mum won’t go to a women’s shelter.All alternatives such as an extended family placement would have to be examined first, naturally.
Focus should be on education and support; working together to make change
There is a concern shared by many that women who are victims of violent partners and then ‘punished’ by having their children removed. Again, shouldn’t the focus be on education and support? Angelo discusses the work of the Danilo Dolci Foundation in Italy, which is based on the philosophy that change can only come with the direct participation of those involved and ‘the resources for the change are present and should be searched and evoked in the people themselves’. There are echoes here of the Finnish approach to ‘co-working’ with parents and children in the child protection system. Should we be more open to exploring this kind of model in the UK?
However, I think that the liquidation of families is not the way forward. I believe the separation of children from natural parents Is SUB-HUMAN and that the persecution of mothers who are who have previously been involved in dv is an invasion of their civil rights. I certainly do not believe they should be denied their fundamental human right to have more children and that if they do, that the helpless, innocent babes should be removed at birth. That is barbaric with a capital B! Such sanctions ( historically practiced by the ilk of Herod and Stalin) are pernicious and deadly to families. Despite that they are commonly imposed upon us by our system with the full endorsement of lawyers and the Courts and despite the Children’s Act which lays out the requirement for support and so on.
I believe the way forward lies in long-term education of families. Might I suggest you google Danilo Dolici Foundation and learn how similar social problems have been tackled in Sicily. I think you will find it enlightening if you have the time. Italy is not a third-world country either, it is a civilised country and Sicilian families were infected by all the symptoms of poverty brought about by organised crime and materialism as many of ours are.
Cases seen through a lens of suspicion
Angelo is clear that the consequences of NOT working with parents are dire; the ‘child rescue’ narrative comes to the fore and everything parents do is seen through a lens of suspicion and with a view to gathering evidence to support the case a social worker has already made. This issue is further explored by Lucy Reed writing in the New Statesman ‘In child protection cases, healthy scepticism too often turns to dangerous distrust’.
Social workers are full of theories (true or false) and they storm in to the lives of families with all sorts of irrational fears based on whatever they have learnt at college and after passing their college examinations usually by taking pot-luck when answering multi-choice questions. They are badly trained, badly managed, badly organised, overworked, mixed-up individuals and when told to go and investigate a referral, find the facts and make an open-minded, impartial report, they don’t know what impartial means.
Because of it, cases enter cloud-cuckoo land, as I call it, right from the outset. Perhaps a child arrives at school with a miniscule bruise which neither parent or child can explain .
So, the irrational fear is that because it is unexplained Dad might be a childbeater or and wifebeater. They ask the child does your Dad smack you ever? If the answer is yes then they will report that the miniscule bruise may have been caused by Dad. If the answer is no,they will report that a possibility exists that the child lives in a state of fear and will not implicate Dad. It’s called ‘OBTAINING BEST EVIDENCE’.
They’ll ask Mum. “Do You ever argue?” She will say all parents argue and they will ask “does he ever raise his voice?” She will say sometimes perhaps and then they will say. “Has he ever hit you?” If she says a definite no then they have (irrational) fears that she may (just may) be a woman who is cowed and afraid to speak out.
They simply do not listen to parents and cannot distinguish between fact and fiction!
When they raise the subject with Dad and he denies it then they will say that theoretically controlling men are very good at concealing their wrongdoings and turning the issues around!
I am not prejudiced against social workers, I’ve heard it on tape.
The fact-finding missions of simple concerns are turned into madcap INQUISITIONS where facts no longer matter. Later, when parents present the true facts, the lawyers turn round and say mum and dad are in dreamland with the fairies!
Humanity is the name of the game
Angelo is concerned that the drive to ‘rescue children’ has lead to proper procedures being overlooked or even flouted and the court process is not giving either children or parents the protection they need. He is not alone in this view; I assume the President of the Family Division would concur given his criticism of the ‘sloppy’ practices in many care cases. Do we need to have more of a focus on reminding each other of our essential humanity?
Every one is a human being and will have human foibles and and all are sinners, some more so than others. Human beings have children and problems will continue until the world comes to an end. Unfortunately, the world will never come to an end. The CS and the LA’s are exceeding any authority they have by playing GOD in cases (even though the majority are atheists). They are interfering in the lives of other human beings disproportionately thus abusing CHILDREN’s human rights as well as those of the wider family.
Why are they abusing the children’s human rights? Because they are contravening the statute (guidelines and frameworks) and conducting cases wrongly (illicitly). Whatever their motives are, it matters little to the victims who are being abused !
The LAW is put in place to protect them and their civil rights but the Court process does not afford them the protection they are entitled to. That is EITHER the fault of the lawyers OR that of the Court executive and protocol. Every family deserves a fair and impartial hearing in accordance with the Law. They aren’t getting one.
Some cases are appealed and judgments are overturned on those grounds. An appeal is the only remedy when cases are conducted illicitly. It’s no use campaigning for change, one must APPEAL under the existing law to rescue one’s children within time-scales relevant to their welfare. They will be grown-up by the time changes are made and even if they changes happened by miracle tomorrow, one’s children would still not be returned home to you without an appeal.
Given the seriousness of the sanctions which family courts dish out then I think wronged families and ALSO guilty families should have an automatic right to a legally funded appeal and their should be no time-limit for appeal.