Myths and Monsters of Child Protection

 

On Monday October 16th I attended the conference organised by the charity The Open Nest at the Foundling Museum in London, which had invited a group of speakers to investigate the ‘myths and monsters’ around child protection.

For more of the discussion on the day, follow the Twitter hashtags #NAW2017 and #mythsandmonsters.

The speakers were:

  • Lemn Sissay: Poet, writer, speaker, actor.
  • Professor Brigid Featherstone: Author of The Adoption Enquiry BASW
  • Professor Anna Gupta: Author of The Adoption Enquiry BASW
  • Footsteps Group: Birth Mums peer support group, Leeds
  • Catt Peace: Social enterprise manager, advocate, blogger, adopted person
  • Anneghem Wall: Therapist, writer, adopted person
  • Rebekah Ubuntu: Musician, multi media performance artist, care leaver.
  • Dr Sue Robson: Special Guardian, community development practitioner.
  • Fran Proctor: Life coach, writer, adopted person
  • Ali Redford: Author, Adoptive parent
  • Amanda Boorman: Founder of The Open Nest Charity, adoptive parent.
  • Georgia Cooper: Therapist, artist, charity professional.
  • Lizzie Coombes: Photographer, community arts.

A key theme of the conference was how in general the reporting about child protection issues had become divorced from the realities – in particular the danger of the opinion that hardens into ‘fact’, recorded in professional records that then becomes the story of a child for the rest of their lives.  As the organisers commented:

Without due care and attention the information given and held on file about a families history can give a ‘fake news’ version of the bigger picture around events that caused child protection interventions. This in turn may hamper an individual’s human rights to accurate life story, individual and family identity and the maintaining of important connections and relationships.

Many speakers showed the importance of poetry in delivering a message far more effectively and powerfully than can ever be achieved by a dry lecture and a powerpoint. Those who illuminated their own childhood experiences echoed the uncomfortable discussions at the recent Nagalro conference ‘What about the children’, which highlighted the invisibility of children in the child protection system, even when it is ostensibly designed for their benefit.

Professor Bridgid Featherstone acknowledged the importance of stories and how we needed to now be taking control of the narrative – sadly, merely holding out ‘facts’ for inspection has historically made little impact.  Both she and Anna Gupta are concerned by what research reveals about the impact of poverty and social inequality on decisions made in child protection, although this is rarely acknowledged as a reason children are taken into care.  Hopefully the conclusions of their recent Inquiry into Adoption will be released shortly and will make for interesting and probably sobering reading.

Again, the importance of siblings was emphasised. This is the problem with a system of child protection that focuses on the rescue of the individual child and thus sees them in isolation from their families and communities.

Siblings become the ‘collateral damage’ of the child protection process. Fran Proctor spoke about being removed from her mother but her sister was returned and was killed. She was made to feel a ‘nuisance’ for wanting to know about her sister, for wanting to know her own story.

 

Both adopted children and adoptive parents spoke of one of the most pernicious myths of the whole system – that a ‘loving family’ is all that is needed to heal the trauma of a troubled child.

Sue Robson – now the Special Guardian of her grandson – praised the work of The Open Nest in providing a therapeutic space to heal her family’s trauma and loss which had lain there for 25 years. She felt that asking for help from Social Services had been one of the worst decisions she had ever made. There was nothing she could do to prove she wasn’t a ‘bad mother’ – if she was compliant she was deemed passive, if she was assertive, she was deemed aggressive.

 

Another theme was the need for professionals to remember that they are human beings, to talk to parents and children and recognise their humanity.  I have considered the dangers of jargon and cliche in a previous post here.

Lemn Sissay reminded us that the first thing he needed when he went into care, was the last thing he got – ‘a hug’. Children need to be touched. To ban touching out of fear that adults would sexually abuse children, Lemn Sissay reminded us, is a complete nonsense. Abusers will abuse anyway – that is what they do, they break the rules. To deprive a child of human touch is a terrible thing and he reminded us just how resilient children in care have to be to endure this.

 

But not only is the child deprived of physical comfort, they are denied the truth of their own history. The importance of family is that we share memories or we argue over who is right! Lemn Sissay realised when he left care that he now knew nobody who had known him for more than a year. The name he had grown up with was a lie, so to the story that his mother hadn’t cared. He finally got to read the letters she had written when he was a child and knew that he had been loved.

 

But the speakers also recognised that some children do need to be ‘rescued’ from their birth families. And for some, being adopted will indeed be the best thing that happened, But the theme running through the conference was a plea for truth  – even painful truths can be comforting, once we are allowed to know and tell our own stories.

I was very grateful to Amanda Boorman for letting me speak for 5 minutes about my performance on October 28th. The themes of that performance are echoed so strongly by what the speakers said at this conference. There is never anything dangerous or unsatisfying about being closer to the truth.

3 thoughts on “Myths and Monsters of Child Protection

  1. Angelo Granda

    QUOTE :A key theme of the conference was how in general the reporting about child protection issues had become divorced from the realities – in particular the danger of the opinion that hardens into ‘fact’, recorded in professional records that then becomes the story of a child for the rest of their lives :UNQUOTE

    False reporting disguised by child-protection lawyers ( not by SW’s) as fact sends cases into cloud-cuckoo land .The writer of this post is right to recognise that professional records are often divorced from reality. In my opinion, it is significant that cases are directed by Social Services management and their lawyers not by Children’s Services social workers.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Family Court Reporting Watch Roundup | The Transparency Project

  3. Pingback: Born into Care: Newborns in Care Proceedings In England | Child Protection Resource

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