Promoting Humane Social Work With Families

Listening to and Learning From Each Other

On February 19th 2016 I attended the conference about promoting humane social work, at Kings College London which had been organised by the British Association of Social Workers in conjunction with the University of Bedfordshire and Making Research Count. For more details, see the BASW website.

I am very grateful to Brid Featherstone for inviting me. It was both an interesting and inspiring day. Have a look at #cpchange2016 for more tweets about the discussions and issues raised.

I hope we can continue the conversation further at the Second Child Protection Conference, organised by the Transparency Project on the 3rd June.  We will be joined by many of those who spoke today – it is clear that top of the agenda must be to discuss how we can go about setting up an organisation for parent advocates; it works in Finland and it works in NYC.

Why organise this conference?

Guy Shennan, the current Chair of BASW,  Brid Featherstone (Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield) and Maggie Mellon (Vice Chair of BASW) opened the conference, explaining why they had organised it. Social Workers needed to find their voice as difficult conversations needed to be had.

What kind of society do we want? Is social work about ‘helping’ or ‘fixing’? What’s going wrong, and what can we do about it? The paradox is that we pump enormous amounts of resources into a system that doesn’t seem to be helping – in fact is often terrifying families. There is too much focus on a complex system that ‘investigates’ more than it helps.

This was one of the most popular tweets of the day from the CPR Twitter account:


The views of parents

Amanda Boorman of the Open Nest charity spoke of her experiences with her adopted daughter and how she made contact with her birth family to enable her daughter to make sense of her history. She showed a short film ‘Severance’ which showed daughter and mother meeting after five years of separation; powerful, moving and very compelling watching for anyone tempted to think adoption is a panacea for all the problems of traumatised children.

We need to think more critically about what we are trying to achieve and how we do it

Suriviving Safeguarding spoke of her wish to set up a national scheme of parent advocates, to enable others to get the help and insight she had needed to successfully fight for her son.

She spoke powerfully of her experiences including her recognition that she had to take ownership of her own difficulties. But neither she nor her family were helped by a punitive and adversarial approach from her Local Authority. Her story is also told today by journalist Louise Tickle in the Guardian.


Working Together to Change a System

The impact of parents to act as powerful ‘countervailing force’ against a rigid bureaucracy was taken up by David Tobis, author of ‘From Pariahs to Partners: How parents and their allies changed New York City’s child welfare system’. 

A sociologist, he has worked with UNICEF and other organisations to improve child protection systems around the world. For 25 years he has worked particularly with the child welfare system in NYC – in the 1990s one of the worst in the USA. By marshalling the energies of parents who worked with other allies such as lawyers and social workers, it was possible to create and sustain real and positive change; the numbers of children taken into care falling from 50,000 to about 10,000. 

He was clear that none of us can do this on our own. We need to work together. Bringing parents into the process allowed them to tell their stories and be seen as humans, not monsters. This connection helped ease feelings of stigma and shame about seeking help.

The day finished with further panel discussion from Andy Bilson (Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire), Ruth Allen (incoming CEO of BASW); Professor Sue White (of Birmingham University); Anna Gupta (Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Royal Holloway, University of London) and Marion Russell (Principal Social Worker at Cornwall County Council).

We also heard contributions from the floor from two parents whose children are in care; expressing their frustration with the process and echoing the need for change.

Cathy Ashley also spoke of the work of the Family Rights Group and the work of Your Family Your Voice Alliance, and urged people to join.


Where do we go from here?

The underlying principle of the day was probably summed up by Brid Featherstone

I hope we can continue this very necessary conversation, with contributions from everyone who is involved – parents, lawyers, social workers, experts, children.  Not only are the Transparency Project organising an event on June 3rd, but also Your Family Your Voice Alliance will be meeting on June 22nd.

What we now need to do is put conversation into action.

Reference too to Margaret Mead; we need to be reminded more often of the truth of this.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.


26 thoughts on “Promoting Humane Social Work With Families

  1. Angelo Granda

    I am always happy to happy join in any effort to promote humane social work with families , so let my comment be the first on this thread.
    Personally, I will never call a social worker a liar. I will not use that word ,i always refer to ‘unlawful evidence’.
    However,there are out there countless parents who do. Why?
    I will be grateful if someone will explain why social workers can make false statements without any comeback and why court decisions are often made on the strength of false statements.This is not fair and contravenes art.6 rights.

    Why aren’t guilty social workers charged with an offence?

    I am re-producing here a typical court declaration to be signed before submitting a written statement.


    When parents engage a solicitor and complain that the sw’s are telling a pack of lies, why doesn’t he or she simply establish which statements are false. All they have to do is ask the parent what is false . It seems that solicitors let false statements by sw’s pass, as do the judges . Why?

    If correct enquiries according to legal guidelines have knowingly not been followed then surely the false statement will have been either knowingly or recklessly or both even! I realise the law is a strange animal and have said before i find family court lawyers curious. So i look forward to all replies.
    If not perjury reckless false statements are unlawful………..or aren’t they?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Judges don’t just let false statements pass. HHJ Horton certainly didn’t. But the SW he found to have lied to the court were then promoted! That isn’t his fault.
      Parents do often tell me ‘that’s a lie’. But a lot of the time, it isn’t and parent is in denial. OR its a slightly unfair and exaggerated way of putting the truth – so needs correction but isn’t a ‘lie’.
      The cases where SW are deliberately and consciously telling a lie are pretty rare in my experience and parental denial is much more common.
      that doesn’t mean I accept that SW or any professional should ever be other than very careful with what they say and how they say it but I can’t accept your world view that lying and corruption is endemic and daily occurrence in care proceedings as I just don’t see that.

      1. HelenSparkles

        Mainly it is a very different perspective on the same event, which it is really important that parents make their own statements, and have good representation in court. Most of the things people have said are lies are not, in my experience, but anyone can ask the HCPC (SW professional body until this gov changes it again) to investigate a SW if you have a practice issue. I have.

      2. Planet Autism

        I beg to differ, I know someone this personally happened to and have read of many similar accounts, where judges are hugely biased and even if they deign to hear the parent’s side will simply say they prefer the “evidence” of the social worker. Because of confirmation bias and corruption in the system, parents do not get a fair hearing. Social workers definitely do lie and it’s not about different interpretations of events, it is also saying things did happen which did not and vice versa. There are some media articles out there where social workers have been criticised for lying by judges but most shockingly, they are never referred for perjury to the police for a criminal prosecution.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          There was one appalling case where social workers were found to have lied to HHJ Horton but they went on to be promoted. And I know there is a case in Bristol where a social worker was found to have falsified court records.

          But I have experience of many hundreds of cases and in my experience, deliberate lying is pretty rare.

  2. Angelo Granda

    Thanks very much for your view ,Sarah.
    However, it is most definitely not my world view that lying and corruption is endemic to sw’s or other cp professionals? Where do you get that idea from?
    In actual fact,I will never accuse a social worker of lying or being a liar.

    Having had dealing with many,many sw’s over the years,I find that most ( not all) are well intentioned, honest individuals and no more corrupt than the average person. Indeed i have referred to them as ‘salt-of- the-earth’.
    Kate Wells, who contributes to this forum is a conspicuous example( though now retired) and has written impartially on many occasions of the care system. She calls a spade a spade and has never spared the CS of criticism.

    I understand that often parents make false allegations of lying but that wasn’t my question.

    If a solicitor finds that a social worker has made a false statement. Why let it pass? Why allow judgments to be made on statements which are known to be false?
    Why aren’t the culprits fined for it?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      If I find a false statement I challenge it – as would any other lawyer.
      Your difficulty is defining what you mean by ‘false’ – an outright lie? A mistake? A misinterpretation? How serious is the issue which is falsely described? Is it fundamental to the issues before the court or not that relevant.
      Because the SW does not get 100% of things ‘right’ in a statement does not mean that there are no concerns or a judge will then refuse to consider the rest of the statement.
      It is rare to find a SW who maliciously lies about something fundamental – but I accept that misinterpretations and mistakes are fairly common
      But that is why a parent has a lawyer, paid for by the State, to cross examine on these issues and bring it to the Judge’s attention.
      There would be no point in ‘fining’ someone for making a mistake or offering a misinterpretation that had no or minor impact on the eventual outcome.

      1. HelenSparkles

        If a SW made a false statement, I would expect it to be challenged, and maybe additional evidence from a file requested or a person required (the relevant paediatrician or whoever).

  3. Angelo Granda

    Sorry if i am still not perfectly clear,Sarah,but once again thanks.I am referring to strategic false statements made under oath which are clearly demonstrable.
    A couple of examples which i will make as briefly as i can:

    1. Summary of Facts and Matters Relied Upon to Satisfy Threshold Criteria for Neglect.
    ‘( name of child) has severe learning difficulties as described in her special needs educational statement .She shows signs of severe developmental delay’ .
    The parents engaged with their respective solicitors and instructed them to demand that the special needs statement be presented to court.It stated clearly and unequivocally that the child had Moderate Global Development Delay due to extremely premature birth.No mention whatsoever of SLD. The parents also relied on medical records which they demanded production of. A contemporaneous clinic letter circulated to the key SW said ‘ It is important that ( name of child) does not have learning difficulties. She has been diagnosed ASD and is a bright child who shows talent in some areas.
    The Judge found threshold for neglect was crossed and praised the SW for the quality of his evidence.Surely the lawyers should have argued the factual content of the document more strongly. All they did was ask for the medical and education documents to be presented. They were presented just prior to the final hearing but not before decisions were taken and expert assessments had already been written and lodged on the basis of the false statement.I can only think that the Judge did not read the evidence which disproved the so-called facts.

    Sarah,can I make an interesting point about the case which i imagine will apply to other cases too. There were many other false statements too.

    Were they genuine errors due to overwork,shortage of time,misinformation etc?
    On the B of P, that is highly unlikely because ALL of the falsehoods and errors supported the LA case for a care-order.They were strategic whoppers,most of them. NOT ONE falsehood by either the SW’s or thge Guardian were hostile to the LA litigation.

    1. Angelo Granda

      Sarah, If you don’t mind returning to this after a gap of some time.Would you ,if appearing for the parent, insist that the SW be charged and punished for making the false statement ( above) about SLD?
      Bear in mind it was a fundamental issue before court as it was the main issue on the list of facts relied upon to satisfy criteria for neglect.
      Yes , no, maybe,.

      Remember ,you don’t want your client to invent the narrative that the hearings and sworn oaths, are a sham.

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        I can’t ‘insist’ that anyone is charged with a criminal offence. That is a charging decision for the CPS. I could ask that the Judge refer them for perjury (on a handful of occasions in my career a judge has threatened this; it has happened only once). Even if Judge does that, remember the criminal justice system is also creaking at the seams and a prosecution for perjury is unlikely to be high on their list, I am afraid.

        But I would certainly make firm complaint to their professional body if a SW was found to have lied. I have on one occasion made a formal complaint about a psychologist (not for lying but for being prepared to assess and diagnose without seeing my client for 2 years). I got a pretty limp response but hopefully the experience of being cross examined by me quite forcefully would have made her think for the future.

        I accept it is deeply depressing and enraging to read the comments of HHJ Horton that of the 3 social workers he found to have lied to the court, none were punished and 2 were promoted!

        I am concerned that there is a growing divide between the SW profession and the courts and the courts are not treated with sufficient respect and their rulings often over looked. This is explicable by the fact that a prevailing view in SW is that law is ‘just an aspect’.

        1. Angelo Granda

          I am not disagreeing with you, but giving a false statement is surely a contempt of court and the Judge could deal with it himself. They are quite hard on parents guilty of contempt.

          1. HelenSparkles

            Most parents held in contempt or warned about it are exposing their children to the public gaze via their case.

        2. HelenSparkles

          I’m going to dispute that strongly (law being an aspect of child protection SW), because you don’t have a representative voice on Twitter, if it is true I shall eat my hat but it is as extrapolation too far for me.

        3. Angelo Granda

          Ha-Ha! I cannot help smiling at the thought of you battling against a panel of psychologists as a lawyer. I am sorry the response was limp.
          I made a complaint to the B.P.S. about a forensic psychologist and i am a mere mortal. Can you imagine it. I wrote a 10 page complaint to which they responded politely and i wrote back to say there was a further 60-pages to send them. They asked for that and sent it to the psychologist,who asked for a month to look over the learned document i had submitted.
          After an interim finding ,i went on to argue the case with Sir somebody or other ( a knight of the Realm).
          They had to admit defeat in the end and they found that the psychologist’s report had not been ‘ thorough’ particularly in respect of the parent’s care of autistic children and their behaviours. The psychologist was compelled to accept their findings and made no appeal.I hope it made him think of the future.I also suggested to the Society that they considered the whole question of a psychologists role in Family proceedings and general practices.
          Do you think parents have a right to complain about professionals?
          The Judge at Family Court more or less ignored the parents and censored the parents for making the complaint and ‘getting professionals into trouble’. Those were the words he used. Is it any wonder i think parents do not get a fair hearing?

        4. HelenSparkles

          The LA involved in that case were planning to appeal, I haven’t seen anything about that?

  4. Angelo Granda

    Sarah,I dso not accuse the SW’s of outright ‘lying’ even. When i got involved with the SW after the case, she did not appear to recall making the false statements. I would merely they were strategic false statements made knowingly and recklessly [this is SP commenting in italics – sorry, really confused now. What is a ‘lie’if not a ‘false statement made knowingly??] because she never checked her facts not having asked parents or anyone else what the true facts were in accordance with guidelines.

    The care-plans mirrored computer templates ,in my opinion. Also there were two children involved and both the care-plans almost mirrored one another exactly even down to the same paragraph numbers.Obviously the same template was used for both. [And? What’s the problem here. Most of the information will be exactly the same for two full siblings living in the same household. Its annoying and repetitious often, I agree, but its not evidence of bad faith or recklessness by a social worker]

    Both stated that both parents had been fully involved in the creation of the care-plan.Of course, they should be ,but in reality the CS had refused to talk to either parent throughout.Later on the key social worker confessed to an Official Complaints Investigation that she had not involved the parents due to ‘time-scales for writing the plans’.[I am not aware of a duty upon a SW to ‘fully involve the parents’ in care plans. Of course, there should be discussions with parents, but the care plan is a document created by a SW and often parents violently disagree with it]
    The plans also stated unequivocally that professional support from the CS had been on offer throughout proceedings from the CS but that the parents both refused to accept concerns and work with the department,refusing any support. The parenting assessor was questioned under oath and admitted that no support had been discussed or offered .[then that is a clear false statement by SW and the court should have taken that into account. It is important to offer support to families]
    Decisions to remove had already been made long before the final hearing and expert assessments already written and lodged on the false statements. The expert medical or psychological witnesses do not get to hear all the evidence at the final hearing.If they did,i have no doubt they would amend their assessments accordingly. It is too late for the children because the case has been well-poisoned by falsehoods. The course of Justice has been perverted.Surely that should be ample reason for an appeal?[Er yes. But the CoA are going to want to know what on earth your lawyers were doing at the final hearing if false evidence went unchallenged and expert reports based on false evidence went unchallenged. This could and should have been raised at the IRH prior to the FH. Why wasn’t it?]

  5. Angelo Granda

    Thanks Sarah.It is confusing when you add to comments in this way and this time you haven’t used heavy font.
    Please may i refer you to my last but one post and comment on that one.
    A false or reckless statement is not a ‘lie’. For example, it may be that CS computer files record that support has been offered over a long period of time and that parents refused to work with professionals. This may have been inputted by another SW .It may be a false fact. When a key social worker makes an assessment ,he is not ‘lying’ if he genuinely believes that the computer data is correct. But he is reckless when he knowingly fails to follow guidelines ,talk to parents and establish the truth.
    The point is though, that professional social workers are particularly trusted by the Public , the other professional experts and the Judiciary. Their statements of fact should be exemplary. Fine a few of them and throw their cases back at them and they will have to change their ways.
    More justice for children would then follow.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You said a ‘strategic false and reckless statement that was knowingly made’
      This is the very definition of a lie – it is done maliciously and consciously.
      You now claim you said merely ‘false or reckless’.
      I am afraid I am now just completely confused about what you are actually accusing SW of doing.
      Are they careless? Or deliberate?
      I think this is an important distinction.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Thank you for trying to understand, Sarah, and my apologies to any other readers for my amateurish explanations.I do my best to be clear.
        Let me have another go.
        For example, a social worker might genuinely but erroneously think that a child has severe learning difficulties. He or she might enter it into notes and computer files without following guidelines,looking at medical opinion which contradicts the view and without consulting parents.Another social worker,having read computer files , may reasonably think that the entry is a correct fact and enter it as one into a court document under oath. That does not mean we can call him or her a liar.
        However,it remains a false statement made under oath!
        If the second social worker knowingly has not followed statutory guidelines and frameworks designed to establish true facts and knowingly has made no attempt to check the accuracy of the false assertion, then he or she is reckless.He or she has not made the false statement to the best of his knowledge and belief if professional procedure is by-passed.

        Is that comprehensible? Do you see what i mean now?

        1. HelenSparkles

          If you think SW going to court would generally just go on what is already on a file you would be wrong. A new social worker on a child protection case would do an audit and for example a diagnosis would be checked with the clinician involved.

          1. Angelo Granda

            Helen, i think you are clicking on the button at the same time as i am because these comments are getting mixed up.

        2. HelenSparkles

          Maybe but even when I click reply my comment doesn’t always come up under the comment I think I am responding to. Just look at the timestamp instead.

  6. Angelo Granda

    To go a little bit further.
    It is reckless to quote a special needs statement whilst knowing one hasn’t even obtained a copy and without reading what it says.
    Clearly, will give great weight to a special needs statement and, without reading it himself, will accept the SW’s word when it is made under oath.

    The false statement may or may not have been malicious.I suggest that if there are a number such strategic false statements, though, on the B of P, it is!
    It would be for a Court to decide.

    I hope this does not confuse readers even more.

    1. Angelo Granda

      QUOTE:But the CoA are going to want to know what on earth your lawyers were doing at the final hearing if false evidence went unchallenged and expert reports based on false evidence went unchallenged. This could and should have been raised at the IRH prior to the FH. Why wasn’t it?:UNQUOTE

      Of course, that is the question which mystifies so many parents and children. What the hell were their lawyers doing? Sometimes i think lawyers,despite their experience, lack the ability to spot the patently obvious. Even if their clients obtain clear evidence and shove it underneath their noses, still they fail to argue cases for their clients properl;y. They fail in their duty. Yet the dimmest of barristers would notice the examples i cited ,so what’s going on?

      It is evident to those parents with a modicum of intelligence that their own lawyers are too friendly with their professional colleagues and with social workers. Parents perceive that their lawyers have a conflict of interests and collude with their opponents . I don’t think they can deny this.

      Judges have laid down the law that all three sets of lawyers have a collective responsibility to children and the court . Yet not one,not even two, but all three or even all four ( when mum and dad have seperate lawyers) fail to do their duty and challenge false evidence.

      Sarah ,some questions for you, does the Guardian have a duty to appeal on behalf of the child if the CS give unlawful evidence? Or is it solely the duty of the parents? Does the Guardian lose all interest once the case is over. One wonders whether a Guardian would have more success getting permission for out-of-time appeals .

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        The Guardian has a duty to represent the best interests of the child so Guardians do bring appeals and do support others to make them – sometimes LA and sometimes parents. IF a decision of the court is unlawful I think every lawyer present has a duty to point this out. The Court of Appeal has said that we should bring errors/problems to judge’s attention as soon as possible to see if the judgment can be amended before appealing – which obviously takes time and is very expensive.

        I accept there can be a ‘perceived’ problem with lawyers being friendly with opponents but I don’t know any lawyer who would let their personal friendships get in the way of dealing with problems with the evidence. I am ‘friendly’ with many opponents but I wouldn’t let that get in the way of doing my job – and same goes for them. Some of my most bruising encounters in court have been with people I am ‘friendly’ with.

        I don’t know why some lawyers are apparently not noticing the obvious. I can only speak for myself and those I work with closely. If a client is insistent that i make a point I will make it – but if I think it is a duff point or won’t help their case, I also have to make that clear. Maybe the problem here is that the parent and the lawyer have different understanding about what is ‘good evidence’ and what is not. For e.g., it is rarely ‘good evidence’ to have character references from people who don’t know anything about the case.

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