Tag Archives: NSPCC

You Had Better Make Some Noise – Abusers will exploit bad laws and poor safeguarding

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I was delighted to be asked to speak on July 27th 2019 by Make More Noise

As the organisers say:

There has been a surge of Feminist activism across the UK in the past year. Women are agitated and organised. We are finding our voice and our voice is saying NO.

Make More Noise are one such group, created to provide a space for women to talk freely and address uncomfortable truths.

 

Why am I interested in this?

I am a woman. I am a disabled woman. The delusion of self ID as a cure for unhappiness is shown to me, and every other disabled person in the world, every single day. We cannot identify out of ourselves. Every day the people around us and the hostile environments we have to navigate tell us what our reality is. To claim another’s identify is a choice for the privileged – a black woman cannot self Identify as white but Rachel Dolezal can claim to be a black woman and take a Nigerian name.

But I am also a lawyer. Who has worked in child protection for 20 years. I have been campaigning since 2014 for greater openness and honesty in our debate about the family justice system.

So it would seem that my experiences both personal and professional have led me to this moment. There is so much to worry about when we face the erasure of biological sex as a category of identification that I have decided to focus my concerns on the implications for children.

 

My central hypothesis this: people would rather cause pain than feel it.

We have a lack of mature discussion in our society about issues of grave importance to us all. I am quite sure that social media is partly behind this.  I see the law being increasingly used as a weapon to silence people who step out of line, the rights of a few achieving dominance over the rights of many others. I see the efforts of some groups and individuals to push back against this – such as Fair Cop and Maya Forstater – but the fact that such groups have felt compelled to take action is an indication of what a strange place our public discourse has reached. People are sacked for expressing ‘wrong think’, the police are used to enforce one person’s feelings against another person’s Article 10 rights to freedom of expression.

And who suffers most in such a scenario where a legal system is used to prioritise the rights of one minority above others? Those at the very bottom of any pyramid power structure – children.

So what supports my hypothesis?

  • High court decisions only 3 years apart about transitioning pre schoolers
  • The NSPCC debacle and the intervention of Prostasia

The shifting position of the High Court

The case of Re J in 2016 involved a 4 year old, who his mother claimed ‘disdained his penis’ and wished to be a girl. The High Court did not agree and ordered that the child lived with his father. Mermaids supported the mother and issued an angry press release after the judgment saying they would appeal – they did not.  I wrote about this case here which contains links to the judgment and press release.

However, only three years later came the case of Lancashire County Council v TP & Ors (Permission to Withdraw Care Proceedings) [2019] EWFC 30. This involved foster carers who had two unrelated children in their care who decided they wanted to transition – the youngest aged 3 years old. [EDIT apologies – youngest was transitioned at FOUR YEARS OLD. Doesn’t make any difference to my argument] The LA were applying to withdraw care proceedings, so it was a different situation from re J. But even so, its interesting to see how the Judge framed this issue of transitioning pre schoolers:

Notwithstanding even the Guardian’s caution in respect of the openness of [the foster carers] to the possibility of an alteration in the children’s attitude to their gender identity I conclude that Dr Pasterski’s evidence demonstrates that it is obvious that neither of these grounds would meet threshold. Taken together with the panoramic evidence of the child focused approach of [the foster carers] it is overwhelmingly obvious that neither H nor R have suffered or are at risk of suffering significant emotional harm arising from their complete social transition into females occurring at a very young age. The evidence demonstrates to the contrary, this was likely to minimise any harm or risk of harm. The evidence does not support the contention that it was actively encouraged rather than appropriately supported.

How on earth is it ‘overwhelmingly obvious’ that a 3 year old will experience no harm from a decision to transition from male to female? I have a difficulty here with such an uncritical acceptance of the evidence of Dr Pasterski. Not merely because I find it extremely hard to accept that any 3 year old has the understanding or the language to communicate a desire to change sex, but I note the approach of Dr Paterski in an earlier case.

Jay v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] EWHC 2620 (Fam) (08 October 2018) considered a man in his 40s who wished to become a woman. While Dr Paterski opined without any reservation that this was a genuine case of gender dysphoria, Dr Barrett struck a more cautious note, given that some of Ms Jay’s reported history was ‘directly at odds’ with documentary records.

“… If collateral corroboration is not convincingly elicited I would have grave doubts and wonder whether [Ms Jay]’s somewhat dependent personality had caused her to unwisely latch onto a change of gender role as a seemingly universal solution to both why her life had gone wrong and how it might be rectified.”

It is worth contemplating, with considerable unease, just what would happen if Re J was being heard and decided this week. Would the High Court have been able to protect a little boy from the mother who was telling everyone he ‘disdained’ his penis? Or would he have been sacrificed to what appears to be compulsive drive to be seen as ‘woke’ and ‘inclusive’ ?

The NSPCC debacle and the intervention of Prostasia

All of you I am sure are familiar with the NSPCC’s public response to people who raised concerns about one of their employees who allegedly filmed himself masturbating at work and published a video online. I am pleased that, belatedly, they had the sense to realise that telling people who raised concerns that they were bigots who should be reported was not an appropriate response and they have referred themselves to the Charity Commission. I await with interest the outcome of that.

What happened to me on Twitter after that was also interesting.

I was discussing that people should consider not making further charitable donations to the NSPCC but consider smaller local charities. An organisation called Prostasia popped up and suggested they might be a worthwhile beneficiary. Which was odd as a quick google showed them to be based in California and advocating ‘sex positive’ child protection, whatever that means.

What I suspect it means is support for men who want to have sex with children. This suspicion was confirmed when another Twitter user found a copy of a mug shot of a man who was active in the conversation and on the Prostasia website. This stated he had been arrested in 2012 for sexual conduct with a child under 13. Prostasia then blocked us all and then tried to blackmail me, which is a whole other story I don’t have time for now – but is a clear indication of the murky ethical waters in which this organisation swims.

 

What does this show me?

The inability or unwillingness of both pro-trans activists and pro-paedophile groups to distinguish teenagers from pre-schoolers.

Because what Prostasia has in common with the views of the legal adviser for Mermaids is a persistent refusal to identify what they mean by ‘a child’.

  • A child is defined as a person aged 0-18.
  • The majority of children under 12 are unlikely to be considered ‘Gillick competent’ to make important decisions about their own lives.
  • We have a difficult and grey area around 13-16 where children may well as individuals have greater capacity than the law allows them. But we have to draw a line somewhere.
  • And for children, sex and the criminal law, that line is firmly set at 13 years.  See the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A child under 13 cannot consent to sex. It is rape.

I therefore consider myself on firm ground to say that the vast majority of children under 12 neither want nor need exposure to adult sexuality. It is important that they are allowed the time and space to develop their own identities and their own sexual preferences; free of the coercion or manipulation of an adult. And once they cross that threshold into adulthood they should be free to live and love as they wish, according to the boundaries of the existing laws. Sexual activities between consenting adults is none of my business or concern.

What I have witnessed developing over the last year or so has caused me increasing concern about the extent to which some men wish to re-frame the discussion about the sexuality of children. They wish to push back the boundaries regarding age and consent. This seems clear to me because of the extent to which they are often coy about stating exactly how they define ‘a child’. The difference between – for example –  a typical 9 year old and a typical 16 year old is vast and in every domain; physical, sexual, social.

And what is the problem with this?

I was alerted to a blog post in March of this year by the Mermaids legal adviser. The author remained anonymous but was arguing that

….someone’s gender identity, at any age, must be respected. A child identifying as trans, whether it has been submitted this is as a result of harm or not, is identifying as trans and that must be respected throughout proceedings…More often than not, if a child says they are trans, they will be trans.

I commented at the time

As I hope I have made clear, any such assertion made without attempting even the barest of analysis of the vast gulf in understanding and capacity between a 6 year old and a 16 year old is an assertion of no value. Worse than that, it is an assertion which attempts to pave the way to leave young children entirely unprotected from their parents.

Most parents love their children and want to do what is in their best interests. A small minority of parents fail to do that. The courts absolutely must be ready, willing and able to step in and to protect such children.

Anyone who is unwilling or unable to see the difference between a child of 6 and a child of 16 is someone who wishes to blur the boundaries around child protection and safeguarding. Why would anyone wish to do this? I can only assume it is to make it easier to secure the eradication of the rights of children to be protected from the imposition of men’s sexual will.  And what is worse, their rights will be eradicated at the same time we are told WE are the villans, WE are the bigots.

The facts are always friendly. That was and will remain my rallying cry. Lets have proper discussion . Not all who wish to transition do so out of realistaion of their ‘essential self’ – a self that no one apparently can define. Some will do so because they are predators. Predators predate. That is what they do. For example, the recent trial of convicted paedophile Carl Beech revealed that he had volunteered at the NSPCC between 2012 and 2015 .

The wolf is no longer at the door. The wolf Is in the kitchen and claiming a legal right to be there.  And I am now too old and too fed up to do anything other than speak up. This will not be done in my name.

 

FURTHER READING

In whose best interests? Transgender Children: Choices and Consequences.

When should a child’s trans identity be permitted to be a material issue in a family case?

Video of talk now on YouTube

The NSPCC and child protection – what I learned this month about speaking up

I started this website with the help of Mumsnet users in 2014. I thought it would be a good way to address some of the misinformation on offer about care proceedings and child protection in England and Wales.  The website analytics seem to bear that out – so far in 2019 (from Jan 1st until June 23rd 2019) the site has 202,170 users, about 34,000 every month.

Child protection seems to be an ever green topic of difficulty for many. I will restate it in the simplest terms I can.

  • A child is defined as a person aged 0-18.
  • The majority of children under 12 are unlikely to be considered ‘Gillick competent’ to make important decisions about their own lives.
  • We have a difficult and grey area around 13-16 where children may well as individuals have greater capacity than the law allows them. But we have to draw a line somewhere.
  • And for children, sex and the criminal law, that line is firmly set at 13 years.  See the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A child under 13 cannot consent to sex. It is rape.

I therefore consider myself on firm ground to say that the vast majority of children under 12 neither want nor need exposure to adult sexuality. It is important that they are allowed the time and space to develop their own identities and their own sexual preferences; free of the coercion or manipulation of an adult. And once they cross that threshold into adulthood they should be free to live and love as they wish, according to the boundaries of the existing laws. Sexual activities between consenting adults is none of my business or concern.

What I have witnessed developing over the last year or so has caused me increasing concern about the extent to which groups of adult men wish to re-frame the discussion about the sexuality of children. And the extent to which they are often coy about stating exactly how they define ‘a child’. The difference between a 9 year old and a 16 year old is vast and in every domain; physical, sexual, social.

Their scripts should not be written for them by adults who have a particular drum to beat – I have already written, for example, at my deep unease about how a High Court Judge dealt with a 3 year old ‘transitioning’.

(as an interesting aside I found myself subject to a recent actual blackmail attempt by the pro-paedophile organisation Prostasia after querying why they had a man involved in their organisation who had been arrested in 2012 for sexual contact with a child under 13. The rage of thwarted male entitlement is strong indeed.)

My concerns finally reached their zenith on June 12th 2019. Idly scrolling through my Twitter feed I noted that a number of people had raised concerns with the NSPCC over allegations that one of their employees had come to work dressed in his rubber fetish gear, masturbated in the toilets at work, filmed it and published on the world wide web. The response of the NSPCC was – via their public twitter feed – to call those who raised concerns ‘bullies’ and asked people to report them. Various high profile Twitter users followed suit, calling them ‘homophobes’ – as apparently the employee in question is a gay man.

I wrote the following email to the NSPCC

The text of the email is here:

I write using my Chambers email address so that you are able to reassure yourself as to my identity and my interest in/knowledge of child protection law and safeguarding policies. I have been a specialist family law barrister since 1999. I have copied my MP Michelle Donelan into this email given the level of my concerns.

On the evening of 12th June 2019 I became aware via the social media site ‘Twitter’ of an allegation that a member of your staff had engaged in sexual activity on NSPCC premises, had filmed himself engaged in this activity and published that recording to the internet, making it clear that he was filming himself on NSPCC premises. I then further noted that when members of the public attempted to alert you to this via Twitter, your response via your public Twitter feed was to describe this as ‘homophobia’, and to suggest any such tweets should be reported as in breach of the Twitter terms of service as ‘bullying’.

On the morning of June 13th 2019 I therefore published a tweet, including the Twitter handle of your organisation, asking your organisation to make it clear what investigations you proposed into this allegation. I am well aware that social media is frequently used irresponsibly by some to make malicious and false allegations and I certainly want to play no part in dissemination of false information. However, I assume that if the allegation about your member of staff was in fact malicious or otherwise false, you would be able to respond quickly to reassure the public. That you have not done so, causes me considerable concern.

This allegation, if true, represents unboundaried and actively dangerous behaviour. It would be unacceptable in any workplace, but is even more alarming in the context of your charitable status and significant statutory powers in the field of child protection. The public is entitled to know what your response is to such a serious allegation.

I asked for a reply by 4pm today and have heard nothing.

Please therefore would you respond to me by 4pm on Friday 14th June. If you are unable by then to reassure me that either this allegation is false or that you are taking urgent steps to investigate, I will refer this matter on to the Charities Commission without further reference to you.

Regards
SP

I received no response to this email other than some cut and paste job sent at 16.05 on 14th June, by which time I had already made a referral to the Charities Commission. [EDIT – this should read ‘Charity Commission’]

I was then contacted by the Sunday Times and a news agency, neither of which reported on this – I was told by the news agency that ‘no paper would touch this’. I expressed frustration and concern about this – why? why would no paper report on this? It is a clear and obvious matter of public interest that a charity set up to safeguard children would attempt publicly to shame people who had attempted to bring serious allegations to their attention.

A week after that, I offer grateful thanks to Roll on Friday, The Sunday Mirror and Mumsnet users who seemed to be the only ones prepared to recognise and report upon a matter of public interest.

I note with increasing concern that matters appear to be continuing along the same path of seriousness; that the NSPCC appears to see itself as an organisation geared to the promotion and protection of the sexuality of adult men. On every metric of which I am aware, adult men are those who pose the biggest risk of sexual harm to children.  The most recent news is that the NSPCC are apparently subject to a variety of ‘conditions’ before they will be ‘allowed’ to take part in London Pride.

 

Where now?

Imagine if I said as a disabled woman – you may not criticise my behaviour. If you do I will call you ‘disablist’ – I will try and get you sacked etc, etc. That would obviously be ridiculous. Disabled people are people after all; we aren’t saints. Exactly the same argument applies to those who identify as gay or trans or any thing else. No one is above scrutiny. No one can use their identify as part of a minority, persecuted or not, to shut down legitimate concern about their activities. To allow this will be to put children at serious risk of harm from those predatory adults who will claim membership of particular groups to evade scrutiny. We must speak up against this.

The Charities Commission request 30 days for a response. On 15th July I will consider that response, or lack thereof.  If I am not satisfied that they and the NSPCC understand the seriousness of this situation I will raise money via the Crowdjustice web site to investigate what legal action is possible.

I hope very much that the response I get will reassure me – and the many others who complained – that the NSPCC does understand its charitable objectives and guiding principles and it will never, ever, again attempt to shame or dissuade people from raising concerns if it appears to be acting in breach of those.

IIf you are or if you know of a lawyer with specialist knowledge in charities, regulatory law or judicial review, do please get in touch. My next steps must be to identify specialist lawyers who would be willing to take on a legal action via funding from Crowd Justice.

I will update this post on July 15th 2019.

 

 

EDIT JULY 27th

I am pleased to note that the NSPCC did contact me on July 15th to say that they had referred themselves to the Charity Commission, recognising that this was a serious incident. I have yet to hear back from the Charity Commission itself and will chase them for information in September.

How do child protection issues get reported?

From 2011 – 2012 over 600,000 children were referred to local authority children’s social care services because of concerns about their welfare.  This number decreased by 1.9% for the year end 31st March 2013. See the most recent statistics from the Department of Education. 

In this post we look at the routes of referral and what happens when a referral is made.

 

Structure of child protection in England

The Department of Education is the government department which is responsible for children’s welfare. It will consider what changes to the law and policy are needed and issue guidance for those agencies who deal with children such as schools and local authorities.

The Children Act 2004 set up Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB) to ensure all the relevant agencies work together, such as local authorities, health authorities and the police. Each LSCB has to produce an annual report.

The key statutory agency involved in child protection is the local authority (LA). Each LA has a Director of Children’s Services (DCS) who has ultimate responsibility for the provision of local education and social services for children.   An elected local councillor with be the ‘lead member’ and the DCS, the lead member and the LSCB work together to produce and implement child protection procedures.

The main policy guidance is Working Together to Safeguard Children which first came out in 1999. The main statutes are Part IV of the Children Act 1989 and the Children and Families Act 2014

 

Who reports concerns about child protection?

The public

  • By calling the child protection team of their Local Authority; the emergency team can be called out of hours. The telephone numbers should be easily available; or
  • If it is an emergency, call the police; or
  • telephone the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.T

There is a useful article from the Guardian, discussing what members of the public can do if they witness something that makes them worried about a child. 

The police

The police have special powers to take a child into police protection for up to 72 hours without getting the court’s permission first. They should only exercise these powers in truly urgent and exceptional circumstances. They have the power to take a child to a place of safety – such as a hospital – or stop someone else trying to take the child away from a place of safety. You can find the police powers set out in section 46 of the Children Act 1989.

Schools and hospitals

All professionals who have regular contact with children ought to have clear procedures in place for how they will respond to any worries about a child they see. There should be someone who is clearly identified as the designated child protection teacher or nurse/doctor who will deal with the concern when it is first reported.

There is at the current time no legal requirement to report suspected child abuse. There are many who believe that this should change  – see for example the campaign following the death of Daniel Pelka.

Here is a useful article from the Patient.co.uk  website for doctors which discusses how to recognise abuse or a child at risk.

Risk assessments by Cafcass

Under section 16A of the Children Act 1989, if you are involved in ‘private law’ proceedings – i.e. you are asking the court to help resolve a dispute between parents about their children – an officer of Cafcass may have to carry out a risk assessment if he or she has cause to believe a child is at risk of harm and may have to then refer the matter on to Children’s Services.

 

What happens when the referral is made to the SW Team?

The team must decide quickly what action to take; they have one working day. If the team decides it needs more information to make a decision it will start a process of further assessment.

The initial assessment should be done within 10 working days of the referral. If this assessment indicates serious concerns then a strategy discussion takes place to decide whether or not to start an inquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. Usually a ‘core assessment’ should take place to gather the relevant information from the parents, the child (if old enough) and other professionals. Core Assessments should be finished within 35 working days of the referral.

If the section 47 enquiry shows there are serious worries about the child, the LA then has decide what to do to protect the child. The more serious and urgent concerns should mean that  the LA make an application to the court for a care or supervision order. Other concerns may mean that the LA write out a ‘child protection plan’ so that everyone knows what they need to do to keep an eye on the situation or to take active steps to stop it getting any worse.

If the situation is VERY urgent, the LA can apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order under section 44 of the Children Act which gives the LA permission to remove a child from home for up to 8 days. Another emergency option is to apply to the court under section 38A of the Children Act for an exclusion order to ban someone from remaining in or coming to the family home. Or the LA could ask the police for help, as the police could use their special powers to remove a child for 72 hours.

Have a look at this ‘map’ of the child protection system from the Children’s Legal Centre.

.

 

Child protection conferences and plans

If the outcome of the section 47 investigation confirms that the situation is worrying enough to need continued LA involvement,  then a child protection conference must be held within 15 working days of the last strategy discussion. The family, and all the relevant professionals will be invited to this meeting, as well as the child if he is old enough to understand what is going on.

Those at the conference will need to decide whether a child protection plan is needed.  These plans replaced the child protection register in April 2008, but the criteria for inclusion remains the same.

Plans should be agreed by everyone where possible and set out

  • the intended short and long term outcomes are for the child
  • how children’s services will monitor the child’s welfare
  • what needs to change to reduce the risk of harm to the child; and
  • what support will be offered to the family.

The child protection plan should be regularly reviewed; the first review should happen within 3 months and then at six monthly intervals after that. 

 

What happens if the situation doesn’t get better?

Then the LA will need to seriously think about asking the court to make a care or supervision order, which could mean that the child is taken away from the family. If the LA decide that things are so serious that they need to go to court, they should start the ‘Pre-Proceedings Procedure’ and they will explain to the parents in a letter why they are so concerned.

This information from the Government explains the pre-proceedings procedure and what parents need to do.

If the situation suddenly gets very bad then the LA may decide it needs to act very quickly and may apply for an Emergency Protection Order, as explained above.

See further our post about Care and Supervision orders and Interim Care orders.