The Children Act 1989 – deeply flawed legislation?

We are grateful for this post from Patrick Philips, a retired child protection social worker of many years experience who was prompted to write this response to our post  – A system in continual crisis. He is concerned that the Children Act 1989 has created poorly evidenced definitions of ‘abuse’ which can lead to children being removed from their parents when they should not have been. 

It’s enough to make one ask what is driving the maintenance of such a system in the absence of evidence that it makes matters better for children rather than worse.


The 1989 Children Act and decision making – do we need to protect children from the child protection system?

I worked in Social / Children’s services, particularly in Child Protection, between 1971 and 2013 and  I suggest that the approach of the 1989 Children Act is deeply flawed.

I do not dispute that children should be protected: the question is how, given that many well meaning efforts make matters worse for children, not better. Crucially, how are abused children to be discovered and how are decisions to be made for their protection?

Whilst I have extensive first hand experience of the system and do not accept that decisions are made according to a conspiracy, I can well see why some people might resort to such an explanation.

Some of the most important research, in my view, in social work decision making has largely been ignored, as well as changes which have taken place since that research was done. Dingwall R, Eekelaar J and Murray T of the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal studies found that the only member of the child protection network who actually focussed on evidence (by which I mean forensic evidence, not research ‘evidence’) was the Local Authority Solicitor.

Her/His filtering of cases / insistence on hard evidence constituted an important barrier so that a large proportion of cases never made it to court. A great deal of pressure had to build up in the inter-agency network before action was likely to be taken (‘The Fruit Machine’). This involved the development of a good deal of consensus (though this could involve ‘dominant ideas’ rather than proper appraisal of evidence, as Stevenson and Hallett later identified).

The Dingwall research was first published in 1983 (‘The Protection of Children’). The 1969 Children and Young Persons Act was then the principal act governing child protection (with other acts).


The 1989 Children Act; the end of reliance on ‘forensic’ evidence

The Oxford studies noted that there seemed to be little difference between the circumstances of abused and neglected children remaining with their families and that of children who were removed. So long as decision making processes are erratic, one would expect this to be the case. The extent to which Child Protection authorities are prepared to remove children should affect the number of children left in abuse and neglect with their families. However, if it is not based on effective decision making processes it may have increase the number of children removed from their ‘natural’ families who were not being neglected or abused, or whose neglect and abuse will be even worse once removed than it was at ‘home’ instead of increasing protective removal.

In my experience, Local Authority Solicitors now, operating under the 1989 Children Act, hardly question the extent of evidence available to show that a child is being abused or neglected. This is understandable: the 1989 Act is drawn so widely that the mere opinion of a social worker (or their manager, more likely), that action is required is sufficient to meet it’s requirements. After all, if the professional social work manager’s opinion is that the child is being emotionally abused, the local authority Solicitor is hardly in a position to dispute that opinion, and may be instructed to take it as so anyway? I have presented cases to Local Authority legal representatives thinking the evidence to be questionable, only to find that the legal representative is pressing action even more than I was.

When the 1989 Act was in the process of enactment and implementation, I think the general view in social work was, in effect, that it was promising heaven on earth, and would never really be implemented. At the time I was responsible for policy and policy implementation, with others, in a very large Social Services Department. I was surprised that suggestions I made for the systematic identification of children “in need”, for whom the department now had formal legal duties, were completely ignored. However, after the death of ‘Baby P’ in 2007 a serious expectation that the 1989 Act could and should be literally implemented seemed to take hold. From then on the status of social work decision making also seemed to take a dive. Instead, managers increasingly made snap decisions on minimal and second hand information, instructing social workers accordingly.



I very much support the views expressed in Child Protection Resource that conspiracy theories in regard to adoption and child removal are wrong. However, the dynamics of the current system is bound to give the impression that there is a conspiracy, particularly as decision making today is just as erratic as in the Oxford research. The difference is that there is no back pressure from local authority solicitors as there used to be: cases are taken according to social work availability to take cases, and results are even more quirky, because there does not have to be the same build up of multi-agency pressure on Children’s Services as there used to have to be to produce action. Besides, there is a wider variety of people who may drive cases forward, usually (as Dingwall identified) because they regard the parents or family as discredited in some way.

I have experienced individual Judges, Children’s Guardians,Local Authority Solicitors, Doctors, Nurses as well as Social Work managers as driving cases forward for child removal on the basis of their own particular point of view rather than of collective assessment or evidence. Others involved are unable or unwilling to resist and to risk being discredited along with the parent if they do, however unjustified that discredit may be. Management domination of practice Social Workers are bound by a code of practice; breaching that code can lose them their job. However, that code of practice is only advisory on Social Work managers. Social Workers believing they are being instructed to take action which breaches their code of practice are advised that they may present the fact that they have been instructed to take that action in their defence, but action can still be taken against them.

Departments have to be very concerned with their own reputation, particularly considering the risk presented by government inspection. Workers may be instructed, for example, to make positive comment, or non at all, to inspectors. Whistle blowers are usually ‘discredited’ and dismissed. Another feature which is bound to enhance the belief in conspiracy theory is the way in which Social Workers etc are bound by gagging agreements during and following disputes with their employers. I have heard rumours that Local Authorities are spending very large sums of money in paying suspended workers and in settlements in disputed dismissal proceedings. I am not personally aware of any Freedom of Information requests in this area, nor what might the results indicate.

Consider the concerns raised by the Appeal Judges in re B-S , about the extent to which case presentation lacks proper evidence and exploration of options. I gathered from legal colleagues in court that they were surprised to encounter well researched and hard evidenced social work presentation in court. I suppose this indicates that the Appeal Judges’ concerns in re B-S were no surprise to lawyers operating in the system. However, a system in which the social worker’s first hand assessment and evidence is over-ruled by snap managerial decisions and in which social workers risk all in presenting any objection their instructions hardly encourages conscientious reflective working and organisation.


Social Work Training and the abuse of children by wrongful removal

This is ironic, given the extent of attention ostensibly given to ‘reflective working’ in social work training. However, my recent experience of social work training is that it is actually based on a narrow set of precepts and power relations.

There have been some hopeful signs; guidance issued about research to be regarded in Care Proceedings just before I left my department emphasises recent neuro-social approaches. These, and other newer ways of considering child development etc seem to me to have been of almost no attention in training taking place within only the last few years.

The extent to which social work can pretend to have an established basis for its practice remains debatable. Challenges to orthodox ways of seeing child development, for example, were not welcome. Ethical considerations and the impact on the child of ‘child observation’ by social workers in training were regarded as eccentricity on my part rather than as any appreciation of the child’s experience and perspective. To me, it is no wonder that social workers trained in that way can regard it as more satisfactory to remove children by the use of strangers in the middle of the night on suspicion of danger rather than to manage anxiety, assess properly and manage necessary removals with regard to the impact of the removal on the child as well as the need for safeguarding.

Attention to the negative impact of social work action on children has been shortlived in the past. In the late 1990’s it became commonplace in my experience to identify families in trouble because parents no longer felt they could set any kind of limits on their children’s behaviour as a result of their experience of child protection investigations. The ‘re-focussing’ exercise of the period attempted to reduce the extent to which almost all investigations began and ended as investigations without any family service or protective processes following. Within 5 years the emphasis had swung right back the other way and the re-focussing exercise seemed forgotten. It’s enough to make one ask what is driving the maintenance of such a system in the absence of evidence that it makes matters better for children rather than worse.

As I was leaving the job in 2013 the training pendulum had once again swung against University involvement in social work training, due to widespread dissatisfaction with their success in providing appropriate social work training. Employer domination of training processes must be equally suspect in light of the current system of employment and social work decision making. Social Work clients often find it astonishing that social workers and their managers make rapid judgements about matters as hard to define as ’emotional abuse,’ when they have no personal experience of child care or even family life.

In my earliest days as a Social Work Manager I was intrigued to try to identify the proportion of young social workers who thought that they had had any idea about what being a parent was really like before they had children. I only ever found one. This does not prevent most people, social workers and others, having very decided ideas other people not being good parents, views which are often mutual! Give such people the power, and other people loose their children.


Protecting children from the child protection system

I congratulate Child Protection Resource for the work it is doing, and I am impressed by the extent to which views are changing, even if that is no comfort to the latest generation of rescued children. In the UK we have, after all, a long and continuing history of ‘rescuing’ children from their parents to every variety of often abysmal future, from Barnardo, through other efforts at mass shipping of children to Australia, Canada, and to the specious identification of children to be removed in to care or placed in non-consensual adoption. Following re B -S, there must at least be less people now saying, as they were in 2013, that children from poor families not placed for adoption were being denied a great opportunity in their lives!

I am not suggesting that children should never be removed, and I see the ever swinging pendulum in the process of swinging away from child removal again. However, in my view the 1989 Children Act is pie in the sky and needs to be replaced with legal standards which more nearly reflect those expressed in re B-S, that is to set realistically measurable standards to govern the protection of children, rather than to push the law into ever less measurable levels of ‘abuse’ as Robert Buckland, QC, MP, Solicitor General curiously seems to advocate (The Times, 15 January 2015). Any reliable system also needs to recognise the impossibility of predicting abuse, a lesson one may draw from Eileen Munro’s early works in which she draws attention to the mathematics of risk assessment, false positives and negatives etc, but which she proceeds to ignore in her own advocacy of its use in social work (reference needed). The mathematics of ‘false positive’ identification would indicate even higher levels of mistaken removal than some of the conspiracy theorists in the field would have us believe, but not in the least due to ‘conspiracy’.

Knowing the fear that permeates the family lives of ordinary and especially materially poorer people of ‘Social Services’, I have been surprised at the extent to which that daily reality is hidden from view now that I am following an ‘ordinary’ life outside social work. Effectively this field of practice is shrouded in secrecy, occasionally breached by items such as BBC South East ‘Inside Out’on 2.2.2015 . In that piece Andrew Webb, Immediate Past President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said “the criticisms of our adoption system isn’t based on any evidence I can see that relates to children and their outcomes, it’s more a concern about whether parents should be given more chances”.

How can one explain such a statement from such a person? Is it possible he is really unaware of the harmful impact of wrongful removal from families of children, for the children? Has he never seen adoption and fostering breakdown statistics, nor heard of the Cleveland Enquiry Report or the consequences for children of the shipping children abroad? His approach in that interview demonstrates that some social work managers are prepared to say whatever they think will justify their position, sometimes in direct contravention of contrary evidence. I say this from direct experience over many years and in several situations. Under pressure, social workers also make up information to fill the gaps in their knowledge; a perfectly human thing to do, but which may have something to do with why parents so often think that their social workers are lying. Andrew Webb is facing neither the understandable pain of parents when children are removed, rightly and wrongly, nor the problem of making decisions at the right time and in the right way.

Andrew Webb’s approach gives the impression that his interest is in maintaining the Child Protection Industry and his own status within it. This may not be a feature of conspiracy, but social workers and their managers need jobs (and empires) in order to earn their living. They don’t get paid bonuses for removing children, but they do have to demonstrate that they are ‘protecting children’. Very often that simply means that if the child is thought to be ‘at risk’ at home that they have to be removed, without regard to whether this will make the child’s life better or worse. The long term suffering of a wrongly removed child is much less tangible than the immediate risk of yet another case in which ‘social workers did nothing’. In my experience, the requirement that the child must be removed because of risk, without considering whether this will make life any better for them has been quite explicit. On other occasions, I have been able to present the pros and cons so as to achieve the best solution, or at least the ‘least worst solution’.

In the same broadcast Peter Dale, who has long influenced my approach to Child Protection, says that he believes the British Government will have to apologise in future for the damage that is being done to children in England. Another scandalous era in British child protection practice is happening right now, ready to be exposed in future years. I hope that will contribute to the development of ideas about how that system might be replaced with one which is more likely to protect indubitably abused children without perpetrating terrible abuse on children whose circumstances may be less than ideal, but whose very real abuse is created by the very system which is supposed to protect them.

Patrick W Phillips, MA, LRCC

29 thoughts on “The Children Act 1989 – deeply flawed legislation?

  1. sam

    Thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking article speaking as someone on the wrong side of the fence.
    It is good to see the insider’s perspective. What I have been aware of is the ridiculous case loads of some staff, through a complaint I found out that three staff were covering seventeen posts. My case was also allocated to a newly qualified social worker , we were one of 32 cases. The likelihood of making correct decisions under such pressure are minimal.
    I have in the past been supported by a retired social work manager , like yourself, who was very angry at how I had been treated through sheer lack of help .
    I am excited that the barriers are coming down and the different sides are talking , if only on line at the moment.

    1. Kamil Erkadoo

      I was represented by a new trainee Barrister, who spent years as a Social worker. His cross examination of supposed evidence was flawed. I had a judgement appealed and won. Another judgement of finding of fact intact because it aired on the side of caution and appealed out of time. The system to protect is needed, but in my case was a disgrace!. Thankfully I am still in touch my daughter and feel for parents who have been ill wronged during these system.

  2. Hilary Searing

    As someone who has always regarded the Children Act 1989 as a very impressive piece of legislation, that brought together in a coherent way all the earlier piecemeal legislation, I cannot accept that it is ‘deeply flawed’. The Act provided a clear framework for social work intervention that took us along a path designed to strike the right balance between care and control. Of course it created complexity – with its new concept of ‘parental responsibility’, the duty on authorities to work ‘in partnership with parents’ and the principle that the child’s welfare is paramount – but this was necessary as it reflected the complexity of the situations social workers were dealing with. It took two years to bring in and we had excellent training to prepare us for it. This gave us a sound understanding of the principles underpinning the Act (as described in the Guidance) and how to apply them in practice. During that period Family Centres were taking on child protection work and were well placed to offer support to families, both emotionally and in practical ways.

    I agree with Patrick that the concept of ‘significant harm’ should be recognised as something that needs a collective assessment rather than being driven by individuals using their own subjective feelings and a narrow knowledge-base. When I was in front-line practice there was a good deal of knowledge within social work teams and the more experienced acted as mentors to the less experienced. It seems from what you are saying this shared approach to analysing information is unlikely to take place now in the more dysfunctional teams.

    Child protection social workers today may have the skills to work supportively but they are also expected to act decisively to protect children from abuse and neglect. They operate within a system where their ‘evidence’ is scrutinized and challenged by line managers, as well as colleagues at inter-agency conferences, and it is hoped that this will lead to greater objectivity and balance in decision-making. However, they are not served well by managers who control discussion unnecessarily and are excessively defensive about taking risks.

    My argument is that social workers should use their powers and duties under the 1989 Act to make children’s lives better. Research may be useful in clarifying the issues that need to be considered but it does not determine what should happen in a particular case – this requires sound professional judgement.

    1. Patrick W Phillips

      Should not good legislation place practice within a framework in which wrongful removal of children happens with difficulty? I think Hilary Searing may be following the ‘rule of optimism’ in her post. Of course much good work takes place: I hope I did some too. The problem is that the current legislation and implementation allows for far too much wrongful removal, I believe.

      We need some hard evidence here. We already know that the rate of removal in different English authorities is or was very variable. How can we detect rogue teams and managers who remove without good reason? There used to be a lot of online entries from furious parents naming particular social workers, managers and departments. I am not aware that these were absorbed into the complaints system (which they should have been, I suggest). However, the last time I tried, those names seemed to have disappeared, and I believe one can simply get one’s name taken down. This functions to keep the business secret.

      Crucially, what I am saying is that the state should not try to intervene in family life beyond it’s capacity to do so. Other replies indicate that some authorities are still not properly staffing child protection work. Indeed, so long as the law is so widely drawn, they will never be able to do so.

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        As a lawyer, I continue to note disturbing levels of failure to admit when things have gone wrong from social work teams. I am now experiencing social workers refusing to answer my questions in cross examination, failing to make sensible concessions and demonstrating poor levels of analysis of the evidence before them.

        I can only conclude that this is due to the pressures of the job, the unsustainable case loads and the continuing influence of the ‘rescuing children’ narrative. There seems a real resistance to engage with the issue of what support a LA can provide to a family, despite the very clear Court of Appeal judgments.

        As a youngster (ahem) who knows nothing about the pre Children Act days, this is a very interesting discussion and suggests that the seeds of this problem have been sown long before.

      2. C

        The lists are still being compiled. If you like, I can send you names… but what can be done with them? They are unaccountable. The hcpc is a joke, so too the LGO -and the LA’s complaints process.

    2. laila

      IWAS COMPLETELY AVOIDED NOW I ALSO NO MY DAUGHTER WAS HIDING THE REAL SITUATION SO I WAS NO INCLUDED IN WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN PROCEEDINGS NOW UNDERSTAND THAT MY DAUGHTER HAD HER CHILDREN ONLY UNTIL COURT DATE AS SHE FAILED WRITTEN AGREEMENT. MY ARGUMENT THERE IS SHE HAS ADHD and like me really dont realise what actually was happening so did not tell anyone. Though I agree that children could not stay with there mother as I had made my concerns clear over 2 years with no one listening to me yet
      Negative assessment statements say I never reported such things. So how I lost my grandchildren I could not get legal aid I went for legal advice but it never made sense I needed help in what I needed to do I and no other human could have tried harder and still am trying to get my grandchildren home I have sold everything of value for legal assistance but.its not enough I have gone through the system every week beginning emails to everyone that I believe can help cafcass never met me yet they went off assessment that I could evidence everything that was said incorrect information I’m fighting for more contact in 2 year s I’ve never missed been late no bad reports I have no criminal records dont drink big home clean children friendly I have a doughter that works in prison with young offenders I have a 5 year old son that has done brilliant speak Welsh and English tho I dont my self and I practically brought my grandchildren up .looked after children are a shambles unregistered sw in beginning then from bad to worse turn over the of 8 sw since foster care sterbilerty one foster career no partner another foster child there my grandchildren have complex cases all they took my grandchildren on proberbilertys future harm not attending appointments special education so on 2 years down the line nothing in place infact what they took them on they have done worse please advice me I have done everything I now possible

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        I am sorry to hear this but it’s not possible or safe to try and advise about these kind of cases on line. You really need to get some specialist legal advice if you can afford it to see what you can do to counter any negative assessment of you. I am sorry I can’t be more help. It sounds a very upsetting and frustrating situation.

  3. Julie D

    Interesting discussion starting here. I always like to see Dingwall Eekelaar & Murray get an outing! I tend to agree with Hilary, especially as before the Children Act, parents had no legal representation. Most people thought that parents got a far worse deal pre 1991. My recollection is that DE&M and others anticipated that the process was going to get more legalistic, not less. Pre 1991 there was a distance between mags and care (rough justice) on the one hand and judges & wardship (think Bleak House) on the other.

  4. Hilary Searing

    It certainly appears that the process has become more legalistic in recent years – the reason being that the 1989 Act is the key to good practice but this is insufficiently understood. Staff at all levels, from front line workers to directors, need to have a sound understanding of the 1989 Act and receive training to keep them updated on current thinking about the correct interpretation of the law. The absence of this means that unlawful practice develops – and as a consequence aggrieved parents push for matters to be resolved in court. If social workers had proper legal training, plus relationship skills, they might be more successful in achieving informal conflict resolution before matters go to court.

    While the Children Act 2004 offered the promise of an all-embracing safeguarding team around ‘children in need’ it should not be forgotten that s.47 of the Children Act 1989 is still in force i.e. the duty to identify children at risk of abuse and neglect and to take appropriate action. Since the 2004 the inherent contradiction within the social work role, i.e. between family support and child protection, has become even more difficult for LAs to manage . Also, the number of referrals has escalated and social workers are sinking under the weight of unrealistic expectations.

    In some LAs social workers continue to make stupid mistakes like accommodating a child for a protracted period of time under s20 without proper assessment, or progressive case planning – and without the issue of proceedings. Who is offering guidance for social workers about that?

    There is something pretty dysfunctional about the provision of legal support to social workers – because if they were doing their job properly, and in a lawful way, it would not be necessary.

  5. Julie D

    It’s ironic that there is now so much statutory guidance on reviewing plans for looked-after children, compared to the 90s, but as Hilary says, some plans don’t seem to be monitored at all.

  6. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    The more rules, regulations and best practice guidance you chuck at people the more you reduce their opportunity to really engage with and understand core principles – I note recent and serious failings in implementation of Mental Capacity Act for e.g..

  7. C

    Andrew Webb, Immediate Past President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said “the criticisms of our adoption system isn’t based on any evidence I can see that relates to children and their outcomes…” This categorical denial of ever seeing any negative outcomes is remarkable. Surely it cannot be true, despite the fact that in 8 pages worth of studies funded by the Assoc. of Directors of Children’s Services in the last 3 years, there has not been a single one investigating adoption outcomes? Even Martin Narey – the ‘adoption Tsar’ – is prepared to accept that there are a small percentage of cases in which the courts may have got things wrong. Since the courts ( in B (Children), Re [2008] UKHL 35 (11 June 2008), for instance) recognise that ‘the family… in all its subversive variety … should be given special protection…’, and that “it is the tradition of the UK, recognised in law, that children are best brought up within natural families” (Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria)2007]) – if an adoption is deemed unjustified, that must be considered a negative outcome.
    (..While researching this comment, it was interesting to discover that Anthony Douglas is both the Chair of the BAAF, and the Chief Executive of Cafcass. No wonder there is no ‘negative fallout when things are so tightly stitched.)

  8. Peter Dale

    In this post, ex social service manager Patrick Philips raises some very important issues, which should be widely debated. His piece is particularly apposite as it reflects a concerned perspective from long-term involvement within the child protection system (i.e. in social services).

    I am particularly interested in one issue raised, that is the role and professional responsibility of local authority solicitors. These solicitors are employed by the same employer as the local authority social work teams that make care proceedings applications. When social services make applications for Care Orders on the basis of inadequate, exaggerated, negatively biased (and even sometimes invented) ‘evidence’ – is the formal professional responsibility of the local authority solicitor to challenge this so as not to mislead the court? Or is it the duty of the solicitor to represent his/her ‘client department’ (social work) by presenting the case as instructed (whilst knowing that the evidence is not a true representation of the family circumstances)?

    I would like to see this discussed and determined, as, if the primary duty of the local authority solicitor is not to mislead the court, then this would result in the filtering out of some of the most egregious social services applications for care and adoption orders. Failing in this duty would result in the solicitors being referred to their professional disciplinary process (whatever their employers thought).

    This point has particular relevance today with the publication of the following judgment:

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I remain intrigued as to the frequency of the criticism that LA SW ‘invent’ evidence. I have not seen this in 15 years. Yes, I have seen exaggerations, I have seen prejudice and misunderstandings and I have seen assumptions harden into facts when they should not have done. But I have never seen outright ‘invention’. Either this is because I am simply too stupid to notice or it isn’t actually something that happens with sufficient frequency for me to come across it even once in 15 years of practice.

      I don’t think it assists the debate one iota to use such loaded and emotive terms – unless of course you can back them up by some evidence. What proportion of cases succeed on appeal on the basis that evidence is ‘invented’? you would really have to be extremely incompetent as a lawyer not to notice if evidence was ‘invented’.

      1. C

        You must be aware of the Care Procedure rules. I wasn’t until very recently, so it is possible that I am reading them wrong… but they appear to say that at the directions hearing the judge may decide which ‘evidence’ (and this can be hearsay, assumptions, opinions, etc. -) he will rule in, as being relevant, and which he will rule out. I’m sure that you know better than me whether it is more likely that the evidence ruled out is more likely to be supporting the Local Authority case, or the parents. The reports that have been allowed to stand as ‘evidence’ then merely have to be considered on the balance of probabilities… 51% is enough to convict. Given the steep pitch of the playing field, I should expect downright invention might be considered unsporting.

        That being said, you know very well that you have seen ‘invention’. You have seen it in cases that I have brought to you. It was an invention for the Local Authority to claim that a child was taken to hospital when he wasn’t; and they later were forced to admit as much. It was an invention that our 18 month old had said things about me that she was not capable of saying, and the Local Authority were once again finally forced to accept this. ( Although they then tried to make out that it was said by our elder daughter – and have been forced to admit that this was untrue too.) It was an invention for the Local Authority to write that there are no guidelines for Child Protection call handlers to follow; when only a few weeks later, we obtained them via FOI.
        Andrew Webb’s statements in his interview are anther example of invention. Of course he has seen negative outcomes in adoption. He knows as well as any of us that although the number of children being removed has almost doubled; children are no less likely to be murdered. Thus he is inventing on national media.

        I have many more examples I could mention – but I would be found in contempt.

        I am bewildered as to why you spring to the defence of the indefensible, given that you seem so keen to want to see openness and fairness in the family courts.

        1. Sarah Phillimore

          I am equally bewildered that you don’t seem to understand what I am saying. I am saying invention in court. When I am examining the evidence and cross examining. I have not seen that in 15 years.

          Nor is it necessarily a malign lie/deliberate ‘invention’ to say a child was taken to hospital when he wasn’t. People make mistakes. People say things they really hope are true. They misunderstand.

          It is just as dangerous, counterproductive and simply a waste of time to see monsters round every corner as it is to skip along saying hello clouds, hello sky isn’t everything wonderful. Neither extreme helps. Extremes rarely do.

          My position is set out quite clearly in the post on forced adoption. I am very well aware of the problems. There are quite enough of them that exist without making up new ones.

          I don’t know what the ‘care procedure rules’ are. The usual approach in children cases is not to declare evidence ‘inadmissable’ but to give certain types of evidence less weight than others. For e.g. hearsay is always less weighty than direct evidence.

          1. C

            Thanks for your response, and – sorry, I was referring to : FAMILY PROCEDURE RULES PART 22 .

            See below: With regard to invention, I am not sure whether you necessarily see the Children Services composed chronology that form the bases of the later reports that construct the ‘tottering edifice’ – but they are frequently full of ‘invention’, but it is quite often difficult to prove that it isn’t as you say ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘opinion’.

            As for Monsters: what makes a monster dangerous, is their mundanity. If black smoke is coming out of their nostrils, and they look like the Gruffalo, they are much easier to spot and avoid.

            In the cases I am referring to, I think it is safe to say that it was deliberate ‘misrepresentation’ and not misunderstanding… but it is interesting to consider at what point blinkered, systemic misunderstanding might be re-stated as malignant.

            Power of the court to control evidence
            22.1.—(1) The court may control the evidence by giving directions as to—
            (a) the issues on which it requires evidence;
            (b) the nature of the evidence which it requires to decide those issues; and
            (c) the way in which the evidence is to be placed before the court.
            (2) The court may use its power under this rule to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible.
            (3) The court may permit a party to adduce evidence, or to seek to rely on a document, in respect
            of which that party has failed to comply with the requirements of this Part.
            (4) The court may limit cross-examination(GL).
            Evidence of witnesses – general rule
            22.2.—(1) The general rule is that any fact which needs to be proved by the evidence of witnesses is to be proved—
            (a) at the final hearing, by their oral evidence; and
            (b) at any other hearing, by their evidence in writing. etc.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            I see lots of chronologies. There should be one in every case. And I don’t find them full of ‘invention’. the worst example I have found so far was recording of 3 referrals against my client for suspected sexual abuse of a child – something very serious which had coloured the attitudes of SW towards her ever since (now some years later). When I traced that referral back to the source document I found it was in fact ONE referral which had been investigated by the police who determined it was ‘malicious’. Which put rather a different spin on it. And my client got her child back.

            I agree this was a very, very damaaging misrecording. But was it ‘deliberate’ ? No, I don’t think so. It was sloppy. It had horrible consequences. But no one sat down to deliberately invent referrals that had never happened. There was a careless recording of a date which got turned into separate referrals. I can see how it happens.

            I am aware of the banality of evil. But I am not sure where your example is going. Not all evil ‘looks’ evil. So don’t you have to be scrupulous about how you identify it? Shoe-horning mistakes, over work, stress etc into a one size fits all jacket of EVIL simply dilutes that concept to something meaningless. And then, when you do meet real evil, you will have lost any vocabulary to describe it.

  9. Peter Dale

    (I’m having trouble posting on this site, so apologies if this is a duplicate)

    There is a recent example of a Guardian admitting at a disciplinary hearing that she fabricated an observation of a father sexually abusing his daughter. In mitigation, she claimed that she was stressed…. The lives of the father and daughter were significantly affected by this unarguable fabrication of evidence by a social worker.

    The international literature on parents’ perceptions of child protection interventions consistently reports that parents in many jurisdictions allege that evidence is fabricated. However, what is more common is negatively biased interpretations of mundane events.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I have never said social workers don’t lie – some do. Just as some doctors murder their patients.

      However, fabricated evidence in care proceedings is rare. I can state that with some degree of confidence because in 15 years I haven’t found it. And obviously, I don’t think that is because I am too stupid to notice. I think that is because it is rare.

      I would be very wary of relying simply on parents’ reports that social workers have lied, without some other corroboration – such as a finding by a court or a disciplinary tribunal. Again, I can state with confidence that many parents do not tell the whole story when asked about their care proceedings. Minimisation and outright denial are very common. I assume this is to do with shame, embarrassment – just the very human reluctance to accept hard truths about ones failings.

      However, I agree that ‘negatively biased interpretations of mundane events’ is very common and a real problem. It is on this we should focus, not alleging that allegations in care proceedings are routinely fabricated – because they are not. But this problem of self perpetuating bias, everything the parent says or does being seen through a negative lens is very real and the younger, less experienced social workers are particularly vulnerable to it. I am not sure what degree of consistent guidance they get from their management. Sadly, I think such intervention is very inconsistent.

    2. Philip Measures

      The matter that Peter Dale refers to is extremely concerning as the CAFCASS worker was found NOT to be dishonest – never have I seen a clearer case of dishonesty from my perspective as ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ and so CAFCASS paid out £80k+ of public money when it probably could have avoided doing so!

      The HCPC is not fit for purpose – it both registers / regulates / prosecutes and sentences ‘offenders’ whose only right of Appeal is to the High Court at enormous costs – so hardly any Appeals are ever made.

      I tend to share Hilary Searing’s opinion that the law is OK but the interpretation often leaves much to be desired – and, indeed, the issue of ‘forced’ adoptions is really only being challenged by the Judges.

      Sarah Philimore is also absolutely right in the need for clear and detailed Chronologies on every case – in my opinion those should also indicate ‘Potential Risk’ / ‘Action Taken’ /’Reason for no action.’

      1. Eunice McCollum

        Yes the HCPC is a convenient joke Parents are taken to task when their assessed needs have not yet begun to be met let alone met The HCPC is a lackey of the Lical Authority Managers who are quite unfit sometimes and mostly so short of time that if they had time to work constructively with social workers via adequate supervision and support, parents would be more supported to provide the care for their children . Another sad fact is that Local authority childcare managers have no guts to complain openly about the lack of provision to help parents in terms of services and financial costs Managers instead pretend that all is well so that their capability is not scrutinised .

  10. Peter Dale

    Did not a Guardian recently admit in a disciplinary tribunal that she had indeed – invented – observing a father sexually interfere with his daughter? I recall that her eventual explanation was that she was stressed… This had major repercussions for the father and the daughter.

    In the large international literature on parents’ perceptions of child protection proceedings the invention of negative evidence is often reported (although misrepresentation and exaggeration via negative bias is much more common).

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  12. C

    This report from Andrew Webb’s stamping ground, Stockport, is one more example of social workers unaccountably getting away with appalling dishonesty :

    Reporting from 2004: Social services bosses in Stockport , Greater Manchester, have apologised to a family who discovered an official had forged signatures on a report into care of their autistic son. The council then told the couple that the officer responsible is still working for them. Michael and Angela Carroll had discovered their signatures were copied onto Stockport Council’s own edited version of a form, which had left out serious points they wanted to make. The form was to have been a basis of a decision on what help could be given to them as carers for their autistic son Alex, aged 10. The couple complained to the local government ombudsman, and the council offered them £500 compensation. The couple wrote back to the council wanting to know whether the officer had been sacked. The council then confirmed that the officer had not been sacked. Social services director Andrew Webb said ” I am satisfied it was properly investigated, and an important lesson has been learned and appropriate action has been taken to prevent a repetition. “

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