Two unpalatable factors need stressing. First, most people who abuse children over long periods need to go on doing so. They are expelling something terrible and dangerous in themselves, and to remove their chosen victim is to dangerously threaten their equilibrium.Gosh! We wouldn’t want to do that, would we? Best let them get on with abusing that child. Oh, wait! You already did. Never mind….
Anyone who has ever had the unwelcome job of confronting a suspected child abuser will know about the fierce, aggressive denial that is often the response. The accused becomes dedicated to making the accuser feel and believe they are, literally, mad. We cannot know whether this terrified reaction is that of someone rightly, or wrongly, accused. If we knew, we could, and would, act.In other words: ‘Evidence? What’s that?! We just don’t know what to believe. There’s no way of determining who is right, it’s pure chance that we sometimes make the wrong decisions…’
Research shows that the most dangerous families are skilled at evading the attentions of child protection services. This should not blind us to the tens of thousands of cases each year where children are protected because engagement between families and professionals succeeds. Arguably the system works well enough most of the time, in most cases. In a tiny minority, it does not.Ah, the old ‘Don’t look at this miserable, predictable, signposted failure! Look at all the cases we don’t screw up!’ so beloved of all government departments…
But as the saying goes: "Hard cases make bad law." These are hard cases indeed, and should not determine the fate of the system. Social workers have been persecuted in past decades for pursuing the possibility of child abuse into the realms of fantasy, but "ritual abuse" happens. Workers investigating these cases are not just dealing with aggression and fear. They are working at the borders of sanity.
And wtf? ‘Ritual abuse’..? Who threw that in to the mix? There’s been no, repeat, no evidence of it in this case, or indeed any of the others where social workers panicked and started hauling away children based on fantasy. So to shoehorn it into this column is to introduce a complete red herring.
He’s rightly getting the kicking he deserves in the comments, but meanwhile, over at the Social Work blog, these three fine examples alternatively:
Blame an attack on a social worker on the press reaction to the case:
It seems their campaign has reached its logical conclusion. We were told today that a social worker in a learning disability team in the north of England was approached as she was filling up her car at a petrol station by a man who spotted her ID card.Whine about how Melanie Phillips is mean to them:
He mentioned the Baby P case, swore at her and then spat on her.
It may of course just be the deeply unpleasant action of a single idiot. But I wonder if more social workers have similar tales to tell?
The subject of my ire on this occasion was Question Time on Thursday evening (21st November), and in particular the views of Melanie Phillips, a columnist on the Daily Mail.And use another self serving post at the Liberal Conspiracy blog to complain about the fuss made of this case when there are so many more out there:
Phillips was spouting off about how the Baby P case was symptomatic of the problem at the heart of social work: that social workers generally are working for the parents rather than the child. This, of course, was down to the fact that most social workers are liberal lefties by nature, taught and trained by liberal lefties, all of whom believe in keeping families together at all costs!
Sorry, but is it a crime to have the goal of keeping families together if at all possible? Of course, sometimes it just isn't possible or appropriate, but surely where it is it is absolutely right that social workers should be trying to support and maintain the family unit.
This is also the same Daily Mail that isn't shy in highlighting when social workers take children into care inappropriately, "ripping" families apart. Someone should tell them that you CAN'T have it both ways.
Post here on the Liberal Conspiracy blog about the Baby P case that says that little was out of the ordinary until the final few days.Got to say, none of these seems to be a winning argument…
It says: "The most striking thing about this case is just how mundane the events leading up to the child's death seem but for the final few days of his life, when the injuries that were to prove fatal appear to have been inflicted."
It goes on to say there really wasn't anything that could be done and the reaction owes more to another moral panic and political opportunism.
Given that a child is killed every 10 days by their parents and that since Victoria Climbie there must have been some equally horrific cases, why, the post asks, is there such an outcry about this particular one.
Firstly, just because someone spat at a social worker at round about the time this case was in the media doesn’t mean that the press shouldn’t do their jobs. The publicity surrounding this event has been instrumental in getting changes made (though the effect of those changes will need to be measured) instead of allowing the social work managers to close ranks and engage in damage limitation exercises. If you don’t like to be in the spotlight when you screw up, do your jobs better.
Secondly, the press is right to focus on the cases where children are yanked away from their parents on spurious or ideological grounds (like Andrew Coopers mention of ‘ritual abuse’), and contrast them with cases where real, evidenced abuse goes unchallenged. It is equally right to focus on examples of social workers overreaching themselves and acting like the Gestapo (almost always at quite the wrong targets). If you don’t care for what results from this, do your jobs better.
Thirdly, the claim that ‘there really wasn't anything that could be done’ has been comprehensively demolished by the report, which is littered with examples of specific failings in Haringey social work departments. If you don’t want to feature in a report like this in the future, do your jobs better.
Beginning to see a pattern yet, social workers…?