The UK Child Protection System is Broken

Child protection: the system is broken

If you have encountered UK children’s social services you may think that they are ‘child snatchers’. Wrong. The Child Snatcher in Chief is in fact UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the unelected head of Her Majesty’s Government. Let’s discuss this at length and you will fully understand what I mean.

The child protection system in the UK is on its knees, and the current government is about to hit it in the head so hard it loses its marbles altogether. The system is seeing a massive increase in demand for taking children into care, yet at the same time resources are being stripped. Where up to a point it is possible to do more for less, that point passed a long time ago as resources fall in the face of a rising tide of referrals to the courts to remove children from families’ care.

You see regular stories in the media of ‘social work malpractice’ and ‘failures in the system’ as the overstretched system either missed someone calling for help, or in the eyes of the media took a child away unnecessarily.

I spoke to a campaigning family barrister based in Bristol called Sarah Phillimore who explained, “Social workers in the worst cases have quadruple the caseload they should have. Probably every social worker in the country has double the caseload they should, and at times when things went horribly wrong such as Child A in Lancashire, the Independent Reviewing Officer admitted wrongdoing — but he had three times the caseload he should have.”

People who work with children reading this might be about to stop now — but hold on! It ain’t your fault. The system is being stripped of its ability to operate and at the same time overwhelmed and who gets the blame? It shouldn’t be the soldiers or the generals — it should be their political masters.

Phillimore told me, “There is almost an entire absence of honest debate about what is going on.”

Shall we start talking straight here?

Referrals on the increase

Since Baby P hit the headlines a few years back, the rate of referrals to social services across the UK has mushroomed. Nationally, in 2010 there were 9203 referrals the courts, where in 2015–16 there were 12,781 and between April and August of 2016 there had been over 5000 made.

Professionals have a duty to report any harm or serious risk of harm to local authorities. This can be doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, or policemen — if you come into contact with children you could be at fault if you missed something.

Due to the way the system works, not all those cases referred to social services go to court. Most will sit on file and after a visit to a clean, nice home with happy children the social worker will advise their masters that all is well. Even so, the numbers the courts see are rising. Why?

Everyone’s a victim!

The list of victims of a system, that is being strangled by a heartless and perhaps even psychopathic government, amounts to pretty much everyone who encounters it. A Cafcass court appointed guardian told me one day, “This is the worst job in the world…”

The children will be in most cases, suffering real harm at home. Emotional, mental, physical, and even sexual abuse is part of the everyday fabric of life for many. In addition, where some aren’t at the moment their mother or father may have had a history of bad behaviour that may well lead to problems in future. The system is there to protect the most vulnerable children in society, kids who suffer at the hands of parents who they themselves may have had poor upbringings.

Parents suffer. Over the last eight months I have watched a mother fall to pieces on Facebook after her child was adopted. There was no support for her, and she was left to fall. I have helped trace a child who died shortly after she was adopted — the birth family weren’t even told she had liver cancer. Because the system is ‘only about the child’ parents are left to get on with it. I have spoken to another woman who was allowed to keep her child with no supervision (the best possible outcome. I won’t say ‘winning’) yet she felt totally broken by the experience. Every parent reading this will understand that there IS no greater fear in life than having your child taken off you. Asking the system that can barely manage to do the job it does to support the parents going through the worst experience of their lives is a rank impossibility.

There are injustices against parents though these are relatively few in number due to the thoroughness of the legal system. To err is human! Even the families who succeed in staying together are left to deal with the emotional holocaust in their lives on their own. Mental health services? Only if you have a pre-existing mental health condition and scream from the rooftops to get it.

Beyond the obvious, what about the frontline social workers? Being screamed at and abused everywhere they go, doing the job of rescuing children from sometimes appalling abuse. I’m not sure if I could do that job honestly — it takes a special type of person. They should get in house counselling (supervision) but their superiors are frequently so overwhelmed that this doesn’t happen. As with the parents, they are merely left to get on with the huge stresses of their lives.

Barristers? Phillimore told me how she has to keep a professional distance as the one time she didn’t she broke down in court after giving her client the best professional advice — to have their child taken from them.

Families — look in the mirror

No one is perfect. There really are thousands of children at risk of harm or being harmed every year. To get into the system to the point a local authority thinks it is necessary to remove a child from their parents care takes a crazy amount of resources and money. In this artificial ‘Age of Austerity’ do you think that the county of Dorset beginning 75 child protection cases in the family courts in 2015, that cost up to £50,000 each, is something they take lightly? £3.75 million isn’t chicken feed!

I have spent around 100 hours in the last year researching and mapping the system, and it certainly isn’t a case of a social worker spotting a pretty child in the street, getting excited and taking the child from its parents as Charlie Chester the child molester would.

I went through the system in 2015 and had to fight to keep my child. Honestly? I knew why the system had its concerns. Everyone who goes into the system should look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves: ‘Is there a good basis for this to happen?’ 99% of the time you would have to say, ‘Yes’.

Phillimore says that a majority of parents who enter the system have very good reason to be there. “A lot of parents say ‘there’s nothing wrong with me!’ Yes, but you have had x number of relationships with violent sexual offenders. You’ve been on drugs, taken lots of alcohol and let your dog crap all over the house! I know you haven’t done it in the last six months but there is a serious risk you will do it again. You’re not accepting you have done anything wrong.”

There are real problems for parents today. Let’s look at this in a joined up way. Jobs for the unskilled are often scarce and the cost of living is very high relative to the so-called Living Wage. Private sector housing is often ridiculously bad, and the government blocked a bill in Parliament calling for housing to meet certain minimum standards. Those on benefits get kicked as ‘scroungers’ yet their real social problems aren’t fixed. Alcoholism, drugs, and real lifestyle issues need resolving by a system that is so broken that it is almost beyond repair. The mental health system is now a basket case in its own right. A BBC report recently suggested that up to 25 million people have less than £100 in the bank. Over a million are using food banks to survive — they certainly aren’t getting full face tattoos with their spare cash…

Resources

In the face of the increase in referrals to the courts, have we seen more money for Legal Aid for the families? Have we seen more social workers deployed? Have we seen an increase in the numbers of judges? Not a penny extra. The same people have to do the same job with the same resources. The system is at breaking point.

For families at least, there is the judiciary which where it adjudges that the family is in fact safe according to the measurement of ‘good enough parenting’, families can remain together. There is 80 years of law and case law describing how the system works — there are very few cases where the courts have made a decision to keep a family together without supervision and for the child to come to harm. That is about to change.

From bad… to worse?

Given that there are real and structural problems with society as a whole, you would think that the government would sit back and say to itself, ‘let’s help those poor people’? No. News broke last late last year that the government is going to take a cricket bat to the system not to fix it, but to make the law so complex that it will vary between neighbouring local authorities. The Canary news website published an article that said, “The child and social work bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, intends to shake up the legal basis of child services. Currently, laws apply to every child in the country, via local authorities. But the Tories want to change this, by allowing councils to opt out from national law for up to six years.”

Where this is just a way to privatise the system (the Lord who put the bill into Parliament runs a chain of school academies and makes pots of cash from privatised government services) it is going to fragment a system that was pretty unwieldy in its own right due to lack of resources to do the very job it set out to do. Child protection is being set aside for privatisation. Help? The government is solely interested in the wealth of its supporters — not the welfare of the most vulnerable in society. Instead of making children’s lives easier, it is about to make them a whole lot harder.

The future?

Last year I had a fight to keep my family together. We as a family succeeded. The one thing that I felt I could do to help people who enter the system is by showing how the system works. I planned to set up a website to support families but sadly, this remains on ice due in part to my need to support my new family financially through my writing and editorial services.

Instead, I plan to publish a blog on a fairly regular basis that shows you the way the system works. This will go some way to helping people who often feel desperate and in some need to ‘fight to keep their child’.

Who’s really to blame?

Having read this blog, do you really think social workers are ‘child snatchers’? I’d rather hope you think otherwise now. The real child snatchers are those in Downing Street beginning with Prime Minister Theresa May, and after supporting the new bill through Parliament they can’t dodge that charge at all. Vote Conservative — snatch children from the most desperate and vulnerable in society.