The real scandal of our care system is still overlooked United Kingdom Social Services
The real scandal of our care system is still overlooked
A new report into our child protection system ignores its glaring shortcomings.
Two figures alone might give us a hint that something very odd is going on in the system supposedly set up to protect the interests of children under the 1989 Children Act. Once again, the number of children taken into care has broken all records this year. There are, at present, more than 65,000 of them in England. At the same time, the number of children being adopted has fallen – again – to just 3,050.
Last week, front-page headlines greeted the report from a committee set up under David Norgrove to look into the workings of our “family justice system”. But its 200-odd pages scarcely touched on the reasons behind the remarkable discrepancy in those figures, other than a general recommendation that its laborious procedures should in some way be “speeded up”. But to achieve what end?
The mighty elephant in the room of the Norgrove report is the horror story I have reported here many times, whereby untold thousands of children are being removed from their families for what, too often, seem highly questionable reasons. As I have observed before, what we are looking at here is the very opposite of those awful blunders which from time to time make a national scandal, as in the case of Baby P, where social workwers fail to intervene despite evidence that children are being genuinely abused.
At the other end of the spectrum are the cases where social workers seize children who are enjoying a happy family life with loving parents, only to be plunged very much less happily into foster care, for reasons they cannot understand. Having investigated dozens of such cases, what has struck me more than anything is how consistently our family protection system, behind the wall of secrecy it has built round itself to hide its workings, turns the basic principles of justice and humanity on their head. Innocent parents find themselves in a Kafkaesque world, treated as criminals, while the whole system seems stacked against them.
After the initial shock of seeing their children seized, often with the aid of a mob of policemen, the parents find themselves in courtrooms where anything up to four or five teams of lawyers, at great public expense, are ranged against them. If they themselves are given solicitors on the advice of the council, these too often turn out to be as much part of the system as the rest. The same is true of the “expert witnesses”, paid extraordinarily lavish fees to add to the pile of damning evidence. Again, too often, judges are prepared only to listen to what amounts to “the case for the prosecution”, making no effort to test that evidence, however dubious it may be.
This system is so rigged in support of the social workers that it is hardly surprising that the number of children in care is breaking all records. As a senior family judge, Lord Justice Thorpe, chillingly observed earlier this year, “once you have lost a child, it is very difficult to get a child back”.
Yet in all the pedestrian pages of the Norgrove report, there is not a hint of this, the most damaging way in which our child protection system has gone off the rails. As John Hemming, the MP who has long campaigned on this scandal, elicited through a parliamentary question, not one of Norgrove’s panel has ever been personally involved in a child protection case. They are all in different ways part of a system which, as Hemming says, “is a complete mess, too remote from reality to come up with reliable conclusions”.
What is needed is a wholly different inquiry into the largely untold story of how and why this system has gone so horribly wrong. As yet there is no sign from on high that the voices of these unhappy children and their parents will ever be heard.
By Christopher Booker
7:00PM GMT 05 Nov 2011
Backlash Against British
Backlash Against British Anti-Father, Anti-Grandparent Family Law Review
November 4th, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The words had barely passed David Norgrove’s lips when the backlash began. Apparently members of the British government aren’t going to swallow Norgrove’s anti-father, anti-grandparent family law review without a fight. Read about it here (The Sun, 11/3/11):
PLANS to wreck divorced dads’ and grandparents’ hopes of more time with their children have sparked a Cabinet revolt.
Tory Iain Duncan Smith will lead protests against an official report that today says fathers and mothers should NOT have equal access to kids…
Whitehall sources said Mr Duncan Smith would fight any attempt to sideline dads. One insider said: “The system should be recognising the important role dads can play, not marginalising them.”
The Conservative Work and Pensions minister has long been a champion of children’s rights to a full relationship with their father post-separation or divorce. And he’s apparently none too happy with the whitewash of the rights of fathers, children and grandparents tossed off by David Norgrove two days ago.
Neither of course are advocates for fathers, children and grandparents. They point out some of the many painfully obvious points that the Norgrove report ignores, overlooks or simply misunderstands, as this article makes clear (Daily Mirror, 11/3/11).
Ken Sanderson, chief executive of Families Need Fathers, said the review’s failure to recommend shared parenting legislation or a statement on the importance of both parents in law represents “an abdication of their responsibilities to children and their families”.
“The core failing of the current family justice system is that the rights of children to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are not adequately supported or enforced,” he said.
“By choosing not to address this issue, any other proposals to reform the system will be merely superficial adjustments to a fundamentally broken system.”
Nadine O’Connor, campaign director of Fathers 4 Justice, added that the review was “a monstrous sham and a bureaucratic exercise in improving the efficiency of injustice”.
“This report condemns children to a life without fathers with catastrophic social consequences,” she said.
The main goals of the review’s recommendations are speeding up the process of divorce and custody decisions and encouraging parents to mediate their disputes. Both of those are worthwhile aims of course, but neither will fix what is most wrong with the British system of family law – the separation of fathers from their children.
I’ve said this before: those who oppose fathers’ access to their children bear the heavy burden of explaining to the rest of us why the current system is acceptable. Explain to us why keeping fathers out of children’s lives, depriving children of the care, love, protection and guidance of fathers is a good thing.
That is what the current system accomplishes. It does so by granting primary custody to mothers, almost exclusively. (In the U.K. the rate of maternal primary custody is about 90%.) It then fails to enforce the visitation rights non-custodial fathers supposedly have. The effect is that children end up being raised without a father in their lives in any meaningful way. In fact, that’s the result even if Mom is generous and doesn’t interfere with Dad’s parenting time, because two days of visitation out of every two weeks is not enough to establish and maintain a meaningful relationship with a child.
The “catastrophic social consequences” of fatherlessness Nadine O’Connor referred to were on graphic display only weeks ago as British youth rampaged through the streets for days setting fires and damaging property. Let us be clear; that is what David Norgrove and the rest of the family law review panel approved when they failed to go to bat for children’s rights to a relationship with their father.
At the same time that Duncan Smith and others are attacking the review, others are scrambling to put a good face on it, as this article reports (BBC, 11/3/11).
The Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, said the fact that equal access rights had not been approved did not mean the review was acting against fathers.
She said: “I have not seen anything in the report that says there must be a presumption on the rights of mothers. What the report is very clear about, which I wholly and utterly endorse, as does the commissioner, is that the presumption must be that the best interests of the child must be put first.”
What Berelowitz surely knows is that British family law already requires that the best interests of the child be paramount. She knows as well that current British law has no “presumption on the rights of mothers,” and yet what the system does is give children to mothers. So, like the others who oppose children’s meangingful relationships with their dads, Berelowitz plumps for the status quo – fatherless children.
She does so necessarily because, when their parents divorce, children lose their fathers and fathers lose their children. And whether she knows it or not, the loss of a parent on divorce is bad for children. Large volumes of research make it clear that those children experience emotional/psychological damage resulting in poorer educational outcomes, higher incidence of drug and alcohol use, greater likelihood of crime commission, lower employment, etc. Best interests of the child? Ha!
The family law review is just a recommendation; it has no legal effect. But if Parliament follows its lead and makes no changes to improve the lot of fathers and children, it will have abdicated its responsibilities to the British people and to British society. It will have given its stamp of approval to a status quo that has no claim to legitimacy.
Let’s hear it for Iain Duncan Smith and hope that he can force the government to see sense.