Whilst we are all used to individual child protection cases being dissected by the media in the midst of a child abuse tragedy and the finger usually being roundly pointed at social workers I was shocked to see an item on Channel 4 News uncovering networks that help families to flee social services. Whilst of course there are inevitably some horrendous miscarriages of justice this surely is not the antidote – a secret service helping families to abscond to places outside of UK borders. A leading light in the movement, 80 year old Ian Josephs almost came across as a heroic Oskar Shindler figure financing families (usually pregnant women) to escape the country. I found this disturbing and shocking as he recounted his bad experience of 30 years ago with family courts as a justification for his actions. In many cases, it seemed to me that decisions had not even been taken to remove the children in question from their families yet the parents had made up their minds to run and there was no middle ground. This is incredibly damaging as we do not even know in how many of those cases the children needed to be removed and either way it is an extremely worrying picture. Other parents who had previously poor experience of the family justice system were apparently amongst the willing groups of volunteers aiding and abetting these families. Just when I thought the piece could not get any worse, a parliamentarian who is often associated with the ‘child snatching’ debate John Hemming was interviewed and openly admitted that he had a hand in this in terms of supporting people with travel. Whilst John Hemming is a figure of controversy, this surely in some people’s minds will give this whole ‘industry’ even greater credence and legitimacy whilst doing the very opposite for our child protection system.
Ian Josephs and his associates argued that the families they help have not physically harmed their children but have involvement with children’s social care as a result of issues of neglect and emotional abuse which are the hardest to fight against. This is somewhat ironic, given that all the recent research suggests that social workers struggle to get their concerns about children suffering from emotional abuse and neglect taken as seriously as they would like because of thresholds and resources. Added to that, there is a growing body of research that demonstrates the long-term debilitating effects of neglect which can be extremely damaging in terms of developmental delay. Once again, the social work profession finds itself between a ‘rock and a hard place in the midst of this kind of publicity which has the potential to throw the whole child protection system in the UK into disrepute. I was disappointed that the coverage almost entirely focused on ‘social services’ failing to recognise yet again the multi-agency nature of this work. Yet another missed opportunity to provide the public with greater insight into the workings of family courts, perhaps provide some anonomised case studies and talk to a whole host of professionals to at least provide a more balanced context. So what to do now? Apart from firstly dealing with the steam coming out of my ears this is an issue that clearly needs to be taken somewhere and I now know how I will be spending some of my time tomorrow.
We take this opportunity to thank Nushra Mansuri, the Professional Officer for England of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), for providing us with BASW’s position and reaction with such short notice.
Join us to discuss and explore these and other relevant questions today at 6:00 PM BST (UK) / 1:00 PM EDT @SWSCmedia.