By Christopher Booker
The scandal of seizures by social workers of children from responsible parents is bigger than the Children’s Minister has stated, says Christopher Booker.
Of all the ways in which Britain’s supposed child protection system has, all too often, gone horribly off the rails, one of the most disturbing is the readiness of many social workers to lie and to fabricate evidence, in order to justify their seizure of children from loving and responsible parents. As is shown by many of the dozens of such cases I have followed in detail, once social workers have targeted a particular family they may well stop at nothing to make their case stick, ready to cover up some initial error simply by bringing up new accusations against the parents, however improbable.
Last week I talked at length with a 20-year-old mother who lives in a northern city. In a calm, measured way, she described how her two sons had been removed, for reasons that seem quite absurdly misguided. As a teenager, she became involved with a young man who beat her so badly that she required hospital treatment several times. He had then left her with a son, whom she happily brought up alone in a house bought for her by her parents. But when the boy was 18 months old, the social workers moved in to seize him, on the grounds that she was in a “violent relationship”, even though the father had walked out of her life.
Some time later she did see him again, for one evening, and became pregnant. When the social workers discovered this, she was sent for medical assessment to a psychiatrist, who after two examinations said that he could find nothing wrong with her and that she seemed quite capable of bringing up her child. Twenty minutes after her son’s birth, however, she was lying naked on a hospital bed when two police officers and a social worker burst in to take the baby into foster care. Their “police protection order” alleged that she was “incapable” of bringing up the child, that she had tried to abort it two weeks earlier (wholly untrue) and that it would be at “risk of significant harm”.
The baby is now fostered half a mile from the mother’s home. Although there is a council contact centre nearby, in order to have contact with her son, she and the baby must travel eight miles across the city to another centre, the fares for which cost a significant part of her £50 a week income. Six times she has been to court, desperate to win back her baby. Four times the judge failed to turn up.
Last week the mother learned, from a reliable source, that the social workers now plan to allege that, when she was three, she had tried to kill the family cat and to burn down her parents’ house. When I spoke at length to the parents they said nothing of the kind had ever happened. They had also been astonished that their offer to look after their grandchild had been refused by the social workers out of hand, even though he is a respectable businessman and she a qualified nursery nurse.
The Children Act lays a strict legal obligation on social workers, when removing children from their parents, to investigate, as the first option, whether they can be placed with relatives. This is routinely ignored, so that in Britain only 12 per cent of removed children are in “kinship care”; in New Zealand the figure is 75 per cent.
In another case I have been following closely, the social workers, after initially making a crashing blunder, have changed their reasons for keeping the children in foster care several times. According to the parents, when they recently had to listen in court to a social worker describing a contact session, they wished to produce a recording they had secretly made of the meeting which contradicted everything that had been said. When this was refused, they left the court in disgust. The evidence they had been unable to challenge was thus accepted as fact.
If our Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, means what he says about empowering a new Ombudsman to investigate the “minority” of cases which go “horribly wrong”, he may be amazed how many such cases will be brought forward. I don’t believe Mr Loughton has any idea how large his “minority” could turn out to be.