By Christopher Booker
While loving families are torn apart, Whitehall insists the system is working fine, says Christopher Booker
Last week I listened for an hour to a sobbing mother describing how she recently lost the six-year-old daughter who is the centre of her life. Her fatal mistake was to ask social workers for advice when she was being troubled by “harassment” from the child’s father, from whom she parted some years ago. Within days, although it was never suggested that she had harmed her daughter in any way, she found herself facing a “case conference” of 20 people at the local council offices, the conclusion of which was that her child must be placed in foster care.
The solicitor she was given by the social workers refused to oppose the care order. At a “contact” session, when she and her bewildered daughter emotionally expressed their love for each other, the interview was halted. She has not been allowed to see her child again.
Having followed dozens of such cases in recent months, which suggest that something has gone horribly wrong with our child protection system, I was recently invited for an off-the-record ministerial discussion about what I have been reporting. But far from recognising that anything might be astray, the official line, it seems, is that the horrifying cases I have covered represent only an untypical minority of the total – “less than 10 per cent”. In general, the system is working fine.
This line seems to be confirmed by the latest guidance issued to local authorities by the Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, who says that too many councils are failing to ensure that enough children are being adopted, and that the backsliders must speed up their flow of adoptions. No question as to whether social workers might be snatching too many of the wrong children in the first place – or why the courts seem so eager to support them that, of around 8,000 applications made each year for care orders, only one in 400 is refused.
I shall give just one disturbing instance of the latest developments in a case I have been following for months. Like many others, this came to me through the Forced Adoption website, run by former councillor Ian Josephs. It involves a married couple whose five older children were seized earlier this year, subsequent to which their latest baby was torn from its mother’s arms only hours after it was born.
The bizarre story originally stated by the social workers to justify their ruthless intervention in this family’s life seems to have collapsed. At a recent court hearing, I am told, the judge seemed disposed to reunite the family as soon as possible. The baby was returned to her parents later that day. But the council asked for 21 days’ stay of execution before returning the five older children, three of whom the parents had not been allowed to see for weeks. The judge apparently agreed but insisted that an independent social worker should interview the children.
The independent social worker eventually managed to interview four of the children, apparently reporting that they all wished to be allowed to go home to their parents. But the court refused to give the parents a copy of the judge’s ruling, and on Friday they were summoned back to hear from him that he had now seemingly changed his mind and that the children did not wish to come home after all. According to the parents, they were not allowed to question the evidence on which he based his new ruling, although they were told they could appeal.
What on earth is going on here? Even from the little I am permitted to report of this case, it seems evident that something seriously odd is afoot.
But this is merely one of far too many cases where families are being heartlessly torn apart, often without the parents even being allowed to question the evidence or to speak for themselves. To hear such horror stories being dismissed as representing “less than 10 per cent” of all the cases where children are seized is simply not good enough. Each is shocking enough in its own right. But when every week brings news of a dozen more, this only confirms that we indeed have a national scandal on our hands.