Editorial comment: Haringey reverses gains

The reputation of social workers looks set to take another knock this week with claims that a small child was forcibly removed from his foster mother outside their home just two hours after a judge urged that the case be dealt with sensitively.

You can just predict the tabloid headlines slamming the “child snatchers” – a highly emotive phrase, of course, but it is easy to see why the media reach for such slogans when events unfold in this way.

Last month the foster carer lost her fight for guardianship of a boy she had cared for for more than 16 months. Although the judge recognised the emotional bond between the two, he approved the council’s decision to place him for adoption. So far, so good, but why was it necessary for the social workers in this case to act so precipitately? The authority maintains that the staff behaved correctly but without evidence that the child was in imminent risk it is difficult to see how such action could have been in line with best practice.

After being trafficked to this country, the only stability that Baby C has known in his short life is with his foster carer. Evidently, the judge recognised that it would be impossible for the two not to have become attached after living together for such a length of time. Yet social workers apparently thought it acceptable to end that relationship abruptly with no transitional period in which they could both adjust. The foster mother has not seen the boy since.

After the criticism Haringey came in for following the Victoria Climbie case the authority had done much to restore its reputation, but sadly this case casts a shadow on both that council and social work in general at a time when the General Social Care Council is doing everything it can to raise its profile as a skilled profession.

There needs to be an independent inquiry into the handling of this case. At the very least the council must give a full explanation of its social workers’ actions – otherwise they will lay themselves open to accusations of abuse of power.

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