The television programme Exposure: Don’t take my child, broadcast this week on ITV1, raised important issues about the checks and balances within child welfare and child protection services.
The impact of government policy – led and championed by former education minister Michael Gove – that more children should be adopted, and adopted quicker and at a time when help for families is being reduced, is of considerable concern to many social workers and other professionals working with children and families.
The media itself, however, should reflect on the impact it has in influencing public opinion, which in its turn impacts on doctors, police officers, judges, social workers and others having to take decisions about the safety of children based on complex, but inevitably never complete, information available at the time.
As reported in my book, ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the record straight’, the irresponsible vilification targeted especially at social workers by the tabloid press and others 17 months after the death of Peter Connelly (Baby P) disrupted a child protection system, which sought to keep in focus the safety of children and the role and commitment of parents.
ITV’s programme on so-called ‘forced adoptions’ was no more responsible with its pendulum swinging to the other extreme which reported, with considerable emotion, that children were being taken without any cause from their parents.
As with the ‘Baby P story’ the programme’s targeting was almost exclusively at social workers (leaving doctors, police officers, and judges on the margins, although their decisive roles and powers in child protection decision making are crucial and central).
And the programme sympathetically, but irresponsibly, included reporting that parents of babies and other children for whom there were considerable concerns for safety were being advised and assisted to leave the jurisdiction of British courts.
There is a need for a serious, informed and balanced discussion about children and families welfare and child protection. Government policies, with Mr Gove in the vanguard, have cut help for families and made it less safe for children.
It is a considerable, but unwelcome, achievement that the government is failing in each direction. But media comment and reporting that bounces from one extreme to the other does nothing to promote a serious, informed debate