Should parents be allowed to record child protection meetings?

A Freedom of Information request made by a group of lawyers found most councils don't have formal guidance for their social workers on what to do if a parent wants to record a meeting

Photo: Eelco/ flickr
Photo: Eelco/ flickr

Councils are “wrongly” citing data protection and human rights legislation to prevent parents from recording meetings with social workers, a group of lawyers has claimed.

The Transparency Project, set up by a group of family lawyers to promote understanding of the court system, sent a Freedom of Information request to all councils in England and Wales for their guidance around parents who record meetings. They found most did not have a policy in place.

‘Incorrect legal analysis’

Of those that did, most authorities said they would not permit parents to record meetings, citing the Data Protection Act and human rights legislation.

The Transparency Project said it believed these policies were based on “incorrect legal analysis”.

Barnet and Bradford councils had formal policies stating they would not allow parents to record meetings.

The Transparency Project, in an online post sharing the findings, said: “We are concerned the Barnet policy does not give clear reasons other than the anxiety of social workers, and that there are risks it will be interpreted by parents as deliberately hostile or obstructive.”

But a Barnet council spokesperson said: “We are content for meetings to be recorded between families and social workers, as long as this is approved in advance by both parties. This guidance should only be used when a prior agreement has not been made.

“The guidance is a response to several cases in the past when recorded meetings were edited out of context and placed on social media. We believe our guidance protects our social workers and families from risk of their private and confidential conversations being taken out of context.”

The lawyers said there were fears a blanket ban on recording would lead to social workers behaving defensively and interpreting parents’ recording as hostile or as a failure to engage.

Build trust

Annie, a mother who has been subject to safeguarding proceedings and author of the blog Surviving Safeguarding, said she believed meetings should be recorded more regularly to build trust and promote transparency.

“There are instances where you read a social work report of a meeting you have attended, and that report bears no resemblance to what you experienced within that meeting,” she said.

“While I acknowledge each person attending a meeting could report something different as a result of their own values and agendas, parents feel disempowered because social workers are seen as professionals and therefore their report of a meeting is given higher status.

“I have personally experienced a social worker losing her temper with me in a meeting and banging her fist on the desk. However, this was denied by the social worker and could be taken no further as it was my word against hers.”

Of 166 councils in England and Wales responding to the request, 162 said they did not have a policy and 130 of those said they had no intention of developing one.

No formal policy

However, 11 councils, despite saying that they did not have formal policies, went on to detail how they would deal with requests or attempts by parents to record meetings.

The Transparency Project, in its analysis of the findings, said those councils that said they had no policy but went on to describe how they would deal with the issue or advise their workers were leaving families exposed to the risk the “un-policy” would be inconsistently applied.

East Sussex, despite saying it did not have a formal policy, stated: “Recording devices are not allowed owing to the potential for confidentiality breaches.”

Cardiff told The Transparency Project it opened child protection meetings with a disclaimer that recording is strictly prohibited and stated covert recording is in breach of a child or young person’s human rights.

Several others had informal policies stating recording was not permitted without consent or if it may intimidate others, or referred to the Data Protection Act.

Individual recordings for personal use are exempt from the Data Protection Act. If a recording is about a younger child and the person making the recording has parental responsibility for them then they may make the decision to record in their best interests.

Section 36 of the Act states: “Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the data protection principles.”

‘Nothing to fear’

Cafcass was one organisation the Transparency Project flagged as having a good approach. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service said in its guidance social workers should have nothing to fear from covert recording.

“Our attitude should be, ‘I am doing my job and I have nothing to hide. I can explain why I said what I said or why I did what I did’,” the guidance said.

“We should always be transparent in our work. In this sense, we should expect that everything we say or write could become public knowledge.”

Lucy Reed, one of the Transparency Project’s founders, said she planned to use these findings as a springboard to produce guidance for councils and parents.

Covert recording

But concerns from the sector remained around parents who record meetings without telling the social worker, or planned to share the material with the media or online.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said: “Trust should be the basis of all relationships during care proceedings, but when we reach the stage of covert filming it undermines this trust.

“There have been instances where recordings have been added to hate websites identifying social workers by name, which is very concerning, and this might explain some of the resistance in the sector to this practice to date.

“However, we know that the best way to protect our social workers, to ensure that the views of parents are being reflected correctly and to expose poor practice where it exists, is to have a culture of transparency and mutual respect. And where filming is taking place for all parties to be aware of this and be willing to be held to account for their conduct.”

Cafcass’s guidance said if a social worker found out they had been recorded without their knowledge, they should make sure the court knew the recording had been made covertly and could ask to see a transcript before it was presented as evidence.

Confidentiality

British Association of Social Workers professional officer Nushra Mansuri said there was a danger that social workers could not be sure what would happen to the recordings after the meeting. It was when parents or carers went on to share the recordings publicly that problems arose about data protection and confidentiality arose.

“It’s one thing to make recordings for your own personal use but the test is whether you can then legislate against families sharing recordings on the internet,” she said.

She added social workers need to be confident with policy and legislation not just to protect themselves, but to be able to advise their service users where sharing recordings of a particular meeting might put them in the wrong legally.

“If it is something a parent feels gives them a little bit of power in a very difficult situation then that’s understandable. But individual social workers also understandably feel they are going to be very vulnerable and may become targets.”

She said the most important thing was that authorities have a consistent approach so everybody knows the legal framework and what good practice is in this area.

“The answers aren’t straightforward but it is something that needs a lot more interrogation by everyone involved, rather than being defensive.”

24 Responses to Should parents be allowed to record child protection meetings?

  1. Helen December 10, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    I have recorded meetings with social workers, with their consent. This is a direct response to never having been given (or offered) minutes of any of the many meetings I have had with social workers.

    If meetings were minuted and i was able to comment on the minutes then recording them would not be necessary. This avoid misinterpretation of what has happened in a meeting.

  2. Heather Pritchard December 10, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    Why not have formal recorded record of conferences which is sealed and tamper proof and can be referred to as a true record for use in court or subsequent meetings?
    Any clandestine recording by any party can then be disregarded.

  3. Lynn cw December 10, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

    How about the local authorities themselves recording every meeting, and a transcript produced directly from it? I have also been on the receiving end of seriously misleading minutes from meetings with social workers, and there is no ability to have them amended or corrected.

    • HelenSparkles December 10, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

      & I have been on the receiving end of edited recordings, I’d be fine with a transcript like a police interview recording, sealed etc. and with guidance of how it can be used.

      • HelenSparkles December 10, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

        Sent too fast. I have no problem with being recorded per se, or my practice being put under scrutiny.

      • roncufley December 15, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

        It is always possible to determine forensicly if a recording had been edited.

  4. Tim Haines December 10, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    I’ve just been in a permission hearing in the Court of Appeal today, in front of McFarlane LJ, where he was entirely happy to accept five CDs of recordings of meetings with social workers without so much as a raised eyebrow. His Lordship didn’t find himself able to listen to more than about 20 minutes of the recordings, though, and it was left to the local authority to transcribe them all! It would have been much easier for all, it has to be said, if the transcripts had been prepared before the case!

  5. Tim Haines December 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    Justice for Families Recording Manifesto:

    1) There has been an explosion of CCTV recording in recent years. Ordinary people are recorded in shops, in the street and almost everywhere they go. The right to record extends to all, not just public authorities and large corporations.

    2) Recording leaves no room for doubt as to what is said and done by anyone present in a situation. In essence, it protects both sides. This is hugely important where there may be a dispute as to what was said, or occurred on a particular occasion where the version of events given by ‘professionals’may be preferred by the court to that of a private individual, whose word may be considered to carry less weight.

    3) When a recording is being made for later reference, it enables the individual to concentrate on what is being said and done around him, rather than focussing on taking written notes.

    4) Individuals’ memories of what has taken place in a stressful situation are often flawed. When there is a recording of events, the individual has an opportunity to review what actually happened, and this can prevent erroneous allegations being made against professionals.

    5) There is a natural inclination to accept the word of those in authority who are seen as having no reason to misrepresent happenings, and being professional enough not to be mistaken. In comparison, a parent who has their back against the wall is perceived as likely to distort and misrepresent matters for their own ends. However, one only needs to think of the events following the Hillsborough tragedy to realise that, on occasion, professionals have been known to be more than mistaken in their recording of events in their reports.

    6) Courts are often reluctant to hear evidence in the form of audio recordings. Therefore we recommend that parents make their own accurate transcription of audio recorded conversations, meetings and telephone calls and submit these to court in the form of a witness statement with wording such as the following: “This witness statement is an accurate account of a conversation (meeting / telephone call) that I had with X on the XX/XX/XX”, and complete the witness statement with a Statement of Truth such as “I believe that the facts contained in this witness statement are true”. This then places the content of the recording on file as evidence. Should the other party challenge the content of the witness statement, the parent can then offer the recording to the court in evidence. If the other party attempts to have the recording disallowed as evidence then the court can draw its own conclusions as to why.

    7) Under Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1980, recording in court is not permitted without the court’s permission. Justice for Families in no way condones the illegal recording of court hearings. However, appeals in the Family Court are frequently delayed by the inability of the appellant to obtain a transcript of the judgment in their case. Justice for families encourages parents to apply to the court for permission to record the judgment in their case, perhaps on a mobile phone, in order to make their own transcript for use on a temporary basis, until a formal approved transcript can be prepared. It is suggested that the judge states to the court that recording devices may be switched on, gives their judgment and then orders recording devices to be switched off. All present in the court will be aware that recording is taking place, and only the judge shall speak during that time.

  6. Richard December 10, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    I have been recorded on cases previously – I have no objection to the idea but as mentioned, would prefer I was informed before any recording took place. Ultimately, we as professionals are accountable for the work we do.

  7. pam December 10, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    i have been there to hell and back with social service and even the police. twisting things that was told to them and even making things up not only on me but my children. they themselves sometimes records the covertly but they dont give you a copy. and they can bring it to court as well to use against you. how is this right for them but not for us?
    are we not human with human rights too?

  8. Roger Townsend December 10, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    Let’s remember that not that many years ago parents were not invited to CP case conferences. I would not have had any problem with any conference I chaired or presented information to being recorded. If LA are minuting anyway (I assume they still do) then to have an audio transcript to refer to may add value to the process.
    We have to stop being defensive.

  9. Nicole December 10, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    From my experience working in a Safeguarding unit as a minute taker I would have thought that Local Authorities should be the ones to take the recordings if there were any. Allowing parents to do so could result in the issues highlighted such as clips being taken out of context.

    However, a secure recording could clarify any issues in dispute from the meeting and would assist the minute taker, parents and others involved if there were any later issues.

    In our Local Authority we produce minutes for all meetings and the minute taker is an objective observer, and the tone reflects that.

  10. Lee December 10, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

    I am currently going through care proceedings and the ‘minutes’ we have received have been altered or bits left out. Getting them amended / or trying to is a complete waste of time, normally the ‘minutes’ are received out of the time for amendment to be made.

    If all meetings were audio or video recorded I believe this would encourage trust or more trust from the parents towards the social workers and any other professionals involved in the proceedings, I do not see why this should cause any problems what so ever if everyone is acting and speaking in a professional manner !

    The only reason I can see for ANY resistance to these requests of recording being made is if these ‘professionals’ are being misleading or plan on saying non truths or in some cases, outright lies.

    As not to be biased. I will also add that the recordings would also be admissible to court if the parents themselves are acting in a poor manner towards the social workers or any other professionals involved too, thus safeguarding those professionals too.

    I do not see parents objecting to these recordings (they want them), only social services, does this not show some flawed in the social care system ?

  11. Ms A Magic December 10, 2015 at 11:50 pm #

    I was strongly advised to record the meeting between two investigating officers and myself with regards to my stage 2 complaints. Thank goodness I did as the report they sent back was nothing whatsoeveranything like the complaints I had spoken of and my complaints were twisted saying that vi had said I was at fault. The report they sent for me to sign had 3 complaints on with my false admissions.
    It took me 48 hrs in total to transcribe the whole recording of which they were asked to look into 22 complaints and 14 sub complaints. They were handed all evidence in order evidencing these complaints.
    I sent the transcripts, recordings, their report of my complaints and my amended report of complaints to the complaints team, 2 directors and the LGO ….. the council in question has now agreed to an early review with the LGO.

    I was heart broken to think that these investigators totally had their own agenda and it was only this recording that has proved bad practice in this particular case and my word was proved. If I hadn’t had the recording it would of been a very different story.

    However, if they had done what they were suppose to do as they stated at the beginning of the meeting then the recording would of never had to come to light and would of been destroyed.

    Recording word protect social workers and parents alike.

  12. linda December 11, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    As a new sw i was covertly recorded by a set of parents. They had appeared quite hostile and defensive and a previous sw had told me they could be difficult. Half way through the interview they told me that they were recording me and shamefully i cried. I had been very tense due to the previous workers judgement and to be honest being recorded was scary. The mother felt sorry for me and deleted the recording. With that out of the way we were able to talk to one another and ironed out the issues and it was clear that the previous sw had been judgement and rude to these parents making them defensive.
    I have no problem with the idea of recording interactions especially as it would Provide a full record of the meetings and not a cherrypicked version that too often meets the needs of the authority

  13. Anne December 11, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    We always advise our clients to record every conversation without saying they are recording. This is the only way to ensure that the truth is presented in court. It is surprising how many so-called experts have bad memories.

  14. kereena December 11, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    I think just has police record interviews with children and adults criminal or victim why don’t all meetings be recorded and copyrighted and given to family’s but with rules not to put on social media and if rules broken anyone who has a copy then a crime commited but allowed in court proceedings etc that would protect families’ and social workers will have to do there jobs right.

  15. Elizabeth Barry December 12, 2015 at 5:23 am #

    I advise anyone who seeks advice from me to record all meetings with social workers. I also advise them that they may not legally share that recording whether in whole or in part with a third party, other than their legal advisor, or should it be used as a basis for formal complaint, with the consent of the recorded person or the Court.

    That is the legal right of the person as an individual.

    Any Social work department claiming that covert recording is a breach of a child’s human rights is wrong in law.

    Any individual who publishes in any form, such a recording, is wrong in law.

    Interestingly a case recently came to court where a social worker was found to have lied vindictively on the basis of a covert recording.

    It is the very fact that whilst most social workers are good and decent people, some are inept or dreadful, that causes me to provide the advice I give.

    The Police have been recording interviews since PACE came into force and to protect the interviewees and officers alike.

    Parents are terrified of the power that social workers wield over them, at times vindictively I’m sad to say and inappropriately. To have standard recording would act as PACE has done for the Police, to protect all concerned.

    It might also serve to weed out the unsuitable from the profession.

    I currently have 4 cases within my personal knowledge going through the process of Court proceedings in judicial review, malfeasance in public office and human rights Act matters, on the basis of evidence recorded covertly of social workers acting badly.

    Two of these cases are based on outright provable lies by the social worker which the social work case was based upon.

    I doubt any reputable social worker would want such colleagues working with them.

  16. Andrea December 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    We would all need to be equipped with good quality recording devices and both parties would need to record thereby reducing editing – actual or assumed by either party. All meetings would need to be recorded so that accusations about what was said in the recorded meeting was not what was said in the unrecorded meeting. We would also need admin support whose task would be to type the transcript of the recording ……..likelihood of either of these things given the associated cost?! Further, wouldn’t there need to be associated standards/expectations which would then need monitoring e.g. a social worker who consistently fails to record ; what action will be taken if a client does upload the recording or edited version to an internet site – I can see a whole raft of tasks as a result of recording, I don’t think it’s as straight forward as the discussion implies, we work for the state. I fear that arguments would then focus on recordings and not the issue ie the reason the social worker was there. Finally, we don’t record consultations with doctors; solicitors; accountants; dentists – conclusion, here we go again ………………

  17. Kyle December 13, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    All meetings with management and with clients should be recorded given the recent events in Hampshire.

    No one can be trusted in short!

  18. Anita Singh December 13, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    There needs to be a legislative framework for how such sensitive recordings of data about children would be secured, distributed and shared. Very recently I had a case involved in proceedings and the full transcripts of Joint ABE interviews of children from another family was made available, without any anonymity of the children being afforded. The full details of the children’s disclosures of sexual abuse were not only disclosed to the parents, but the whole family of one of the fathers, who was the alleged perpetrator, also had access to the data, They were free to share this sensitive data, with members of the local community. The people who took priority were the parents in my case, over the child victims of one of those parents.

    Solicitors need to start to focus on the matter of transparency in the courts? Do they suggest that parents should be allowed to make their own recordings of public law proceedings?

    In my experience when information has been disclosed through Court orders, the documents can be released without any control over who gains access to the information once it is released. In the case I have cited, it did untold damage to the child victims, who refused to speak further about what happened. Even though we asked for the reports to be redacted, it was still like shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.

  19. Anita Singh December 13, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    There needs to be a legislative framework for how such sensitive recordings of data about children would be secured, distributed and shared. Very recently I had a case involved in proceedings and the full transcripts of Joint ABE interviews of children from another family was made available, without any anonymity of the children being afforded. The full details of the children’s disclosures of sexual abuse were not only disclosed to the parents, but the whole family of one of the fathers, who was the alleged perpetrator, also had access to the data, They were free to share this sensitive data, with members of the local community. The people who took priority were the parents in my case, over the child victims of one of those parents.

    Solicitors need to start to focus on the matter of transparency in the courts? Do they suggest that parents should be allowed to make their own recordings of public law proceedings?

    In my experience when information has been disclosed through Court orders, the documents can be released without any control over who gains access to the information once it is released. In the case I have cited, the child victims, refused to speak further about what happened. Even though we asked for the reports to be redacted, it was still like shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.

  20. Christina Fisher December 14, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    I have also been to meetings where the documented minutes differ greatly from the notes I have taken at the same time. This has also happened at professional assessments and the choice of recording the sessions at the time might be a way to afford some clarity and consensus about outcomes and planned interventions. It may be that the professional involved has confused some of the detail from one case to another as it is true to say that nobody is perfect.

  21. Saoirse December 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    Is this allowed in Northern Ireland too? Social Workers shouldnt have nothing to fear if they are telling the truth but I have found every time I have asked to record, I have been refused but I have done it secretly because it is within my Right to do so as I am in a room with maybe 2 SW and its for my own safety also. The minutes are not same as what is discussed in the meetings.
    In my research there is law-breaking when someone records another without permission, as long as no minor is present in the room. A minor isnt allowed to be recorded, it is against the law but not against the law when adults are present.