Jenny Molloy: Dispatches’ covert filming gives children in care further reason to doubt adults

'Vicky' was not exposing abuse and should not have secretly recorded her colleagues’ angst and concern about vulnerable children

By Jenny Molloy

Dispatches. Scandal. Exposure of poor practice. If I had commissioned that documentary with that brief I would be telling the filmmakers to return to the drawing board. Scandal that wasn’t.

What it was, though, was a gross betrayal of trust. It made me furious thinking of the children and families who have social workers, for the children and families whose confidential situations were openly shared on national TV, the children and young people who are looked after, and the social workers who had welcomed ‘Vicky’ into their teams.

Social workers deceived

Children and young people who are cared for by the state build strong relationships with their social workers, this only being possible through sound emotional and professional investment in them. As a care leaver, had that been my social worker deceived in that way, I would have wanted Vicky hauled before HCPC. Wouldn’t you if your parent had been deceived and shamed in front of millions of viewers?

The Children in Care Council of Birmingham have shared their feelings loud and proud. They feel exploited. Exploited by a social worker. They have found a voice in the storm. ‘Vicky’ has succeeded in giving children and young people in the care of Birmingham another seed of doubt that adults are not to be trusted. Should ‘Vicky’ be made to justify her poor judgement under fitness to practise rules, the Children in Care Council should absolutely be given the opportunity to share their collective voice as evidence.

I don’t buy ‘Vicky’s’ motive for secretly recording her colleagues’ angst and concern about vulnerable children. Social workers are skilled professionals – at what point in your training does it suggest deceit as sound professional judgement?

I would have a different view had ‘Vicky’ been exposing abuse, as Panorama did with Winterbourne View, but she wasn’t.

What she exposed was an organisation in the process of a significant improvement plan, which involved human emotion. Any leader worth their weight will be ‘holding’ the team and individuals’ emotional cycle of change. I saw nothing that indicated this wasn’t happening. Change to this extent is painful, confusing and evokes fear. There was no cover-up by Birmingham.

There was, however, concern and compassion for children in abundance.

System at breaking point

What ‘Vicky’ did succeed in doing, although by default, was to give the conspiracy theorists background into what happens when risks for children are identified, and ammunition to continue their campaign of hate.

There is much national discussion from parents whose children have been taken into care, of there being no reason for social services involvement. This documentary showed this not to be the case. Children are at risk of abuse and harm, not just in Birmingham, but across the country, and what was clear was that the system, through lack of financial investment and the desecration of all services needed by ‘the poor’, was at breaking point.

Professionally I have first-hand experience of this having opened up a winter night shelter and working within prisons. Desperate people are driven to extreme behaviours and options, with interventions by social workers unable to properly deal with poverty, mental health illness and addiction to name a few. So why are we as a sector accepting this? The junior doctors took extreme action against government intrusion. I don’t see any other option but to plan a campaign to join them.

But guess what, Birmingham children, young people and social workers – there is a lot of love out there for you. The sector supports you, as do the children you care for.

You are significant to those children and to their successful life chances as adults. Do as you say. Hold your head high and crack on with giving your energies to effecting change. My social worker would tell me – feel the pain, grieve and then stand tall and walk forward. And this, social workers of Birmingham, is my message to you.

Jenny Molloy is a care leaver, patron of BASW England and the author of Hackney Child, Tainted Love and Neglected.

3 Responses to Jenny Molloy: Dispatches’ covert filming gives children in care further reason to doubt adults

  1. Sharon Martin June 1, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    So we’ll put – thank you Jenny.

  2. Shelly June 1, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    I have read your above analysis of the recent ‘exposure’ of Birmingham children’s services and in part can see many of your points as being valid. However, I can safely say that your views of children’s services will somewhat differ from those who receive negativity and judgement from a service designed to ‘support’ children and families. To fully appreciate what happened and why it happened you must critically analyse it’s purpose and what can be taken forward from the experience. Your experience of the service sounds one of positivity and care and support which is exactly how it should be,but sadly is not in every case and the fact that key areas of concern were raised about the effectiveness of that particular division go some way into giving insight into how families may have received exactly the opposite. This is not exclusively a Birmingham issue and I am sure teams from other counties could relate to some of those pressures too.
    It is those pressures and target driven forces that create a negative experience for families who feel ‘not listened to’,’ignored’,’ misunderstood ‘ and feel a great misjustice jave been served to them. When a social worker,who given the climate of fear about missing opportunities to identify abuse, is under pressure,over worked and feels unappreciated,it is quite natural to see how mistakes can be made..it could happen to a wide variety of people in all manners of occupation. Sadly not all occupations have the power to tear a family apart and strip people of their human rights like social services do and it is this that leads to the hundreds of complaints received by children’s services annually across the country, mostly because of misrecorded information that unfortunately leads to innocent families being put on to plans which are inappropriate and unachievable,or worse,a child removed.

    Nobody is denying the challenges face by social working teams and nobody is denying their humanity and ability to make human errors, but the fact that there are frequently stories about wrongful removal of children,missed opportunities for children to be saved from abuse and paying the price with their lives does it not make you wonder whether those exact pressures disclosed on the documentary open a window of opportunity to look at social work practices and learn how to ‘get it right’ for families and children by helping those genuinely in need and reducing the ‘victimisation’ of those families who are bluntly doing their best and supporting, oving and caring for their children. Maybe social services could start the process by actively listening to service users and correctly documenting their findings on a case by case basis rather than ‘tarnishing every family with the same brush’ until proven innocent.

  3. Neil B June 2, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    The programme was totally unbalanced & had no context. Concentrating on one particular issue to the exclusion of all other external factors and issues does not, a good documentary make unless you are seeking to sensationalise one particular area which, in this case, has evidently been the aim of C4. No mention then of Central Government’s austerity cuts to local government funding resulting in less money being made available to employ social work staff and staffing cuts but with a clear message that high standards still needed to be maintained. What about the rapid increase in social work case loads across the board? What about the decrease in the number of experienced Social Workers being available? What about the increase in pressure being placed upon Children’s Services by the Family Courts effectively insisting that s20 is now redundant & that the majority of cases where s20 has been used should be taken into Court within 6 weeks of the child coming into care thus creating more work and extra pressures? And many more. These are not problems faced by Birmingham Council in isolation. These are problems faced by ALL Councils. Yes, some may not cope as well as others but none the less it is a widespread problem which will only get worse unless the Government addresses the issue. Most Children’s Services are at breaking point which can only lead one way. In addition, the programme appeared to apportion no blame to the health services or to the Police in relation to the tragic deaths of the children referred to in the programme thus creating a total unbalance in terms of the responsibilities shared by services employed in the area of child protection. Whatever happened to that useful concept of Working Together?