Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to ever more bizarre social work stories surfacing in the media during ‘silly season’ and, every year, I’m used to the moral dilemma of whether we should even dignify them with a response, writes Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers.
But this year I have been caught unaware by two stories: a Channel 4 News report last Friday July 20 about organised networks helping families to flee UK social services, followed by yesterday’s Sunday Morning Live, which asked, ‘Should we take children away from problem families?’
We all know the child protection system is not infallible and that, sadly, there will be instances when professionals have made the wrong decisions, but surely we don’t want to question whether protecting children is a legitimate role for the state?
The first report revealed how some families involved with child protection services in the UK are being helped to flee abroad by apparently well organised and established networks. These networks do not accept the legitimacy of family courts and social services to intervene in the lives of children where neglect and emotional abuse are suspected.
Ian Josephs, an 80-year-old UK businessman who helps finance some of the families to ‘escape’, almost came across as a 21st century philanthropist doing his bit for vulnerable families. Worse still, they also laid claim to having a ‘screening service’, which included ‘background checks’ on a family. I am sure this is not what David Cameron meant when he unveiled his vision of the ‘big society’.
Nevertheless, when a member of parliament – in this case John Hemming – is on camera confirming the view that family courts can’t be trusted, and saying he’s also been supporting families in their endeavours to leave the UK, it adds credibility to these networks. And, in contrast, it undermines the work of all child protection professionals.
While still in a state of semi disbelief from the Channel 4 News programme, I was further affronted on Sunday by a panel of experts debating whether social services should remove children from ‘problem’ families. (This was a bit of a double whammy as I strongly disagree with the term ‘problem families’; it tends to pathologise certain individuals and is, in my view, very ideologically driven.)
However, when we are talking about children subject to familial abuse, I would beg to differ with some members of the panel and respectfully ask if these children have a right to life. Surely this is still sacrosanct, otherwise we might as well rip up the Children Act 1989, and all that followed, and withdraw from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
For me, both reports highlight the critical importance of social work having a voice and being able to articulate it. Attacks on the profession aren’t going to go away and we need to be able to start a dialogue with a whole range of people to get our message across. So don’t just get angry – get writing, typing, blogging, lobbying, posting, tweeting and broadcasting so that we are a significant and vocal (albeit minority) voice in these debates.