Written by Nushra Mansuri (pictured), professional officer at BASW
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, asks how the Munby ruling will lead to greater confidence in the family courts when some newspapers ‘have a malevolent agenda’ when reporting on social work
The Daily Mail’s coverage of the Munby judgement is a prime example of how this landmark ruling could make the job of social workers and other child protection professionals even more precarious.
Lord Justice Munby’s pledge to ensure greater transparency in the family courts has been heralded as a triumph by those opposed to the current restrictions in reporting on care proceedings, but I was left horrified by the Mail’s emotive and misrepresentative reporting.
Cynical propaganda against social workers
The Mail is not privy to all the facts in this particular case and cynically uses the example to fuel propaganda about social workers going after parents with learning disabilities. The main issues involved in the ruling have been largely ignored by the paper, which focused instead on the scenes of an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) being enacted.
The judgement relates only to the issue of the father’s right to post material about the local authority and its social workers, not to whether the decision to remove the child was the right one. This gives credence to the idea that social workers are simply ‘child snatchers’, as opposed to committed to protecting children on behalf of us all.
As far as the Mail was concerned, the distressing footage of a baby being forcibly removed from a distraught mother by social workers was all the proof needed to question the validity of the decision making process.
‘Social media postings do not equate to proper scrutiny’
Of course, we cannot say that mistakes in decision making never happen and when they occur they are of public interest, but random and emotionally charged postings on social media do not equate to proper public scrutiny.
Judge Munby reasons that it is important to maintain public confidence in the family justice system, but can social workers have the same confidence in the media, when certain outlets seem to have a malevolent agenda when it comes to reporting on social work?
The effect of the Munby ruling is likely to defeat its original purpose; the negative spin that certain journalists have given the story merely serves to lessen public confidence in social workers and the child protection system.
‘It drip feeds negativity about child protection’
I was reassured that many comments under the article accused the paper of being unbalanced and not giving the whole picture. But the damage is already done by headlines like ‘Father secretly records harrowing moment six-hour-old baby is taken away by social services’. It drip feeds negativity about social workers into public consciousness.
Granted the Munby judgement itself is lengthy and, at times, more suited to those versed in Latin and nineteenth century English, but it certainly gives journalists and the rest of us insight into the challenge Staffordshire council faced in terms of postings on Facebook and on websites.
Having children removed by the state is one of the most distressing experiences any human could endure, but surely we don’t want to promote the view that it’s okay to broadcast such trauma on social media.
Serious ethical issues
Munby reasons a day-old baby is indistinguishable from other day-old babies, but whether true or not, distressing footage of that child is more than likely indelibly with us, which I’d argue is against their best interests and welfare.
While social workers appreciate the need for transparency in family justice, the ruling poses some really serious ethical issues. These include the protection of the child’s rights to privacy and the protection of some vulnerable people from themselves; they may not fully understand the consequences of telling the world about their family difficulties.
Social workers also need to be empowered to perform the extremely difficult job of protecting children on behalf of society. Clearly the Daily Mail was intending to rally its readers against social workers, despite the fact that they were doing their job in very hard circumstances. Shame on them.