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‘Munby ruling fuels the idea that social workers are just child snatchers’

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.

Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

About Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

Camilla Pemberton is Community Care's children's editor

4 Responses to ‘Munby ruling fuels the idea that social workers are just child snatchers’

  1. Jim Greer 11 September , 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I disagree with Nushra in this case. Firstly, a baby has no concept of the idea of privacy. Secondly, people appear on television and social media all the time in distressing circumstances and not always with their permission.
    The Munby decision can only help social work. The public is capable of understanding the complexities of social work decisions if it is given information. The secrecy which currently surrounds decisions about these issues seriously undermines public confidence in social work.
    We would not tolerate a society in which Police could arrest people, take them away without giving a public reason for this and then gag their family from speaking in public about it. Asking people to trust social workers judgement is an unreasonable request to make on the public by any profession that has the power to remove people from their homes. If someone is arrested for rape or an equally serious crime then that involves an invasion of their privacy. However, that needs to be weighed up against the need to assure the public that the process of justice is fair and transparent and that we don’t live in a Police state.
    Rather than criticising this decision we should actually be asking for more information about child protection decisions to be made public. We know why a person is arrested so why can’t we told why a child is removed- at least the category of concern.
    We live in a public society now with video cameras on everyone’s phone and the whole world connected by social media. The overall effects of these media is to greatly curtail how much of people’s lives can be considered private. Videos like the one in this case will become much more common.
    If people in child protection case want to discuss their case in public they should be free to do so. However, social workers should also have the same freedoms to discuss in public why they make the decisions they do.
    Munby’s decision to make family hearings to be open to public scrutiny is an important step towards improving public understanding of what social workers do and building public confidence in social work. As a profession we must embrace change, utilise social media positively and be underside to expose our work to public scrutiny.

    • Warren Marris 11 September , 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      I must say Mr Geer, I never expected such a positive response. I must agree with you.

      I also feel that it may also help strike some common ground and help iron out issues that have arisen.

      You are indeed right about the Social Media Side as well… From my comment below, you obviously will be aware I am not a fan of the system, but I am fair – I have seen many reports stressing the bad and the ugly side of Social Care, Such as a very recant report in regards to a LA ignoring evidence that two of its Foster Carers were convicted sexual offenders…

      These reports are shocking, and thanks to Social Media often spread fast, but we never hear a positive – We never hear from those of you, who are probably as horrified as the rest of us, about your views…

      It would be good to have something positive for a change and maybe even find that there is indeed common ground to try and correct these issues.

      Mr Geer, You have gave me hope that we may actually be able to achieve something grand.

  2. Warren Marris 11 September , 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    While I appreciate that there are concerns from many in Social Care that the Munby judgement tars them all as “Child Snatchers” – And this would be an unfair judgement – It has been my sad experience to find that not everything is black and white.

    There are many great Social Workers out there struggling against the odds as they do not have the frontline resources that are needed to, Frankly, keep families together – They are always under pressure to hit targets and too much is based on “Opinion” over evidence in Care Cases.

    However, I must stress that the Public at large will have a better view of what Social Care are actually doing and in some cases – This may actually save lives.

    I can speak of one case I know of – I shall not mention names, of a man who was known to be domestic violent and extremely neglectful to his children… Social Care took the Man and his partner to court and successfully took the child to care…

    This case, happening before Munby was behind closed doors and this man then continued to have children… Continued the same pattern, and after 6 years had lost 5 Children to care, One of whom dies after 4 weeks of being removed.

    If the Munby Ruling had been in place before – This man would NEVER have been able to do this as his name and the case details would have been public.

    It does even without Munby though, beg the question – HOW?

    My own experiences have left me soured towards the system… But we should also face facts… This is not going to be an easy fix and Munby can only be a first step.

    We do need a more open and transparent care system, but we also need to see so much more… Removing the secrecy is just a first step – And means that mistakes will be seen…

    But the mistakes are not just in Social Services, but also in the NHS, Police, Benefits, It is a wide ranging problem.

    Munby is merely a sticking plaster on a very difficult problem.

    But it is the first step to a cleaner system.

    I would ask anyone who does work in Social care to please come and visit my Facebook page and drop me a line, I am always interested to hear the other side of the story – As I have stated openly, I am distrusting of the system – But I always wish to portray a balanced view and any opinions of the subject i raised here would be appreciated.

  3. Andrew Faulkner 12 September , 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I’ve just completed my Masters in Social Work as part of the Step Up program. My dissertation was entitled ‘Framing’ Social Work: Constructing Public Opinion Through Newspaper Bias. I agree with Nushra’s stance on this issue, especially with her assertion that newspapers are ‘drip feeding negativity into the public conscience’. Part of my dissertation included a thematic analysis of six national newspapers (the Daily Mail was one) and my analysis concluded that social work is still being portrayed negatively after decades of media reporting. However, I feel that the blame does not lie solely at the feet of the newspapers. I believe that until our ruling bodies (BASW and TCSW) start co-operating with the press, as the police do, we will continue to get bad publicity. It is time for us, as a profession, to start employing full time media representatives that not just give sound bites to the media when a serious case hits the headlines but also drip feeds positive social work articles to the press over a sustained period. BASW and TCSW are letting social workers down; it’s time they decided on the image that they want to portray to the public and then actively promote it to the media.