Editorial Comment: A Difficult Job Well Done

The story of Nicola and Mark Webster, who have been allowed to take home their five-month-old son Brandon for the first time this week, has been portrayed across the media as a victory for parents against overzealous professionals and a biased system.

But cases like these are never about winners and losers. They are about children, and ensuring that they are allowed to grow up as safe as possible. What is too often lost in the reporting of such cases is that the professionals involved are performing a difficult, but often controversial, job. And the “bias” in the child protection system amounts to no more than placing the interests of the child above those of other parties, including the child’s parents.

Norfolk Council should be congratulated for the way it responded to the judge’s decision to allow Brandon’s parents to tell  their story in the media.

Rather than being caught on the defensive, the council has confidently explained the grounds for its concerns about the Websters as parents, referring to the 2004 court hearings that resulted in their three older children being taken into care and to subsequent medical reports, which state that neither Nicola Webster nor child B (who suffered multiple fractures) suffered from brittle bone disease. Importantly, Norfolk’s director of children’s services has been unashamedly forthright about the council’s priorities: putting the best interests of the child first and keeping families together wherever possible.

Few of the newspaper reports mentioned that it was the council that actually invited the court to approve the interim care plan that allowed the Websters to take Brandon home. Despite its concerns about the past, the council decided the Websters’ situation was sufficiently different now to warrant giving them another chance, albeit under intensive supervision.

For a council still recovering from the fallout of the Lauren Wright case, this positive approach to raising public awareness and tackling negative public perceptions of social work is particularly poignant. But what a shame their confidence has not been replicated more widely.

Where is the support from the Association of Directors of Social Services, the British Association of Social Workers or the General Social Care Council for Norfolk’s evidence-based work and sensitive handling of the case? Every opportunity to raise the public’s understanding and perception of the job child protection social workers do should be grasped with both hands.

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