‘Arrogant and Enthusiastic Removers of Children’

Quite emotive words there in the title. It refers to a case reported on in which Lord Justice Wall, who today, according to the Times, takes charge of the family courts described the public perception of social workers.

Interesting then that the Times chooses the headline ‘’Judge in charge of Family Courts criticises ‘arrogant social workers’’. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics but my reading of the quotation given is slightly different.

He said

“What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that.”

So rather, he is explaining a public perception rather than directly making those charges himself. Personally, I think the headline is more than a little misleading.

But no matter, it serves the necessary purpose

The Greenwich case involved a mother known as “EH”, who is seeking the return of her son “R”, aged 5, and daughter “RA”, aged 2, from care.

The children were taken into care in 2008 after the parents had taken RA, then a baby, to hospital, where her left upper arm was found to be broken. Doctors considered that the injuries were not accidental, social services were informed and both children were removed from their parents that day.

Initially they went to live with their maternal grandmother but were moved into foster care after a dispute between the grandmother and their father. Since June last year the father ceased to have any contact with the children and the mother has attempted to separate from him, alleging domestic violence.

Social workers refused to believe that the relationship was over, while rebuffing the mother’s request for help in ending the relationship.

It’s easy to see where the criticism can come in and with that information, it is hard to know the workings behind the scenes. There is a signal being sounded though and it emphasises the difficult choices that have to be made. On the one hand, as the the case of Peter Connolly, there are criticisms about being too trusting of parents who say they are not in relationships and hounding a social worker as a result of a poor decision – and being too harsh by not believing a mother who is saying she has broken off contact with her violent husband who has caused physical harm to their children.

Going back to Lord Justice Wall’s comments and the ‘what social workers do not appear to understand’ part. I would venture a guess that he is mistaken. I think social workers understand VERY well how the public perceive them. In fact, I would consider that is it precisely the constant criticism and ridicule that they are held up to that compounds decisions such as these. No-one wants to see their own face and address published on the front page of the Sun and subjected to the kinds of treatment that social workers who have been more trusting might have been.

It is clear cause and effect and as long as the criticism is expounded against ‘social workers’ in general as opposed to those who are bad social workers, it just makes the situation worse.

So thanks a lot Lord Justice Wall – whether the Times played games with semantics or not, I’m sure your stay will be most enjoyable – certainly in the eyes of the baiting press.

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4 thoughts on “‘Arrogant and Enthusiastic Removers of Children’

  1. I read that news story earlier today. It really didn’t do my blood pressure any good.

    “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t” indeed.

  2. I remember a colleague asking me ‘how come were seen as the bad guys’ when all we try to do is good, often pushing ourselves to and beyond the limit to do so. The kind of comments made by the judge, and the way they were reported by the media in this case provide at least half an answer to the question.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I think the issue is that while noone would doubt there is truly appalling practice happening and it can never be excused – lumping ‘social workers’ together is not entirely helping the public perception – and though I find it easy to depersonalise it – because I don’t work with children and I never became a social worker to up my social ante.. I do worry that it will deter future students.

  4. I think a lot of it has to do with the whole popular perception of Social Workers and Social work in the media and on television. Outside the enclave of the Guardian society section the portrail of the profession is scandalous, particularly in programmes like Eastenders. Other professions may also experience negative press and perception, as you point out in your later post with GPs and Nurses but, at least there are a multiplicity of conflicting characterisations, so for example Doctors can be Caring, intelligent, aloof, detatched, competent or incompetent, hero or villan. Social Workers experience a wholly one sided characterisation which as you say does a lot of damage.

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