Playing God? No, just doing what He won’t

I GENUINELY don’t understand the pressures that social work services are under. The case of “Baby P” in Haringey is so distressing and awful I find it hard even to watch any of the news reports. But I know that social workers are often in an impossible position – damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Having said that, there can surely be no excuses for the appalling failure of care in this case. And I am left asking the same question that I always ask whenever such a case emerges: why aren’t very young children living in threatening situations taken permanently into care and adopted to caring, loving couples?

There are certainly plenty of such couples, childless for one reason or another, who could offer these tragic children the love and protection to which they have a right. So am I wrong in assuming that social workers tend to give the benefit of the doubt to biological parents in such cases? I ask this as a genuine query, because this isn’t an area I’m remotely expert in. Someone who physically abuses a child, or who allows someone else to physically abuse their child, or who is leading a chaotic lifestyle as a result of drug use, has no moral right to continue to be that child’s parent, and any legal rights to be a parent must surely come under scrutiny.

When I worked as a press officer for Strathclyde Regional Council, the social work department came in for a huge amount of criticism from the media when it removed a baby from a family in Glasgow’s west end and adopted the child to a couple living in another part of the region. How dare social workers play God? screamed the front pages. Return the child to its proper home, they demanded.

Having learned of some of the appalling circumstances of the case,  I felt this was one of the few occasions when social workers had undoubtedly done a good thing, the right thing. The real tragedy was that the biological parents were allowed to retain care of their older children.

Baby P was in the care of brutal, evil monsters, one of whom happened to be his biological mother. No doubt there are those who will offer apologia on their behalf: they were ill-educated, poor, socially excluded. Undoubtedly there was drug or alcohol misuse involved.

I don’t care. They have no excuses for their monstrous behaviour. Whatever punishment they have to endure, it cannot be enough.

Social workers playing God? With all respect to the Almighty, it was He who decided that children can be born to, and be in the care of, witless imbeciles barely capable of looking after themselves, let alone a vulnerable  child. If social workers choose to remove such children – permanently – from such a situation, then they would not be playing God: they would be doing a far, far better job.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Playing God? No, just doing what He won’t

  1. “So am I wrong in assuming that social workers tend to give the benefit of the doubt to biological parents in such cases?”

    Here’s what Hillingdon council (picked at random from a quick google) say about this. “Social workers can only consider asking the court to remove your child from the family home if they believe they are in immediate and serious danger. The Children Act recommends that children stay at home wherever possible.”

    This is the Children Act 1989, and this particular recommendation was not one which was changed by the Children Act 2004.

    This is an absolutely and almost unimaginably horrifying case, but the ‘benefit of the doubt’ being given to children staying with their biological parents is not one which social workers have come up with on their own, but one which experts recommended (including in the review after the Victoria Climbie tragedy) and MPs, including you, voted for.

    Changing the law in the way you seem to be suggesting as a response to one case is likely to cause more misery and suffering, not less.

  2. Johnny Norfolk

    I thought Browns reaction at PMQs was a disgrace. It just confirms my dislike of him.
    It is children we are talking about. It happened 15 months ago and there has been no action. There has been a problem with this council before and all we get is more and more reports and no action.
    Sweeping changes must be made the complacent attitude of the government reflects what Labour are all about. talk and no action.
    Every part of this government is a mess.

  3. Donkey Kong

    I notice you’ve completely failed to defend your own Prime Minister from the criticism he’s faced. Speaks volumes…

  4. No doubt there are those who will offer apologia on their behalf: they were ill-educated, poor, socially excluded. Undoubtedly there was drug or alcohol misuse involved.

    I don’t care. They have no excuses for their monstrous behaviour. Whatever punishment they have to endure, it cannot be enough.

    On this, I agree with you wholely and without reservation. These people should never see freedom again. There can be no excuse.

    I have friends who rarely attended school. One of them is on disability benefits permanently because of arthritis so bad he can’t open his hands. He has a son, and now a grandson, and despite being barely able to stand would defend them to the death. Being uneducated and poor cannot be excuses. It does not take education or money to be human.

    Drugs and alcohol are choices: those who choose to lose their senses through either should be prepared to take the consequences. No excuses.

    And yet, I cannot agree that social workers should remove children as they see fit. In this case, sixty visits by social workers did not find a problem even though the child’s injuries were beyond horrific. Existing powers were more than sufficient. A paediatrician failed to spot a broken spine – a broken spine.

    This child should have been removed from the creatures tormenting him and the laws to do that are already in place. More won’t help. More powers will only lead to more cases of children being removed for things like being a bit on the chubby side, which is deemed unhealthy. For the record, I was a butterball up to puberty then turned into a pin. I’d have been removed from my parents under the current obesity hysteria.

    But I’m digressing. The thing calling herself ‘mother’ and her two vicious thugs are entirely to blame for what happened to this child. Social services are to blame for not spotting it, and heads should roll there, but the full blame for the injuries to baby P (I wish they’d give this child a first name at least. He deserves that much) lies with those three, and any apologists should join them in prison.

  5. “… why aren’t very young children living in threatening situations taken permanently into care…” – you must know the answer to your own question. At its heart lie the anti-state, anti-PC, freedom at any price brigade who claim that the state shouldn’t interfere in people’s lives.

    When I suggested some time back on this blog that the state has a duty to protect its children (by which I clearly meant children living in its domain and not children it “owns”) I was roundly castigated by the representatives of this brigade who comment here so regularly.

    The belief that children are, in some way, the property of their parents, who are therefore free to bring them up exactly how they choose, is widespread in the UK. But such a belief when taken to its limits can lead to all sorts of abuses both physical and mental. Children are people not possessions.

    This isn’t simple, there are lines to be drawn and judgements to be made by human beings. Mistakes will sometimes be made. The only people who make no mistakes are those who never do anything.

    In cases such as these the pressure on social service departments to leave children with their natural parents is immense. It’s unwise to condemn the whole system or to legislate on the basis only of one or two sensational cases however horrific.

    David Cameron’s failure to back off at PMQs yesterday and to use, if what I’ve read is true, four out of his six questions on this case smacks of a disgraceful attempt to make political capital out of the situation. Did he think there were no other pressing questions to be asked?

  6. David Walsh

    I agree. Ditto Cleveland – and I was a Cleveland County Counsillor in that time. Hard to say who were the bigger monsters then – the media or the national politicians who spied a ‘human interest’ link, and got it totally wroing.

  7. iain ker

    why aren’t very young children living in threatening situations taken permanently into care
    —————————————————————-

    My sister was a social worker in central Scotland for many years. Her answer to that would be ‘…and where are you going to put them?’

    The disgrace (for the nation) is that there are thousands upon thousands of children who are at risk from their parents.

    One example- There is a too large section of society who think nothing of going out to the pub and (illegally) leaving pre-school age children at home alone. Go to a pub near a sink estate on a Friday night if you dare – do you think all the couples there have hired babysitters for the evening?

    Where are the thousand upon thousands care places.

  8. Paul Williams

    Re: Brian Hughes: “David Cameron’s failure to back off at PMQs yesterday and to use, if what I’ve read is true, four out of his six questions on this case smacks of a disgraceful attempt to make political capital out of the situation.”

    Well instead of saying; ‘if what I read is true’ why don’t you actually watch the full exchange on the BBC website and it will become clear why David Cameron acted the way he did.

    Cameron asked a simple and very valid question, about an obviously failing local authority regarding a subject that has caused a lot of anger up and down the country. Brown’s responses were inadequate and crass.

    Twice the (Labour) Speaker had to remind heckling Labour MPs that they are discussing the gruesome death of a 17-month-old toddler. Cameron clearly was struggling to control his temper, and rightly so, his question deserved an answer: why should this baby’s death be investigated by the same council who supposed to be looking after him and who failed in Climbie case? If you think that an opposition MP trying to bring the government to account over what is a disgraceful avoidable tragedy then good! More of the same please.

    Brown started off PMQs by telling the Conservatives to get in the real world, going by yesterday’s exchanges it’s the Labour MPs who need to get in the real world and sharpish.

  9. Iain – “My sister was a social worker in central Scotland for many years. Her answer to that would be ‘…and where are you going to put them?’”

    Valid point, Ian, but as far as very young children and babies are concerned, there are plenty couples waiting to adopt. I accept that with older children it’s far more difficult.

  10. “there are plenty couples waiting to adopt” but are there plenty of snoopers available and empowered for example to “go to a pub near a sink estate on a Friday night” and discover which people there are parents who have left their children home alone?

    And are there plenty of people available to decide if these children should therefore be removed from their parents and into the care of these alleged “many couples”?

    And are there plenty of people capable of assessing the suitability of these “many couples”?

    And are the criteria for any of this especially clear?

    And would the Daily Mail approve of such snooping?

  11. Social workers, social workers and more social workers to blame. Weren’t there at least three doctors invovled in this, one of them a paediatric consultant who – for whatever reason – was not able to attend case conference, who made her previous report ‘available’, whatever that means, and who now refers to her not receiving minutes of the case conferences as a clear ‘systemic’ failure but who apparently never had a system of asking her secretary to get the minutes for her about a case she now says attracted her concern?

    Enough said, and I only say that to make my point. Clearly I don’t know what went on – we should wait and see what the enquiry says before pointing the blame at the social workers involved. The whole ponit of the Children’s Act 2004, and the Safeguarding boards was that whoever is involved should take responsibility.

  12. Donkey Kong

    Still no defence of the Prime Minister eh, Tom? Can’t blame you for holding grudges against the idiot, of course.

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