I see how the debate about Child Protection is getting very confused with mixed messages across the country about what is to be done. This though is what happens when a couple of examples are held up as a barometer which proves the system is not working. Whether it is cases of disgusting abuse or the Italian woman who had her child removed following an emergency caesarean section, you now have the fruits of this polarised debate. No longer based on facts but instead seeking to repair and fix what apparently is not working. On one hand you have social workers and their systems pilloried because there are not enough children in care and so are leaving those kids in danger. On the other, there are too many children in care and the Family Courts are both unfair and unjust.
Who then is right and what can be done to repair it? The problem with this question is that it affirms the system of child protection in our country is broken. This goes against the evidence both nationally and internationally. So, why is this happening now?
We have a tried and tested habit in this country of having national knee jerk reactions to incidents which are rightly condemned when they come to light. The problem though is then people in child protection are vilified and condemned in turn forcing them to look inwards and defend themselves regardless of right or wrong. We then have the ‘experts’ lining up to show the latest tragedy is evidence of systematic failure. As long as this type of emotional response continues you will never improve but merely fiddle which in the end leaves those children that need our help more at risk.
Take the scandals of Children’s Homes in the north east in the 1980’s and the huge public outcry about what was happening to kids in the system. A whole shift occurred towards moving away from institutions to home based solutions. We see in the papers how society is still dealing with the fall out of this and more is to come with the latest and biggest enquiry ever, as reported by the BBC, in Northern Ireland about abuse committed in Children’s Homes. This then inevitably leads to people extrapolating this as evidence today of failings and how their case should be taken up. Now one MP suggests parents should take their kids abroad when faced with enquiries and potential court proceedings! This though is often brought about because the system today is in reality more robust and responsive to concerns raised.
Until a more mature and intelligent debate is had, we will continue along the lines of these knee jerk responses which lead to poor outcomes and bad legislation. The same people who make emotionally charged accusations about failings in social care when a child is murdered by their savage parents or carers are often the same people who attack the system for being out of control and child snatchers. Neither is of course true. People don’t come into the profession to break up families or abandon children. Sometimes things happen which are outside the control or knowledge of social care and indeed society. It does happen and it’s not nice but we should understand that.
But until society and all their representatives seek to improve and not vilify, we will see again tinkering which in the end might make someone’s conscience feel cleansed but will not make an ounce of difference to a Child Protection system which in the UK can always continually look to improve but actually is held up as a model elsewhere across the world.