Rotherham: Truth and Politics

The only time I read my local paper is at the Indian takeaway. Whilst waiting for my korahi chicken yesterday evening, I disinterestedly flicked through the familiar mix of parking problems, noisy neighbours and oversubscribed schools. I nearly skipped the article buried on page 11 about a man who died after an error from his GP, because I was pondering whether to order a popadom. Then I stopped and read it: it was my GP.

Our doctor is kind, caring and hard-working. He treats people as individuals and always makes time for them. On this occasion, the surgery computer system did not indicate that the prescriptions for the drugs his elderly patient required for a heart condition had stopped after the man was released from hospital. Several months on, he relapsed and sadly died. The coroner praised the doctor for his honesty. I can’t recall the actual verdict but the death could have been prevented.

Today’s Daily Telegraph didn’t lead with an avoidable death or for that matter any death. The case of foster carers who allegedly had children in their care removed from them because they were UKIP members has run on all media. It’s been top of 5Live news all day, for example. You would expect Nigel Farage to have an opinion but Michael Gove has swiftly weighed in too. As I write, Milliband is being quoted. Cue outrage at social work.

If UKIP membership is the only reason why these children were moved, I don’t agree with it. They should have stayed where they were. The council said on the news this morning that the children were going to move on anyway. This may be the case. However, the original Telegraph report says the boy was moved the following day and his two sisters soon after. If this is accurate, it does not sound like a planned move to me.

I qualify my remarks with ‘if accurate’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the report does not appear to have any corroboration from other sources. They may exist but it’s based heavily on the carers’ account. I thought journalists cross-checked, especially on a headline story, but this is different.

Secondly, it doesn’t chime with my experiences over the years. Judgments about the capabilities of  carers are never made on the basis of a single piece of information, unless of course it relates to a child protection matter or allegation, in which case prompt action must be taken to safeguard the child.

In this case, you would like to think that other evidence would have been considered, such as the history of the carers over their fostering career, the progress of the children in placement, any evidence that the actual behaviour of the carers had negatively impacted on the children (as  distinct from their membership of a political party) and the wishes and feelings of the children. Bear in mind that the Fostering Standards prohibit changes in children’s careplans without consultation unless there is a real and immediate need. If the local authority has other information, they could not possibly break confidentiality and share it publicly, which offers no protection to the storm of media outrage.

Some of the criticism is misinformed. Farage was calling for the immediate reinstatement of the carers but they are still approved carers, it’s just this placement that has ended. Also, he might think about considering the children’s needs first, which is the law after all.

However, what is most significant is why this is a story at all. My doctor will carry on practising, as he should. The competence of the medical profession has not been called into question because a man died. Yet in the case of the Rotherham foster carers, the ability of the entire social work profession has immediately become the issue. This is all the corroboration the Telegraph needed. We know social workers do this sort of thing, don’t we. Leaving aside the fact that as I have already suggested, any judgement is based on incomplete evidence, this is not about the actions of individual social workers or even the authority itself, it’s about how lousy our profession supposedly is in making these judgement.

The implication clearly is that social workers make snap judgments based on dogma and preconceived ideas. More than this, we are driven by political ideology. In much of the coverage, this deeply flawed and prejudiced perspective has not been significantly questioned. This must be the case – what other reason could there be? It shows how little the public still understand about what we do.

This may have been a carefully considered decision or something that was rushed. It could have been a wrong decision. If so, hold up our hands, but it does not prove one single thing about how social work as a whole assesses the needs of children.

You would think the minister, our minister, might at the very least inject a sense of perspective. Not so. “The wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons,” he said. I humbly suggest he cannot know that for certain. But there are bigger issues at play here and it suits him to use the profession for which he is responsible for other reasons.

Rotherham is holding a by-election. It’s Labour-held, therefore this decision is the responsibility of the Labour authority even though it would have been made by social workers, i.e. officials not politicians. The assumption that this is a political issue has not been called into question. No coincidence.

Also, the consultation period for government proposals to diminish the significance of culture and origin in decisions about adoption placements is coming to an end. This has been well-trailed over the past year – see some of my previous articles – as a way of removing what the government characterise as impediments to swifter adoption. It’s an important proposal that has considerable opposition as well as its proponents. Whichever position you take, it’s disturbing that a matter about the health and well-being of three little children and public confidence in social work becomes a chance for political points-scoring.  We might look back at this episode in future and ask if anyone truly cares.

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7 Responses to “Rotherham: Truth and Politics”

  1. What was the article about the GP?

  2. Thank you for this sane response. When I saw the story, my immediate response was that there must be more to it, as it doesn’t fit with my experience (as a solicitor) of how social services generally act. Of course removing children from foster caters based *solely* on the membership of a political party (even a less-than-attractive one) would be wrong.

    I wonder whether Gove would, if challenged, support the LA if they sought leave to disclose further information in order to respond to the allegations? (actually, I don’t wonder. I’m sure he’d say he couldn’t interfere in *those* circumstances…)

    • “as it doesn’t fit with my experience (as a solicitor) of how social services generally act”.

      Clearly you have not been on the receiving end of some of modern social work and probably make a good living from the cases they deal with.

      You and some of your own need to personally experience the might of bad social services/ workers, (not as uncommon as you may think), then perhaps your own views will change; may you too get the opportunity to see what is mostly hidden, but now being exposed.

      My views changed radically after the most appallingly bad and harmful (to vulnerable persons included) work. If it were not for the vulnerable persons to consider going public might have been supported, as this is needed in an area where justice is near impossible. It is not just social services who wish to protect, in deeming confidentiality necessary for this. But they do not protect actually as the public are beginning to thankfully realise from the MSM.

  3. “The competence of the medical profession has not been called into question because a man died. Yet in the case of the Rotherham foster carers, the ability of the entire social work profession has immediately become the issue”

    That’s a good point. This may reflect the fact that citizens have far more rights and safeguards against professionals’ malpractice when they deal with the medical profession (or the police for that matter) than when they deal with social workers.

    Also, I would love to hear the children’s birth parents’ and wider birth family’s opinions about this story. The fact that the reporters didn’t bother to ask them (Unless I’ve missed something) shows just how dehumanised birth parents are in the social work system. The foster family (the one affiliated with UKIP) is ingenuously referred to as the children’t family. Shame.

  4. “The competence of the medical profession has not been called into question because a man died. Yet in the case of the Rotherham foster carers, the ability of the entire social work profession has immediately become the issue.”

    Bad outcomes are easier to measure in the medical profession too. Amongst the various things we don’t know about this case is whether moving on was a bad outcome for the children, yet it is assumed that it was.

    Being an optimist, two good things came out of this.

    Firstly the criticism of Social Services was so hysterical and ill informed that it really showed how stupid the critics are.

    Secondly UKIP doing well in the polls is bad news for the Tories, so maybe it was all a leftie plot after all.

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