Why the #Rotherham #UKIP scandal is almost certainly a load of codswallop

This morning we awoke to a story that sounded like something from the worst nightmares of Paul Dacre’s feverish imagination. Rotherham Council had reportedly removed three children from their foster carers, based on the carers’ membership of UKIP. Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Ed Miliband have all piled in to condemn the decision. An absolutely shambolic performance in a BBC interview by Rotherham Council’s Joyce Thacker didn’t do anything to dispel the outrage gathering across the media.

But does this story have proper substance? When I read it this morning, there was a distinct whiff of bovine ordure to it. Although I regularly come into contact with looked-after children, I’m not an expert on the fostering process. However, my co-bloggers Ermintrude2 and Abe Laurens are both experienced social workers, and the latter is particularly experienced at working with looked-after children. I promptly sought out their opinions, and their advice has informed this blog post.

There’s a couple of things we already know about the case from the media reports. First, we know that these children were always meant to be staying with the couple temporarily, and there was never any suggestion that this would be a long-term placement. I’d say that’s a big clue from the word go.

We also know that in a previous court case the judge had criticised the council for not adequately attending to the childrens’ cultural needs.

But as well as what we know, we also have to remember what we don’t know. The local authority will have a duty of confidentiality to these children. They won’t be in a position to go into the ins and outs of why they couldn’t continue to be housed by this particular foster family. When I asked Abe Laurens, he commented that, “In my experience such decisions are NEVER made on any single factor alone.” We don’t know what the other factors were.

But there’s something else we do know, and it almost certainly acts as a great big klaxon telling us exactly what this is really about. There’s a by-election in Rotherham on Thursday. A Labour seat is up for grabs, and UKIP are campaigning hard. Funnily enough, Nigel Farage is doing his damnedest to link the decision with the Labour Party.

The UKIP leader said his primary concern was for the welfare of the children and their foster parents, but hit out strongly at the Labour party, despite Today host Evan Davis commenting that the decision was made by “officials” at the council rather than elected representatives.

“This is typical of the kind of bigotry I’m afraid that we get from the Labour party and from Labour-controlled councils….their attempt to close down the debate [over immigration] is just to write off anybody that wants to discuss it as being racist,” said Mr Farage.

And strangely enough, this has come out at the weekend, when the council would be in the least position to come out with a prompt response. What a coincidence!

It’s almost as if this is a media stunt intended to give UKIP a PR coup on the eve of the by-election.

[EDIT: I'm now more of the view that the proximity to the election date is coincidental rather than any deliberate timing, albeit one that's had the effect of massively throwing petrol on a flame. What does seem clear is that the various political parties are engaged in a lot of electoral jockeying on the issue.]

And with Michael Gove and Ed Miliband lining up to give Rotherham Council a verbal kicking, it’s almost as if they’re desperately trying to avoid losing crucial votes to UKIP on Thursday.

Once again, social workers and vulnerable children are being used as a political football by opportunist politicians. What a surprise.

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38 Responses to “Why the #Rotherham #UKIP scandal is almost certainly a load of codswallop”

  1. Don’t forget the foster parents should now be struck off for this stunt, putting the kids and their social worker in the middle of this media shit storm

    • A foster carer who expressed an opinion online about a case I recently misguidedly involved myself in is facing a discliplinary panel (basically she participated in an open Facebook group about the case, and called another foster family “bastards” when she read that they told the girl in their care that her mother didn’t want her — the mother is a friend of hers and she previously fostered that girl), so it is highly likely that this foster family could be barred from fostering again.

  2. What an absolute bunch of shits.

  3. Listened to that interview and you’re right, Ms Thacker’s performance was shambolic: she was caught on the back foot from the outset; not that I think I could have done better — I’d probably curl up and die if I ever had to face that kind of live grilling.

    Well done on digging deeper; and shame on the BBC for falling for it … but hey, this is the BBC we’re talking about, right? Trusted journalists — not.

  4. Mmmm in my experience ‘emergency’ ‘short term’ placement’s can and do run into many months and even years in Rotherham. Your social worker advise is not the norm in Rotherham. Knowing Rotherham better than most I can say the story this morning is eminently believable.

  5. Rotherham’ s record on child protection is appalling and has been for years. It is well known that if you weren’t a Labour Party member you couldn’t get a job. Joyce Thacker admitted the reasons for moving the children on radio this morning. She had a bad record in Bradford. A bit more research on your part before you start blogging might help.

  6. err… WHO took the children away? Not UKIP… and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council removed the children because the couple’s political affiliation was seen as being at odds with the youngsters’ European backgrounds. So what has UKIP to do with that decision?

  7. I don’t like UKIP for several reasons, and voted primarily in the recent “police” election (boy was that polling station lonely) to keep the UKIP-associated “candidate” out of office.

    But this is – or could be – a disturbing case. Unfortunately your blog post hasn’t added any new facts to what is out there. You’ve said “…it’s almost as if…” a few times, and concluded it must be an election PR stunt. With, erm, no proof or evidence. And wanting it to be an election PR stunt is not actual proof.

    Will wait for an enquiry report before seeing “…what we don’t know”, rather than cast around rather desperately for “It must be UKIPs fault because, well, UKIP” angle.

  8. I believe removing these infants from their foster homes was a bad decision.

    We are told that Social Services would have weighed up multiple, perhaps competing factors in arriving at this decision. Really? Including the developmental harm done to the children due to separating them from guardians with whom bonds and attachments will have formed?

    There are few things more damaging to the intellectual, emotional, social and moral development of kids than frequent moves from one placement to another in infancy and formative years.

    The interests of the kids must be paramount and there must have been a very large counterweight to swing the balance in favour of removal of these infants from their foster care placement. What was this decisive balancing factor? We are unlikely to ever know because, as is usual, Social Services will hide behind the cloak of a duty of confidentiality owed to the kids. This way, they avoid accountability and proper public scrutiny of their decisions.

    • Sorry, are you saying Social Services shouldn’t adhere to confidentiality? I think you’ll find they have very strict legal and professional duties in that regard.

      • No, I am not saying Social Services should breach their duty of confidentiality.

        What I am saying is that Social Services will most probably hide behind that duty of confidentiality to avoid accountability. I believe it should be feasible to defend a good decision without breaching confidentiality.

        Confidentiality is often used to avoid accountability for bad decisions and by rogues.

      • But that’s just it. They probably can’t defend the decision without breaching confidentiality. There could be all kinds of reasons why it wasn’t a suitable placement, but they wouldn’t be allowed to list them in public. They just have to stand there and take a kicking from the media.

    • As I said, confidentiality is used to evade accountability.

      • No, confidentiality is a duty. It has to be adhered to regardless of the rights and wrongs.

        In this case and in many others where the media decides to put the boot into services, its main effect could well be to force the council to stand there being pummelled from all sides with no right of response.

      • It’s a duty owed to the kids, not to Social Services the organisation.

        Social Services has a duty to protect the identity of the kids, not to protect Social Services, which is a publicly funded organisation.. How might Social Services disclosing the basis of their decision breach the confidentiality owed to the kids?

      • Erm, quite possibly hugely.

  9. Given that this post is expertly informed by social workers I’d say the Rotherham case is utterly believable, given that the obvious inclination here is conjecture and baseless conclusions to fit your own agenda.

    • Thank you for the ad hominem smear on my integrity based on the fact that I work with children. though for the record I’m not a social worker. As for Abe Laurens, he’s an expert in this particular field. He’s also posted on this blog pointing out the various things about this case that don’t stack.

      • I have commented upon this on other sites, but as you claim to be guided by experts, I think I will comment as a lowly Conservative voting social worker, with 16 years child protection experience, and eight or so in fostering and adoption.

        I obviously have sympathy for social workers who are put on public trial when something goes wrong, and I hope, on the basis of what has been revealed so far, and doubt that social workers, particularly the child’s social worker was enthusiastic about moving these children. Social Workers are employees, if their employers tell them to remove a child from a foster placement, unless such an order was in some sense unlawful, they do not have the right to refuse. They do not have independent discretion.

        However in children’s social work and in particular in fostering and adoption there is an enormous amount of idealogy. To state it simply if I had a thousand pounds for everytime I have heard a Labour Party member or a trade union official within the local authority state that, ‘ if you vote Conservative you should not be employed by the Local Authority’, I could have retired in 1990.

        You are right to say that we do not know, and we will probably never know exactly what underpins all of this but we do know some things.

        These children were it is true placed in an emergency, and I think there is good reason to suppose that the matter is in care proceedings. Those proceedings seem to have started seven weeks ago, and if an EPO was made there would have been a second hearing about six weeks ago. There would have been a third hearing about two weeks ago. There would have been a statutory review within a few days of the EPO and another review within 28 days. These two reviews would almost certainly have recommended that the placement continued as a short term placement, but recognising that the long term plan would be both something else and probably somewhere else.The something else would probably be adoption for the youngest two, (if they were not retrurned to their family), and possibly fostering long term for the oldest. It is important to note that all three children were together, and this is considered to be very important, and a big plus for this placement, among the multiplicity of things to consider. The foster carers would be expected to be present at the review, and, if possible and safe, the parents.

        I can see no evidence from what the carers said of any proposal to move before about a week ago, and nothing the Children’s Director said really contradicts this; the two accounts may only disagree in terms of what is meant by consultation and planning. There would be no confidentiality issue arising from the statement, ‘and the Independent reviewing Officer’ recommended a change of placement at the last review’, yet the Director does not say this.

        The children are represented in the Court by the Guardian ad litem, and at least in the areas I have practiced, they are very reluctant for children to be moved during the proceedings, particularly if the children are placed together. It is long established case law that if the child’s placement is to be changed during proceedings the Guardian must be informed, and the Guardian as a party to the proceedings can summons the LA back to court to justify its actions. I would assume, as the Director states she received legal advice, that she did this, but in which case I am surprised that she does not say, ‘and this action had the agreement of CAFCAS, who represent the chilren in care proceedings’. I do not think this would be a breach of confidentiality.

        We do know that the oldest child was seperated from its siblings. There are occassions where this is necessary but it is a surprising thing to do so early in care proceedings.I have no idealogical position about same race placements, but must state that such idealogy is commonplace in family placement teams, but I willingly conceed that in the best of all possible worlds, the child should be with people who have as much in common with the child as possible. Yet the Director, who has seperated these siblings, does not say, but we managed to place them with families who can meet their cultural/religious/other needs more appropriately than the emergency carers’. It would not be a breach of confidentiality for her to make this statement.

        I do not agree with your allegation that all of this is politicing by UKIP, or by the Foster Carers, acting on behalf of UKIP. Farange is a very accomplished performer, but when this story broke he was angry, and used expletives, and I think acted entirely emotionally. I think the reactions of The Director in her TV interview, and also Michael Gove and Ed Milliband, all seem to be those of people caught on the hope. The conspiracy theory that the story was saved up for the weekend, for maximum publicity fails to take into account the fact that the last child was removed on Friday after school. the younger siblings were removed earlier in the week. This is normal family placement practice. You would not want the child to be moved after school, stop overnight with the carers, go to school, then come back to the foster placement. Moving on Friday gives the child 48 hours to adapt to the change of placement before going back to school. it would only be then that the carers would be free to have their views expressed, and this accounts i believe for the lateness on Friday of the story breaking.

        Finally it has to be said there is no essential disagreement between what the Director is saying and the carers are saying. They are both saying that the removal was the consequence of the UKIP membership of the carers, and UKIP policy on immigration.

        If i wanted to, and I would have to be crazy to want, foster for Rotherham, I would not tell my assessor that I voted Conservative, as it was so often stated in Red Riding, ‘This is the North, we do what we want here’.

      • Thank you for this considered response, which although differing in view from me, comes as something of a relief after a weekend of listening to people screaming about Common Purpose and “your agenda” (for the record, I DON’T have an agenda).

        For the record, I’m also coming round to the view that the proximity to the Rotherham by-election is probably coincidental, though I also suspect it’s done a great deal to throw petrol on the flame.

        At the moment I’m starting to feel that this is a news story that needs less heat and more light. A lot of people are shouting and few people are talking. To that end I should be publishing a guest post in the next couple of days on the topic from a care leaver. Would you also like a guest post on this blog?

  10. Interesting that Mrs Thacker is a graduate of the Common Purpose programme and was a project director on one of its courses, according to another blog dealing with politics. Remind us exactly what kind of thing Common Purpose promotes? Does it promote Britain’s continued membership of the EU? Does it think that people opposed to membership of the EU are somehow less than desireable? I think we should be told. But for some illumination – try looking here, why don’t you:- http://www.cpexposed.com/document-library

  11. One or two people with, necessarily very limited, experience of children’s care services on a blog site does not amount to experts on a complex subject; it is already becoming clear that there are problems with ‘experts’ and their use.

    I also do not accept that it is impossible to provide more robust reasons for removing children than the spokesperson for Rotherham gave yesterday, yet not breach confidentiality. My own experience in the last 5 years of social services / work leads me to seriously distrust the skills, abilities and motivations of social workers and to be concerned with the kinds of people at managerial level involved. It gets worse and worse and the Rotherham case has really highlighted well what the public needed to know.

    Once the public (and now MP’s) start engaging and understanding how social services make worrying decisions, investigating the experiences of those at the ‘receiving end’ then maybe social services will be subject to a root and branch review of the whole system.

    There is a need to stop the nonsense stated about ‘difficult decisions’ (many decisions are difficult) and look at how these decisions are made and challenge the ‘hidden’ poor decisions and, from my own experience, lies. I should say in modern times this applies to some in other professions too, because careers are at stake. But the difference is having children was not given to people by society or social workers- it is part of nature and biology- and playing God is a serious defect in the lives of children and their families unless actual harm is proven to have occurred.

    To deride foster carers for speaking out because it upsets social services…says it all really.

  12. Joyce Thacker was quite clear.She said the children were removed because as UKIP members the foster carers were against multiculturism.Not much secrecy about that so why pretend there were other reasons that prevented her revealing the truth about this couple?
    M/S Thacker never said there were other reasons for removing the children so why do social workers making comments pretend that there were? Never mind,membership of the Tory party may soon disqualify foster carers from taking in foreign children .IN FACT IT PROBABLY HAS ALREADY BUT WE JUST HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD !

    • M/S Thacker never said there were other reasons for removing the children

      True, but if there were, she wouldn’t be allowed to say so, because of confidentiality.

      Never mind,membership of the Tory party may soon disqualify foster carers from taking in foreign children .IN FACT IT PROBABLY HAS ALREADY BUT WE JUST HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD !

      No, it really hasn’t. And I’m not sure the use of CAPITAL LETTERS makes your statement more persuasive.

      • So the options are;

        a) There were no other reasons for the removal of the kids from the foster parents’ care other than the foster parents’ membership of UKIP
        b) There were other reasons but these can not be made public due to the duty of confidence owed to the kids
        c) There were other reasons and these can be made public without breaching the duty of confidence to the kids
        d) There were no other reasons but Social Service is going to hide behind a spurious duty of confidence to the kids to evade accountability for a very poor decision.

  13. ZARATHRUSTRA:- M/S Thacker could quite easily have said “there are other reasons for moving the children not just UKIP membership” couldn’t she ? That statement breaks no rules at all .But she did not because there were none!Also if it was all as confidential as you claim she could not even have revealed that she acted because she did not like UKIP .Lastly, I am a rotten typist so I often type capitals without meaning to and as long as it still makes sense I can’t be bothered to change them.Sorry if they offended you !

  14. Thanks for your offer, and yes I would happily contribute to a any blogg relating to care and social work.

    • Cheers. I’ve sent you an invite to register with the site. As with any new author, it’ll go through moderation before publishing, but so long as it adheres to the site rules I’ll publish it uncut.

      If you have any problems, drop me a line on thus_spake_z at hushmail dot com.

  15. Zarathustra, a blog from a ‘token’ care leaver?

    There is a serious need to have a serious forensic piece of research to look at what has been the fate of children subject to ‘protection’ and taken into state care since the Children’s Act, which has clearly influenced direction of travel in social work.

    There is no need to have token care leavers experiences. John Hemming MP too has care leavers willing to give their experiences and he is a rare MP asking questions, which until the Rotherham case were hidden issues.

    At the current time there is nothing to suggest that state removal of children is for many other than a case of ‘from the frying pan into the fire’. Also there are cases where it is clear social workers judgement calls were worrying; they are well able to embelish ‘evidence’ with a few well founded text book phrases which court judges would not question as not fact, unless parents have equal to provide witnesses and give evidence as the state apparatchik.

    • No, it’s not from a “token” care leaver. It’s from a care leaver who happened to offer. If I was only interested in token responses I wouldn’t be inviting the previous commenter to make a guest post.

  16. This comment thread has gotten rather heated, and since that’s not a tone of the site I feel comfortable with, I’m now going to close this thread for the time being.

    Don’t worry though, with at least two more posts planned on the Rotherham case, there’ll be more than enough opportunities for people to yell at each other.

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