John Hemming MP encourages mother with history of violence to evade social services

John Hemming MP (Lib Dem, Birmingham Yardley) today made a spectacularly irresponsible and dangerous statement. He encouraged a pregnant woman whose unborn child is on the Child Protection Register, and who has a history of violence and substance misuse, to skip the country to evade social services.

There’s a story in today’s Sunday Express, of what superficially looks like one of those “politically-correct, interfering social workers” stories that the Express is so fond of.

SOCIAL workers want to seize a baby as soon as it is born because they are concerned about the mother’s violent links to the English Defence League.
Durham County Council has told Toni McLeod she would pose a “risk of ­significant harm” to the baby. Social workers fear the child would become radicalised with EDL views and want it put up for adoption immediately….

However, her cause has been taken up by Lib Dem MP John Hemming who, despite his loathing for the EDL, raised it in the Commons. He contrasts her treatment with that of the extremist Islamic cleric Abu Qatada, who was allowed to remain with his ­children when he was briefly remanded on bail earlier this year as the Government tries to deport him.

He said: “It raises a curious question as to why Abu Qatada is allowed to radicalise his children but the state won’t take the chance of allowing Toni McLeod to look after her baby in case she says something social workers won’t like.

“I am very strongly opposed to the EDL, which I believe to be a racist organisation, but I do not think we should remove all of the children of the people who go on their demonstrations, however misguided they may be.”

Mrs McLeod is reportedly considering a move to Ireland to evade the eyes of social services.

John Hemming MP has also commented today about the case on his blog.

I oppose the EDL myself. Mrs McLeod says she now does not support the EDL. My view is that the EDL are generally out for a fight rather than expressing a political position. However, I do not think association with the EDL is good cause to remove a new born child from a mother. She has no real choice but to emigrate because the care system is so orientated towards adoption.

First of all, there’s a concern here because he says, “She has no real choice but to emigrate”. He’s not saying, “Look, you should cooperate with social services, and show them that you’re a capable mother, regardless of your political views.” He’s effectively saying, “Yes, it’s okay to leg it, even though your foetus is on the CPR.”

Also, and there’s a real irony here, the Express seems to have done its homework more thoroughly than Mr Hemming. As with Mr Hemming they state that Mrs McLeod no longer supports the EDL. However, unlike Hemming, they report that she’s now believed to support the North West Infidels, an EDL splinter group that are, if anything, even worse. A couple of months ago five of their members were arrested for inciting racial hatred online. Earlier this week their leader John Shaw was jailed for neglecting his herd of llamas so badly that some of them died of starvation.

Also in the Express article (but again not mentioned by Hemming) are some snippets that perhaps paint a rather different picture of Mrs McLeod than a victim of political correctness.

Mrs McLeod, who is 35 weeks pregnant, is a former leading member of the EDL, in which she was notorious as “English Angel”. The 25-year-old has a string of convictions for violence, including butting and biting a police officer after an EDL march in 2010 and she has been banned from owning dogs after setting a pit bull on a former partner….

Mrs McLeod has posted racist abuse on social networking sites but denies being racist…

Documents seen by the Sunday Express reveal social workers are worried about Mrs McLeod’s previous alcohol and drug misuse, her “aggressive behaviour” and her alleged “mental health issues”…

Mrs McLeod’s unborn child is her fourth, all of them by different fathers, even though she’s only 25, and the first three have already been removed from her care. Still, I shouldn’t be judgemental or make assumptions about that. I’m sure she’s a perfectly good mother when she’s not biting police officers or setting dogs on people.

Mr Hemming presumably has read the Express article, since he’s linked to it from his blog. Despite all that deeply worrying information about Mrs McLeod’s behaviour, he’s happy to make a media statement enocouraging her to leave the country so social services can’t monitor her.

Well done Mr Hemming, way to put cheap political point-scoring above the safety of a vulnerable child.

Shine A Light

What would Not So Big Society do without the Daily Mail? It’s the unfailing inspiration behind many articles as we take to our keyboards in umbrage at the latest affront perpetrated on our profession and especially on the vulnerable people we in our different fields all work with.

Last week they published a piece by a columnist with a long history of antagonism towards social services. It trumpeted the scandal that children are being needlessly removed from their families. It’s familiar fare but not without its dark humour.  Googleads’ faithful algorithm  pops up at the bottom with two ads for companies offering child protection training. This time, though, there’s one difference: the author may have a point.

It’s made with a numbing, naive disregard for the reality not only of professionals but also for the children and young people who desperately need help before their lives are scarred permanently and who need the best possible services. Social workers first round up children who are then corralled into care by a legion of staunch experts (sorry, that should read “experts”).  The middle-classes are now being targeted by a new weapon of unsubstantiated non-scientific jargon. You would call it neglect. Minister Tim Loughton was moved to publicly discredit the piece.

Remove the bile, invective and unsubstantiated assertions (there won’t be much left) and a key question remains: are too many children being taken into care? There is no denying the large increase in care admissions, well-documented since the tremors of the baby Peter effect caused an upsurge in care proceedings. The aftershocks are still being felt and I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing.

At least the growing debate is breaking out of the confines of the sector into the mainstream, including the political arena. In 2010 Barnardos commissioned a report from the thinktank Demos that concluded more children should be taken into care and at an earlier age. Their CEO at the time, Martin Narey, is now the adoption czar. The influential head of Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh feels the state should step in. In another piece from last week, Anthony Douglas, head of CAFCASS the over-worked court social work and mediation service, argues that taking more children into care can be beneficial.

Whichever viewpoint you take, it’s imperative that this is talked about as widely as possible. As Douglas says, “These children need as strong a light as possible shone on their lives.” Yet the context of this debate has still to be established and without it, we can’t progress. The balance between the intervention of the state and the freedom of the individual in regard to child care is fundamental to every household with children. Until this is clarified, social work will flounder at the mercy of shifting tides of opinion and will not be able to protect the children who need to be safe. Never mind the controversy in the Mail or elsewhere about where the threshold lies, we need to know that a threshold exists.

The boundaries are being established not by evidence, policy or government initiative but by the reactions of local authorities to two developments: baby Peter and the cuts. As a professional this makes me profoundly uneasy. I want to know what to do, how to apply the law together with my training and expertise. This has diminished value if  the threshold for care is dictated primarily by factors that have nothing to do with these fundamentals, let alone the actual level of need.

Good social work with children and families depends upon the practitioner having a variety of solutions available in any given situation. These resources range from preventive provision in the community through to the intervention skills of the worker and different types of placement. Hold on to your hats for the revelation that every child, every family, each situation is different so the professional needs to be able to choose what method works for this child, this family at this time. Steady yourselves, there’s more. Things change over time, so different resources might be needed further own the road.

The basic premise, as with so much of good care, is obvious. The problem is, those resources at one end of the spectrum have crumbled under a quake of a different kind, the spending review. Preventative services for children and families are fast disappearing as local authorities consolidate their precious scant resources around statutory duties. Surestart, parenting groups, family centres, section 17 money, therapy – slipping through the cracks into bottomless chasms of oblivion.

Fewer resources mean that children come into care later therefore their problems are more entrenched. Also, there’s more weight given to the option of care because there are fewer alternatives. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Then, once in care, we come across another element of the debate, the crisis in foster care as we struggle to  find enough high quality placements to address complex need.  To borrow Ermintrude’s recent remarks in regard to adult care, there isn’t a crisis in foster care. Rather, “there is a well foreseen and ignored gap in the funding and provisioning of needs in the sector.” And so care doesn’t work,. the system is failing children and we are trapped in a cycle of failure of our own making.

The Mail is the amongst the first to criticise social workers for not acting when children have been abused but this is more than the classic ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’ bind that blights our profession. Social workers act on behalf of our society. We are public servants. If society isn’t sure what we should be doing, then neither are we and that is no good to anyone.

Not Working Together to Safeguard Children

One of the mantras that mental health services are supposed to live by is that there should be joined-up working between the NHS and social services. How’s that working out with children and adolescents?

In adult services, clinicians and social workers both work in Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs). The CMHT will often have CPNs and social workers sharing offices, so that they can work closely together. In Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) that’s not a given. Under the pressure of the cuts, quite a few areas have seen a loss of social workers. Social services departments who’ve been told they have to shed posts will often cut the staff over at CAMHS rather than the ones in their own office.

At the same time, both CAMHS and social services are under caseload pressures. Their resources are shrinking, but their caseloads aren’t. The talk in both camps is how to focus on their “core” clients, and who should be seen by other agencies.

Relations between CAMHS and social services have historically been fairly poor. As the gulf widens, this relationship can only get worse. The risk is that it can turn into a game of pass-the-parcel with children. As soon as one service accepts responsibility for a child, the other service steps back.
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Adult safeguarding – introducing the concept of insignificant harm

The proposal is that the threshold for adult safeguarding should be “significant harm”, rather than the lower “harm” threshold recommended by the Law Commission. Mithran Samuel at Community Care (@mithransamuel, @ComCareAdults) debates the wisdom of this (‘Will safeguarding threshold leave adults at risk?‘) with reference to arguments aired at their Adult Protection Conference, and I note reference to the Department of Health favouring the same threshold as for children.

Good for them! I hope it was more than a quest for neatness and simplicity. I venture to suggest a parallel with the children’s significant harm threshold is legally and morally right.

I fear being torn off my high horse whenever I write favouring less intervention. Many can understand that our human rights, forged in the aftermath of a long and bloody fight against totalitarianism, are largely rights to be left alone by the State. But I write from within a profession that epitomises State intervention in private life; and many are comfortable with that and uncomfortable with anything that might limit their right to intervene.
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Protecting Our Children: Will It Change Attitudes To Social Work?

The excellent Protecting Our Children concluded on Monday evening. The practitioners and programme-makers deserve congratulations for an absorbing, honest and above all human depiction of contemporary social work to sit alongside the two Panorama programmes looking at children in care.

 

In all the meetings I’ve attended over the past three weeks, conversation has turned to the latest programme as soon as a lull in proceedings appeared and often when it didn’t. Generally it’s gone down very well, in sharp contrast to the scant few past series covering our world. I remember one dire effort that I think looked at a social work team in the north. Eminently forgettable, I nevertheless recall it began with a social worker guiltily shovelling down a giant doner kebab whilst at his desk then playing up to the camera in a manner that would have embarrassed David Brent. Gloomily we watched well-intentioned but ill-conceived and executed direct work with a young child and a succession of families unsure about what was happening.
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“Child Stealing” and the Tin Foil Hat Conspiracy Theorists

Ermintrude last week pointed out how David Lammy MP had played on exaggerated fears of social services taking peoples’ children away. It’s a pretty widespread fear, but one that doesn’t bear any relation to the complex and often tortuous way that child protection procedures actually operate.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few run-ins with what happens when that fear gets taken to extremes by the conspiracy theory brigade, some of whom have links to the far-right.

[Warning: this post contains links to far-right websites. If you’re in work be careful what you click on]
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Lammy and Smacking

David Lammy, the Tottenham MP, spoke yesterday in an interview on LBC about his views on smacking.

Among other things, he said

“There are groups of people in this country who are confused by the law and we need to listen to those people,” he told the Guardian. “There is a divide between professionals and parents who feel quite differently.”

This issue has been covered at length in the media and it relates to issues he wrote about in the Autumn in  his post-riot book ‘Out of the Ashes’. He said that the Children Act 2004 ‘went too far’ in changing the legislation regarding the defence of reasonable punishment from parents who would no longer ‘be masters’ in their own homes. Continue reading

On Living in a Time of Regression

This is not going to be a particularly cheerful post. For those looking for happiness and fun, it might be worth popping here instead and look at cute pictures of kittens.

For as long as everyone can remember, we’ve faced ongoing improvements in our quality of life. Better public services, better infrastructure, more leisure, more shiny things to buy and play with. with that has come rising expectations.

And of course, it’s all now gone to pot. Not because of resource scarcity, or climate change – though both of those may well be yet to come – but because our financial whizkids got the maths wrong.

I’m just wondering, are we psychologically prepared for this? How will we cope with accepting that our expectations are going to be very different in this period of social decline and regression?
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