About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Social services scandals & the case for reform

A couple of interesting contributions to the debate on what lies at the bottom of the recent child protection scandals.

One in the Times comes in the form of a letter from Martha Cover of Coram Chambers in which she makes a identifies a number of problem areas: targets set to lower the number of children on the CPR and in care, the lack of legal planning meetings, the lack of heed paid to the warnings of the Commission for Social Care Inspection that family support was inadequate and SSD thresholds too high. She also links up earlier research into care proceedings (they are not brought without good reason) to the care fees hike in arguing that one fairly obvious way forward is to encourage a climate where care proceedings are issued once again so that a forensic enquiry can determine the right balance between risk and the advantages of family life.

In the Telegraph Alisdair Palmer argues that the system is undermined by a lack of a clear definition of the meaning of risk & "significant harm", particularly with regard to emotional harm. This he suggests is what squares the damned if you do, damned if you don't circle. Social workers spend too much time investigating cases where there is no real risk because they don't know what risk means and too little time investigating cases of real risk for the same reason. This in turn means that inspections and reviews are fairly useless because inspectors too are caught in the same trap. A glance at the comments below from readers is rather startling. Views on the source of the problems range from social workers being stupid, sick twisted individuals or pseudo-qualified box tickers only interested in snooping and ensuring babies are vaccinated to Karen Matthews only getting pregnant so she can claim benefits to emigration resulting in the UK losing its most intelligent minds (leaving behind only half wits, bedwetters & X factor contestants!). I fear we are a long way from an intelligent debate.

Naturally the government's answer seems to tend towards a the establishment of a task force to look at every aspect of social services .

For some reason this passage from Yes Minister sprang to mind.....
'If only you'd had we'd have a departmental enquiry,' he complained, 'then we could have made it last eighteen months, and finally said that it revealed a certain number of anomalies which have now been rectified but that there was no evidence of any intention to mislead. Something like that.' I allowed myself to be diverted for a moment. 'But there was an intention to mislead.' I pointed out. 'I never said there wasn't,' Sir Humphrey replied impatiently. 'I merely said there was no evidence of it.' I think I was looking blank. He explained. 'The job of a professionally conducted internal enquiry is to unearth a great mass of no evidence. If you say there was no intention, you can be proved wrong. But if you say the enquiry found no evidence of an intention, you can't be proved wrong.' (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 178-9)

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