This is a story from – you've guessed it – the Daily Wail ten days ago ...
A mother told of her nightmare yesterday after being secretly investigated for child abuse by social workers who received a single, anonymous letter. The woman was left ‘terrified’ that her six-year-old daughter would be removed in the probe by Haringey Council – the authority at the centre of the Baby P scandal. After winning a ‘landmark’ case yesterday, she also spoke of her anger that the local authority had sought to avoid being named in the affair to prevent further public embarrassment.
Officials had obtained three mobile numbers and a landline phone number for the family after contacting the girl’s school without her parents’ knowledge. The mother – who works as a social worker – said she was ‘horrified’ when a student social worker later contacted the couple to belatedly reveal they were investigating allegations of mistreatment.
Yesterday a High Court judge condemned Haringey for its ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the unsigned letter, which was riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. This included approaching the child’s GP and her school to ask for any signs of ‘emotional and physical abuse’ of the child before they had spoken to her parents.
Judge Anthony Thornton said the child was never at risk of harm from her middle class parents, who had never been in trouble with police or had previous contact with social services. He quashed the ‘unlawful’ decision to start the investigation and ordered the council to pay £2,000 compensation to the couple and legal costs expected to run to tens of thousands of pounds.
After the hearing, the girl’s mother urged the Government to step in to sort out Haringey’s beleaguered child protection department. She expressed fears that while the council squandered taxpayers’ cash investigating spurious complaints it risked overlooking genuine cases. She said: ‘This has been a dreadful ordeal that has taken a huge emotional and financial strain on my family. Although I knew it was groundless, I was terrified they would take my child away. We were accused of smacking our child. As it happens, we don’t smack, but if the council starts investigating all parents who occasionally smack their child to discipline them, they would end up looking at 90 per cent of families in the borough.’
The woman and her partner are both experienced social workers and so knew the council’s reaction was excessive. They brought a legal challenge to the council’s decision to investigate them under Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act, which the judge described as an ‘intrusive’ assessment of a child and her parents to determine if she was being harmed.
The mother said: ‘Because we know the system we had the courage to stand up to the council and take it this far, but I pity the many other parents who aren’t able to do this and have to suffer in silence. This is the first time that a section 47 investigation has been successfully challenged and overturned.’
The council launched the investigation after its ‘social services child abuse department’ received the unsigned letter dated March 2011 from someone claiming to be a neighbour of the family saying he was worried about the child.
The judge ruled that approaching the GP and school without seeking the parent’s permission was ‘erroneous’. He said: ‘These were serious departures from permissible practice and these actions were unlawful. The child was not at risk of significant harm and it... was highly likely the anonymous referral was malicious.’
A Haringey Council spokesman said: ‘Our handling of this case fell below the standards that we would expect, and we apologise to the family concerned.’
The GOS says: There were the predictable responses from Daily Wail readers. “GrannyGiles” pointed out “The only reason this went to Court is because the folks on the receiving end worked for social services as well. Lord help the ordinary parents who are bamboozled by these professional child snatchers”. Very well said, that Granny.
Nevertheless there were still one or two who were prepared to stick up for Haringey Social Services. “And if the child was at risk and they had done nothing?” asked Worker of Lincs, while Molly from South Shields trotted out the usual tired old cliché: “Dammed if we do and dammed if we don't!”
Look, Molly love, we don't expect you – because your use of the word “we” suggests that you are one of these useless parasites yourself – we don't expect you to be omniscient, we don't expect you to work miracles, we don't expect you to approach your job relying on superhuman powers or divine inspiration, we just expect you to do your job in a sensible and careful manner!
How hard can that be? Train drivers drive their trains without SPADs (bit of in-humour, there!), lorry drivers tend on the whole to avoid crashing, bank tellers get their sums right, airline pilots fly hundreds of people across the world and frequently land without incident at the right airport, the barmaid down my local brings me a pint of beer when I ask for it, rather than a cup of hot chocolate. Last Autumn I travelled on a container ship across the Atlantic to the West Indies, down to French Guyana and along the coast of Brazil, back to Spain, up to Rotterdam and then home. It took six weeks, the engine didn't break down, the galley didn't run out of food or water, the showers worked every day and the ship didn't sink or hit anything, not even once. See? People do their jobs, and that's all there is to it. But not you. Yours is too hard, apparently.
Do I have to go on? Just find out what the bloody facts are before taking any action, by asking the people who know best which in this case was the parents. Take a serious and sensible look at the evidence – in this case a semi-literate anonymous letter – and decide whether it represents a credible piece of information, and if it does, act openly and honestly and with respect for the members of the public who have the misfortune to live in your borough. It's not rocket science.
If you think you're damned when you do and damned when you don't, it's because in either case you don't do the job you're paid to do. That's what you're damned for, and bloody right too.
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