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Media: drive-by or commitment?

Richard North, 30/11/2012  


Sun 528-soc.jpg

"It can no longer be ignored by those who purport to be in charge of this country that something is deeply rotten at the core of Britain's social services", writes Sun columnist Jane Moore.

This is her lead-in to a commentary on the case of the three Eastern European children removed from a loving home because their foster parents were members of UKIP, but she should not only be addressing "those who purport to be in charge of this country".

Moore writes for a paper purported to have a senior member of staff whose wife has close connections with social work, a paper which, hitherto has been "quite resistant" to running stories hostile to social workers.

Now, at last, Moore and her paper are taking an interest. The Rotherham affair, she writes, is "just the tip of the iceberg". Lurking below, in the murky depths of our ferociously secretive "care" system, will be hundreds if not thousands of similar cases where a gross abuse of power has helped to destroy the lives of the very youngsters it was set up to protect.

Hopefully, she asserts, "they will now rise above the surface, expose the ugly, playing-God mindset, and prompt a dramatic overhaul of these tin-pot dictatorships more reminiscent of Stalinist Russia than a modern democracy". This is all good stuff, and if it is more than just another example of drive-by journalism, then we might be close to the breakthrough that Booker has needed for so long, after years ploughing a near-solitary furrow.

On just this piece, though, Moore is good: "Babies [are] forced into adoption after being taken from mothers on a mere suspicion of 'future emotional abuse', fathers and paternal relatives denied access to children on nothing more than maternal hearsay, and prospective well-meaning fosterers and adopters subjected to the ridiculously stringent political correctness that is making the headlines right now", she writes.

All this, she continues, is "conducted under a cloak of secrecy that claims to be in the interests of the children involved but all too conveniently protects the increasingly warped system itself", all on top of the "lucrative industry that has sprung up around what was once the noble and pure intent to protect children but has seemingly morphed into the far uglier whiff of political or financial self-interest".

With more detail on offer, Moore makes it clear that we are dealing with an exceedingly murky situation, where the National Fostering Agency, set up by two former social workers in 1995, was sold earlier this year to venture capitalists Graphite for an eye-watering £130 million – and that is only the UK's second biggest private fostering business.

In other words, Moore says, "there's money in them there ills". "Then there's the outreach workers, the "experts" paid to provide statements to the courts, the state's legal advisers, the 'independent' legal advisers, the guardians, the police workers, the court officials etc etc. All of these have a vested interest in 'child protection'".

Little wonder then that the number of children and young people who were the subject of a Child Protection Plan was 27,900 while, in 2011, it was 42,700. Some, of course, will be genuine cases, but all too many, like those identified by Booker, week after week, are based on nothing more than an unfounded suspicion, plunging one or both parents into a Kafka-esque nightmare, a punishment without crime, and without even appeal to an independent tribunal in many cases.

Moore adds that, those who suffer most are the children, emotionally damaged by the actions of self-interested zealots who affect to "care".

"We are used to case-centric inquiries such as the one surrounding the Baby P scandal", she concludes, "but it's now time to shine a torch into the dark, secretive corners of the entire system to try to make its work and objectives more transparent while still maintaining anonymity for the vulnerable".

As I said, this is all good stuff. But one good column does not make a summer. The Sun must follow through or this is just yesterday's (figurative) fish and chip paper and another empty gesture from a dead tree seller. We wait in hope, but with very little expectation.

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