April 22th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Not long ago I did a couple of pieces on a particularly silly and out-of-touch article in Salon.com by Mary Elizabeth Williams. In her article Williams cited with approval an MSNBC talking head, Melissa Harris-Perry, who had recently unburdened herself of the opinion that “we” have to get over the quaint notion “that kids belong to their parents” and get with the program “that kids belong to whole communities.” That notion made Williams positively squirm with delight. She thought it was just grand, so grand in fact that she, along with Harris-Perry neglected to ask some questions that are obvious enough to occur to an eight-year-old.
One of those questions is just why “we” have to abandon the idea that children should be raised by parents and that parents have the right to do so. Astonishingly neither Harris-Perry (who admittedly was speaking off the cuff) nor Williams (who wasn’t) thought to tell us. I suspect that’s a question parents might want answered before farming their flesh and blood out to “the community.”
And that of course raises another question: just who is this community who’s all of a sudden going to start doing the day-to-day job of wiping noses, changing diapers and checking homework – that parents normally do – for children who aren’t even theirs? (The next time you need a sitter, I suggest you ring up Mary Elizabeth Williams. My understanding is she’s willing to do the job.) Again, neither Harris-Perry nor Williams considers such commonplace concerns worthy of consideration.
Still, I think I have my answer, or at least part of it. If “the State” is the answer to the second question (and I suspect it may be), I’m glad to hear it because this article gives us a fine view of the State in action when “caring” for children (Telegraph, 4/7/13). As it happens, the article is about a British couple and their little daughter, but it could as easily have taken place in the U.S., Canada or elsewhere.
The unnamed (British law requires that they remain anonymous) couple have just finished suing Haringey council for attempting to run roughshod over their parental rights. It’s the first time anyone has sued the council, but you can bet it won’t be the last. Put simply, Haringey council is well-known for, on one hand its incompetence at protecting kids from harm and on the other, it’s Stalinist tendencies to intimidate fit parents. As the comments to the article strongly indicate, not only Haringey but many others are widely feared and loathed by the British populace.
Sound familiar? How many Americans feel the same about Child Protective Services? How many legal blogs have we read imploring parents to remember that they have legal rights and due process protections against CPS as against any other governmental agency? And how many parents have told us “True, but if you assert those rights, if you hire a lawyer, CPS targets you and you’re really on the hot seat,”? We’ve seen long documentaries out of Canada with story after story about the abuses to which the Children’s Aid Society subjects parents.
And that’s pretty much what happened to the two British parents in the Telegraph article. They were maliciously (and of course anonymously) reported to the council for allegedly slapping and yelling at their child, which was bad enough. But when the parents who are both social workers and who know their rights in the matter made so bold as to challenge the actions of the council, they painted a target on their chests. From there, the council thought nothing of violating numerous laws and regulations in its zeal to separate fine, loving parents from their child, terrifying everyone in the process.
In this latest case,… the Labour authority turned on an innocent couple after receiving a single anonymous letter claiming the mother had “shouted” at and “slapped” her six-year-old.
The possible consequences were dire: the loss of their child to care, fostering or even adoption and the end of their careers. The father, CD, is a senior social worker, and the mother,AB, is a respected freelance social work trainer.
Judge Anthony Thornton’s judicial review drew the “inescapable conclusion” that the authority had illegally escalated its inquiry to the highest possible level purely because the mother had the temerity to complain. She did so after it blackened her name and broke all guidelines by telling police, the family GP and their child’s school that the child, EF, was the suspected victim of serious abuse – without any supporting evidence…
The Daily Telegraph has extensively reported recent large increases in the number of children being forcibly removed from their parents and fostered or adopted following hearings in Britain’s secret family courts. Every story results in letters from desperate parents claiming that their children may be or have been removed on flimsy, subjective grounds. If this couple had not been so knowledgeable and determined, they too might have lost their child.
“Haringey closed this inquiry but could any time have opened another and referred back to it,” says AB, speaking for the first time about the family’s ordeal.
“Haringey acted like a one-party state, and tried to crush us for challenging them. This wasn’t about child protection but protection of management [at the council] and about punishment.”
Following the anonymous complaint, Haringey’s children’s services swung into action, violating the most basic regulations. They contacted everyone they could think of which is only to be done in cases in which the allegations have been investigated and found to be of sufficient merit to warrant going further. Children’s services contacted the family doctor, the child’s school, friends, relatives, neighbors and got the same response from all of them – these are fine, fit, loving parents.
Having smeared the parents in the eyes of all those people and violated well-known protocols in the process, the council took deep offense when the mother complained. As we all know by now, governmental organizations often take the attitude that they’re free to abuse us in any way they please, but if we object, well, we have dangerous anger management issues that of course require still further intervention by the state. The notion that people have not only the right but the duty to express their objections when their public servants arrogantly violate laws and regulations seems to invariably escape those very public servants.
AB told her caller from the council – who was in fact a social work trainee – that she was a child protection professional and that Haringey’s response to a solitary anonymous complaint was “ridiculous”. She admits that: “I raised my voice… that’s not yet illegal.”
The trainee logged that AB was “defensive” and told Jeffrey Baker, team manager of Haringey’s Service for First Response, that she had also threatened to make a complaint. Mr Baker rang her about 20 minutes later. In a witness statement to the judicial review, he claimed that AB “shouted” and this “led me to decide that the threshold for regarding the child as vulnerable had definitely been met”…
Mr Baker reported AB’s threatened complaint to Haringey’s head of Service for First Response, Sylvia Chew. Her witness statement similarly claimed that the mother’s “angry manner… reflected the information received in the referral”, and “gave me reasonable cause to believe that (the child) was suffering, or was likely to suffer, significant harm”. Ms Chew wrote that she was particularly concerned because the couple held responsible posts in social work, and immediately elevated the inquiry to the most serious Level 4 threshold under the Children Act 1989, the precursor to care orders.
AB remains incredulous: “One is allowed to feel indignant when attacked. Social work involves the state intruding into people’s lives, possibly to remove their children.
You get the picture. Take offense at offensive – to say nothing of illegal – behavior and you become marked, if not for life, then at least for the life of their investigation of you. And let’s not forget what the stakes are. The council can take your kids away for a long time or forever. That power rightly terrifies parents, so just a letter from a child welfare agency is enough to cause sleepless nights. But for this couple, it was far worse. They soon learned that children’s services had kicked its inquiry up to a dreaded Section 47 investigation.
AB says: “I knew what that meant. I went into complete shock, I thought I would die…
“I was crying for my daughter, for what it would do to her, to be torn from her Mummy. We felt that a mad Orwellian world had opened up and, if anonymous letters led to Section 47 inquiries, every family in Britain could be investigated.”
Just so. They can and they do. To call this couple lucky seems a travesty, but it’s true. They had the intelligence, the education and above all the experience as social workers in the British system to know how to combat the forces arrayed against them. The other 99.9% of the public has no such knowledge, no such power.
Eventually, the council backed down, all the while admitting frankly “that the inquiry had been escalated ‘due to the nature of your reaction'” as opposed to anything to do with child safety. The council backed down, but the parents, to their credit, did not. They brought suit and won. But let no one believe for an instant that a single lawsuit can change the mindset of Haringey’s children’s services. The child’s father came to understand the situation perfectly.
CD, an active trade unionist when younger, says: “I studied Sovietology for years, the single party, the single state, and it’s the way to understand Haringey. You’re the enemy if you dare challenge. Our case shows how any evidence can be made to seem deviant. A state in which this can happen is a state out of control. Everyone makes mistakes but Haringey’s programming is: ‘We make sure that no one finds out.’
“There was no one in Haringey who would stop this madness. We contacted our MP, councillors, Haringey’s director and no one, not one, responded. It’s the Stalinist model – once the central power had said, ‘This is where we are going,’ no one can challenge it.”
These parents, due solely to their fortuitous positions as social workers, were able to fight back and win. The overwhelming majority of British parents would not. They don’t have the education, the experience or the money to do so, and all may be assured that Haringey children’s services know that very well. So does every other similar organization in the country.
Meanwhile, the people commenting on the article have seen much the same things and drawn much the same conclusions. Here’s one of the short ones:
There are some very dangerous people in authority that think the state owns you and your children.
They’re not there yet, but Melissa Harris-Perry and Mary Elizabeth Williams are close.
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