It seems the bully-boy force is strong in the family justice system. Whether it’s judges looking to impose their views on the nation at large or local authorities strong-arming concerned advocates into staying silent about the shoddy services they provide, everywhere we seem to look inside the system, interests are being protected – except for those interests that matter the most – our children’s.
Children and Young People Now, which is a really fabulous publication, published a story yesterday about independent advocates for children who are actively being intimidated and threatened by local authorities for speaking about poor conditions in care homes.
In a letter to Tim Loughton MP, the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (Nairo) explained that their officers’ ability to advocate for looked-after children is at risk.
This news is not a surprise to many. People who work inside the system trying to help families often come across threatening behaviour, directed sometimes at them or at the families they are trying to help. The culture is defensive, angry and suffers from what appears to be an aggravated superiority complex. Instead of dealing with problems, they tend to be swept under the carpet and all too often, it is the families and the children who pay the price.
An earlier story which was published in The Times last week, has also made its way to the Daily Mail. This story involved the poor treatment of a teenager who was in the care of six social workers, charged with looking after just this one girl, but who failed to protect her. In the space of three months, she went missing 19 times. Not one social worker tried to find her, or called the police. She was being groomed and ended up being raped one evening by several men, who were sentenced to prison terms last week. (This information was in The Times article, but appears not to be mentioned in the Daily Mail’s version of events).
So, why didn’t anyone pick up the phone? Was it just that the service being offered was all about the profit margin? Or were the social workers too frightened to admit they’d failed to do their job? We think it may have been a mixture of the two. The system is riddled with conflicts of interest, which are costantly competing with one another, from the very highest corners of management, looking at the bottom line, to the employees fearing the repercussions of mistakes. But no-one seems to be concerned about the kids.
Children that go missing in these situations are a routine phenomenon. We have come across several cases of missing young people who are supposed to be in care homes or foster homes, during our short time here in the family sector and it never ceases to appall us. These are fragile lives being lost inside a system, at best and an entire geographical landscape filled with dangers untold, at worst.
What will it take for the heads of children’s’ charities, politicians and stakeholders to just stop talking and start doing?