It’s not always the case that as human beings we must enter a world before we can empathise with it on some level, but for the vast majority of people it is often the only way to truly understand the world in which we inhabit – with all its flaws and failings. And that is exactly what happened to two senior social workers, who found themselves on the other side of the fence, after having been wrongly accused of child abuse.

The experience of being investigated for child abuse under our current system, described, perhaps ironically, by the social work couple as ‘a nightmare’, started when someone complained about the way they were caring for their own daughter.

Interestingly, the article published by The Guardian, says the investigation was ‘unlawful’ presumably based on the way in which the investigation itself was handled, however there is no indication in the article that this couple were investigated any differently than countless other parents who have to face the nightmare of shoddy investigatory procedures, every day. Let’s just say, the turn of phrase caught our attention.

The article goes on to tell us that, “The two [social worker parents] argued that not only were there no grounds for a full child protection investigation because there was no evidence that EF was at risk of harm, but that the entire process was “so flawed procedurally and so fundamentally lacking in the essential minimum requirements of a guidance-complaint process that it was unlawful”.

It would be interesting to note whether the two social workers were in fact practicing in the same area in which the investigation of the alleged abuse regarding their daughter took place. In other words, were they staring directly into the same corner of the system in which they themselves had been practicing as social workers. We note from the article that the social worker parents were outraged by the way they were treated by their own.

Of the investigating social workers, the mother says in the article, “They thought they were completely unaccountable – but today they have been held to account by the court. This is a landmark case for parents. One wonders how many families are out there suffering.” It is fascinating to note how quickly professionals will turn on each other and make damning statements once the action becomes personal. A compelling and completely human reaction, but a telling one too: working in a culture where professionalism is synonymous with distance and rational thought without feeling may be the greatest obstacle to a sexy justice system that actually works. The mother’s last sentiment is an eye opener – one wonders how many families are out there suffering. That she doesn’t know, despite working in the system herself, is an appalling indictment on an unfeeling and patchy system.

So many of the incidents reported in this article happen to parents on a daily basis inside the system – social workers calling schools and GPs without informing the parents first, being bullied by social work staff who insist they know best and a complete lack of respect for the family unit and everyone inside it.

The parents’ reaction, one of anger at being investigated (the local authority were well within their rights to do so based upon a letter they received), hostility and defiance is a natural reaction to being poorly treated, whatever the circumstances. And whilst we are wary of any potential double standards this cases raises, we are glad that finally, those reactions are being understood and given the space they deserve in our system. We would even go so far as to re-iterate something we feel very strongly about – having Social Swap Days, as we call them, where professionals spend the day on the receiving end of their practice, so they can get in touch with the system, how it works and what needs to change, as and when.

A seriously fascinating case, which we hope will shed light on the need for change, understanding the human condition and above all, the crucial role respect, compassion and empathy must play in a truly stellar family justice system.

Stones