The Independent reported on a case yesterday where a father who got angry with social workers lost care of his five month old baby as a result. The judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Parker after she felt that the father, who had made death threats to one social worker and had assaulted another was dangerous.
This judgement raises a lot of thorny issues. As a transcript is not yet available, it is hard to know whether the judge was justified in doing what she did. It appears that she felt the mother was unable to perceive the father as a danger. To whom though, is not quite clear, as little is known about his parenting skills and whether he was aggressive towards their baby -a distinction social workers today are supposed to make.
It was also concluded that the mother in turn had a learning disability which the story infers was highlighted by the mother not perceiving her husband to be a danger and perhaps also, because she had not yet named her baby. The mother explains that the father was only ever aggressive with social workers and that in her culture there is always a ceremony first before a name is given and that this had not taken place yet (we wonder whether all the proceedings taking place played a part in the delay).
The awkwardness of this case, other than that there is little detail offered (and why Munby needs to get on with it and ensure these cases are properly reported), is that sometimes when parents fail to cooperate with social services, there is a view that a vulnerable child cannot be protected if he or she doesn’t get the support they need. And that is a fair point (which may or may not have played a part in the judge’s decision).
However, this case exposes some uncomfortable truths about the social care sector. The father felt the proceedings were invasive. These kinds of proceedings are, and more often than not, are dealt with by people who are either exhausted, poorly trained or just very bad at the job. The system asks an enormous amount from people who in the main just aren’t given the tools and training they need to deal with some of the most complex life scenarios anyone could ever face. You can’t send in a social worker with poor people skills and embarrassingly bad communication tools to deal with some of the most vulnerable people in the world. It’s like sending civilians into a war zone.
You just don’t do it.
And yet, that’s what happens. People who don’t have a passion for engagement, seeking out the truth or building trust (and a system which makes it very hard for that kind of person to either enter the sector or last in it), end up manning these stations. Things get lost in translation. Egos get bruised (on both sides), and social workers forget that they are not the vulnerable parties in the equation – because they feel so acutely vulnerable themselves.
In a case like this, it’s very easy to imagine a less than sophisticated social worker making tactless and disparaging comments, or just not having the patience or the diplomacy to engage this family and earn their trust. It’s very easy too, to blame a lack of resources and time, but if you’ve got the skills, the greater part of the battle is won. Because once you engage the family and they respect what you do, you have their attention. And that’s all you need.
It will be interesting to see what transpires as a result of this case and any published judgment which may be made available.