A social worker who has chosen to remain anonymous, has told online social work magazine Community Care that child protection professionals break the law in order to do what’s best for children inside the family justice system.
The piece comes after a family court ruling highlighted the widespread misuse of Section 20 arrangements , which were being used to keep children detained in state care, illegally and for lengthy periods. Social workers were also failing to obtain court orders to implement these arrangements.
Section 20 arrangements are voluntary agreements which give parents the option of placing their children in state care, where the parents need respite or are unable to look after their children for short periods. Children can leave the accommodation provided for them at any time, and without notice. Parents can also remove their children from the accommodation without requiring local authority consent to do so.
Outgoing President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was so concerned by the misuse of Section 20 agreements, that in 2015 he published Guidance on the arrangement which explicitly forbid social workers from using S.20s to illegally detain children.
The piece comes at a delicate moment in Britain’s social work history. As local authorities continue to ignore Guidance and best practice, ongoing failings and high profile cases exposing malpractice and misconduct sit at odds with a growing number of social workers who want to develop best practice and ethical policies inside child protection. The author of the piece, who is allegedly a children’s social worker, tries to suggest that social workers breaking the law are doing so because they want to do what’s best for the children inside the system. Unfortunately, the system is so broken, and resources so scarce, that most of the time, finding out what that might be is virtually impossible. Social workers are only too aware of this.
The author is also careful not to call out malpractice and law breaking, instead choosing to refer to these abuses as “misuses of power”, or a desire to “act around the law”. And whilst the idea that social workers may try to break the law to protect children is plausible – and we think this may happen, but in very small percentage terms compared to routine law breaking which facilitates council adoption targets for example – the author never tells us how that plays out in practice. There is a small paragraph on cost cutting and speeding up processes, but in real terms, none of these things actually benefit children inside the sector.
Whether the author understands that the law is being broken and wants to improve things for children, or simply wants to defend the sector against a floodgate of lawsuits, the strange back and forth in the piece on malpractice and its origins inside the sector, remains unconvincing.
Researching Reform reached out to Community Care for comment on Twitter, and they kindly responded. You can follow the conversation, here.