From Abused To Accused: Did ‘Fantasist’ Nick Get Too Close To The Establishment?

When allegations first surfaced about a paedophile ring made up of high profile politicians, the public didn’t find them hard to believe. The complaint, raised by a man known only as Nick, included accusations of rape and murder which he claimed involved a former Prime Minister, Home Secretary, army chief and politician.

At the time these allegations were made, there was already a deep sense of cynicism about government and Britons were angered by politicians’ constant abuse of power and a complete disregard for the British public. It wasn’t difficult for the country to entertain the idea that the Establishment was as cruel and depraved as it was greedy and despotic.

The Establishment in England also carries with it a dark history, where powerful groups with personal interests have done, and will do almost anything to protect their positions and their wealth. Over time, these groups have evolved and now include men and women from all sectors and classes of society, though historically the Establishment has been dominated by members of the aristocracy. It is this section of the Establishment, which still exists today, that has become synonymous with a culture featuring routine buggery at public schools and homosexuality as emotional and sexual outlets. Nick’s claims that he witnessed privileged men in powerful circles rape children and even kill young boys in the 70s and 80s seemed conceivable, and led to the creation of Operation Midland, a multi million pound investigation into alleged non recent child abuse within Westminster.

Nick’s claims have since been discredited, though we don’t actually know what that means in real terms. Was his story disproved through scientific fact? Did evidence come to light which clearly showed that Nick’s allegations were not true, or was it simply the case that no evidence one way or the other was found? The police themselves went on record saying that Nick was a credible witness and that his claims were true, so how did we go from a credible source who put himself forward as a child abuse victim, to a suspected offender charged with several child sex crimes, who the police now say is a paedophile himself?

The scant information fed to the media only tells us that Nick has now been charged with making and possessing hundreds of indecent images of children. He has also been accused of voyeurism. The crimes were alleged to have been committed during 2015 and 2016, with no charges relating to any other time period. This is a strange pattern, given that most mature paedophiles usually have a longer history of downloading exploitative content, and voyeuristic behaviour. It also seems highly coincidental that these alleged crimes appear to have taken place at around the same time Nick himself was filing his complaints and airing his case in the media.

Whilst the press are sharing as much information as they can on this latest development, no one is talking about whether or not the Establishment may have had anything to do with what is admittedly a very strange turn of events. In what could be seen as a vengeful act after former Tory politician Harvey Proctor, who was accused by Nick, lost his job over the allegations, Nick has now himself been fired from a school at which he was a governor. Research on paedophiles tells us that they often find work in places where they can access children, but the lack of allegations from school staff and students and any indication that Nick had made or accessed indecent images and even engaged in voyeurism before 2015 do not readily fit the behavioural patterns of a paedophile. Where did these allegations come from, and why did they only allegedly take place from 2015-2016?

It is impossible for us, or anyone, to come to a conclusion about this case based on the little we know, but the idea that these allegations may not necessarily be real needs to be aired, especially as the little information available makes those allegations, at this time, seem much less credible.

Dolphin Square

 

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Foster Care Review Confirms The Sector Is Still Failing Children.

A review of the state of foster care in England has just been published. Whilst the report tries very hard to paint a rosy picture of the fostering sector, the data remains virtually unchanged since experts began analysing the way children fare inside the system. The recommendations look mostly at financial issues for foster carers, their status and the suggestion that Independent Reviewing Officers may be dispensable, in a bid to place more funds on the front line.

It’s really all about the money, with a nod here and there to the traumatised and vulnerable children who seem to be cheated out of just about everything.

That the core data about the fostering sector remains almost completely unchanged, or shows no signs of significant improvement in outcomes for children, makes the rhetoric inside the report largely irrelevant. Much of the report’s contents have been noted in previous reports and research documents. Our greatest concern stemmed from the way emotional warmth and affection continues to be blocked or treated like a taboo. This excerpt from the report is hugely worrying:

“All too often we found that foster carers believed that demonstrations of physical affection were frowned upon, or they had been taught to be fearful of potential allegations. In one example, we heard of a foster carer in a room with other carers and changing a baby’s nappy. On completion, she raised the child’s Babygro and blew a raspberry on his bare tummy. Other foster carers in the room were very concerned that her expression of affection for the baby was inappropriate and could even be seen as a safeguarding issue. These concerns and anxieties can result in some children in care not receiving the physical or emotional affection they need that helps them to thrive.”

The report touches upon contact with siblings and birth parents, but offers a very one sided view, stressing that contact with biological or birth siblings does more harm than good and that social workers all too often force this kind of contact on the fostered child, finding it stressful and sometimes traumatic. Whilst we are sure this does happen, the lack of clarity in this area, and training, means that social workers often get the balance wrong here. Sometimes children do want to see their birth families. Once again, this issue touches on the very confusing way the government goes about producing, and sharing, legislation and policy on child welfare. The solution here is the same as it’s always been – high levels of training for social workers, with an emphasis on really understanding what each child needs. And crucially, ensuring the foster carers don’t consciously, or unconsciously, make a fostered child feel they have to ‘choose’ a family. 

There is also a superficial look at the way fostering agencies recruit foster carers. The report suggests that this is often done in an altruistic and noble way, however we know from experience, and our own investigations on social media, that this is not the case. The report does not mention councils’ and agencies’ use of tweets about fostering fees and paid holidays to entice carers.

It’s a long report at over 125 pages, so we’ve decided to add some important quotes from it and add our comments below them. We’d love to hear your thoughts, too:

“In the early 70s, around 29,000 children, 32-35% of all looked after children were in
foster care. This rose to 50% in 1985. The proportion has since increased steadily and
has been stable at around 73% to 75% since 2011.” 

The question over why this increase has risen so sharply over the last few years is still unanswered. The President of the Family Division James Munby promised to get to the bottom of this, but he has not been able to do so. The answer lies in the fundamental economic drivers inside the sector, which are at times complicated and irrational, but when looked at from a council’s perspective become much clearer.

“The majority of children in foster care – 60% – are aged 10 or over.”

Babies and very young children are still far more likely to get adopted than older children. It is no surprise then, that the majority of fostered children are over the age of nine.

“The mean duration of the 49,240 foster placements ceasing during 2016-17 was 369
days. 26% of foster care placements that ceased had lasted less than a month, 48%
had lasted between a month and a year; 12% had lasted between one and two years;
and 13% of placements had lasted for more than two years.”

The amount of bouncing around foster children do is unacceptable and needs to be addressed properly. The report recommends focusing on front line customer service in order to make sure placements are well set from the start, but the reality is far more complex.  

“In 2016, 25% of children in foster placements reached the new expected standard
or above in the headline measure for reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage
2 (KS2).”

This is an appalling figure.

“In 2015-16, the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), (a standardised
measure of children’s emotional and behavioural health35) completed for children in
foster care aged 5 to 16 showed 13% had ‘borderline’ scores and 36% had scores that
were a cause for concern.”

This statistic is also terrible.

“The proportion of children with ‘borderline’ and ‘cause for concern’ SDQ scores is significantly higher for children placed with IFAs. In 102 out of 146 local authorities where data was available, average SDQ scores were higher for children placed with independent providers. “

So what were the scores, exactly? 

“There were 44,320 approved fostering households as at 31 March 2016, less than a
1% fall from the previous year (44,625).”

“Placement stability is hugely important but stability over many years, stability which might reasonably compare with what we might term normal childhood, is troublingly rare, with too few placements lasting for longer than five years.”

There needs to be an investigation into the kinds of households taking on children, in order to fully understand why placements are breaking down, and what can be done to improve them. As the economy makes it even harder for families to survive, there appears to be an upward trend in families who could also be identified as vulnerable, taking on children in order to bolster their income. This effectively means that an already vulnerable child may be entering a stressed home, which could impact that child’s wellbeing. 

“About 67%, (29,720) fostering households were registered with local authorities and
the remaining 14,595 fostering households were registered with IFAs.”

Most of this ‘market’ is dominated by councils, or government bodies. Only 33% of fostering households are registered with independent agencies.

“47% of all IFA long-term households offered permanent or long-term placements in comparison with 38% of local authority households. Three quarters of long-term
households (415 households) that provided multi-dimensional treatment placements as a primary offer were in the IFA sector.”

“Despite the occasional suggestion that IFA care might be poorer, we found no discernible difference in the quality of care offered by local authority and IFA carers.”

This data seems to suggest that independent agencies fare better when it comes to stable placements.

Quote from a thirteen year old in foster care, which needs no comment from us:

“I am of a place in life where things like getting your hair cut or ears pierced are
things that people around me can go and do whenever they feel like it. [But] I have
to ask the local authority before I get this done and sometimes this can be denied, or
my social worker won’t answer to this because they have too many cases. I feel
that children in long-term care shouldn’t always have to consult the council on these
decisions… Long term foster carers know these children better than the local
authority, therefore why should the local authority have more say in a foster child’s
life than their care givers?”

This report does not really tell us anything new. It does though, act as a gateway for the government to continue making the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to children in care. Because whilst it looks at the financial aspects of foster care for carers, agencies and councils, it fails entirely to look at the inherent commercial conflicts of interest involved, which are at the heart of the terrible state of play for kids in foster care.

Hello

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As there are a few items of interest today, we’ve decided to set them down below, rather than offer you one story and invite you to comment. As always though, we would love to hear your thoughts:

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The Care System – Families’ Views Wanted

A review of the care system which was launched last year and has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is now calling for the views of family members whose children have experienced social care or care proceedings.

The review, also known as the Care Crisis Review, is a response to the ever growing number of children finding themselves inside the care system, which is now at its highest level since 1985.

Child welfare participants include the president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby; the chief executive of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas; the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alison Michalska; the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield; and a selection of academics, directors of children’s services and policy advisers.

The review, which has been organised by Family Rights Group, now includes a survey for families, which you can access here. 

There is also a survey for child welfare professionals, for individuals working in legal, social work and other sectors which involve themselves in child protection.

You can also access a summary of the review, here.

Legal Action For Women has also submitted its own evidence to the review, which you can see here. 

Please do share the surveys with anyone who you feel might be interested.

The deadline for completing the surveys is Sunday 11 February 2018 (at midnight).

CCR

 

 

 

Child Abuse Inquiry To Investigate Paedophile Information Exchange

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has confirmed that it will be looking into concerns that Home Office money was used to finance a high profile paedophile group. The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was active in the 70s and 80s and counted high profile politicians amongst its members.

It’s not clear whether the Inquiry will summon members of PIE to any future hearings dealing with the matter, however we have urged the panel to do so, especially in light of the scant evidence available on PIE’s activities and in relation to allegations surrounding the group.

The Inquiry’s lead lawyers have also issued a formal statement about the way the Inquiry will address those who come forward with allegations. Unless a conviction has taken place, or enough evidence has been produced to prove an allegation, the panel will from now on refer to individuals who come forward as complainants, rather than survivors or victims.

The decision has come at a time when doubts are being cast over allegations about a VIP paedophile ring. The lack of evidence and the incredibly long lapse of time has made substantiating these claims almost impossible. And the inability to prove these claims is being viewed by some as proof that alleged instances of child abuse must be false.

Check out our Inquiry Library page for further information on PIE.

 

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Senior Minister Implicated In Child Abuse Inquiry

Welcome to another week.

Suspicions about a senior minister have been raised at a hearing for the nation’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Former education secretary, Michael Gove, who is now environment secretary, is alleged to have an interest in the outcome of an investigation into a priest. The priest is suspected of abuse at a well known Catholic boarding school. Gove is accused of making phone calls to the local authority involved.

The allegations were made during an Inquiry session. The Inquiry is currently conducting hearings in relation to allegations of sexual abuse by agents of the Catholic Church.

The child sex abuse inquiry will be writing to Michael Gove to ask whether he attempted to find out details about the investigation.

Gove

 

 

 

 

Social Workers And Mission Drift – What Is Their Job?

A new and very interesting piece of research spanning 15 years, looks at the social work profession from a skills angle and asks whether social workers are routinely going beyond their professional borders.

The paper was published on 5th January, 2018 in the Journal of Evidence Informed Social Work. Entitled, Should social workers be engaged in these practices?” it was written by Gary Holden, Professor at the New York University Silver School of Social Work, and Kathleen Barker, Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. 

Outlined in the article are a list of jobs social workers seem to be carrying out as part of their social work role, or carrying with them as previously acquired skills. The authors tell us:

“Some of the entries…. are specic interventions, some indicate previous training of the provider (e.g., certications or degrees), some specify oers of training for others, others are guiding philosophies or conceptualizations and still others refer to equipment.”

The list of skills and courses involved seem to be heavily skewed towards holistic disciplines, as well as religious and spiritual ones like rebirthing, Feng Shui and herbology. A significant number of entries for counselling and therapy can be seen, as well as some medical courses and qualifications.

Holden and Barker say the list they have compiled is unfinished and raw, but urge us to think about how the profession is evolving and whether it is staying true to its original mission:

Mission Drift

As the professors point out, the definition and boundaries of social work are a little fuzzy, which we can see for ourselves in England and Wales with our own definition of social work, which is presented as a global one:

“The following definition was approved by the IFSW General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly  in July 2014:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.

The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.”

The BASW’s Advice Note on the roles and responsibilities of social workers is also worth a read.

Ultimately, the researchers want us to think about whether this kind of mission creep is actually a good thing for the social work profession, allowing greater knowledge and by implication better support for vulnerable individuals, or whether the skills presented are not really effective ones for the purposes of helping those in need and building strong communities.

The professors, and Researching Reform would love to know what you think.

SSWBEITP

Schools Given Almost Unlimited Rights To Search Students.

Welcome to another week.

The government is giving schools almost unfettered rights to search school pupils without consent, after it updated guidelines last week to reflect the move.

The changes allow school staff to search without consent for “any item banned by the school rules which has been identified in the rules as an item which may be searched for.” We tried to find this guidance online, but could not spot it.

The guidance was exposed in a Schools Week article on 19th January, which focused on the issue of energy soft drinks as a child protection issue, after schools around the country had imposed bans on the drinks on school property, with some searching students’ bags in order to enforce the policy.

The article comes after a public health nutritionist, government behaviour tsar and celebrity chef expressed concerns about the way these drinks affect children’s behaviour and health, and have called on the government to make it illegal to sell energy drinks to anyone under the age of 16.

Parents have reacted angrily to the new search policy, whilst schools have defended the move, saying that they have a right to confiscate anything they deem contraband.

The search policy, and the idea that energy drinks are a child protection issue raise several important questions:

  • Is the current search and seize guideline within the law?
  • What can schools constitute as ‘banned items’ and are there any human rights concerns surrounding this discretion?
  • Will banning energy drinks in schools and making it illegal to sell them to anyone under the age of 16 be effective ways to encourage positive eating habits?
  • Should the government ever be allowed to try to socially engineer food choices?

Our question this week then, is just this: what do you think?

Questions

 

 

 

New FOI Request: Damages Awarded To Families Because Of Council Failings

As the government appears to be busy with Brexit and other things, we thought it would be good to remind it that child welfare matters aren’t going away any time soon. Our latest Freedom Of Information Request asks for a breakdown of damages awarded to families, by council. 

After coming across this archived post we wrote in 2012 predicting a surge in damages being paid out to families failed by local authorities, we decided to find out if these kinds of awards were on the rise. The request though, is unlikely to offer a definitive answer.

We already know that local authorities’ insurance companies have a vested interest in making complaints go away. The thinking is that the more complaints make it through, the more damages the council may have to pay, which effectively means the more money insurance companies have to shell out. As a result, insurance companies have an inbuilt incentive to prevent claims like these making it out into the open.

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has also promised to look into the way insurance companies handle these kinds of claims and the extent of their conduct in obstructing investigations relating to child protection failings at councils across the country.

In what may be an attempt at shutting the floodgates and preventing councils from collapsing completely, Judges are now interpreting the law in an exclusive, rather than inclusive way, as this recent case shows. The justices in this case took the view that survivors would not be able to sue councils for abuse they suffered as children, if they had not been placed in the full-time care of the State. The impact of this ruling, for now, is likely to destroy a significant number of claims.

And whilst this FOI request looks at damages awarded, it won’t cover those claims in which compensation was not given. Cases where families have received an apology or have been promised a review of their case by a government body won’t be detailed unless the case resulted in the award of damages, further narrowing this request.

So, any information stemming from our latest Freedom Of Information request may not be the best indicator of how many families have been affected by council failings, but it will offer a picture of what the damages landscape looks like and how much the sector is costing the government whilst it runs on inadequate training and at almost zero capacity.

Will the data show a surge in payments? What kinds of payments will it reveal? And, most importantly, are some councils more prone to claims, and paying out compensation than others?

We will have to see.

In the meantime, here is a sample of cases which have been made public:

FOI Damages