Petition Calls For The Removal Of Children and Families MP

A petition on Change.org calling on the government to remove Children and Families Under Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has racked up almost 2,000 signatures. Two more petitions were submitted on Parliament’s own Petitions site, but were rejected because the site does not allow petitions asking for government ministers to be sacked.

Zahawi came to the public’s attention after he attended the President’s Club dinner, which was widely condemned for its appalling treatment of waitresses and hostesses working at the function, and its controversial non disclosure agreement which prevented employees from talking about incidents of sexual harassment at the venue. The club has since shut down, but question marks remain over Zahawi’s attendance after an Urgent Question in the House of Commons revealed inconsistencies in Zahawi’s statements about the event.

The petition reads:

“Nadhim Zahawi has been reprimanded by Chief Whip, Julian Smith, for attending the men only The Presidents Club fundraiser where hostesses were subjected to groping and lewd comments. Mr Zahawi claims that he left the event early but has admitted to having attended the event in previous years.

TheyWorkForYou.com statistics show that Mr Zahawi generally votes against laws to promote equality and human rights and has consistently voted for University tuition fees.

Mr Zahawi also called for cuts to Child Benefits and Child Tax Credits and for them to be stopped after two children. Zahawi said: “Capping welfare by family size would save billions.”

Even though Mr Zahawi states that he “felt uncomfortable” at the men only fundraiser, why would somebody who felt it was acceptable to go to a men only event be the right person to speak for children and families?”

Whilst the President’s Club scandal continues to plague Zahawi – his constituents are still demanding answers to questions , which he is refusing to give – his income and connections are raising eyebrows as well. Listed as the second richest MP in Britain, largely due to his involvement with an oil company operating inside Iraq, Zahawi was also a former adviser to David Cameron, and counts Michael Gove as one of his closest friends. Tipped to be a government official by Cameron in 2013, tensions rose between the pair after Zahawi suggested an amnesty for illegal immigrants. David Cameron publicly hit out at Zahawi over the comments, during an EU summit,  telling attendees it was not a policy he supported.

No stranger to controversy, Zahawi was also accused of supplying oil to Islamic State by Iranian media outlet, Press TV in 2017. Zahawi took the broadcaster to court and later won damages for libel after the judge claimed that Zahawi had been a victim of fake news.

His voting record too, makes for compelling reading. Zahawi has consistently voted against legislation promoting equality and human rights, a sticking point particularly after the President’s Club fiasco. He has also voted against an investigation into the Iraq war, more specifically, “against an investigation into the contrast between public statements and private actions in the run up to the Iraq war”.

Zahawi’s election to the role of children and families lead is an unusual one. Unlike his predecessors, Zahawi has not been given a full Ministerial role. As Parliamentary Under Secretary, which is the lowest of three tiers of government minister in the United Kingdom, Zahawi is subordinate to Ministers of State, who in turn answer to Secretaries of State. An uncharitable quote by the Duke of Devonshire who served in McMillan’s 1957- 1963 Conservative government, sums up the title:

“No one who hasn’t been a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State has any conception of how unimportant a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State is.”

Whilst some news outlets at the time of Zahawi’s appointment suggested that the diminutive title was a reflection of the government’s lack of interest in child welfare, the truth is more likely to center around Zahawi’s own credentials and the reasons behind his elevation to a government department position.

And as a junior government official, Zahawi will be very keen to please the Conservative cabinet and do whatever it takes to secure a position as a fully fledged minister.

Many thanks to Oeillade for sharing the petition with us.

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The Buzz

The latest Child welfare stories that should be right on your radar:

Buzz

Government Backtracks Over Failed Response To Social Work England FOI

The Department for Education has now released information about the management structure of new regulator, Social Work England (SWE), after it was threatened with an investigation by the Freedom Of Information team. The response claims that the information was prepared and sent within FOI’s timeframe, though it was never filed with the site.

Researching Reform made a Freedom Of Information Request on 26th February, asking for a breakdown of the management team at SWE, after the Department for Education failed to offer this information in earlier email exchanges with Researching Reform. The Department then failed to reply to the FOI request, leaving Researching Reform no choice but to engage FOI’s investigation process.

A reply was finally offered today. The cover letter incorrectly claims that the government submitted a response on 15th March, which clearly isn’t the case. The letter also says that a Chair for SWE hasn’t been chosen, however Lord Patel was confirmed as the new body’s chairman last month. This may have been the case if the response had been written before the official announcement was made on 20th March, though the response itself has not appeared on the FOI site before today.

The government’s awkward attempt at backtracking aside, as the Chair has now been chosen, it is likely that the process to appoint the non-executive Board members has begun. The recruitment process for a CEO is also, presumably, underway.

The document attached to the letter offers a breakdown of individuals, groups, organisations and MPs all currently on board as advisers and experts:

Dear Natasha Phillips,

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 26 February 2018. You requested a full breakdown of the management team at Social Work England.  I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Social Work England (SWE) management team is not yet in place. It will include a Chair, a CEO and a Board. 

We hope to appoint a Chair shortly and the process to recruit a CEO is underway.  Once the Chair is in post, the process to appoint the non-executive Board members will begin.

Politicians overseeing SWE are:

  • The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education
  • Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families
  • The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health & Social Care
  • Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Care

We have defined “SWE Partners” as meaning stakeholders we have worked with in the design and development of Social Work England. This includes the SWE Advisory Group and the SWE Regulatory Group.

The SWE Advisory Group includes key organisations from across the social work sector, employer representatives, education providers and service users. The current membership comprises representatives of the following organisations:

  • Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
  • Association of Directors of Children’s Services
  • Association of Professors of Social Work
  • British Association of Social Workers
  • Joint University Council – Social Work Education Committee 
  • Local Government Association
  • Professional Standards Authority
  • Principal Child and Family Social Worker Network
  • Principal Adult Social Worker Network
  • Unison
  • Shaping Our Lives
  • Become
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
  • General Pharmaceutical Council.

The Regulator Expert Group membership includes representation from a number of professional regulators. The current membership comprises representatives of the following organisations:

  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
  • General Medical Council
  • Banking Standards Board
  • General Osteopathic Council
  • General Pharmaceutical Council
  • Professional Standards Authority
  • General Chiropractic Council
  • General Dental Council
  • Solicitors Regulation Authority
  • General Optical Council
  • Law Commission
  • Legal Services Board

FOI

Police Are Hiding Vital Evidence To Win Cases, But They’re Not The Only Ones.

A dossier has revealed that the police routinely and deliberately conceal vital evidence in order to frustrate defendants’ cases.

The Times published the story after it received the dossier, which discloses tactics and deep seated cultural practices encouraging police to hide and withhold vital information which could undermine the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) cases. The revelation comes just as CPS Chief Alison Saunders gets ready to step down amid concerns over her leadership of the CPS.

The information was initially obtained through a Freedom Of Information Request, by a charity called the Centre for Criminal Appeals.  The charity has now made all the documents publicly available on their website.

The dossier includes detailed information about how the police tamper with evidence, including information on one police force which offered training on how to avoid making material that might undermine their cases, accessible. The dossier is made up of several documents, including reports from 14 focus groups involving police, prosecutors and judges. There is also a survey of prosecutors.

The Times reports that the comments in the documents include one prosecutor who says:

“In even quite serious cases, officers have admitted to deliberately withholding sensitive material from us and they frequently approach us only a week before trial. Officers are reluctant to investigate a defence or take statements that might assist the defence or undermine our case.”

The dossier makes it clear that disclosure is not seen as a fundamental aspect of the court process, but a voluntary exercise based solely on discretion.

These kinds of tactics, though, are not limited to the police. Concealing evidence has taken on a life of its own inside the family justice system, where everything from lying to tampering with evidence is seen as fair game. Unethical and illegal actions are now so routine, that professionals from every government body engage in some form of policy or law breaking on a day to day basis. Whether it’s social workers hiding, destroying or fabricating evidence, individuals pretending to be qualified expert witnesses or lawyers using the back door to sway cases, this kind of ‘bad behaviour’ has become endemic.

Having reached crisis point, we now have to ask deeper questions about our justice systems, beyond a debate about resources and funding.

You can follow the Centre For Criminal Appeals on Twitter.

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this story with us.

CFCA

 

 

 

Question It!

Welcome to your week.

In an article for The Express yesterday, Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association of People Abused In Childhood (NAPAC), has lashed out at the Church for failing to properly address child abuse within its churches and internal management structures.

Saunders, who was abused himself by two Catholic priests, also points out that child abusers are not always male, and that more needs to be done to raise awareness around this issue, as well as make it easier for male victims to come forward.

Victims of child abuse often find it very hard to open up about their experiences and access support, and this can sometimes be even more difficult for men who have been abused by women.

Our question this week, then, is just this: how would you help male victims of child abuse to come forward and find the help and support they need?

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The Narrative Around Adoption Is Changing

As the child welfare sector becomes more open to the idea that adoption is not an easy choice, or cure-all, for anyone involved in the experience, a growing number of voices inside the family justice system are inviting discussion on the best way forward for vulnerable children.

McFarlane, a judge now widely considered to be the front runner to replace Sir James Munby as President of the Family Division in July, gave a speech at the NAGALRO annual conference in which he offered support for the view that adoption should no longer be seen as the first option in cases where children could be at risk of harm. He appears to take an enormous amount of credit for the burgeoning movement looking at more open approaches to contact, and at times seems out of touch with modern life – he mentions adoption programmes produced by the BBC and tells the audience that they are available to watch on “the iPlayer” – but we’ll forgive him all that if he can actually effect change.

But it’s what’s going on at ground level which is most fascinating. For the first time, social workers are finding the courage to speak out about day to day practice, with some beginning to question whether what they’ve been told, and trained to do, is actually in the best interests of the children they are meant to be supporting. Jo ward and Joe Smeeton’s paper on adoption, “The End Of Non Concensual Adoption? Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care,” was incredibly well received by families across the country, with many praising the social workers’ thoughtful and sensitive approach to adoption.

Another social worker, Simon Haworth, has also questioned the benefits of adoption, and in the process showed the social work community that discussion and debate are vital aspects of developing and improving any system which needs to stay current in order to deliver the best possible service. These brave voices are paving the way for much needed reform and ensuring that wherever possible families are kept together.

There are however, some children who will, for various reasons, need to live with adoptive parents. The latest thinking on this form of support for vulnerable children is also changing, with the once taboo view of contact with birth parents – which has been largely prevented through legislation and policy – now taking a more central role.

A report by the Centre for research on children and families (CRCF) looks at contact after adoption, and concludes that contact with birth families is vital, to allow children the chance to understand themselves better and cultivate their identities. The benefits of contact with birth families extended to the adoptive family as well, with the findings strongly indicating that it improved relationships within the dynamic. Spending time with their biological families also offered children huge advantages, including developing important relationships and being able to be open and honest with their adoptive parents, too.

It’s a slow and winding road, but we are getting there.

Very many thanks to Dana for sharing the CRCF report with us.

adoption

 

Department For Education Breaks The Law On FOI

The Department for Education has broken the law, after it failed to answer a Freedom Of Information request (FOI) about a controversial new body created to regulate social workers. The breach now means that there will be an investigation into the department and its handling of the request.

Before making the FOI request, Researching Reform wrote to the Department for Education to ask for a full breakdown of the management team at Social Work England, the new regulatory body that is set to replace The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The Department did not confirm or deny that a management team was in place and refused to offer us any further information on developments at Social Work England, so on 26th February, 2018, we made a Freedom Of Information request and asked for details about the body’s management team and its partners and committee members.

A reply to the FOI request should have been sent by 27th March, however the Department failed to respond. 

Government bodies who do not reply within the set time period can be investigated for their failure to reply to requests, and under current legislation, that failure to respond is also breaking the law.

Social Work England has sparked concerns amongst child welfare professionals, with some taking the view that it is part of a wider government agenda to take over the social work sector completely. Currently, the only known member of SWE is Lord Patel, who was formally announced as the organisation’s chair last week. 

Researching Reform has requested an investigation into the Department for Education’s handling of the FOI request.

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Hot Topic: Media Access To Family Court Evidence

As the family justice system faces renewed pressure to take a good look at its working methods, calls to open up family courts so that journalists can analyse evidence in these cases are coming from home, and abroad.

The President of the Family Division, James Munby, will be retiring in July, and whilst he has become increasingly vocal about the problems inside the Family Court during his term as president, he’s clearly chosen to use his last few months to push for more radical reform. We announced at the start of 2018 that Munby was our judge to watch this year, and he isn’t disappointing.

His recent comments about allowing journalists to have access to evidence in family cases, which he made at a seminar on13th March, have been followed up by another push to allow this access. Munby repeated his stance at a lecture he gave at Edinburgh University last week, telling attendees:

“A vital aspect of the ongoing transformation in the family justice system has to be reform of our still creaking rules about access to and reporting of family cases. Nothing short of radical reform will enable us to rid ourselves of the relentlessly repeated and inevitably damaging charge that we operate a system of private – some say secret – justice.”

Munby isn’t the only one who sees the pressing need to allow evidence to be accessed by the media. Over in Canada, where they appear to be ahead of the curve on this issue, a high profile child protection case is making waves, and not just because the details of the case are controversial.

In the case of JP v British Columbia, a Court of Appeal has granted journalists the right to review affidavits, written submissions, and other materials filed with the Court. The case itself shares many of the same desperate hallmarks of our own family cases in England. After a lengthy trial, Law Diva’s blog tells us that the British Columbia Supreme Court found the following:

“B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his children while the youngsters were in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect the children was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.””

The expert witness had also lied to the court during the trial. His testimony had played a significant role in the original finding that the father had sexually abused his children. Depressingly familiar too, was the way in which the court ignored due process to facilitate the expert witness’ point of view:

“The legal profession was shocked when the Court of Appeal reviewed the evidence and determined that the so-called expert had defrauded the court. Their awe was not a criticism of the high court’s findings, but that the lower court has been so taken in by Dr. Reeves and the utter disregard for proper procedure.”

It’s time.

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to the development in British Columbia.

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As the government looks set to revamp the social work sector (again), different opinions about the child protection system in the UK are emerging.

Ray Jones, a professor of Social Work at Kingston University recently wrote a piece for The Guardian in which he says that the UK child protection system is praiseworthy and shouldn’t be subject to reform. Ray also claims that the UK has the safest child protection systems in the world.

Two days after Jones’ piece was published, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew Davies, spoke to the BBC and called on the government to instigate a “thorough investigation” into councils, police and health bodies, after authorities failed to act in a case of severe child neglect. The children were discovered after a neighbour called the RSPCA, concerned about the welfare of cats inside the home.

Our question this week, then, is just this: do you think the child welfare system is in need of reform?

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Government Creates Best Practice Body For Social Work

The government has launched a series of measures it hopes will lead to a reduction in the number of children taken into care. A statement released on 20th March also confirms that Lord Patel, a former social worker, will be the head of the new social work regulation body, Social Work England.

The project has been put together by the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Education.

Former Children’s Minister Edward Timpson will be chairing the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to analyse and share experiences from the most serious child safeguarding cases.

The new measures also include revised standards for social workers to follow, grants for the social work sector, and a new centre to research and establish best practice in social work, with the government facilitating councils who act as early adopters and take on board the findings.

The appointment of Lord Patel as head of Social Work England (SWE) may be an appropriate choice given his social work background. Lord Patel spent three years working as a social worker in Bradford, and an undisclosed amount of time working with vulnerable children, after that.

Patel’s appointment is the only one that has been made public so far. We wrote to the Department for Education asking for a full breakdown of the Management team at SWE last month, which it did not offer. So we sent a Freedom Of Information request asking for that breakdown. We expect a response by the 27th March, 2018.

The announcement that the government will, yet again, be revising social work qualifications and training in order to improve practice misses a fundamental aspect of practice – those social workers who remain unregistered. This was a point we tried to raise in the Department for Education’s recent consultation on regulating the social work profession. If social workers remain unregistered, families and children who experience negligent malpractice have no means of redress, or support.

But perhaps the biggest news to come from the government’s announcement, is the creation of a new centre called the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care which aims to produce a best practice pathway. The government has hired an innovation foundation called Nesta, which promises to “tackle the big challenges of our time.” Nesta’s task is to assist with setting up the centre and ensuring that it is independent and effectively engages the social care sector.

So, who works at the What Works Centre (WWC)? The centre is currently being developed by a large group of organisations so it doesn’t have a set structure yet, although Nesta’s site says that the WWC should become a fully independent entity by 2020. In the meantime, Cardiff University seems to be at the forefront of the research side of things, with several other organisations working in partnership with them.

Once the centre is up and running, its remit will be to:

  • collate and share existing research, evidence and data
  • identify and support robust standards of evidence in children’s social care
  • develop the evidence base by conducting new trials and evaluations
  • translate existing and new evidence into easily accessible guidance and resources for practitioners
  • drive and support the dissemination and implementation of findings into practice
  • support practitioners and decision-makers to understand the importance and utility of research
  • support the development of a coherent learning infrastructure to foster learning

Nesta’s duties include:

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Research
  • Testing
  • Organisational design

The WWC has put together a programme to start the research process off. It involves three stages:

  1. Stage 1 2018-2019: Establishing the baseline. This looks at evidence and practice to see what is being done at the moment to reduce the need for children to go into care.
  2. Stage 2: 2018-onwards Exploratory studies. This stage will look at what practice works.
  3. Stage 3: 2020-2025 Establishing effectiveness. The final stage here will seek to put together a best practice package.

We have campaigned strongly for this kind of project and warmly welcome to the government’s uptake on this.

You can Sign up for news about the Centre to stay up to date with the latest developments.

The hashtag #whatworksforchildren has also been set up, to give Twitter users a way to follow developments and discussion on the centre.

Very many thanks to Dana for alerting us to this project.

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Image: Cardiff University