10.03.1991

The abuse of social work

The abuse of social work
 
Dawn raids to seize children continue. Lynette Burrows asks who is doing the real damage
 
THE LATEST affair involving social workers — the dawn raids, with the police in tow, on hitherto respectable families in order to seize their children and carry them off to an unknown destination — has the grisly fascination of a fairy tale turned on its head: the wicked parents forbidden to kiss their little children, and the kindly wolves allowed to drag them off to a place of safety.
 
This time it was in the Orkneys; last time it was in Rochdale (where last week 10 children were returned to their parents after being held for almost a year). In both cases the action was a result of unsubstan­tiated allegations concerning ritual child abuse. Again we find ourselves asking incredulously, "How can it happen here?"
 
How is it possible for social workers to ignore all that was said, at the inquiry in Cleveland, about the potential for serious error, hysterical over-reaction and sheer weirdness inherent in their methods, and the absolute necessity not to repeat the errors that lead to such barbarous treat­ment of children as well as parents?
 
Can it really be true that these social workers are content to carry on in their bad old ways, seemingly oblivious, or shockingly uncaring, about the effect of their actions on the public perception of them? Do they want to be feared and hated? Are they so secure in their interfer­ing role that they no longer feel the need of even a shred of public confidence and esteem, as ominously confident of their ability to bully and browbeat as any Storm Trooper or member of the KGB?
 
That the answer to these questions would appear to be "yes" is reason enough to view with concern what seems to be a climb-down by the Minister for Health over the matter of whether to allow social workers to decide if homosex­ual couples may foster children.
 
The draft guidelines for fostering and adoption under the new Children's Act stated that "equal rights and gay rights policies have no place in fostering ser­vices", which would seem to most people, even, I suspect, most homosexuals, to be reasonable since no-one wants children to be used to implement policies when they are not in a position to avoid being exploited.
 
However, we now learn that the Minis­ter, Mrs Virginia Bottomley, has capitu­lated to pressure from the homosexual lobby to delete the phrase and leave the decision about whether to use homosex­ual couples for fostering to social workers. And there's the rub: would you now trust social workers to be sensible, or even sane?
 
Their showing so far does not inspire confidence. Only last October, in one of the first cases of its kind, a disabled tod­dler was taken from the foster mother who had reared him as her own since he was six weeks old and given to an unknown, lesbian couple. As in so many tragic cases, it was months rather than weeks before the matter was settled and the child was released back to the only mother he recognised.
 
All the Minister could manage at the time was the feeble comment that "chil­dren need a mother and a father". Quite right; and if she believes that, why is she now giving social workers the chance to deny them that right?
 
Comment on this change of heart has, so far, been mostly irrelevant to the possibilities inherent in the new circum­stances. It may be, as Lord Rea said in the House of Lords debate, that he was reared very satisfactorily from the age of six by his mother and a lesbian partner; but that was in the 1930s when no-one would have suspected homosexuality in the arrangement. In any case there is nothing surprising in his experience since the mother was his own, he had a rather unpleasant father who was replaced by a pleasant woman, and, as Lord Rea said himself, he was never once teased about it.
 
How different would be the position of any child today who fell within the scope of these guidelines and was unlucky enough to have a peculiar social worker who put commitment to "equal rights" for adults before the interests of the child.
 
Without a rock-solid commitment on the part of the Ministry to the principle that any child unfortunate enough to be in need of fostering must be offered the basic minimum of a mother and a father, the possibilities for damage are enormous.
 
The child could be placed with homo­sexuals as a baby and its own future sexual orientation influenced as a result. Again, the child could have a homosexual social worker with a belief in positive discrimination in favour of his or her own predilection.
 
Most likely of all, it could be placed with high-profile individuals who preferred to put themselves forward as homosexuals for fostering rather than simply as two people who wanted to look after a baby. So the growing child would have to suffer whatever prejudice the fostering couple had attracted to themselves without ever having chosen such an unenviable posi­tion itself.
 
The situation being created begins to resemble the plot of Brecht's The Cauca­sian Chalk Circle, in which rival parents were invited to engage in a tug-of-war with a child in order to establish their parental rights. In the end the mother who refused to subject a child to such an ordeal was the only one judged worthy. I believe most homosexuals would come to the same conclusion. But who today would vouch for what some social workers might think?