Families urged to 'work out' abuse

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The Independent Online
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The ultimate 'nuclear weapon' of taking a child away from parents should be used only as a last resort, a government minister said yesterday after publication of a report on the devastating effects on families wrongly accused of child abuse.

Timothy Yeo, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, said that even where there was evidence of abuse, it might be better for the family to 'work it out' rather than be split up.

Mr Yeo was commenting on a report published by Parents Against INjustice (Pain) which criticised the way families were treated by the child protection system when subjected to mistaken or false allegations of child abuse.

The Government's policy of keeping the family together appears to be at odds with the way social services act, according to the results of a study of 30 wrongly accused families.

Speaking on the BBC radio Today programme, Mr Yeo said: 'This report is valuable because it is a reminder of the terrible agony which can be inflicted, and sometimes permanent damage inflicted, on a family by false accusations, by thoughtless, insensitive and even over-zealous intervention by social services.

'While the interests of the child must always be paramount, wherever possible we want social services departments and other agencies to work with the family, with the parents, telling them what's going on, consulting them, involving them in discussions and the decision-making process, so it's a genuine partnership, and the sort of nuclear weapon of actually taking a child away should only be used in the very last resort.'

Pain said the majority of innocent families were being damaged by a child protection system which was trying to protect the minority of children who were victims of abuse. Sue Amphlett, the director, claimed that a study in the United States which found 65 per cent of allegations were later shown to be unfounded.

The Association of Directors of Social Services hit back, claiming that Pain was using negligible figures to cast doubt on a service that protected more than 45,000 children. In a statement, it said: 'Using a statistically negligible number of families - 30 - to suggest that a majority of families involved in these tragedies are being 'abused' in no way adds to our understanding of the dificulties which social workers, or those families themselves, face.'