Social workers `pressured mother to abort twins'

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The Independent Online
A woman was put under pressure to have an abortion and sterilisation by Lancashire social workers, who threatened to put her child into care, it has been alleged. A second woman, who also had an abortion, claims that a social worker drove her to h ave the operation.

In a third case, a social worker is alleged to have misreported professional medical opinion to a child protection conference. It is also claimed that social workers, without any authority, imposed rules on parents which effectively banned them from seeing each other.

The cases are the latest in a series of damaging allegations against Lancashire social workers and will raise public concern that they have acted in breach of professional guidelines.

Lancashire has said it will investigate the latest allegations,made in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme. The issue was first revealed by the Independent in September. It has also emerged that social workers encouraged one mother to put her 14-year-old daughter into voluntary care because she could not cope with her behaviour. She discovered that the girl had taken drink, drugs, and had under-age sex while in the care of social workers.

Dispatches has independently confirmed that Cathleen McCullagh was pressured into aborting twins by social workers who told her that if they were born, they would try to have them taken into care. Two doctors refused to give their permission for the termination because there were no medical grounds for it. Mrs McCullagh was never accused of abuse, but social workers argued that she was an "unfit'' mother because they said she had a low IQ and they claimed she was prone to aggressive mood swings. She denies this.

Another pregnant single mother, who cannot be identified, claims she was told that if she gave birth her child would also be taken into care. The social worker, who was not allowed to talk to the documentary makers, drove her to a private clinic where the mother paid £180 for the operation.

Pauline Oliver, director of Lancashire social services, said in a statement: "It is not for social services staff to promote or deter individuals in such decisions, and, to the best of my knowledge, they do not do so.''

More than 30 families who allege misconduct in Lancashire have organised themselves into an action group, Mothers in Action, which is pressing for a public inquiry into the local social services.

Charles Pragnall, an independent social work consultant, assessed the cases investigated by the programme. He concluded: "I've examined social worker practice as we've been in training. I've investigated in other parts of the country their conduct and their practice, but I have to say that what I've seen happening here in Lancashire is the worst practice I have ever seen ... There are certain parallels with what occurred in Cleveland.'' A Gallup poll commissioned for the documentary disclosed that only a minority of people have confidence in a local authority to effectively investigate itself where negligence is alleged. More than half the 1,000 people questioned last month did not believe that social services departments should be allowed to investigate themselves where negligence is alleged. Only 37 per cent believed that they should.

Mothers' stories, page 4