Letter: Distorted picture of child-abuse inquiries

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Sir: Your report 'Innocent suffer during inquiries into child abuse' (1 December) will inevitably leave in the minds of some of your readers the impression that large numbers of families and young children involved in sex abuse investigations by social workers are being unfairly treated. Such an utterly misleading impression will have been created by three distorting omissions.

First, your readers were not told that two sets of figures have been published by Parents Against INjustice (Pain), and that the material for the '10 detailed case studies' highlighting poor practice that were copiously reproduced in your report were first brought to light pre-1987, before the Children Act was even drafted, let alone debated and implemented.

The second omission lay in not informing your readers that the case studies were of families who had approached Pain with their complaints - and therefore hardly likely to be representative of the thousands of abuse, and sex abuse cases brought to social services departments each year.

Your third and probably most serious omission was to reproduce detailed descriptions of two of the cases and in no way seek to show that there was a social services perspective to be put on these cases, or in any way try to explain what that case might have been.

The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS), and all those who work in an area much too complicated for the simplicities required by your newpaper, deeply regret any unfairness perpetrated to children or their families in the conduct of abuse investigations. We do not know how many cases of unfairness have been alleged in the Pain report, but they will undoubtedly be gratifyingly few set in the context of the 45,000-plus children who may have been abused each year, and are protected by social work staff.

Commentators who have stressed the fine balance that has to be drawn between child protection and parental rights are doing no more than pointing to the sorts of rigorous professional judgements social workers have to make day in day out. Making them more rigorous and effective is the constant task of social services management. It is equally appropriate, however, to point to the fine line between the premises of an argument, and its conclusion. ADSS and all concerned with child sexual abuse regret even one error of professional judgement.

But using a statistically negligible number of self-selected families who made their complaints more than five years ago to suggest that a majority of families involved in these tragedies are being 'abused' in no way adds to our understanding of the difficulties social workers, or those families themselves, face.

Yours sincerely,


President, Association of

Directors of Social Services

Social Services Department

Kent County Council


2 December