Letter: Protecting children from abuse

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The Independent Online
Sir: The letter from Peter Smallridge, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services (7 December) requires a response from ourselves. Mr Smallridge is not correct in saying that the 30 case studies presented by Parents Against Injustice (Pain) are dated pre-1987. Most of them began in 1988 and 1989 and, indeed, some of the 10 families described in detail are still pursuing their cases to this day, either through complaints or other procedures.

The figures presented by Pain, of 164 families in a seven-month period post-Children Act, show that 80 per cent were not allowed to participate throughout child protection conferences; 79 per cent were not given any written information about them; 96 per cent were not given written information about the powers and responsibilities of agencies; and 52 per cent with children on registers were not aware of or involved in any child-protection plan.

These figures do not represent a distorted view given by such families but are the factual reality of the failure of workers to work in partnership with families. The examples of bad practice quoted by Pain are not isolated incidents. They arise from the practices and policies of more than 50 different local authorities throughout the country.

Pain regularly refuses publicity because we cannot cope with the subsequent flood of cases as, for example, following the recent publicity - 70 new cases in four days and still pouring in. We handle more than 500 new families per year and because of the response when we are publicised, we know that these cases are only the tip of an iceberg. It is not known how many cases are investigated in Britain each year that are subsequently deemed unfounded, but in the US the figure quoted is 65 per cent. It is possible, if not probable, that the same applies here.

The children from our families make up part of the 45,000 children on registers referred to by Mr Smallridge, who might be suffering physical or sexual abuse and who are protected by social workers. Mr Smallridge clearly misses the point that those children on registers who have not been abused do not need protecting by social workers but protection from social workers.

Pain's intention, in publishing the report and providing statistics from our case histories this year, was to alert childcare workers to the fact that, in many areas, there is still much to be done before the process of investigation is made as harmless as possible to the families who are subjected to it, whether or not children have been abused.

We know that there are many social workers carrying out good work who are promoting the partnership principle. We are saddened that someone in Mr Smallridge's powerful position should seek to denigrate and marginalise the views of families and to ignore the obvious poor practices that are still continuing throughout the country. It would be helpful if he, too, felt able to promote the partnership principle and was prepared to listen to the client group.

Yours faithfully,



Parents Against Injustice



8 December