Children stolen by the state needlessly, causing utter misery in one of  Britain’s most disturbing scandals

By Christopher Booker

PUBLISHED:22:48, 12 April  2012 | UPDATED:01:06, 14  April 2012

Yesterday the Daily Mail reported that  applications to take children into care in England have soared to an all-time  record, for the first time topping 10,000 in just 12 months.

Since 2008 alone, the figure has much more  than doubled, to some 225 cases a week — bringing the total number of children  in care in the UK as a whole to at least 90,000.

The official reason given for this explosion  in the number of children being removed from their families by social workers in  only four years is that 2008 was the year when the nation was shocked by the  events leading to the death of Baby P — later named as Peter  Connelly.

He was just 17 months old when he died in  North London at the hands of his mother Tracey and her violent partner,  suffering more than 50 injuries.

Scandal: How many children are needlessly being taken from loving homes? Scandal: How many children are needlessly being taken  from loving homes to the detriment of both them and their parents?

The story goes that social workers have  become much more eager to take children into care because they do not wish to  see any repetition of the scandal surrounding their failure to save Baby Peter,  even though they and other officials had visited his home 60 times.

But one hugely important ingredient is  missing from the way this version of events is being put across by the  authorities responsible for ‘child protection’.

Evidence is accumulating on all sides to show  that far too many children are now being removed from their parents wholly  unnecessarily, often for laughably inadequate, even absurd, reasons.

No one could object if the rise in the number  of families being torn apart was simply due to the increased determination of  our social workers to intervene in situations likely to lead to another  Baby P tragedy.

But the fact is, happy children are today  being snatched from loving parents for reasons they cannot begin to fathom,  leaving all concerned in a state of utter misery. And this can constitute a  tragedy in its own way scarcely less heart-rending than those where a child has  been genuinely abused.

Having investigated scores of such cases over  the past three years, I do not hesitate to describe this as one of the most  disturbing scandals in Britain today.

Tragic case: Baby PTragic case: Baby P was found to have suffered 50  injuries when he died aged only 17 months
Metropolitan Police handout image of Tracey Connelly, Baby P's motherTracey Connelly, Baby P’s mother: Social workers missed  many opportunities to intervene and save Peter
Metropolitan Police handout image of Stephen Barker, Miss Connelly's partnerViolent Stephen Barker, Miss Connelly’s partner, was  charged along with his brother Jason in the abuse and death of baby P

The manner in which, every week, dozens of  families are wantonly ripped apart has become truly horrifying. And the only  reason this does not itself make headline news is that our so-called ‘child  protection’ system has become so ruthlessly hidden from view by the wall of  secrecy built round it by our family courts.

What is most  shocking about our child-care system is the extent to which, behind that wall of  secrecy, every part of it has gone off the rails,

The social workers have become far too prone  to target not genuine problem families like those of Baby P or Victoria Climbie — the eight-year-old girl from the Ivory Coast who in 2000 was tortured and  murdered by her guardians in London — but normal, respectable homes where  children are being happily brought up by responsible parents.

The reasons given by the care industry for  seizing these children these tell their own story.

Since 2008 the proportion of children removed  because they are being physically or sexually abused has actually gone  down.

Happy: Social workers take children from respectable homes where children are being happily brought up by responsible parentsHappy: Social workers take children from respectable  homes where children are being happily brought up by responsible parents

Instead, the social workers cite vague  reasons based on opinion rather than testable evidence — they use terms such as ‘emotional abuse’ the use of which has soared by 70 per cent.

In many cases the social workers don’t even  need to produce evidence, only their personal view that a child might be ‘at  risk of emotional harm’.

Once the social workers have made their  decision, children and parents find themselves caught up in a shadowy system  which seems rigged against them.

The social workers hire ‘experts’, such as  psychologists, who earn thousands of pounds writing reports which appear to  confirm the case planned for the courts. The reports can contain woolly  allegations, such as that a mother might suffer from a ‘borderline personality  disorder’. (Which of us could not have that charge levelled against  them?)

Far too often the parents aren’t allowed to  challenge the reports in court — even though the ‘experts’, rather than  practising in clinics and seeing patients, may earn all their living from  writing such reports, and endorsing what the social workers want them to  say.

Judges are then presented with allegations  made against the parents based on no more than the wildest hearsay. Such  allegations elsewhere in our legal system would instantly be ruled inadmissible.  But because of the secrecy of the family courts system, the parents are not  permitted to even question these claims and the media is denied the opportunity  to present them for scrutiny.

Meanwhile, countless children find themselves  living with strangers in foster homes, where all the evidence shows — despite  many shining exceptions — they may risk physical abuse or emotional harm far  worse than anything their parents were accused of inflicting on  them.

The only contact the accused parents and  their unhappy children are allowed with each other is in brief, rigorously  supervised ‘contact sessions’, staged in grim council ‘contact centres’. Even  these are likely to be brusquely terminated if any sign of affection is shown,  or if a bewildered child dares to ask its parents for an explanation of why all  this is happening.

I would not believe all this and much more  could happen in England if I had not heard remarkably similar stories again and  again from dozens of parents and children — even though the parents are  routinely threatened with prison if they discuss their case with anyone from  outside the system.

Just how ruthless and Kafkaesque this system  has become behind this impenetrable wall of secrecy is almost impossible to  convey to anyone unfamiliar with it.

House of horror: The house in Penshurst Road, Tottenham, where Baby P livedHouse of horror: The house in Penshurst Road, Tottenham,  where Baby P lived

It makes a complete mockery of a system that  has been set up in the name of ‘protecting children’, to ensure their lives are  somehow better and happier than they were before.

Nothing in yesterday’s Mail report was more  shocking than the statistics showing what happens to children who have emerged  from Britain’s care system.

Fifty per cent of all this country’s  prostitutes are girls who have been in care, and 80 per cent of all Big Issue  sellers.

Half of all those in young offenders’ institutions have been in care, and 26 per cent of adults in prison have the  same background.

Meanwhile, half of all girls who leave care  become single mothers within two years, not least because they want someone to  love.

These devastating statistics go on and on — hard evidence of just how horribly our ‘care system’ is failing those who fall  into its clutches. Many of the children, of course, have already had an  appalling start in life, being born to drug-addicted, alcoholic, genuinely  abusive or otherwise incapable parents.

It is hard to argue that social workers and  the courts were wrong to remove these tragic youngsters.

But this makes it all the more  incomprehensible that among such children in care today are ever more thousands  who should never have been taken from homes where they were properly cared for.

This is the real price we are paying for that  impersonal statistic we saw blazoned across the front page of yesterday’s Mail:  that the number of children being seized from their parents has now soared for  the first time to 10,000 a year,

Having heard too many of their accounts in  chillingly repetitive detail, I must say that this scandal is the most shocking  story I have reported in all my many decades as a journalist.

It is high time it was pulled from behind  that wall of secrecy and reported across the world.

Read more:


Tim Loughton responds to Guardian article on children in care

Letter date: 22 September 2011

Reforming policies to help children in care is top of our agenda and this government is clear that all state schools must give these vulnerable children highest priority in their admissions.   You say that this will be undermined when the new admissions code is published. This is quite wrong.   Academies and free schools, like all schools, must give highest priority to looked-after children. It is our responsibility to close the gulf in achievement and tackle inequality so as to make sure children in care get the extra support they need to succeed. That’s why we are including looked after children in our pupil premium grant and why they will also benefit from an extra year of free early education.

Tim Loughton MP

Minister for Children and Young People


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