As Paul Magrath noted lasted week, The Spectator published this article by Lara Prendergast on 6 February : Beware the baby-snatchers. He explained the misrepresentation of family court reporting in this story.
Another unsubstantiated claim made by Lara Prendergast was that a baby might enter the care system solely because of a mother’s post-natal deprssion. We know of of some superb PND support groups out there, and we also know that no social worker has a financial incentive to take a child away from their parents.
Ms Prendergast’s reference to Karen Broadhurst’s research was entirely inappropriate. Karen Broadhurst has found very serious evidence about the lack of support for some mothers but there is no association between this description of a single example of post-natal depression and her research. Although she is quoted in the story, she was never approached by the Spectator. You can read an accurate article about her work here.
While we are only too aware of difficulties in accessing mental health services across the country, to suggest that family courts are, as a consequence, going to make orders separating families has absolutely no foundation, and is plain scaremongering.
I wrote a letter to the Editor in response and was pleased that this was published. However, it has been edited to omit some points I think are important to make, so here is the full version that I sent:
Dear Mr Nelson,
On the basis of one woman’s experience (or from reading Facebook – this is not clear) Lara Prendergast categorically claims that mothers with post-natal depression are in danger of losing their children if they seek help from professionals (‘Beware the baby-snatchers: how social services can ruin your family’, 6 February).
This is highly misleading and wrong. Social workers have no financial incentive to remove a child; it is true that fostering is expensive but it is local authorities that have to bear this cost burden. Hundreds of family court judgments can be read online and your readers can see for themselves if judges make orders to remove happy, healthy babies from their parents solely on the basis of post-natal depression. (They don’t – the law is clear that the child must be at risk of significant harm with all reasonable options to keep them at home tried, before a care order can be made.) Karen Broadhurst’s research is not in the field of post-natal depression and she was not approached by the Spectator for comment, although she has been quoted in the article.
The single case related in the article, where no child was actually removed nor any court application made, provides no basis for the speculation that follows. Rising numbers of children, including babies, going into care; the place of profit in child protection; adoption policy and transparency are all issues that require serious press investigation, not scaremongering that can only add to parental anxieties.
While perusing the Spectator site, I came across an interesting book review by the excellent novelist, Philip Hensher. The book was about historical excesses in Hollywood; Mr Hensher was (justifiably) annoyed by its use of many unattributable quotations. He concludes that writers might find it boring to do so, but they should tell readers whether they are quoting genuine sources, or just making it up.
We can only agree.