However, I accept that such background information may be impossible to put into the public domain without risking a contempt of court and possible prison sentence. While it is easy to criticise journalists who mistake cliche for reporting, we have to appreciate the position that we have put our journalists in. As Louise Tickle is demonstrating in her crowd funding efforts to challenge the family court the current system is putting enormous obstacles in the way of responsible journalists who wish to discuss actual facts.
I think there is a real risk that objections to such journalism are not based on consideration of the necessary legal principles, but rather a nervous clinging to the status quo. Those who continue to argue against increased transparency and wider availability of information about the child protection system need to consider their position in light of such articles by The Sun. People wish to and have a right to know what is being done in their name. We have to accept that there are now very serious concerns about the credibility of a system that continues to resist scrutiny whilst apparently offering little reasoned explanation for why this is lawful.
So what is wrong with this article?
Into the gaps and silence left by this failure to acknowledge the corrosive impact of lack of scrutiny comes The Sun and legions of other publications on social media. The article begins promisingly, by raising the issue of private firms that earn large sums of money from operating foster care agencies. It is indeed a matter of urgent public concern that profit making organisations have anything whatsoever to do with child protection. Various governments appear to hold fast to the belief that – despite all evidence to the contrary – private firms are the most efficient and cheapest way to run essential services. They are not. Any organisation whose driving force is profit has no place here. This is clear from the fees that such private agencies charge local authorities who are already facing considerable pressures in maintaining even essential services.
The Sun says:
Charities and parents have branded the profiteering private equity funds who make millions in profit off the back of families’ trauma as “disgusting”.
However surrounding this type of legitimate and necessary comment, we find this:
Thousands of parents across the country are being dragged into secretive courts each year where social services are removing children in record numbers.
Again The Sun rely on their deeply misleading reporting of the ‘ice cream’ case in support of this contention. The child in that case was NOT removed because his mother didn’t buy him an ice-cream. In fact, he was already in care. This was his mother’s application to discharge the care order – and she succeeded. The discussion about buying ice creams came in a wider discussion about the child’s ‘attachment’ to his mother and Mostyn J was clearly underwhelmed by the quality of social work analysis in this case. However, no one who actually read the judgment could support in good faith the Sun’s interpretation. This is bad, irresponsible journalism and should be condemned. It does not advance the necessary debate and it will only serve to frighten people for no good reason.
The article then moves on to making another good point – concern about the rising numbers of children taken into care. There has been a considerable amount of responsible investigation into this; for example see the discussions at CPConf2018 and the report of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory on 10th October 2018.
However, who are the parents that The Sun rely upon to prove their point about ‘shadowy secret courts’? We have met Jill before in the previous Sun article where concern about a ‘tiny’ fracture was held up as some unjustifiable reason for the State to intervene. I repeat what I said then:
This swelling was in fact a fracture. As 10 week old babies are not able to injure themselves, broken bones are either the result of some pre-existing condition or somebody has hurt that baby – either by accident, a momentary loss of self control or something more disturbing and deliberate. It is inconceivable that as a society we should fail to investigate how this happened and to protect the children if we need to. No doubt The Sun would be among the first to raise the loudest cries for more social workers’ heads on plates if another baby dies on their watch.
The other parents are Sam Brown and Bhupesh. The reasons for their sons being taken into care is given simply as she had a low IQ and ‘dad Bhupesh had been aggressive towards their staff’. There is a judgment relating to these parents which would cast an entirely different light upon why these parents lost their children. I accept that the Sun cannot easily link to that judgment in this case as the parents are named and their photograph displayed. But again, its a disturbing lack of curiosity about the parents on whom they rely. Details of the father’s criminal convictions are in the public domain.
It is a great shame that The Sun has chosen to intermingle some detailed and worrying reporting about the impact of profit making private firms on the foster care system with reliance on the same old same old. They don’t need to do this. It detracts rather than supports the serious points they wish to make – and which need to be made.
However, I have to accept that currently there are many obstacles in the way for journalists who do want access to the actual facts. I will be watching the progress of Louise Tickle’s challenge to the family courts with interest.
Featured image: ‘Être homme, c’est précisément être responsable’ by Vassilis L. via Flickr creative commons, reproduced with thanks.