Earlier this week we highlighted reports in the press suggesting that a Sun “probe” had uncovered that children were being removed because their parents played too many video games. See Julie D’s post : Press reporting random scare stories helps no-one.
We were pretty sure we weren’t getting the whole story from these reports, so we asked the Sun journalist who had written the story.
So, the “probe” amounted to Freedom of Information Act requests to each local authority. And although the Sun was not proposing to publish those FOI results we now have that FOI request and the reply from Walsall, the Local Authority said to have removed a child because of gaming (thanks @fullfact).
Here is the request and response :
IN RELATION TO THE FIRST TEN CASES OF CHILDREN THAT WERE TAKEN INTO CARE (EITHER INTERIM OR FULL) BY YOUR AUTHORITY IN THE 2015 CALENDAR YEAR PLEASE PROVIDE ME WITH THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IN CONNECTION WITH EACH OF THE THREE CASES.
1. THE SEX OF THE CHILD?
[A : 3 males, 7 females]
2. THE AGE OF THE CHILD?
[A : 7 x less than 1 year, 1 x 1 year old, 1 x 2 year old 1 x 13 year old]
3. IF ANY OF THE FOLLOWING FACTORS ARE RECORDED IN THE PAPERS YOU HOLD ON THE CASE AS HAVING BEEN A FACTOR IN THE COUNCIL’S DECISION TO TAKE THE CHILD INTO CARE:
(A) PROXIMITY TO A DANGEROUS DOG
(B) THE OBESITY OF THE CHILD,
(C) A CONCERN THE CHILD SPENDS TOO MUCH TIME PLAYING COMPUTER GAMES AND/OR ON THE INTERNET,
(D) THE CHILD’S HOME ENVIRONMENT IS UNHEALTHY DUE TO CIGARETTE SMOKE,
(E) THE PARENTS DO NOT CARE ADEQUATELY FOR THE CHILD BECAUSE THEY SPEND TOO MUCH TIME WATCHING TELEVISION AND/OR ON THE INTERNET OR
(F) THAT THE CHILD HAS POOR DENTAL HYGIENE.
[A : The key factors leading to children coming into care or being subject to a child protection plan that are recorded tend to focus on the impact on the child. The behaviours described are not recorded in a systematic way as factors for children coming into care, but their reference can be symptomatic of wider issues. e.g. one child suffering neglect did not have adequate dental hygiene support and in another case the neglect shown by parents included their playing computer games. There is reference to smoking in one case but these issues form a small part of a wider picture that would lead to the child entering care.] (our emphasis)
The question as posed was for information on cases where certain headline grabbing features had been “a factor” in the council’s decision making. However the article gives the clear impression that a child was removed simply because of the parent’s gaming, when this is far from the case, and the clear explanation from Walsall that “these issues form a small part of a wider picture that would lead to the child entering care” is minimised and misrepresented as “Walsall Council said gaming was not the main factor for intervening”.
Walsall also say that :
We are aware that some people have concluded from this FOI response that Walsall have taken action BECAUSE OF certain factors, notably tooth decay and game playing by parents. In all cases where children are brought into care there will be a significant number of factors and they will have developed over time. For example, tooth decay may well be an indicator of neglect, but it will be only one aspect of a range of indicators that would only make sense when considered as a whole. It is this holistic approach to evidence gathering that would be presented to a court for their consideration.
Some children will enter care because they have been severely neglected – over a period of time – and that neglect will be demonstrated in a number of ways. One of those ways may be a failure to seek attention to a child’s health needs, but that is not the same as saying that a child has come into care BECAUSE OF tooth decay.
We think this is a clear case of a journalist attempting to make a story where none really exists, by selective and misleading reporting of the results of their enquiries.
If, as John Hemming is quoted as saying “silly reasons are often given for taking children”, we would expect those reasons to be identified as silly when the court is asked to approve the Local Authority’s request for removal of the child into care.