The times Jan 13 2014


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The Family Courts and birth families: Response to Panorama, January 13 2014

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The times Jan 13 2014

  1. 1. Family courts will always favour a child’s birth parents The number in care is a third lower than it was 30 years ago Martin Narey Published at 12:01AM, January 13 2014 The BBC’s Panorama this evening will investigate the “secretive world of the family courts” and ask whether some parents have lost their children to care despite never harming them. This comes only a few weeks after the case of the Italian mother in the UK, who apparently had a panic attack, leading to her having a Caesarean section against her will, with her infant being taken into care. In that case deeply misleading initial commentaries were balanced within days by a few calm facts — the mother was mentally ill and the Caesarean decision had been taken by doctors, not social workers. But the damage to the reputation of the family courts and social workers was done. I fear that Panoroma may inflict further damage this evening. This is not to deny that the system can sometimes get things terribly wrong or that parents have sometimes, tragically, lost children they loved and cared for. I have seen such cases and been deeply troubled by them, but they are relatively rare and should not give the impression that social workers and the family courts are too keen to remove children from birth parents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When I left the Prison and Probation Services to go to Barnardo’s I was determined to try to reduce the number of children in care. But my time there opened my eyes to the extent to which the family court system, far from being cavalier in removing children, gave birth parents the benefit of any doubt, sometimes over and over again. There has been a modest and welcome shift in the past few years, shown by the rise in the number of children in care. But that is still a third lower than it was 30 years ago, reflecting the reality that children are taken into care only when all other options have been explored.
  2. 2. I have never met a social worker or judge (and I have lectured to most judges working in the Family Courts) who has not preferred in every case to keep a child with the birth parents. Indeed, the evidence is that we are too optimistic about the capacity of birth parents to care adequately for their children. Recent University of Bristol research followed 138 children returned to their parents from care: two thirds were neglected or abused again within two years. Sir Martin Narey is a former chief executive of Barnardo’s 2005-2010