22nd October 2010
Dear Obelix Mahjong.
It was nice to see you if only briefly on Friday 15 October when you visited Helen.
I mentioned some of my continued concerns with the Initial Assessment and you suggested that I put them in writing so that they are easier to assess, understand and address. They will then also be on record.
As a consequence of the report I have suffered a significant amount of anxiety, had many sleepless nights and developed a physical condition due to stress which has required medication. Helen has had two panic attacks, many restless nights, has not been able to attend her ESOS course on numerous days resulting in the loss of some EMA payments and has expressed significant increase in anxiety over starting the GCSE Course at Biston College in November.
The reason I mention all of this is to emphasise that real tangible damage has occurred.
When we spoke on Friday I posed a philosophical consideration: What is wrong with abuse? What is wrong with physical violence and what is wrong with prejudice? All these activities have significant legislation against them in British law. The general consensus is that they do harm. There are many issues that exist around these subjects but my concern is to emphasise that prejudice, like abuse and physical violence, actually does harm. It is harder to attribute particular injury or detriment to prejudice than the more obvious wounds from a physical assault. It is also harder to detect and discern prejudice than other more obvious causes of harm. This lends itself to a diminished perception of the significance of prejudice.
There are three dimensions to the issue of prejudice relating to the report that I want to raise here. The first is the prejudicial remarks upon which the report was purportedly instigated. The second is the way that the prejudice inherent in the remarks was carried into the report. The third is the fact that the report is prejudicial in itself.
A lot, if not all, of the remarks attributed to the nurse, or nurses, are prejudicial in nature. Many of them allude directly to some dark undercurrent and many insidiously convey negative interpretation and value judgements. On peeling one layer away another less obvious detrimental picture emerges. In the report is the statement that the nursing staff expressed concern that "...there was inappropriate physical contact and attention from Helen's father." That remark is deliberately insinuating something undesirable without being explicit. It is a value judgement implying one thing and stating something which is not true. "Helen had to undress and undressed in front of her father." is another case of an implication being made with a statement which is untrue. The claim that the "...father is persistent (sic) that he wants to stay on the ward." is misleading and implies an interpretation which is not true. The claim that Helen stated she was "...into witchcraft" is both untrue and a deliberate attempt to belittle and denigrate her beliefs or interests and is designed to besmirch her in a medieval kind of way. The claim that I wanted her "... to see a counsellor because she is scared of staff." is untrue and is extraordinarily misleading partly because it lends itself almost imperceptibly to another underlying prejudice which reveals itself in more detail later. Namely that I have an emotional problem which causes undue dependency on me.
There is more, much more, but for brevity these will do as examples of the appalling misrepresentation and prejudice in the claims of the nurse or nurses.
For the record the closest thing to "inappropriate touching" would be a hug or a kiss on the forehead. Neither being inappropriate for a parent with their frightened child in hospital. Helen did take her t-shirt off for a doctor to examine her tummy and I did ask respectfully if she wanted me to leave for a moment and she was insistent that I stayed. She was wearing a bra and nothing more private than her tummy was revealed. It is respect and consideration for the dignity and well being of the child that should be the issue here not some perverted paranoid interpretation which reveals more about the conveyor of the message than the subjects involved. To state that Helen undressed in front of me is designed to suggest a situation which never occurred. Helen in fact stated, when asked what religion she was, that she was Wiccan. A perfectly respectable if not main stream religion. I didn't request that Helen see a counsellor what I did enquire about was whether there was any mediation service available in the hospital for cases where the patients and staff were polarising and the situation was getting difficult. The nurses seemed to have no idea what I was talking about and so I suggested they might have a counselling service or something. Of course my concern was to defuse the situation regardless of blame and to keep attention on the important issue of looking after Helen's health. A matter which seemed to disappear in the minds of some nurses if they felt they might be seen as getting anything wrong. Hence the accusation "Patient refused treatment" which is not only a misrepresentation of reality but false too.
The way the prejudice is carried into the report
It is understandable that when a nurse conveys concern about an underlying situation as expressed that the Children Services should want to investigate further. The "Initial Assessment" should be just that. However, in the section entitled REASONS FOR INITIAL ASSESSMENT, INCLUDING VIEWS OF CHILD/YOUNG PERSON AND PARENT/CARERS a significant amount of selection as to what to enter has been applied. That is, of course, reasonable and necessary. There is no point in mentioning that we had cream buns for tea if it has nothing to do with the matter in hand. But the selected information should be relevant, meaningful and fair. Since there are only 18 sentences in this section one assumes they have been selected or derived for a purpose. What is the purpose of including that Helen stated that "... she wasn't [pregnant] but wishes she was."? What is the significance of the overtly prejudicial phrase "... she was into witchcraft."? In what way are these 'reasons' for the assessment. I accept that statements from a nurse like "... he was laying on the bed with her on the ward." might constitute a 'reason' for an initial assessment but to leave the statement as if it is fact without enquiring of the parent or child as to whether this occurred or not, and if so for their view on it, is prejudicial. In fact no such thing ever occurred but that seems almost beside the point in this report. The collection of sentences in this section seem to be designed to conjure up a negative picture as if 'demonstrating' the reason for the Initial Assessment. That is not the same thing as 'stating' the reason for the Assessment. In fact it is dramatic and prejudicial.
There are far more subtle problems too. I will give one example to demonstrate the kind of error and the significant prejudice created. The sentence " Helen has expressed some concerns to the staff stating her parents separated some time ago and her father took her out of school a year and a half ago and started to home school her." is incorrect on a number of levels. It is one thing for a nurse to state that Helen said something. It is obviously incorrect to report 'that' Helen said it. It would be reasonable to say that the nurse said that she said it but a new level of complexity is, possibly inadvertently, introduced in this sentence. The sentence states that Helen 'did' express these concerns to the nurse. It may seem pedantic to be raising this point but it is important because to the reader the fact is being presented that Helen expressed these views. A token reference to the fact that she expressed them to the nurse is made but it is still stated as if the report writer were witness to her saying these things. It is clear that the report writer believes this statement and it is left in the readers mind as a fact. But it might not be true and in fact it is significantly misleading because it implies that she was 'taken' out of school by an external agent namely her father and that this is the subject of her concern. This is untrue. This is why the point I am making is so significant. By the very nature of the way it is written it gives inappropriate credence to the content and at the same time gives emphasis to something that is untrue and misleading.
This section discussed above is possibly badly titled because there is a crossover with the 'reason' for the Initial Assessment and the source material gained 'for' the initial assessment by way of the "VIEWS OF CHILD/YOUNG PERSON AND PARENT/CARERS ". The reason could be that the nurse reported x, y, and z but the views of the subjects are then gained by the process of the investigation. However the section heading clearly states that this section should include the parent's and the child's views and it completely negates that requirement. It is engendering prejudice by omission.
Other prejudice is introduced elsewhere in the report for example with the claim "There were concerns from nursing staff that there was inappropriate physical contact and attention from Helen's father." Apart from the obvious and blatant prejudice in the lack of clarification as to what actually happened or the interpretation of "inappropriate" it is also presented as a consensus opinion in an attempt to raise its credibility. How many nurses expressed this concern and were they speaking independently or was it a group interview with supportive murmurings?
Overall it is remarkable how the report seems to not only ignore the prejudice in the nurses statements but happily carries that prejudice into the report by presenting the prejudicial views as facts. This is making the content of the report prejudicial in its own right.
For completeness in this letter I will add that only a few examples are illustrated here. There are far more problems with the report.
The prejudicial nature of the report
Prejudicial remarks by the nurses are carried into the report and assumptions and deductions result in more statements which are then inevitably prejudicial because they are based on an inaccurate picture of the situation. An example being the whole issue of Helen not being in school. It is presented as if the father is the causal influence in this state of affairs. It is stated that I "...removed Helen from school ... as a result of her distress and inability to cope..." This is significantly misleading. I was advised to put her into 'home education' to put a stop to the increasing threats from the Educational Welfare Officer to take court action possibly resulting in a jail sentence. The suggestion that I took her out of school has been started with the erroneous representation of the nurses (namely that Helen expressed concern about her father taking her out of school) and taken up by the report as fact. It is backed up by the reference to my statement that I removed her from school with no fair indication that this was a forced action brought about by the school throwing Helen out for no good reason and the educational systems inability to do any more about it than to threaten me with punitive action. The claim that I said Helen "doesn't like to engage with people" is unfortunately probably not true but even if I did say it, it would have been in a context. There are contexts where Helen is reluctant to engage and they are reasonable and understandable. I know Helen is a great communicator and I know that when she gets on with new people she is lively, empathetic and enthusiastic. Need I add here that one thing she is very sensitive to is prejudice. She is also very sensitive to manipulative behaviour. This is entirely understandable given her history and relationship with her mother. Another prejudice that has crept into the report in various places is a negative reference to my "emotional responses" towards Helen somehow engendering or encouraging some detrimental effect. Examples being references to my encouraging or supporting Helen's refusal of treatment and another being my reinforcing her isolation from her peers. It seems at this stage that it has been ascertained within the report that Helen refused treatment. She did not. (Any further discussion on that subject for clarification is more than welcome but it remains a fact that she has been totally misrepresented on this matter.) The idea that I encourage her isolation from school or her peers is ridiculous but it is based on incorrect assumptions about me "taking her out of school" and that she "doesn't like to engage with people" as if this is inclusive of everyone including her peers.
Other examples of prejudice are introduced into the report with phrases like "following what is termed a very distressing separation from her mother." and "Dave states he is a software engineer by trade as well as an 'abstract film maker' however he is not currently in employment." They may be subtle but they are indicative of an underlying view which is by definition prejudicial. The first example above is strictly incorrect. What was distressing was the divorce as a whole and in particular the manipulation, deception and betrayal by the mother of both Helen and myself. Neither Helen nor myself will have ever referred to the history as a 'distressing separation from her mother' because the situation as perceived by us does not give rise to that description. However, a third party in possession of a few scant details may assume that a child being separated from their mother is distressing. It is understandable that someone might make that provisional assumption. But the hypothetical model that is being formed in the writer's mind in an attempt to understand what happened is being referenced here as if it 'is' what happened. This is why it is strictly pre-judicial. There is an underlying assumption which in this case is significantly misleading which is being represented as fact. The unfortunate consequence is to convey to a reader a picture which is distorted and will then influence the interpretation of other 'facts'. In short the phrase suggests that a normal mother daughter relationship was severed and was distressing to the child. The fact is that the mother embarked upon a severe assault of myself and used Helen in an attempt to hurt me. Helen's mother claimed that she could get me to do anything by threatening Helen. It was quite conscious and deliberate. I will propose a fictitious scenario to illustrate this. John kidnaps Jane. John then beats up on Jane in a demonstration of his intent and eventually runs away leaving Jane injured on the floor. Jane was traumatised by the kidnapping and by the violence involved in John's departure. The local paper reports that "Jane experienced a distressing separation from John". I think this illustrates how an inaccurate impression can so easily be created. The next example is possibly easier to detect because it doesn't require 'reality' to see. To say that I 'state' I am a software engineer is to cast doubt on the truth of that statement. It could be worse it could say "He claims to be...". If there is any doubt about the pejorative nature of the sentence then compare the next two asserted 'facts' in the same sentence. "... as well as an 'abstract film maker'..." and "however he is not currently in employment." Why is abstract film maker in quotes? and how come the status of unemployed is not a claim of mine but a simple fact. As it happens it is debateable because I am officially self-employed but have no current income from work.
These kinds of casual errors and prejudices then give rise to the apparent legitimacy of statements like "I am concerned that Dave's emotional responses to Helen as well as his removal of her from school have reinforced her own emotional behaviour in terms of separation anxiety when not with Dave, her reactions to stress, change and her peers; and have created a reliance on her father which is unusual for a child of 16 years." That is quite amazing! How far do I go in explaining the phenomenal errors in this. My emotional responses are perfectly human and perfectly reasonable. If Helen were somehow a 'normal' child with a 'normal' past (whatever that would be supposed to mean) then it might be the case that my emotional response to Helen was out of the ordinary. It may raise the question as to what was going on for me, to give rise to what otherwise were inappropriate responses. But the whole point of this assessment is to ascertain the explanation for the behaviours. Helen has been traumatised by manipulation, control, betrayal and so much more. This report has had the opportunity to recognise that and to see why she is more sensitive than 'the norm' and why I may 'appear' to be more protective. But the irony is that the report does recognise Helen's vulnerability but does nothing to relate that to the suggestion that I have inappropriate emotional responses. I did not remove her from school. This is a bizarre assertion. In addition there is no 'separation anxiety'. We covered that in the hour and a half interview in the hospital and it seemed to be understood and accepted then but there is an appalling absence of any reference to it in this report. The reference to "stress, change and her peers" seems an arbitrary list of 'things' which bear little relationship to the actual issues which are relevant. (Incidentally it is clear to me what frightens Helen. It is none of what is mentioned here and I am available to supply more information if you require it. Manipulation, deception, denial of her feelings, prejudice, punitive control and threats are the kinds of things that she is 'unusually' sensitive to and they all, incidentally, occurred in the hospital.) And then to compound the whole list of errors the report states that these things "have created a reliance on her father which is unusual for a child of 16 years." No. Helen's reliance on me is 'unusual' only in direct proportion to her 'unusual' past experience. Helen's history is ample explanation for her vulnerability. To have to suggest that I am in some way causal in this is to miss the point entirely. In fact this suggestion is getting close to the same prejudice and attitude which caused so much damage six years ago and has resulted in the current miserable state of affairs.
I hope I have at least illustrated satisfactorily that there is prejudice in this report. It is not my issue to find anyone culpable as if this would resolve the issue. My concern is simply that the prejudice is recognised, stopped, redressed, and that life can carry on without carrying the baggage forward and making the situation worse. There is a philosophical point to raise here and it is related to our cultures way of operating. In part it is sometimes referred to as a blame culture. What seems to happen is that the Social Services (or any relevant institution) has a motive and a mandate to "help". It then seems that if something is wrong then to validate the judgement (that something is wrong) in order to justify resources being deployed there needs to be a "cause". The cause of the problem must be identified or it doesn't seem to make sense to suggest there is a problem. Hence the focus of attention too readily goes on seeking out a cause. In this case I seem to be being sighted as that cause because I am the father and sole carer for Helen. Of course my emotional responses have an influence on her. As it happens I am very supportive of her integrity, her emotional authenticity, her health and sense of well being etc. Given that the pair of us have been through six years of almost indescribable trauma of a most devastating nature it is not surprising that both of us are suffering anxiety and distress. The fact that I support Helen and do what I can (when appropriate) to defend her from a robust world that quite understandably has no idea of the condition she is in does not make it my "fault" that she is sensitive, anxious, or vulnerable. In fact I would suggest that the very reason she is still here and still standing for the Social Services to see her and to assess that she is in need is in some part down to me. When the trail of disaster in her short life to date is really understood then it makes complete sense why there were difficulties in the hospital. It is ironic and a little worrying that I can be taking extra care of her in a frightening situation because I am her father and I know her vulnerabilities and that the nursing staff can interpret this as being disproportionate and conclude that something must be wrong to the point that the official body of the Social Services moves in and concludes that Helen is vulnerable and deserving of additional support from them but still concur with the initial misinterpretation that the father's behaviour was somehow inappropriate. All the Social Services have done is begun to find out what I already know.
The allusions, insinuations, implications and unfortunate prejudice in the report are quite reasonably very disturbing to both Helen and myself. They are of the very nature of an aspect of the original assault by Helen's mother at the instigation of the divorce and the consequential six years of seriously declining quality of life as a direct consequence.
Had I been wearing a dress (i.e. I was female and consequently her mother as opposed to her father) in the hospital I suspect none of this would have happened and the Social Services would still be unaware of Helen's vulnerabilities. (Another significant prejudice!)
What I would like you to do
Given the very disturbing allusions in this report and given that the conclusion is to initiate a Core Assessment then I would like the very first thing in that report to correctly dismiss any of the implications and insinuations of impropriety and to point out that the father's behaviour made complete sense when you discovered for yourselves the significant difficulties in Helen's life.
Neither of us are "to blame" for the circumstances. If blame were the issue then better places to look would be her mother, my father, Helen's mother's parents, their parents, the legal profession (which let us down badly), the housing policies in this country, the police in Oxfordshire and Cambridge, or anyone else in this cascading sequence of distress and oppression. But the real issue is whether Helen is in need of extra help, encouragement, empowerment and support.
As an aid to understanding the whole situation I would like to add some information here:
There was a general assumption throughout the divorce that I was fighting to get residence of Helen. It is assumed to be a motive of mine and a kind of mission I was fighting to achieve. This perception is partly based on prejudicial assumptions about the roles of mothers and fathers. It is a sexual prejudice but not one that is hard to understand in our culture. In our case Helen did not bond with her mother and she did bond with me. It was simple. Marion would never bath Helen, she rarely put her to bed, or got her up, she left nearly everything to me. I did all the primary care even to the point that Marion didn't like feeding Helen and bought a machine to express milk to give to me to feed her. I am not trying to criticise Marion but it is important to realise that I was very much in the traditional role of the mother. This has all been covered in previous investigations by CAFCASS and the Social Services. Marion, for whatever reasons not particularly relevant here, wanted to leave the country with Helen. She knew Helen wouldn't want that and in some way I think she knew enough about Helen instinctively to know that it would destroy her. Marion went on what seemed an insane assault which resulted in devastation to our lives. Sometimes the picture is of the two parents tearing the child apart as they both fight for possession. It was not like that in this case. Marion was trying to take Helen away. I did nothing to stop her except in so far as Helen hid behind me and I would not aid Marion's attempts by stepping aside. It is perhaps worth noting that during the one and a half years of torment which included many false accusations, one resulting in an arrest and detainment, many police visits and threats, a Social Services investigation, a CAFCASS investigation, failed attempts at mediation, numerous court cases and more, that in spite of this, and to my solicitors frustration and consternation, I never once filed an application for residence. I was never fighting for residence of Helen. I would have been perfectly accepting of the situation if Helen had wanted to live with, or even leave the country with, her mother. Ironically there was a moment where for 12 hours Helen agreed to go with her mother. I accepted that but it turned out to be the most horrible mind bending manipulation that Marion ever performed and within 12 hours Helen was seriously distressed expressing that she had been tricked. My consistent concern is always to protect Helen's rights, integrity, authenticity and well being. But it seems too easy for others to imagine that I have some disproportionate personal desire to be with Helen as if regardless of her wishes. The misinterpretation expressed by the nurses and now partly by the Social Services are largely of the same nature as the assault in the divorce. They all try to present what shouldn't be a rare case of a father and daughter with a perfectly healthy relationship as being weird, strange, odd or something wrong with it. It is not surprising that either Helen or myself are seriously bruised by the bullying, the manipulation, the accusations, the suggestions, allusions, the lies, the nasty interpretations, the false allegations and all the raft of devices used by Marion during the divorce. Initially the police, the solicitors, the doctor, the Social Services, CAFFCASS, even the mediation fell for the false constructs which dominated the situation. Eventually they all began to realise it was without substance. When the Social Services concluded their in-depth investigation prompted by serious insinuations of sexual impropriety I recall the investigator sitting down with me and saying that he was relieved and very pleased to say that it was clear that there was absolutely nothing wrong. I looked at him and said "Well... the Social Services are involved, the Police Child Protection Unit is involved, the Police Criminal Unit is involved, CAFCASS are involved, the British Law Courts are involved... and yet you say there is nothing wrong? I suggest that there is something wrong. I suggest that there is a serious case of psychological and emotional abuse of Helen and myself going on." He looked a little shocked and said "I see what you mean. I'd better put something about that in the report." He never did and I can only assume he had lost the concept or realised that he wouldn't know how to explain it when it came to writing the report. It would be a serious allegation against Marion and it would be extremely difficult to investigate and prove.
In short there is nothing wrong with my emotional responses to Helen and I do not encourage her dependency on me. The situation in the hospital was difficult and, perhaps unwittingly, a nurse was prejudicial in her interpretation of our behaviour. What is wrong, however, is our circumstance.
B.A. M.Sc. MBCS CITP