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Abuse is a big nasty word in today's culture. When someone is accused of abuse it often conjures up images of austere priests having their way with choir boys, drunken fathers raping their children or excessive violence in the family home. This sometimes diminishes the understanding of abuse and invalidates claims of abuse when they are less serious. However it is my contention that abuse is abuse no matter how small.
Like the old Chinese torture of death by a thousand cuts the creeping normalcy of abuse by official institutions like the social services has a significantly detrimental effect. Each incident of abuse must be seen for what it is. One reason culpability for incidents of "small" abuse are avoided is because we live in a blame culture and the punitive response is usually disproportionate and unfair itself. The case of Ian Tomlinson who died after being assaulted by a police officer on 1 April 2009 is a good case in point. What the police officer did was clearly wrong but to admit it was wrong leaves the police officer, Simon Harwood, open to the charge of murder. There becomes a motive to deny the charge lest one gets lumped in with the likes of Dr Crippen or Osama bin Laden. But we have to get over this or we end up with the relatively commonplace Uncle Adolf Syndrome. Pushing Ian Tomlinson to the ground was a pointless and cruel abuse. The event should be, and eventually was, duly recognised and Simon Harwood should be suitably dealt with. What might be achieved as a result of this case is that the police will be more careful about the culture that is encouraged or tolerated within the police. The case of the Children Services discussed here is similar in the respect that what the Children Services did might be common practice and in most cases the victims may not suffer catastrophic consequences. But Dave and Helen were already significantly injured by a previous and prolonged sequence of abuses and the consequences of the Children Services' bad behaviour resulted in significant harm to both of them.
To keep things in perspective it is worth noting here that there are lots of different people involved in Children Services and each one will have differing amounts of good and bad attitude. There is little doubt that the apparent conscious intent of the Children Services is benign. There is no doubt that they achieve a lot of good in the community. But I am not discussing the good they do here. I am examining a case of bad behaviour and bad consequences and wish to illustrate how this kind of behaviour manages to exist in a culture which professes not to want it.
The Children Services responded to a report by hospital staff which indicated some concern about Dave and Helen. It appears that they metaphorically rode in to "save the child". This attitude already required an enemy from which they were saving the child. Their assumption was that the father was in some way faulty and they could do a better job. There was already a lot of information available to them had they looked through their official files indicating that Dave was a good father and there was nothing wrong with Helen except her unfortunate circumstances. They questioned both Helen and Dave individually for an hour and a half each in the hospital. A less friendly way of putting it was that they interrogated them. They then produced what they call an Initial Assessment. It was an appalling example of inaccurate, prejudicial and incomplete bureaucratic nonsense. It caused a significant amount of distress and harm in itself. They concluded that a Core Assessment was required and proceeded with their investigation. They were incompetent in their execution of this investigation and failed to follow rules and guidelines. They failed to attend meetings, there were evident deceptions constructed to hide their mistakes, they failed to carry out the planned meetings and would not respond to reasonable questions and complaints. All this made the situation yet worse for Dave and Helen. Eventually Dave made a serious complaint outlining the evident problems with their behaviour. Their response, surprisingly, was to terminate any further communication with the family. The whole process of the Core Investigation stopped dead. Three months later Dave wrote to them expressing his concern at their silence. They made a curt reply stating that they had decided further "intervention" (a telling phrase that indicates an appalling attitude) was not necessary. Dave responded to this by pointing out that his concerns had not been addressed and that the legal requirement for them to complete the Core Assessment had not been fulfilled. He suggested that if they had completed the Core Assessment that they were now keeping secret reports on their Integrated Children's System. Amazingly they produced a Core Assessment apologising for not delivering it earlier. But they sent a confidential report to the wrong person and it had clearly been fudged without the required set of meetings. It stated that "... it is clear that there is no further role for Children's Services."
In brief these events caused both Helen and Dave a lot of distress which, amongst other things, resulted in Helen ceasing her education and Dave getting physically ill. In other circumstances it may have been enough that they had succeeded in stopping the assault by the Children Services but Dave felt that somehow the damage had to be confronted and dealt with. It is not acceptable that professionals can take an opportunity to interfere in someone's life for their own benefit and if they do not get away with their abusive behaviour to simply drop the case leaving the victims writhing on the floor with less chance of even helping themselves. If the Children Services' actions were abusive and caused harm it is reasonable that they should be held responsible and should be liable for correcting the damage and providing some form of compensatory help. That would only be reasonable.
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