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Camden New Journal - by ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 26 July 2007
  Salma ElSharkaway
Salma ElSharkaway
Behind closed doors... the decisions that can tear a child from her family

Inquiry into care tragic Salma received

A mother pleads in court for girl’s return

THE tragic death of 12-year-old runaway Salma ElSharkawy – killed in a car crash after being taken from her parents by social services – has exposed a care system where decisions are taken behind closed doors, with relatives feeling shut out.
Parents and social workers have contacted the New Journal after reading Salma’s story last week, lifting the lid on a process which is rarely openly discussed.
Many have warned that resources are spent on court proceedings and foster carers instead of helping parents struggling to cope.
The issues will be highlighted today (Thursday) when a mother from West Hampstead goes to the High Court in a battle to win her daughter back from Camden Council’s care.
She cannot be named for legal reasons but the woman claims her daughter jumped out of a window after being taken away.
It will be argued in court that her child’s pleas to remain with her mother were ignored.
She said this week: “I’m appealing to the Royal Courts because there’s no reason for them to take her.
“I don’t have any contact with her whatsoever. They took her completely and she disappeared from my life.
“When they took her they knew she had attempted to kill herself before. She had told psychiatrists she would kill herself. She threw herself out of a window the same night she was taken away but survived.”
The case comes in the wake of the death of Salma ElSharkawy in a car crash after being taken into care. She had written letters to a family court judge asking to return to her parents, but was sent to live with a family in Derbyshire, where she died in the crash.
Initially, her mother had asked for help after Salma began developing behavioural problems.
Camden’s children’s director Heather Sch­roed­er is due to pick an independent investigator with experience of the social care system to lead an external inquiry into the care Salma received. Everyone who came into contact with Salma is expected to be questioned.
Lib Dem councillor John Bryant, who holds the portfolio for children, said: “If there are lessons to be learned we need to think those through. The coroner has to decide the cause of death but that doesn’t help us out with risk assessments.”
Following last week’s article, parents contacted the New Journal with their concerns.
One woman, who used to live in Belsize Park, wrote in an email: “I’m in Australia now with my children safe but I have all my documents with a list of dodgy social workers and medical staff from two hospitals.”
Former foster carer Christine Brody, of Steeles Road, Belsize Park, said a young relative was also failed by the system.
She added: “Camden has the most terrible reputation for frightening parents.
“Anybody can go to social services and report you and this immediately goes into a ‘strategy process’. You don’t have the right to know this is even going on.
“Then a strategy meeting is called where the people concerned with the child are invited but the parents don’t always have the right to attend. They all get together with social services, have their meetings and say they want an independent assessment. You believe them but they crucify you. You’re not given any chance to question the allegations.”
She said social workers were concerned about damage to careers. “If they don’t toe the line and fill the quotas and targets their careers suffer. All the time they are throwing money at new schemes instead of supporting parents with their children.”
In an email to the New Journal, Staffordshire social worker Rachel Mulcahy said: “This sad case of Salma could happen anywhere in the country. If she had been on my books there’s no way she would have been in the care system. The whole system is unbalanced. They spend so much money on care proceedings and looked-after children. When I was an area social worker, parents had been asking for help, in most cases for two years. By the time they came to me the family were in crisis and often the children were in the care system.”
Trevor Jones, a spokesman for Parents Against Injustice (PAIN), which assists families caught up in care proceedings, said: “The system of taking children into care operates behind closed doors where social workers are not accountable for their actions.
“Without scrutiny, it is not surprising injustices occur and children are removed permanently from innocent parents.”
Salma’s parents have questioned Camden Council about their daughter being passed between so many social workers. They say they were told there was a shortage of social workers and that the council struggled to hold on to the ones they had.
A council press official said Camden employs 160 children’s social workers, a small proportion of whom are agency staff.
She added: “Camden Council is a high performing, four-star local authority with a strong record of effectively protecting and supporting children, young people and families. Our social workers do the valuable and challenging job of supporting the needs of children, young people and families, often in very difficult circumstances.
“We have at times faced similar problems to other local authorities in recruiting good-quality social workers.
“We always try to ensure continuity of care and at the end of May, of children known to Safeguarding and Social Care, more than three quarters had one social worker allocated to them during the previous 12 months, 21 per cent had two social workers and just one per cent had more than two social workers over the same period.”
Inquests into the deaths of Salma and support worker Elizabeth Fitton, from Buxton, Derbyshire, who also died in the crash, have been opened and adjourned.

Father takes protest to Downing St

Salma’s father Walid ElSharkawy is to hold a daily demonstration outside Parliament and Downing Street for the next three weeks.
He said: “To me, Salma died on February 25 when she was taken away. Our voice has always been repressed. Once a social worker gives evidence, they go and you can’t question them. The system for contact visits is just another chance for them to cement their case.”
Mr ElSharkawy has been documenting Salma’s story on his internet blog, and has received messages of support on the website from parents who say they have suffered similarly.

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Your Comments:
Well done to the CNJ for running with this story. I am in total agreement with Christine Brody and find it hard to accept that Councilor Byrant still seems to think that it was in Salmas best interests to be taken into care. Salma herself wrote letters to the Judge expressing her unhappiness with her treatment, pleading to be allowed to return home to her parents, but as is usual in family court cases the voice of the child is rarely, if ever, heard. Salmas father is to be commended and he needs to be listened to. Cases like this one of children being arbitrarily removed from families when all they have asked for is help are getting far too common and it is in the public interest that Salmas case is investigated thouroughly and INDEPENDENTLY.
Andy Hand


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