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Camden New Journal - COMMENT
Published: 2nd August 2007
Story that’s provoked a strong reaction, and why it’s not always right to take a child away

EVER since we reported the tragic story of 12-year-old Salma ElSharkawy, a child in care, for whom Camden Council had full parental responsibility, distraught parents have called at our offices, phoned or emailed us – all relating heart-breaking stories about how their children were taken away by social workers.
We would have liked to have published a snapshot of each sad story simply to alert readers to a problem that, in our opinion, merits public debate, but the law governing the identification of children in care prohibits us.
In any case, we would only have been able to give a one-sided report on each case. Balanced reporting would have proved impossible in view of the fact that Camden Council would not have been able to comment.
We are aware that cases will arise where social workers will have no choice than to take a child into care. This was highlighted by the horrific death of Victoria Climbie.
Each case, however, must be carefully weighed. We are not suggesting that social workers act recklessly – without full and proper judgments.
However, mistakes do occur. Often parents battle for their children, run the whole gauntlet of the law, and sometimes win their freedom.
We have given a great many column inches to Salma’s story because we have seen several internal documents dealing with her case – including the minutes of a case hearing – and believe that a prima facie case exists which suggests the social services department, in all innocence, may not have made the right decision to put her into care.
Torn from her family – whom case workers agreed loved her – Salma’s behaviour worsened. She was clearly in shock for many months to the point where she then became a subject for psychiatric treatment.
At one stage, only the quick intervention by a police officer stopped her from throwing herself off a friend’s balcony.
As for the police, minutes show that they had some sympathy with the idea that she should have been allowed to spend more time with her family. She ran away from her foster parents so many times that the police felt she was at risk by being constantly “hunted”.
The council is going to carry out an independent investigation of Salma’s case.
It must be thorough and deep reaching.
A full reappraisal of the case should be made. If mistakes were made it is important they be identified to avoid the same ones being repeated in the future.

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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