Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 2nd August 2007
Social workers aim to keep families together

YOUR articles, Tragedy of an ‘NW5 runaway’ (July 18) and Behind closed doors… the decisions that can tear a child from her family (July 26), centre around the tragic death of a child in our care, but also raise issues about our social care practices which are entirely unfounded.
We clearly have no desire to break up families and to suggest that this is a decision taken with targets in mind or without due process is incorrect.
The fact is our dedicated and committed team of social workers works incredibly hard to keep families together, at times in very difficult circumstances.
There is a family of agencies that provide a huge range of support to families in Camden, from schemes like Families in Focus and Sure Start children’s centres to more intensive support from individual social workers. 
Camden is also leading with a groundbreaking project, the setting up of the new family drug and alcohol court with Islington and Westminster.
The primary aim of the programme is to prevent family breakdown. It will support families by dealing with drug and alcohol abuse by parents early, to prevent their children coming into the care system.
It’s the court that makes the difficult decision to put a child into care and judges receive advice from a number of independent professionals before doing so.
And, yes, as your piece last week pointed out, these decisions take place, as they should, behind closed doors. This is to protect the dignity and privacy of the child and their family.
Our social workers do a very difficult and important job and have a huge responsibility.
They are – quite rightly – closely scrutinised to provide external verification of our practices.
Under the Children Act 2004 all local authorities are inspected every year in a range of inspections, including our looked-after children services
Children’s Social Services exists for a reason – to protect children from harm and to promote the best interests of every child in the borough.
Cllr John Bryant
Lib Dem executive member for children
Camden Council

THE death of a child is always a tragedy. When that child is in the care of the state, then careful investigation is essential, so it is entirely appropriate that Camden Council is setting up a review by an independent person.
 Yet your biased account of Salma ElSharkawy’s death implies a malign intent on behalf of the professional staff who had the responsibility for her care.
The emotive headline referring to “tearing a child from her family” is not only misleading and inaccurate, it is also dangerous in that it serves to undermine confidence in the council's care, as do several of the letters.
 I have no link with Camden Council and I only know what I have read in the local press about the death of Salma and her key worker.
I have, however, worked in and around social work services for children and families for 30 years and I have yet to find a social worker who derived any pleasure when having to remove a child from her or his birth family.
As Councillor John Bryant stated in his letter, “this is a very last resort and with the best interests of the child at the centre” and the court (yes, the court, not Camden) decided it would be in her best interests to take Salma into care.
 A tragedy like this can provide an opportunity for grievances to be aired, and grievances there will always be when authority needs to be exercised to protect vulnerable members of the community.
The council is bound by confidentiality, which heightens the need for responsible and balanced reporting. I find it sad that this is notably absent in this instance.
Helen Martyn
 St Albans Road, NW5

We are grateful to the New Journal for the timely reporting of the tragic cases of children removed from innocent parents.
Our organisation, based in Archway, has been assisting families caught up in care proceedings with social services for more than 21 years and has dealt with more than 13,000 cases over its lifetime, many of which highlight substantial injustice where children have been wrongly taken into care.
The cases you report in Camden are typical of the many we hear about across the country. We are well aware that child abuse actually happens but we are concerned that a large number of cases have common themes of complaint and identical grounds of criticism, which suggests a child protection system out of control.
We are aware of the flimsiest reasons for bad parenting, including a single mother planning to go on an MA university course criticised for “having too many books” to the catch-all reason for removal of a child where there is no evidence of abuse – the parent  may possibly harm the child in the future.
 If a robust system of scrutiny and accountability was in place, cases of injustice would be identified and quickly rectified but the proceedings are carried out in the family courts, where secrecy abounds and attempts to publicise these injustices are met with threats of imprisonment.
Children will keep on being taken away from innocent parents until we have an open system of justice accountable to the public.
Trevor Jones
PAIN (Parents Against Injustice)
Hornsey Lane Gardens, N6

I was fascinated by your coverage of the girl killed by the care system. Congratulations on your excellent coverage and exposure of this issue.
I strongly suspect the girl may have had undiagnosed dyspraxia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Asperger's Syndrome or some other similar condition. Such girls find the upheaval of adolescence extremely difficult and can give their families considerable problems – hence the family plea  for help which was turned into a child protection tragedy.
Social workers, educators and medical staff are insufficiently or inappropriately trained to identify, understand and support families and children with invisible disabilities such as these. There are certainly dozens of cases nationwide – more likely hundreds or even thousands – where families with these difficulties are misunderstood, misrepresented, mauled and traumatised by the very agencies who should be providing understanding, compassion and support.
 Once such families end up in the kangaroo courts (supposed child protection conferences) there is little hope of a positive outcome.
 All professionals involved in child health, education, support and protection need urgent training (which involves families and real case studies not just spurious theories) to enable them to understand and identify autistic spectrum disorders. Only then can informed decisions be made and appropriate support provided.
 There is much current focus on the scandal of the closed family courts but the problems won't be solved until the  scandalous system of biased reports and parental exclusion from the decision-making process in the lead-up to child protection conferences is exposed and remedied.
 I am a qualified and experienced teacher with a postgraduate diploma in child development from the Institute of Education at the University of London but nevertheless our family were trampled and victimised when I asked for help for my Asperger’s Syndrome son.
The damage inflicted on my daughter by our child protection nightmare has blighted her life – she has been bullied and ostracised by children whose parents didn’t want them to associate with the family stigmatised by accusations of potential child abuse.
If inadequately trained social workers can make such a mess in a family like ours I can quite understand how they wreak havoc on families with less education, different cultural norms or poor command of the English language.
North London

The problems with social services experienced by Christine Brody’s relative (Letters, July 26) are by no means isolated cases of inevitable human error or deliberate wrongdoing by a single social worker, units or departments.
They are typical of a nationwide crisis. Figures for the number of children unreasonably permanently separated from their parents are difficult to judge, but a figure of around 100-200 per local authority per year can be arrived at by statistical analysis.
A common pretext is that catch-all phrase, “risk of emotional abuse”. I can attest personally to the chaos and hidden agendas. My wife gave birth to a normal healthy daughter several years ago. Immediately after birth she resumed medication, which was necessary to control a chronic medical problem lasting two decades, and included amnesic hysterical episodes during which she made false allegations of present-day abuse and risk of abuse against her and her children.
The medication, which was effective, had to be suspended during pregnancy, partly because of licensing issues, partly because the symptoms eased during pregnancies.
Within weeks, she suddenly became very ill after she told me a social worker told her she would have to give up the children “because she had been abused as a child, and the council wanted to move the children to childless adopting couples”.
Rashly, I did not believe her and thought it was part of her disorder.
She was hospitalised with hallucinations, delusions and suicidal, violent and self-harming behaviour. It was difficult to discern which behaviour was caused by the disorder and which was caused by the medication.
Childcare fell to me and I had to give up work. I inquired about domestic assistance from the local social services department, which is where serious problems began. They immediately removed all the children from my care (picking some up from school), refused to tell me where they were or what they were doing, took court action when I made private inquiries.
I have never seen my stepdaughters since, and have lost all contact with my birth daughters.
The case drifted around the family court, leading to about 30 hearings over six years. By this time, the paperwork had grown to millions of words from dozens of child abuse “experts”, four judges had come and gone, crucial medical and social services reports had been generated and then lost or suppressed on spurious grounds, six child protection conferences had been inconclusively run, and the children had forgotten me.
All allegations and concerns were eventually proved fanciful and in one case evidence was found to be completely fabricated by a social worker. I obtained orders for at least contact, but social services merely refused to obey them, and the family court just walked away from the case, which had incurred several tens of thousands of pounds in private and public money.
I was never re-engaged as a schoolteacher, having been put on indefinite suspension, and am currently doing menial work. As far as I can tell, the children are simply shipped around an archipelago of temporary informal carers.

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.

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)







Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions