May 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
This is a shocking case (Daily Mail, 5/18/20). Or, that is, it would be if we knew its facts. But we don’t, and that’s the other shocking part.
As far as I can determine, child protective caseworkers botched a case somewhere in the U.K. I think this because the judge’s words suggest serious malfeasance on their part.
However, [the judge] said publicly: ‘I do not think I have ever had to criticise a local authority to the extent that I have found it necessary to do in this case.’
He added that social workers ‘disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection’.
Strong words. I wonder what they mean. The Daily Mail article gives us this much:
Failures of social workers on an unprecedented scale have wrecked the lives of two young boys, one of whom now faces ‘a lifetime of institutional care’, according to a ruling by High Court judge Mr Justice Hayden…
Social workers are understood to have taken the side of the mother despite her relationship with a dangerous sex offender and to have ignored the protests of the father.
That’s all we know. Why don’t we know more? Because the British family court system allows judges to hush up any and all facts in cases involving children. Court records are sealed and gag orders placed on litigants, lawyers, witnesses, etc. That’s what happened in this case. Judge Hayden has refused to allow the public to know what its paid employees have gotten up to.
As I’ve said before, this has been a longstanding rule in British family court cases. The excuse given for allowing child protective employees and others to conduct their business away from public view is, ironically, the protection of children. The same authorities whose actions are shielded from scrutiny tell us that they must be. Otherwise, they say, children involved in those cases would be traumatized by the publicity.
But, as this case amply demonstrates, that’s so much nonsense. The children have been harmed, one of them apparently irreparably and apparently by the incompetence of children’s welfare officials. The chance that the press reporting on the matter would harm them much more seems remote. But, again as I’ve said before, if we really want to shield children from the public, we can simply require the news media to keep their identities confidential, exactly as they do in cases of alleged sexual wrongdoing. That could easily be done by using pseudonyms.
But judges go further, much further. In the name of protecting already-injured children, Judge Hayden has quashed any mention of the names of the caseworkers and even the part of the country in which they work. That of course is the very opposite of what should be done to protect children. The more the public knows about caseworkers whose decisions harm children, the better. How else are they to be overseen? How else can needed reform take place?
Much the same thing happens in the U.S., at least as far as child protective organizations go. Here, essentially all children’s welfare cases are beyond the reach of the press. In Arizona, for example, it takes the death of a child to open up the state’s records to news outlets and therefore We the People. Only then can Arizonans know what caseworkers did (or failed to do) and why.
The old saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant has never been truer than in regard to children’s protective agencies. If the public doesn’t know what those agencies are doing, we can’t lobby for change. And if we can’t lobby for change, then change isn’t likely to occur. CPS agencies often maintain an “us-versus-them” mindset. They protect their own, on the theory that in-house corrective measures alone will be sufficient to keep employees from negligence or worse. Time and again, that’s been proved to be wrong, but we continue down the same path.
Secrecy is not for the sake of the children. It’s to protect caseworkers from the consequences of their own wrongdoing. Let the light shine in.