Taking up where I left off in my last post here, the study of fathers’ experiences with social workers in child protective agencies moves on to the stories of individual fathers. Those were compiled and researchers studied agency, court and other documents to verify the accuracy of what the fathers said. Circle, the charitable organization that took part in the study along with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, provided interventions for several of the fathers in dealing with agency social workers. Those were often successful in getting the fathers a less-biased hearing.
The findings of the study fall into several categories, exemplified by the experiences of various fathers, all of whom are pseudonymous in the study.
For example, fathers reported that, if the mother of their child claimed abuse, she was automatically believed, irrespective of the circumstances or her character. Into the bargain, social workers tend to believe that a child’s separation from its father is a situation of no great significance to either the father or the child. Finally, fathers who don’t go quietly into the non-fatherhood preferred by the social workers, are considered to be acting suspiciously and with some ulterior motive. Trained to believe that fathers don’t care about their children, social workers have difficulty coming to grips with fathers who plainly do.
Those things were true in the cases of Michael and Gareth, despite the fact that both men had partners who were at best marginal mothers. Michael’s was an alcoholic and Gareth’s suffered post-partum depression, but refused to take her medication. Michael had two teenage children by a previous marriage with whom he had excellent relationships and to whom he was a good father. But when he tried to prove his worth as a father by referring the social worker to this easily verifiable fact, he was ignored.
Joe’s wife accused him of sexually abusing their daughter. The social worker’s behavior is astonishingly all too common and familiar to anyone who follows stories of abuse allegations against fathers.
Ultimately it transpired in court that the allegation against Joe was malicious and concocted by his wife who was seeking a divorce. The social worker and the police involved were heavily criticized by the Sheriff. The transcript of the interview with the child showed that the social worker had asked over twenty leading questions to the child about whether her father had touched her inappropriately. This contradicts training and expertise and would render any evidence unsafe. Despite the child repeatedly stating that her father had never harmed her or touched her in the way suggested, the social worker had the child examined by a doctor for signs of sexual abuse, which was very traumatic for her, and again showed no sign of abuse whatsoever.So not only did the social worker disregard the child’s persistent statements that her father had done her no harm, she ignored protocols for questioning children in such cases. In so doing, she jeopardized the case, had there been one, by tainting any evidence she might have found. Add to that the trauma of the unnecessary medical examination and you have a person whose zeal to conclude something damning about a father resulted in her abusing the child, the father and the system of child protection of which she supposedly was a part.
Mother, Grandmother Abused Child, But Father Taken from the HomeBy contrast, Eddie’s case shows that, when mothers and female relatives are charged with abuse that’s actually corroborated by physical facts, social workers go to great lengths to ignore the evidence and leave children in the care of their abusers. His was yet another relationship breakup and Eddie was accused by an anonymous source of sexually abusing his son. The anonymous source was almost certainly the child’s maternal grandmother who’d heard it from his mother. For fathers, ‘charged’ often equates to ‘convicted’ in the eyes of social workers, and so it was in Eddie’s case.
But, although there was never any evidence of sexual abuse and the mother eventually admitted to fabricating the charge against him, there was an enormous amount of physical abuse to the boy along with evidence to prove it. The boy complained to Eddie that his “bad gran” hit him, so Eddie went straight to the child protective agency for help, a move he calls “the biggest mistake I ever made in my life and I absolutely regret doing it.”
The response by social workers was to tag Eddie a troublemaker and therefore a danger to his son. The reality, well known to the agency at the time, was entirely different. In fact, the boy had been complaining to essentially everyone within earshot of abuse by his mother and grandmother. Eddie didn’t know this, but, because of his marginalization by the agency, he sought information via a Freedom of Information request. This took months to be completed, but the documents he eventually received showed that his three-year-old son had made no fewer than 28 reports to 18 different professionals of almost constant abuse by his grandmother and mother.
Many of those were made to his daycare teachers who duly passed the information on to the child protective agency who did nothing. As but one example, the child came to daycare one day with a burn on his arm and a bruise on his forehead. When asked he told teachers that “Mummy did it with a burny iron,” and “Mummy hit me.” For months the child had reported this to teachers and to social workers, but he was left in the care of the women who unquestionably were injuring him.
Meanwhile, his father was branded a troublemaker and a danger to his child for demanding information and action from the agency. Needless to say, his contact with his son during all this time was limited to brief, occasional supervised visits. Into the bargain, the agency had known about the abuse for months and caseworkers met eight times to discuss the matter, but Eddie, the child’s father and only non-abusive care giver, was excluded from even knowing the meetings were taking place. Again, the only reason Eddie learned of the meetings was through documents obtained through FOI.
Alex had a similar experience. His daughter reported being sexually abused by a family acquaintance, but when the child protective agency learned of it, caseworkers removed Alex from his residence and his daughter’s life. That was so despite the fact that the real perpetrator of the abuse pleaded guilty to the offense in court. It took Alex three years to once more become a part of his daughter’s life and five years to finally be free of the agency.
Both Eddie and Alex suffered deep depressions at the loss of their children and because of the suspicious, judgmental nature of their relations with social workers. Eddie lost his job due to his depression.
The study concludes:
[I]t seems to the author that the child protection services had acted in an emotional manner and lacked a rational, evidence-based approach… The unintended consequences of these actions is a negative impact on family life and children’s emotional development; the state unwittingly becomes the abuser.We’ve seen the same and said the same countless times before.
I’ll post more on this important study in the near future.