NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

October 28, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’m no fan of the right-wing, nationalist, anti-European Union UK Independence Party, but I must say, when they get it right, it’s worth saying so. And in this case, they get it right (The Guardian, 10/26/15). After all, with me it’s hard to go wrong in calling for greater openness in family courts, which is exactly what MP Douglas Carswell recently did.

Secrecy within the UK’s system of family courts is allowing social workers to “ride roughshod” over ordinary people and resulting in the unnecessary breakup of families and forced adoptions, the Ukip MP Douglas Carswell has warned.

Outlining a Ukip policy paper on opening up the family courts, the Clacton MP said a “juggernaut” of legal process currently leads to “outrageous injustices” and is calling for greater sensitivity and openness in the courts system.

Carswell said: “There is a scandal at the moment. Once the legal process starts it is like a juggernaut and it breaks up families. Most of the time that is justified but some of the time it is not.”

We read about those “some of the time’s” with alarming frequency, which is all the more remarkable because the cases are, well, secret. If we see so many of these cases that are supposedly secret, how many more must there be that remain behind the state-imposed veil? Many a journalist has asked that very question, but of course the answers are few. That’s how secrecy works.

Here are the highlights of Carswell’s policy paper:

More use of special guardianship orders to allow grandparents to take over the care of a child.

The opening up of placement and adoption order proceedings to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings.

A requirement that all judgments be published, except where the presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the president of the high court family division.

The media to be allowed access to expert reports on an anonymised basis with restrictions enforced only in the most exceptional cases.

I’ve advocated much the same for years. With the possible exception of narrowly-tailored cases involving national security, the public has a right to know what its paid employees are doing. That’s particularly true when government employees constitute a “juggernaut” that “rides roughshod” over families, breaking them up.

And of course it is that very secrecy Carswell criticizes that allows those social workers to engage in that behavior. Face it, if those social workers knew their actions today might be tomorrow’s headlines, they wouldn’t do a lot of what they do. With publicity would come a lot more caution on their part, a lot less malfeasance and considerably more humility. People who know they act with all but complete impunity, behave with the arrogance we see all too often on the part of child welfare workers.

Just two days ago, I posted a piece about a British couple who were falsely accused of neglecting their child. Yes, they were acquitted of criminal charges stemming from their daughter’s chronic medical condition, and yes the civil allegations of neglect were judged unfounded. But by then it was too late. A child welfare agency, used to acting in secrecy, had already taken the girl, placed her in care and had her adopted. Parents who’d done nothing wrong simply had their child purloined by the state. Parental rights? They weren’t in much evidence.

What did those parents say about their treatment by governmental authorities?

Cox told The Independent: “I feel completely let down by the system, well and truly let down.

And why not? The system targeted their child and, as one lawyer put it,

“Proceedings were commenced in the family courts where no real challenge to the science was made,” the statement says. “A finding of abusive injury was inevitable.”

In short, the child welfare system made up its mind from the outset and, having done so, adoption was a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, not a soul knew any of this was going on apart from the parents themselves, social workers, and various lawyers. They were all prohibited from discussing it with the news media and the media were prohibited from publishing information on the case.

Coincidentally, Carswell mentioned the same case.

Ukip’s only MP suggested that his reforms would have prevented the heartache suffered by Karissa Cox and Peter Butler, who lost custody of their child after being wrongly accused of abuse. The child was put up for adoption after the couple took their baby to hospital after the six-week-old started bleeding from its mouth. Staff at the hospital noticed bruising on the baby, prompting the authorities to take the child into care and to charge the parents with child cruelty.

The parents were cleared this month, by which time the child had been adopted. “If our reforms had been in place that case could not have happened,” Carswell said.

The child welfare system protects its own and especially protects its privilege to operate beyond the prying eyes of those of us who pay the freight for that system. They invariably claim that secrecy laws are there for the benefit of the children, but that’s bunk. Secrecy protects, not the children, but social workers and their superiors in the system.

As I’ve said many times, if we don’t want the children identified, fine. It would be a simple matter to require anonymity for the children, parents and anyone else whose identity could be used to identify a child. But everything else should be known. What did the state use as probable cause to investigate the parents? What was found by the investigation? Did the parents have the advice of a lawyer to which they’re entitled? What was the judicial process like? Were the parents allowed to see the children during the pendency of the case? What did the experts’ reports conclude?

Those questions and countless others must be asked and answered, and they never will be until the child welfare system is thrown open to the light of public scrutiny.

The state is far too enthusiastic about the breakup of families. It promotes that outcome every day in countless ways. That’s a trend that must be reversed and soon. One of the many ways to do that is to require that child welfare agents do their work so that We the People can see what they’re doing. The family is far too valuable an asset to society for it to be damaged at the whim of antagonists working in secret.

#familycourt, #secrecy, #adoption

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