Friday, 20 February 2015

When is State Intervention in Child-Related Matters Justified ? The UK’s proposed “Cinderella Law”. Tim Veater.

 When is State Intervention in Child-Related Matters Justified ? The UK’s proposed “Cinderella Law”. Tim Veater. 
Further to the article by Julia Gasper here (
I was recently forwarded a video, painful to watch, of a small Asian child being
mistreated by presumably his (?) mother that will appal any parent or
right-minded person. It may be viewed here (1) but it comes with a warning not
to watch it if you may be disturbed by such things. It is to be hoped in
passing, that its circulation is justified in order that this woman will be
identified in due course and the child protected from further cruelty. It is a
shocking example of child abuse from which every child should, by every means
possible be protected.

This is not an easy task, for seldom is the abuse public. If and when it is, I
believe we all have a moral duty to intervene despite a natural reticence to do
so. However signs of abuse, either physical or emotional, usually are public,
and particularly to those with professional skills in the nursery and primary
education sectors, and to medical staff, if the child appears in casualty or
doctors surgery.

“Abuse” has a number of definitions and applications, the most important here
being “Treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly;
assault (someone, especially a woman or child) sexually;
use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm; speak to (someone) in an
insulting and offensive way.” (OED)

Latest figures suggest about three children die every week from extreme abuse or
neglect and of course this is indicative of a much bigger underlying issue
issue. (2) “Problem families” are well known to Social Services Departments,
where neglect or abuse may be more likely but not exclusively so. Intervention
against this group may be more common for historic social reasons, whether truly
deserved or not although the phenomenon of family break-down and break-up has
extended the reach of social services departments into the middle classes, if
children are part of the subsequent dispute. Working class families may attract
disproportionate attention from the authorities because it is easier to do so.

No one can blame social workers for not intervening if unaware. What is frankly
inexplicable and inexcusable is inaction to save or protect a child where
unassailable evidence is presented. A number of notorious cases are reviewed
here (3) where an obvious professional failure was observed.

Social workers walk a precarious tight rope between intervention and
non-intervention and neither are free of pitfalls. A child removed unnecessarily
can be as bad as not doing so when required, so a high bar should be rightly set
before the role of the parent is usurped by the state and its organs. Bad
practice in both cases has been demonstrated in recent years, that is where
officialdom failed to act where it undoubtedly should have, or acted
unnecessarily where it shouldn’t, not helped by the secret character of the
family courts as recently criticised by Lord Justice Munby in a specific

There is no room here for personal vendettas or private agendas or for current
trendy obsessions around sexual orientation or gender.  Unfortunately there are
those in society who perversely use the extreme case to make their own far less
convincing one and to advance a very narrow agenda. The proposed “Cinderella”
legislation and the groups pushing it appear to be but a latest example with
sinister overtones. (5)

Norms of attitude that have served quite well for generations are being
hi-jacked and subverted for, it would appear, politically correct social ends. A
process of slipping through legislation that is neither justified or required
under the umbrella of emotive reasoning that is hard to challenge, appears to be
an increasingly common and disreputable tactic. It was tried with the police
power to detain and succeeded in relation to controlling dissent prior to
elections. We see that communities are to be bribed to accept infringements over
trespass law to allow fracking to go ahead unhindered. No doubt we could cite
many more. Such an approach needs to be robustly challenged and resisted.

We want good parenting and we want the state to intervene if a child is truly
being harmed or endangered but we want it to stay clear from families just
coping with the normal psychological stresses and strains. To achieve this the
criteria of “harm” needs to be strictly defined to prevent unnecessary
interference into family life. Broad unspecific, all encompassing ones entail
real dangers for society, the family unit and most particularly the children
themselves. Why? Because the state has proved to be an indifferent, unreliable,
even abusive “parent” itself.

Childhood has always been a hazardous time. Pre-19th Century children took their
chances determined by their parent’s economic and social status and environment.
(6) With industrialisation the role and fate of children became a big social and
political issue particularly as regards their education and occupation –
affecting particularly the poor of course. The 18th Century saw Hogarth’s Gin
Lane, (7) the 19th Century Bentham/Chadwick Poor Law reform, (8) Sadler and
Dickens (9) and many others pleading for child protection. The period sees the
appearance of philanthropy by people like George Muller in Bristol and Barnado
in London to whom literally thousands of children in the last two centuries owe
their survival. (10) Perhaps it should be noted in these days when it is
fashionable to mock and criticise religion in general and Christianity in
particular, that these and other invaluable initiatives were born of sincere and
deep belief. It is not clear whether they would have h
appened without it.

One in five children generally did not survive the first five years and rates of
death for orphans were  were much higher. Orphans became a financial liability
on the vestry and this led to thousands being packed off to the factories of the
north as soon as physically possible, leading to all the social evils it
entailed, despite the many enlightened initiatives by Wilfred Owen and others.

Ah you may say that was a long time ago, surely you cannot hold the State
accountable for such ancient failures? But wait, how about the mass export of
children to Australia in the 1950’s detailed here, (12) or how even into the
nineteen sixties children were forcibly removed from unmarried mothers and never
seen again, or how governments turned a blind eye or were actively involved in
the sexual abuse of children in state or church run children’s homes, the
details of which are still emerging? (13)

For further proof as to the relative failure of State v. Conventional Family on
the child-rearing front we may look no further than the state prison system, in
which there are now at any one time nearly one hundred thousand persons
ensconced. (97,000) This figure is an all-time high and about five times as many
as the figure throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s despite increasing affluence
and a 10% increase in population. (14)

Amazingly in a recent study, despite  just one per cent of children in the care
system, more than a quarter (27%) of those in prison were in care as children
and over HALF of  all prisoners under 25, had been in local authority care. (15)
This would appear to suggest that rather than getting better, things are getting
worse. According to the NSPCC, in 2013 there were 92.000 children “in care” in
the UK. Of 28,850  of the children who started to be looked after in England
during the year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013, 56% were because  of abuse or
neglect. (16) This is an historically high figure, influenced no doubt by the
baby Peter Connolly case.

So what may we conclude from all this? The state has an atrocious record on
outcomes, where it intervenes to “protect” children/ It therefore should always
be regarded as a solution of last resort. The state should only intervene where,
beyond peradventure, this is in the interest of the child. Given the above
figures (and we haven’t even considered accidents, disappearance, self harm,
suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, social and psychological problems) the bar has
to be set high for the removal of a child and should never stray into marginal
areas of faith, belief or attitudes.

Conversely local authorities must always intervene robustly where a child is
seen to be injured in suspicious circumstances or otherwise abused by adults,
again where it has historically failed miserably.

Social Workers and Police cannot right all the ills of society, the prevailing
ethos of which we are all responsible for and for which many of the family
problem issues can be attributed. They can however apply common sense and
humanity to a difficult area. act when there is real need and keep out when
there isn’t, within a culture of as much openness consistent with the need to
protect the persons concerned.

“Institutions”, even including educational ones, have been proved positively
hazardous in many cases and have to be either avoided or treated with the
caution they deserve. The fact that boarding schools can work well and produce
sensible, balanced adults, should encourage us to be optimistic. Whether Mr
Gove, fortunate enough to be adopted by a good family when still a small child,
and now entrusted with the education system of the country, is evidence of
optimism or pessimism for the future, has not as yet, been definitively

Having and bringing up a family can be a messy ill defined business. We can all
wish we had done better. However what is statistically and socially clear, that
even imperfect families do better at rearing children than does the state. The
state therefore is a safety net not a preferable option. That does not mean it
should not strive to do better but the main emphasis should be directed towards
stable family structures and discouraging procreation in their absence.
Parenting knowledge, attitudes and skills should be part of the education
process, with an emphasis on attachment and commitment rather than transient
self fulfilment sexually or otherwise.

Children need love and attachment to a family for emotional stability even if
they later choose to reject it, something an amorphous government agency can
never provide. END.


1. Violence to small Asian child. Warning! Do not watch if easily upset by such

According to this report, in the 17-month period to the end of August 2008 local
authorities in England notified Ofsted of 424 serious incidents involving the
deaths of 282 children. This equates to 199 annually, or almost four children
each week. Since publication of this report, Ofsted has clarified that 210 of
these deaths, i.e. three each week, were actually attributable to abuse or
neglect (Gilbert, 2008).  This is still higher than the NSPCC’s estimate of at
least one child a week, but it must be borne in mind that the figures stem from
very different, albeit complementary, sources of data and are in fact not

8.  Edwin chadwick and Poor law reform

9. Michael Thomas Sadler and factory reform  For Charles Dickens see:

12. Child migration to Australia and South Africa

UK Population Graph:

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