Too many children are being seized by social workers without good reason: why do these families have no protection from the Human Rights Act?

The Evangelical group Christian Voice (described in a hostile Wikipedia entry as a “fundamentalist Christian pressure group”) has been dismissed by one churchman as “a disgrace”, and its claims to represent Christians as “absurd”. Well, maybe they are absurd, and maybe they aren’t (though I have to say that I find myself agreeing with Christian Voice more often than I disagree).

But this month they have published a lengthy special report on what they describe as the “scandal” of the forced adoption of children seized by social workers, which I would have thought ought to be taken very seriously by anyone who cares about justice. Largely because these adoptions are carried out after child seizures have been executed on the basis of what often seems like no more than the unsupported instinct of social workers, and are imposed by secret family courts, whose doings cannot be reported on pain of contempt of court (many parents are imprisoned because they defy this monstrous law by going public), this is a problem which is hugely underestimated by public opinion.

Sometimes, journalists like Christopher Booker can report what are often harrowing cases: but only when a member of Parliament has broken silence on a particular case in the House of Commons, under protection of Parliamentary privilege. Hundreds of children have been torn from their parents in this way, often in the middle of the night. They, and their parents, have no recourse to law: they cannot appeal; they are entirely in the hands of judges who behave in what sometimes seems like an entirely arbitrary way—an inevitable result, surely, of any secretly conducted judicial system.

Christian Voice quotes an article by Christopher Booker published in the Sunday Telegraph in June, which I remember seeing at the time:

At half past 10 one night, the week before last, several cars drew up outside a family home “somewhere in southern England”. A 12-year-old girl was asleep in bed upstairs. Earlier in the day, she had been fetched home from school because she was ill. Also in the house were her disabled father and her two brothers, in their twenties. One of them, I am told, recorded the events on video as the house filled with eight policemen, helping two social workers to drag the girl to a car. She was crying and protesting, “What have I done wrong?”

She had grabbed her mobile phone, but it was confiscated from her as she was handed over to a council foster-carer. Being a resourceful girl, she managed to smuggle two handwritten notes to her family over the next few days, saying that she was constantly crying at being “taken from my dad and my brothers, the only family I know and I love since I was born”. “I feel like I get punished for something I haven’t done, as I feel they are treating me like a prisoner.” She also briefly managed to get to a phone, to claim – her remarks were recorded – that she had been hit by her African foster-carer (the girl is white).

What made this truly bizarre was that it had never been alleged that the girl was in any danger at home. Social workers had only become involved with the family when she was maltreated by her mother, who left the house two years ago. Since then, social workers have maintained contact to confirm that she was being well cared for. They repeatedly told her, in her own words, that “my dad was a good dad, that my brothers looked after me properly and that I was not going to be removed from my family”.

Only a few days before she was seized, the family had agreed to a care plan whereby the social workers would continue to keep an eye on her while she remained at home. But everything suddenly changed: the father wrote to one of the social workers, criticising the judge in the case. The note, it seems, was shown to the judge: the following day the child was taken away.

We have heard a great deal lately from our judges about the right to family life. But in thousands of cases, over which our “family courts” have jurisdiction, the Human Rights Act apparently does not come into play.

What strikes one is the astonishing lack of effort the social services put into finding an adequate evidential basis for their child-snatching ways. Take the following case, reported by the Mail in August:

A couple were accused of child abuse after doctors failed to realise their baby son’s ‘injuries’ were caused by a genetic bone disease. Both parents were arrested and prevented from seeing their children unsupervised for 18 months before their innocence was finally acknowledged. Yesterday Amy Garland said she and her partner had been treated like criminals after they took their six-week-old son Harrison to hospital when he was ill. Initial tests proved inconclusive, but X-rays later showed that he had suffered eight separate fractures in his arms and legs. Social services accused his parents of child abuse and took the baby and his elder sister into care.

In the end, it was Miss Garland who found an expert who said Harrison probably had osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. But why should SHE have had to find an expert? She is a defenceless amateur: the professionals who tore the family apart (in the end, under the stress, she and her partner split up) should have had the expertise to find the appropriate specialist.

What is so dreadful about so many of these cases is the idleness and incompetence of those who, not knowing enough to know how little they know, seize so many children and in some cases have had them irreversibly adopted before the parents are able to prove their innocence.

There is one question that puzzles me. Why do the police so willingly allow themselves to be used as the instruments of these social workers, whose incompetence can lead to such horrific denial of basic human rights? I end with another astonishing case reported by Christopher Booker, which concerns two parents who had had their six children seized:

On Monday, the parents were yet again arrested, on a charge of conspiring to abduct their own children, to fly them in a private aircraft to France. This is utterly ludicrous since they have no idea where their children are. Four of them they have not seen for six months, and one for over a year; they have had no contact with their year-old baby for three months, since it was seized by the social workers for a second time.

The wife was forcibly stripped naked in front of a male policeman; the couple were held overnight in an unheated cell without blankets and the next morning taken to a mental hospital to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Five bemused doctors examined them, finding nothing wrong, and they were released. In the days following, after the street where they live had been cordoned off so that 28 police officers could search their flat, the couple were twice more arrested and released.

That is all Booker was allowed to report: no names, no holding of any particular judge or social worker to account. As he says himself, “The treatment of this family has been so horrendous that I hope I can one day report it properly. But again, as so often in this and other family cases, why do the police seem so astonishingly compliant to the instructions of social workers? That is a mystery which I have never yet had satisfactorily explained.”

And again, I would like to know why such parents, and their children, have had so little protection from the much vaunted Human Rights Act. If anyone knows the answer, please let us have it.