#THREAD

The horrific news about Arthur has of course shocked, angered, & distressed all of us.

And I hate to say it, but the predictable, instant, & opportunistic politicisation of this tragic case by the usual toxic newspapers, makes me feel sick & angry.

Here we go again... ImageImage
In January 2003 Lord Laming published the report of his official inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie.

She had been sent to Britain by her parents from the Ivory Coast, in the hope she would receive a better education. She was in the care of her great-aunt.
With her boyfriend she systematically tortured Victoria over several years until she died in 2000. The aunt and boyfriend were imprisoned for life for murder in 2001. An official inquiry was immediately announced.

The inquiry lasted 62 days and took evidence from 128 witnesses.
Victoria’s case was known to four social services departments, two hospitals, the NSPCC & the Met Police.

On 12 occasions each had an opportunity to intervene but none did.
The report concluded that senior managers were primarily to blame for the administrative chaos, absence of communication between agencies & failure to support overworked front-line workers.
Laming made 108 separate recommendations, including the founding of a new national agency to monitor all aspects of child protection.

The government was understood to be divided about this policy. It would be issuing a Green Paper (discussion document) in the spring.
In The Guardian, Times and Daily Mail this was a major story. All had editorials on the subject. Each made reference to the numerous enquires on the subject of physically abused children.

The Daily Mail made this clear: "We have been here before: Thirty years ago Britain was...
...shocked when seven-year-old Maria Colwell was beaten to death by her stepfather. Then, too, there was determination that such tragedies would never happen again. Yet despite other victims and countless enquiries since, have the fundamental lessons really been learned?’"
The Mail then predictably blamed the decline of the family & politically correct social workers.

Then in 2007, 17 month old baby P died. He was on the Haringey 'at risk' register & had been seen 60 times by social workers & health professionals in the last 8 months of his life.
In November 2008, 36 year old Jason Owen & the boyfriend of baby P's mother are found guilty of causing the death of baby P. His mother had already pleaded guilty. The prosecution was unable to prove murder & so all 3 were charged with allowing the child's death.
A press conference after the trial focussed anger on the head of Haringey's Child Services, Sharon Shoesmith. In November the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, called for an independent inquiry & baby P appears on the cover of most national newspapers.
Following its 'justice for baby P' campaign, the Sun delivers a million signature petition to No.10. The campaign demanded the sacking of Haringey staff. The doctor who missed injuries is sacked, as is Sharon Shoesmith (who later received compensation for unfair dismissal).
In March 2009, Lord Laming delivers his findings of the new inquiry into Baby P's death. Somewhat predictably he suggests there is more to be done and calls for more accountability among senior Child services directors and better training for front line social workers.
Sadly this is not new. And now we have the very tragic case of Arthur. But we have been here many times before.

It is estimated there have been at least 35 such inquiries over the last 35 years: the tragic death, the official inquiry, the press coverage, the government response.
The problems of child protection agencies are not my main focus here.

My thesis is that it may be that one source of the inability to solve the problem of child death cases like Arthur's, is the way it is constructed in public discussion, & especially in our toxic tabloid press.
So please allow me to share some significant context, which the news media almost always overlook, & which the toxic tabloid press almost always deliberately exclude in its rush to produce lurid yet profitable headlines, scapegoats, & simplistic, easy, politicised 'solutions'.
Allow me to return to the origins of the way the awful problem of child abuse now unfolds in a predictable & largely unhelpful way in public discourse, with the tragic case of Maria Colwell thirty years ago, as this was, arguably, the beginning of what we now call ‘child abuse’.
I want to briefly discuss where the label of 'child abuse' came from, how we came to recognise it, who defines it, & what some of its consequences are.

This is not some academic game: the consequences are serious, & are still with us today, as Arthur's case sadly demonstrates.
In this thread I'll be using the Moral Panics framework, & the work of Prof Chas Critcher: not because the problem of child abuse isn't real, or has been exaggerated, but because imho it can help shine a light on our seeming inability to prevent these tragic cases from happening.
Child abuse in the press is a recurrent & complex problem.

Broadly, extensive press attention recurs in four overlapping phases:

1) 1973-1979 is the earliest phase. It concentrates almost exclusively on the dangers of *physical* abuse to children within the family unit.
2) 1987-1994 is focused mainly on the *sexual* abuse of children within the family unit, initially by individuals, & then by groups of adults in alleged but unproven 'satanic' or 'ritual' abuse.

3) 1994-2000 focuses on sexual abuse by men outside the family – paedophiles.
4) 2011-2015 focuses on the so-called 'grooming gangs' in towns across England & Operation Yewtree, a MET police investigation into sexual abuse allegations - predominantly the abuse of children - against Jimmy Savile & others.

These four phases overlap & feed off each other.
These four phases might be thought of as variations on the same theme of child abuse, rather than as discrete events.

And when attempting to use the moral panics framework, this raises the possibility that this might best be described as a 'serial' moral panic.
A quick word about 'moral panics': contrary to popular belief, calling something a moral panic does NOT deny the reality of a social problem - rather, it suggests that in SOME press coverage, there is either exaggeration, or more precisely, an unhelpful DISTORTION of the problem.
I'll start by outlining the pre-history of the issue of child abuse & then focus on one very high profile case in particular: the case of Maria Colwell, which has acted as a template for many of the individual cases which followed, including Victoria Climbie, Baby P & now Arthur.
In trying to understand complex issues from within a moral panics framework, the activities of 'claims-makers' (people who make claims about the nature, extent etc of a given problem) are the first consideration in tracing the history of the emergence of a social problem.
"In attempting to outline a natural history of child abuse it is crucial to try and establish for each stage how the problem is conceived, which definition is pre-eminent and who are the primary definers." (Nigel Parton 1979).
Therefore we should want to know: who ‘discovered’ it; the roles of various interest groups & 'moral entrepreneurs' in its initial formulation & subsequent dissemination; the precise ways in which the problem was defined, its prevalence estimated & policy prescriptions advocated.
What came eventually to be known as child abuse was originally more narrowly defined as the 'battered baby syndrome', identified in the early 1960s in the USA.

The first UK article on the topic appeared in 1963 in the British Medical Journal.
Important as it was, subsequent professional reaction owed much to its attractiveness as an issue relevant to the professional status of paediatricians: since it could situate them as 'life saving' (like more recognised doctors) it might enhance their status & attract resources.
However, paediatricians alone could not move the issue into the forefront of public attention - a group was needed which already had status, a public relations machinery, & some expertise recognised outside of the NHS & the medical community.
That role was taken on by the NSPCC who issued a series of reports on the problem of battered baby syndrome from 1968-72. The issue was attractive to them as it gave the organisation a new lease of life. In the early 1970s, social work was reorganised into Social Service Depts.
The NSPCC now does some fantastic work, but when Social Services Departments took over the casework role which the NSPCC had traditionally taken on, the organisation was left without much of a role, so it found it in the issue of child abuse.
The issue provided the NSPCC with a new campaign to focus on & the prospect of developing a new & professional expertise beyond the reach of local authority social workers.

The NSPCC set up a specialist child abuse unit which established itself as the expert national agency.
Much less visible but equally important was the Tunbridge Wells Study Group, an ad hoc grouping of paediatricians, Social Services Directors & academics.

In May 1973 they organised a conference on what was now being called ‘non-accidental injury’.
This group bridged the gap between paediatricians & political decision makers:

"A group of distinguished experts who gave the problem legitimacy & were able to use their links with the state agencies to ensure the minister & those with authority were made aware of the issue".
The state was responsive to this identification of a 'new' problem, partly because practitioners & voluntary/policy communities worked closely in this area. As early as 1970, DHSS circulars were encouraging local authorities to develop early warning systems & 'at risk' registers.
The Minister for Social Security in the early 1970s was Keith Joseph, & he became a key player, in part motivated by his own commitment to the ‘cycle of deprivation’ theory - the idea that 'inadequate parents' produced 'inadequate children' in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Conservative MP Keith Joseph was a key influence in the creation of what came to be known as "Thatcherism", introducing the concept of the social market economy into Britain, an economic & social system inspired by Christian democracy, & co-founded the Centre for Policy Studies.
In the early 70s the issue of child abuse had not spread beyond a small professional group. The media, & even professional journals, didn't show much interest. The turning point for media coverage, professional engagement & public concern was the Maria Colwell Inquiry.
Because imho this case set the template for media coverage of child abuse cases within families to this day, I’m going to focus on it.

So, by the early 1970s there was already in place: a powerful body of opinion that child battering was a real & unacknowledged problem;
key actors (Keith Joseph, NSPCC, the Tunbridge Wells Group) were campaigning around the problem; its definition had been extended outwards from battered babies to include ‘Non-Accidental Injury’; the emphasis was on the need to protect children in 'at risk' lower-class families.
Maria Colwell was a seven year old girl, beaten to death by her step father in January 1973.

She had been returned to the family after five years in the foster care of her aunt.

The stepfather was sentenced to eight years for manslaughter.
The case itself received very little media coverage nationally until Keith Joseph announced there would be to a public Inquiry.

It came at a time when there was a growing disquiet about the work & efficiency of the recently reorganized social services departments.
It was increasingly being suggested - not least in the press - that the quality of social work had deteriorated as a consequence of reorganization, & that child care was receiving far too low a priority, & the media had been concerned too about the rights of foster parents.
The Inquiry found that many of those who had contact with Maria Colwell had suspected that she was being neglected & ill-treated, but nobody had managed to take any action.

Individuals were partly to blame - but so was the system, & a series of reforms were recommended.
The Inquiry attracted extensive & detailed media coverage, with the press focused largely on the inadequacies of social workers in the case.

Coverage emphasised: the existence of 'battered baby syndrome' as a new or newly discovered social problem;
social workers’ failure to act responsibly in such cases; & the suggestion there should be more emphasis on adoption as a solution.

Then as with baby P & now Arthur, attempts were made to cast parents & social workers as folk devils by the mass media, who demanded action.
Nigel Parton describes the media as taking a ‘campaigning, crusading role’.

A high level of media coverage about the issue was sustained from 1973-76 & then subsided, but it left its mark: the main themes of any 'moral panic' about child abuse had been established.
The effects of the Colwell case on social work policy & practice were immediate, pervasive, & long-standing.

They were reinforced by more than 20 similar enquiries in late 70s & early 80s.

The State was mobilised to solve the problem of child abuse.
Three specific effects have been identified:

1) DHSS guidance on childcare was heavily influenced by Colwell & its aftermath eg in the same month as the Colwell report the DHSS recommended all councils should introduce registers of children at risk form non-accidental injury.
2) Major pieces of social work legislation such as the 1975 Children’s Act were passed by the Labour government.

Broadly, the guidance was that the welfare of the children should take priority, & social workers should not hesitate to intervene.
3) An inevitable consequence of the legislation & guidance was that rising numbers of children were taken into care in the 1980s.

We now know through multiple scandals & cover-ups that not only were outcomes for kids in care homes poor but that abuse in some care homes was rife.
In the 1970s the terminology shifted.

In the early 1970s the problem was ‘battered babies’; by the mid 1970s it was ‘non accidental injury’ & by the late 1970s it had become ‘child abuse’.

But this new terminology had not really clarified the issue, but confused it.
Parton says that by the end of the 1970s we as a society & as professionals were no nearer to understanding:

exactly what it was

exactly which kinds of people committed it

nor what might be done to prevent it.
"There is no standardised definition of child abuse that has been developed by researchers & accepted by welfare professionals... As a result, welfare workers are faced with the impossible task of solving a problem whose magnitude, roots & solutions remain undefined." (Parton).
"In many respects the term is not a diagnostic one at all, but a political term designed to call attention to the issue & as such is open to interpretation."(Parton 1985).
So should we call this recurring issue a 'moral panic'?

Parton is clear that the reaction to physical child abuse was a moral panic:

"Reaction to the case and the events that followed signified a dramatic event such that it took on the proportions of a moral panic".
The moral panic about child abuse following Colwell, acted as a catalyst which established: the legitimacy of claims makers, eg NSPCC; the responsiveness of government, especially the DHSS; the focus on the scapegoats or folk devils - both poor families & useless social workers.
There "was a growing disquiet about the growth, role & activities of social workers, who were held centrally responsible, particularly by the media, for the death of Maria. The case symbolised many of the fears of the time & provided an opportunity to do something about them."
The Colwell case did fade, but other similar cases periodically replace it: Victoria Climbie, Baby P, & now Arthur. In this serial moral panic, inquiries became a ritualistic response.

The Colwell case had an immediate & longstanding effect upon childcare law & practice.
Disproportionality' is said to be an essential element in moral panics eg a disproportionate focus on some aspect of an issue at the expense of others.

The problem was less disproportionality, since the problem of physical abuse was now being recognized, than distortion.
Then, as now, the varying degrees of physical abuse, its causes, & the complexities of social work practice were all simplified in much of the press, which STILL follows a highly predictable, yet largely uninformative, often unhelpful & even counterproductive response.
"It would be wrong to see the panic arising from the inquiry into the death of Maria Colwell as simply arising from the more specific concerns about injury to children. It should not be seen in isolation for it is connected with much wider social anxiety about the decline of...
the family, the growth of violence & permissiveness, & concerns about the relationship between inadequate families & professionals, especially social workers". (Parton 1985).

In the case of physical abuse of children within families, Critcher identifies four themes:
1. The welfare state.

In the 1970s, the welfare state became a political battleground. Conservative thinkers, especially in the right-wing press, began to attack the whole basis of the welfare state, from the benefit system to social workers.
The Colwell Inquiry - as with Victoria Climbie, baby P & now Arthur, provided an opportunity for the right-wing press & media to cynically & opportunistically attack the 'welfare state', its 'exorbitant cost' & its 'woolly-minded' assumptions, without providing an alternative.
If it was a moral panic, was it politically motivated?

Was the inability of social workers to guarantee children’s physical safety - then, as now - mobilised by the right-wing press as an argument to demonise social workers & undermine the principles of the welfare state?
When people in health & care roles show professional incompetence, there should be consequences. But the unseemly haste to blame social workers, charged with almost impossible decisions (removing a child from their family or letting them stay both cause harms) is grotesque.
We are also in a context of drastic & cruel #austerity cuts & dramatically underfunded & under-resourced social care services, & the fact is, as a consequence of previous inquiries, social workers now have to spend more time filling forms, rather than helping & assessing clients.
Following the baby P case, there was a dramatic:

reduction in the number of people applying to social work

increase in the number of children being taken into care, causing

shortfall in the number of foster parents/carers, which meant

children removed from support networks.
The next theme identified by Critcher was:

2. Law and order

The 1970s was also dominated by the political issue of violence in society. The time of the Colwell enquiry, for example, was precisely the moment when ‘mugging’ appeared as a new kind of mindlessly violent crime.
As a violent act, the physical abuse of children was easily connected by the right-wing press & right-wing politicians to campaigns to 'restore' law & order, with stricter policing & harsher sentences.

Anticipate this theme emerging over the coming days & weeks.
3. Children as victims:

Child abuse is a powerful issue in which children are undeniably the victims of adult behaviour which they cannot prevent or resist: news stories & political narratives which mobilise the view of 'children as victims', are all but impossible to challenge.
Politicians, advertisers, campaigners, PRs & salespeople all know that rhetoric & sounds/images which pack an emotional punch are nearly always more attention-grabbing & effective as persuasive communication than dry rational explanations, leaving audiences open to manipulation.
4. The family.

Finally, that violence could take place in the family was seen by some as evidence that this basic social institution was in decline - but anyone daring to question the institution of the nuclear family was & is demonised as undermining the foundation of society.

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More from @docrussjackson

4 Dec
#THREAD on press responses to Arthur.

Some people DO need removing from society.

It's often impossible to know exactly what caused or motivated their despicable behaviour: some have been abused themselves, others have psychological problems, there may even be biological causes. Image
Whatever the cause, some behaviours are intolerable, & it's only right that they should be removed from society.

But it is often impossible to be 100% certain about what motivated a person to engage in cruelty toward children.

There's certainly something wrong with them. Image
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What I object to is the predictable, instant, & speculative demonisation of social workers, police officers & doctors by some sections of the press, without knowing the facts. Image
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