#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.
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.
However, certain sections of the press are imho deeply irresponsible in their reporting of child abuse.

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.
These brave public servants have almost impossible jobs to do, & it's testament to their professionalism & dedication that so few high profile cases like Victoria Climbie, baby P & Arthur make it onto the front pages.

IF they've been negligent, this will come out in the Inquiry.
What bothers me is the PRESUMPTION of guilt or incompetence displayed in the usual sections of the press.

I'm not denying that these tragic cases aren't newsworthy, but each time they happen, we get unhelpful, predictable & sensationalist headlines & predictable consequences:
They blame (what's left of) the welfare state;

They offer far too much *sensationalist detail* about the suffering endured by the poor child;

There is some kind of largely symbolic act by the Government (often knee-jerk scapegoating & sacking the wrong person);
The consequences of these sensationalist headlines are entirely predictable:

1 A renewed emphasis on removing children from potentially harmful situations, later leading to claims by the same newspapers that an interfering tyrannical "nanny state" undermines family values;
2. A surge/spike in the number of children going into care - which in reality means extended family, foster care & care homes - when there is already a severe shortage of carers, which means children are often relocated away from friends, schools & support networks;
Social workers & children's services know that the evidence shows that a wide range outcomes for children removed from their families are significantly worse than for those not removed eg educational attainment; psychological wellbeing; involvement in crime; substance abuse etc
So the idea that there is some easy checklist which makes this momentous decision easy or simple, is absurd.

3. An Inquiry results in yet more new processes & risk assessments, which usually means even less time for already overworked social workers to spend with clients;
4. There's usually a slump in the number of children's social worker applications: who would want to spend every day with traumatised families, deciding children's fate, & risking being hated, when social workers are damned if they do (remove a child) & damned if they don't?
Of course anyone displaying professional incompetence should face consequences, & of course we should "learn lessons". But the simple, horrible truth is that there are cunning manipulative people who, for whatever reasons, get off on hurting children, & we don't always spot them.
Sadly, it is impossible to prevent all cases of child abuse.

And let's not lose sight of the wider context: children's services have now faced a decade of cuts, & charities & other organisations have been screaming out for help - too often ignored by successive Governments.
As recently as November this year, The Lords Public Services Committee said the pandemic had accelerated a pre-existing “crisis of child vulnerability” in which increasing number of youngsters and parents were unable to access help before their problems spun out of control.
More than a million vulnerable children in England are growing up emotionally damaged & with reduced life chances as a result of billions of pounds of austerity cuts to family support & youth services, according to the cross-party House of Lords inquiry.

And of course, on top of a decade of cruel & unnecessary cuts, declining & inadequate welfare benefits, & slashed & failing public services, many already vulnerable people's problems are exacerbated by grinding poverty.
This tragic case occurred while politicians engage in lies, corruption, & trivial culture wars, often earning small fortunes from second jobs, & at a time when just 1,000 individuals have increased their collective wealth by nearly half a TRILLION pounds since 2009.

While accepting, sadly, it's impossible to prevent every child death at the hands of adults, we can do better by stopping being reductionist & simplistic in our solutions & looking for individual scapegoats, & by being more nuanced & less sensationalist in media reporting.
Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work, said the key issue was cuts to services:

“Police officers, health visitors, community nurses, social workers are all struggling because of 10 years of cuts to services. That makes it difficult for us to do the job we need to do."
“We need to have the time to get to know families & find out what’s happening; we need time to communicate well with each other & share information; & all of that gets squeezed when the imperative is to close work down to take on the new work coming in.”

Here's another similar but more detailed #THREAD, which combines an historical view of child abuse with Stan Cohen's 'moral panic' framework.

Someone sent me this disturbing cartoon, which perfectly encapsulates right-wing attitudes to social workers.

Their mother was a social worker during the Thatcher Govt, & this cartoon by Kal (1987) was on her desk at work.

Lynch mobs should have no role in tackling child abuse.

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

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