Social workers outraged by ‘child care proceedings’ EastEnders storyline

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On Friday 5th October EastEnders screened a storyline which involved a social worker removing a baby from a teenage mother, without it would seem the necessary grounds to do so.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) have condemned the storyline, accusing the BBC of being “lazy and arrogant” in their portrayal of the child protection process.

Many social workers have indeed expressed their anger and dismay at the storyline on twitter and facebook, indicating that they felt that the BBC was guilty of making a mockery of a profession which is used to “less than accurate public and media perceptions of their jobs”.

Bridget Robb, acting chief of the BASW commented that “social workers have a difficulty enough job as it is… EastEnders’ shabby portrayal of an entire profession has made a a tough job even tougher”.

The BBC responded to defend the storyline pointing to various instances in the show where the teenage mum character had displayed worrying behaviour in the presence of the social worker leading up to the baby being removed from her care.

Anest Mathias, children’s lawyer in the family department at Osbornes and member of the Law Society’s Children Panel commented:

“To clarify what the position would be in a real life scenario one can look to the case of In the case of R (G) v Nottingham City Council [2008] EWHC 152 (Admin) Mr Justice Munby as he was then (he is now Lord Justice Munby) for guidance which clarifies the legal position quite succinctly”

  1. The law is perfectly clear but perhaps requires re-emphasis. Whatever the impression a casual reader might gain from reading some newspaper reports, no local authority and no social worker has any power to remove a child from its parent or, without the agreement of the parent, to take a child into care, unless they have first obtained an order from a family court authorising that step: either an emergency protection order in accordance with s 44 of the Children Act 1989 or an interim care order in accordance with s 38 of the Act or perhaps, in an exceptional case (and subject to s 100 of the Act), a wardship order made by a judge of the Family Division of the High Court.

  2. Section 46 of the Children Act 1989 permits a police constable to remove a child where he has reasonable cause to believe that the child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm, and that power can be exercised without prior judicial authority. But the powers conferred on the police by s 46 are not given to either local authorities or social workers.

  3. Local authorities and social workers have no power to remove children from their parents unless they have first obtained judicial sanction for what they are proposing to do. Only a court can make a care order. Only if a court has authorised that step, whether by making an emergency protection order or by making a care order or an interim care order or in some other way, can a local authority or a social worker remove a child from a parent. And the same goes, of course, for a hospital and its medical staff.

  4. As I said during the course of the hearing, no baby, no child, can be removed simply ‘as the result of a decision taken by officials in some room’.

The family department can help in resolving disputes as to the care of children through the court and or through mediation and negotiation. The family department at Osbornes specialise in representing parents, children, grandparents and extended family members in relation to social services involvement with children.

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