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24 August 2007 Blog Home : August 2007 : Permalink

Using Data Protection To Muzzle Whistleblowers

This is the sort of trick that I might have expected the UNDP to use in their attempts to silence Artjon Shkurtaj, but in fact its being used by the caring Child Protection jobsworths in the UK. As the Torygraph reported on Monday, social services jobsworths from Calderdale Council in the UK are planning to take away the baby that a pregnant mother is expected to deliver soon. The woman in question and her husband recorded the jobsworths informing her that she was to remain in hospital after the baby was born and that it would be removed for fostering and adoption after about three days.

This recording popped up on YouTube which meant it was jolly embarassing for the jobsworths because it showed just how 'caring' they weren't. The Register now reports that the jobsworths have had the recording removed because

"The Council believes that the YouTube recording breaches the Data Protection Act, since the recording was made without the knowledge or consent of our member of staff," said a statement from Calderdale Council. "We have concerns that, because the case involves court proceedings, it could prejudice child protection and safeguarding outcomes."

Or in other words the world got to hear their little Hitler doing his number and that breached his right to privacy.

The Wapping Liar has more information:

Mrs Brookes’s case is not straightforward. She is partially sighted and has suffered bouts of depression. Two of her children have already been adopted. That does not prove that she is an unfit mother - mistakes can be made - but it does explain the council’s interest. Equally, I am told that she and her husband have never been accused of harming any child. But this dribble of incomplete facts is fundamentally unenlightening. All it does is illustrate the torturous trade-offs that the system has to make, and our inability to judge those trade-offs because it is illegal to read family court papers.

and asks some good questions:

How should we treat someone like Mrs Brookes, who has troubles enough to worry social services but has not apparently yet harmed a child? She is one of a growing group of people who are categorised as capable of “emotional abuse”. You can see why the category exists. Ill-treatment comes in many forms, not just cigarette burns. But in that nebulous phrase lurks the potential for great injustice.

“Emotional abuse” has no strict definition in British law. Yet it now accounts for an astounding 21 per cent of all children registered as needing protection, up from 14 per cent in 1997. Last year 6,700 children were put on the child protection register for emotional abuse, compared with only 2,600 for sexual abuse and 5,100 for physical abuse. Both of the latter two categories have been falling steadily. Meanwhile emotional abuse and “neglect” - which replaced the old notion of “grave concern” in 1989 - have been rising. Both are catch-alls. But emotional abuse is especially vague. It covers children who have not been injured, have not complained, and do not come under “emotional neglect”.

Essentially the social security gestapo and their secretive courts make it impossible for the rest of us to know whether they are behaving responsibly or not. To some extent one sympathises with the concept of confidentiality because obviously it's going to be bad for the child, and innocent parents, to have their sufferings publicised. But the secrecy does make it a little difficult to appeal. As the Torygraph noted a few weeks ago, the secrecy is such that parents aren't even told why their children have been talken away and that makes it very difficult to lodge an appeal.

A blast of sunlight sounds like a good idea, not further secrecy.