Denise Robertson: Separation from a sibling goes against principles of social work

Sir Martin Narey is advising the Education Secretary on children's social care, Denise Robertson wonders if the advice he's giving is the best

Many brothers and sisters are split up when it comes to adoption
Many brothers and sisters are split up when it comes to adoption

Sir Martin Narey, the former head of the prison service and the charity Barnardo’s, advises the Education Secretary Michael Gove on children’s social care.

Some of Sir Martin’s pronouncements chill me, for example his assertion that siblings should be split up for adoption because ‘there are too few adopters willing to take brothers and sisters together’.

Separation from a sibling goes against the basic principles of good social work.

Some years ago a man wrote to me. He had been looking for his older brother for 50 years.

That brother had been shipped abroad without even a chance to bid his little brother goodbye, ironically by Barnardos, the institution Sir Martin once headed.

You can read about the scandal in which, as recently as 1967, 150,000 children were deported from children’s homes in Britain and shipped off to a “new life” in distant parts of the Empire, in a book, Empty Cradles, by social worker Margaret Humphreys.

For many of the children it was a life of horrendous physical and sexual abuse.

Many left parents and siblings behind. Recently I appealed for viewers to send me examples of helpful social work.

One of the most moving came from a young man who said that his social worker’s efforts to keep him together with his brother when they went into care had made all the difference to their lives. Which reinforced my belief that a good social worker is worth his or her weight in gold and Mr. Narey, as he then was, didn’t know what he was talking about.

Siblings do cleave together, Sir Martin, whatever you may say. His latest pronouncement is that the training of social workers in England needs upgrading and some of the students recruited are not up to the job. I wonder what recommendations an audit of his fitness for the job would produce.

Last year I received 450 letters from parents losing their children in the Family Courts. Childrens’ Services in several local authorities have been declared unfit for purpose.

There are many things in our child protection service Sir Martin could occupy himself with apart from social workers. I am not pretending they are all perfect, but I do question whether Sir Martin is the man to judge them.

:: EU President Jose Manuel Barroso says freedom of movement is one of the greatest achievements of mankind, but does admit that it puts unintended strains on local communities and services.

Meanwhile, a lovely Romanian man called Rudi gives an interview to a national paper.

He lives in a rented house in a Midlands city with five other family members and says ‘I sing God praise your queen Elizabeth every day because we’ve arrived in heaven’.

He was a criminal in his native country, but ‘I don’t do bad things any more because I live on your benefits’.

He says he has never been told by the Job Centre to look for work. ‘Why would I want a boss when I get £300 put in my bank account for nothing?’

On top of that there’s child benefit for his two children at 10 times the rate he got in Romania.

You can’t help liking Rudi, who says he’ll only leave Britain ‘when it starts sinking under the weight of people.’

He expects this to happen in his lifetime as he himself has 25 cousins living nearby, ‘all with three or four children’ and another cousin arrived this week.

On the day I read of Rudi’s happy idyll, I also read of hundreds of people stuck in Calais waiting to claim asylum in the UK because Britain is regarded as “paradise”.

Some of them are war-torn Syrians desperate for a haven, all of them have a desire to improve their circumstances and I don’t blame them.

I don’t want a single person facing persecution to be turned away but, when one country seems to be a magnet to the rest of the world, Rudi’s vision of a country sinking beneath the waves doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

:: Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change thinks I’m a ‘wilfully ignorant, head-in-the-sand nimby’ who is driven by ‘europhobia’.

This is because I don’t immediately buy his dream of a Utopia where Brussels rules and we are lit by windpower.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a climate change denier nor am I averse to European union. I just want some incontestible 100 carat truth about the climate and the benefits of European Union and I don’t feel we’ve got that truth yet.

The Met Office can’t see even three months ahead.

In November they reportedly said December to February 2014 would have ‘below average precipitation’ with a 25% chance of winter falling in the driest of their five categories. Tell that to Somerset.

As for Europe, when I see real advantage overcoming disadvantage I’ll know how to vote in that referendum that keeps reappearing and disappearing like a Sahara mirage.

Till then, I’ll keep on trying to find some real facts among the torrent of opinion we are currently fed.


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