The #Rotherham #UKIP fostering row: Further details emerge

Another day, another set of details emerge about the UKIP fostering row. This time courtesy of the Daily Mail. I’ve said before that I’m not comfortable with the way a sensitive case about vulnerable children is being played out and discussed in the media, but since other people are clearly going to comment on the case, I suspect throwing a tuppence forth from this little blog isn’t going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Last week the Guardian alluded to tensions between Rotherham Council and elements of the local East European community, and yesterday’s Daily Mail fills in some of the blanks regarding this. Apparently the council has been the subject of protests from Slovakian families following a number of removals of children into foster care. These families are accusing the council of “child-stealing” for racist reasons and of trying to impose British values on them. This has led to protests from the Slovakian government who appear to be taking the side of the families.

Though the “British values” in question appear to be things like children going to school, not wandering the streets at 2am, and not living in a mice infestation.

The Mail being the Mail, they don’t appear to see any irony at all in, a couple of weeks after accusing the council of ideologically-driven fixations with multiculturalism, then granting a fairly uncritical interview with an alleged abuser, strongly suggesting that the council are racist towards East Europeans.

The words “shot at from both sides” spring to mind.

And naturally, there’s a rentaquote from John Hemming, an MP who seems to live in a strange parallel world where child protection proceedings are nearly always due to scheming, malicious social workers and hardly ever about averting another Victoria Climbie or Baby Peter.

These arguments appear to have been made in the courts as well as in the media and council meetings, apparently with some success. As the Guardian said,

But a family court judge ruled three of the children should be returned to the parents after the birth parents successfully argued that the council had failed in their duty to ensure the children enjoyed the linguistic right to learn and speak the language of their birth.

In the light of the Guardian and Daily Mail reports, I’m going to make a rough educated guess at the backstory here, which may or may not have to amended as further details emerge into the public domain.

It seems likely that the council would have been anxious to avoid a repeat of this judicial ruling. It also seems likely that they may have been vigilant for anything that would be immediately be pounced upon by the birth family’s lawyers, by the Slovak protesters, possibly even by the Slovakian government and media.

Something like the foster carers being members of UKIP. They may well have been doing a perfectly good job as carers, but that wouldn’t be what the family’s lawyers would say in court.

One could argue that the local authority should have challenged the judicial rulings, ignored the Slovak government and media, and served up the local Slovak community a hefty slice of if-you-don’t-like-our-rules-you-don’t-have-to-come-here. I’ll leave others to argue that one out.

But either way, the application of Occam’s Razor doesn’t require the council to be acting out of an ideological crusade about multiculturalism, or a Labour-inspired grudge against UKIP, in order to have acted in this way.

It certainly doesn’t require any David Icke-style conspiracy theories about Common Purpose.

Such a scenario is entirely consistent with the local authority trying to tiptoe around one set of legal, social and political grenades, and in doing so accidentally setting off a completely different grenade. And that’s my guess as to what’s happened. Eventually time will tell whether I’m right or wrong.

One thing this case does show is how complex and difficult fostering cases can be. When such cases are seized upon for political reasons, whether by UKIP or the Slovakian government, such complexities and difficulties are rarely grasped.

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The #Rotherham #UKIP Case – Will Nigel Farage and Michael Gove now apologise?

When the story broke that three children had been moved from a foster family in Rotherham, reportedly for being members of UKIP, I went out and talked to social workers, solicitors and care leavers. Consistently I got a response that the reported account was implausible, and there was almost certainly a more complex story to it. I put up a blog post saying so, and got a barrage of responses, much of them abusive.

Now a more complete picture is coming out about the affair. And – surprise, surprise – it was more complex than that. The details emerging are not of politically-crusading social workers with a grudge against UKIP, but of a difficult court case, dealing with distressing circumstances, with social services trying to comply with court rulings and fend off legal counter-arguments from the birth family.

This was not a case that should have been played out in the public domain like this. These are incredibly vulnerable children and their privacy has been invaded in an atrocious manner. I’m not going to repeat the details here (though people can just go to the Guardian for that)  but the distressing nature of their abuse gives a clear reason why such matters should be kept confidential. Not because social services have anything to hide, but to safeguard the wellbeing of the children.

A badly-handled interview with Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s director of children’s services, didn’t help. Though with hindsight this is likely to be partly due to being caught on the hop on a Saturday morning, and also partly due to trying to be careful about what she said about a complex case. It may have been better for the council to have simply put out a “no comment” rather than trying to rush out an interview at the weekend.

Quite possibly the foster carers may well now have some difficult questions to answer about the way they went to the media and ignited a political firestorm. But politicians also have some questions to answer about the way they conducted themselves in this case. Nigel Farage practically turned  the whole thing into a party political broadcast for UKIP. Then there’s Michael Gove, the minister responsible for children’s services. He called it “indefensible” though in fact it turned out to be totally defensible. He also called it “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons”. Did he even know the way or the reasons when he said that? Was he even interested, or was he simply putting the Rotherham by-election before his ministerial responsibilities?

Ed Miliband emerges only marginally better in that, unlike Gove and Farage, he admitted he didn’t know the facts of the case and limited himself to calling for an investigation.

If politicians were cynical and opportunistic, some in the media were even worse. For example, the inexplicably-respected blogger Guido Fawkes ran an absolutely barking mad article. “Rotherham’s UKIP Child-Catcher Joyce Thacker Follows Common Purpose Progressive Agenda.” He leapt on a set of conspiracy theories, straight from David Icke territory, that accuse a rather dull training company called Common Purpose of trying to rewire our society along a “Marxist and Fabian” agenda. He concluded.

Thacker is yet another graduate of the Common Purpose organisation which pursues a“we know best” Fabian-style progressive agenda in the public sector. She was a project advisor for a pilot programme, run by Common Purpose, that was concerned with diversity issues in the West Yorkshire area. Something tells Guido she has an axe to grind in this and is not a neutral public servant…

Something tells me that Guido had better hope Ms Thacker doesn’t find herself a decent no-win-no-fee libel lawyer.

Nothing good has come out of this affair. Vulnerable children have had their privacy invaded. Hardworking and honest public servants have been grossly slandered. And why? For short-term political gain in a by-election. The likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Guido Fawkes need to apologise for their shameful behaviour in this ridiculous and unpleasant case.

Why the #Rotherham #UKIP scandal is almost certainly a load of codswallop

This morning we awoke to a story that sounded like something from the worst nightmares of Paul Dacre’s feverish imagination. Rotherham Council had reportedly removed three children from their foster carers, based on the carers’ membership of UKIP. Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Ed Miliband have all piled in to condemn the decision. An absolutely shambolic performance in a BBC interview by Rotherham Council’s Joyce Thacker didn’t do anything to dispel the outrage gathering across the media.

But does this story have proper substance? When I read it this morning, there was a distinct whiff of bovine ordure to it. Although I regularly come into contact with looked-after children, I’m not an expert on the fostering process. However, my co-bloggers Ermintrude2 and Abe Laurens are both experienced social workers, and the latter is particularly experienced at working with looked-after children. I promptly sought out their opinions, and their advice has informed this blog post.

There’s a couple of things we already know about the case from the media reports. First, we know that these children were always meant to be staying with the couple temporarily, and there was never any suggestion that this would be a long-term placement. I’d say that’s a big clue from the word go.

We also know that in a previous court case the judge had criticised the council for not adequately attending to the childrens’ cultural needs.

But as well as what we know, we also have to remember what we don’t know. The local authority will have a duty of confidentiality to these children. They won’t be in a position to go into the ins and outs of why they couldn’t continue to be housed by this particular foster family. When I asked Abe Laurens, he commented that, “In my experience such decisions are NEVER made on any single factor alone.” We don’t know what the other factors were.

But there’s something else we do know, and it almost certainly acts as a great big klaxon telling us exactly what this is really about. There’s a by-election in Rotherham on Thursday. A Labour seat is up for grabs, and UKIP are campaigning hard. Funnily enough, Nigel Farage is doing his damnedest to link the decision with the Labour Party.

The UKIP leader said his primary concern was for the welfare of the children and their foster parents, but hit out strongly at the Labour party, despite Today host Evan Davis commenting that the decision was made by “officials” at the council rather than elected representatives.

“This is typical of the kind of bigotry I’m afraid that we get from the Labour party and from Labour-controlled councils….their attempt to close down the debate [over immigration] is just to write off anybody that wants to discuss it as being racist,” said Mr Farage.

And strangely enough, this has come out at the weekend, when the council would be in the least position to come out with a prompt response. What a coincidence!

It’s almost as if this is a media stunt intended to give UKIP a PR coup on the eve of the by-election.

[EDIT: I’m now more of the view that the proximity to the election date is coincidental rather than any deliberate timing, albeit one that’s had the effect of massively throwing petrol on a flame. What does seem clear is that the various political parties are engaged in a lot of electoral jockeying on the issue.]

And with Michael Gove and Ed Miliband lining up to give Rotherham Council a verbal kicking, it’s almost as if they’re desperately trying to avoid losing crucial votes to UKIP on Thursday.

Once again, social workers and vulnerable children are being used as a political football by opportunist politicians. What a surprise.