On November 15th 2016 a documentary aired on French television called ‘England’s Stolen Children’. ‘Researching Reform’ provided comment and a useful translation of the explanation of the programme’s contents.  If your French is good enough, you can watch the documentary here.

[EDIT 29th December 2016. I have now watched an English language version of the documentary and I have commented here.] 

My French is no longer good enough, but what I read in translation was concerning enough, particularly as I am told that by a mumsnet poster that the French documentary aired on public TV on channel 5 “which is a serious channel and has part funding from “France televisions” which is as close as the french get to the BBC”

It appears that the documentary makers have been told and have accepted uncritically a large number of quite alarming and fear inducing falsehoods. The tone is set in the opening paragraph:

This documentary tells the story of the thousands of children unjustly removed from their families. It chronicles families’ terrifying experiences of children taken at birth, the promise of future removal whilst mothers are pregnant and the threat of removal directed at women who have not yet had children, solely on a suspicion of future harm to the child.

Almost everything in the written information is wrong, misleading or just plain bonkers.

  • Every year, Great Britain sets quotas for the number of children it must remove from parents in order to facilitate adoptions. If these quotas are not met, the local authorities have to pay financial penalties and their budget is revised and ultimately decreased. NOT TRUE – as we have explained – its a lot more complicated than that. 
  • Private sector companies, sometimes listed on the stock exchange, are often tasked with placing children with adoptive parents NOT TRUE.
  • Children are “advertised” by these agencies, their details completely exposed and publicly available, with descriptions which include ‘sellable’ qualities such as positive personality traits. NOT TRUE and misleading. 
  • Last year, 7,740 children were waiting to be adopted by couples who trawled the internet searching for their ideal child. Sometimes, these children are placed in well-to-to households. Most of the time, these children are sent to live in unstable family settings. This is just bonkers and seems to be mixing up a lot of different issues; from concerns about ‘social engineering’ and working class babies being handed over to nice middle class families and yet ‘most of the time’ going to ‘unstable family settings’ . I can only assume that last reference is to concerns over SGOs that may be made hastily or inappropriately. But this entire assertion is so muddled I wonder if there is in fact a problem with the translation here. 
  • Maltreatment in the context of Great Britain’s Forced Adoption practices does not need to be evidenced. NOT TRUE. Of course, there have sadly been examples of cases where decisions have been made on unsatisfactory evidence, and this is challenged on appeal. But to say that evidence is simply not required is false. 
  • In Great Britain, child protection has become skewed by a broadbrush perspective which presumes that struggling families and single mothers can never provide stable homes or make good parents. There are certainly concerns about the ‘child rescue’ narrative which often seems to be operating at the expense of offering support to families but this bald assertion is hardly going to do justice to the nuance of that debate. 
  • More than two million children are trapped inside social services across England and Wales, their parents locked inside an administrative machine gone mad. Created in 1989 during a liberal government overseen by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which aimed to liberate the ‘working classes’, NOT TRUE and frankly bonkers. I can hear Margaret Thatcher spinning in her grave at being described as a ‘liberal’. 
  • The Children Act gives child protection services the power to remove children from parents on a mere suspicion of maltreatment, present or future. NOT TRUE.  For further discussion about the risk of future harm, see this post from the Child Protection Resource from a retired social worker. 

This is almost comically bad. I am not sure that I have ever heard Thatcher’s administration described as a ‘liberal government’ which aimed to ‘liberate the working classes’ and I have no idea how the  Children Act 1989 is supposed to be part of this nefarious plan. Nor am I sure why liberating the working classes can then be equated with forced adoption and baby snatching.

So – what has gone so horribly wrong?

Unfortunately it seems clear what’s gone so horribly wrong here. Researching Reform reports:

A debate will also take place after the documentary is aired, and features Ian Josephs who runs the site Forced Adoption …. Florence Bellone, an award winning journalist and Marie Claire Sparrow, a barrister based in London.

Ian Josephs and his ‘Golden Rules’ are well known to those who are concerned about the dangerously poor quality of debate about the child protection system. If you don’t know who he is and what he does, this post will provide you with some useful background information. 

Florence Bellone expresses her views on the UK child protection system in this way in 2011:

Step by step I was admitted inside family groups and could collect parents witnessing, see their evidence and court paperwork. Their psychiatric expertises picking up every little neurosis, life traumatism and element of personality to call them “mental health troubles” ; their social workers reports with incoherent series of allegations, fake evidence and lies ; the repressive and arbitrary style of every piece of paper deemed “confidential”; the denunciations, the anonymity of denunciators and experts as well, all this looked as a repetition of Vichy France, Nazi Germany, Stalin Russia or any totalitarian regime catalogue of repression tools. The amount of suffering and humiliation inflicted on innocent families “In the Best Interest of the Child” made me think of women tortured in Middle East “in the name of Allah”.

A brief google of Marie Claire Sparrow shows that she is a real barrister but even if she has Hedley-esque degrees of knowledge and sensitivity, she won’t stand a chance against the combination of Josephs and Bellone. I will permit myself a slight sceptical raised eyebrow at her likely impartial approach when I note she is in fact a ‘recommended professional’ on Ian Joseph’s Forced Adoption website. 

To assume this trio would provide any kind of balanced and well informed commentary on the UK child protection system would seem about as likely as Donald Trump taking an interest in feminist legal theory.

All joking aside, the problem with this terrible, mindless nonsense is that when people are presented with it from an ostensibly respectable source – they may well believe it and it frightens them. I was then alerted to a mumsnet thread on the topic.  The originating poster commented in horrified terms:

just watched a French documentary called “England’s stolen children” and can’t believe this is happening in England. Horrifying, scary, unbelievable, it is like a horror movie…Basically, social services are taking babies from their parents based on suspicion that abuse might happen in the future, except that the decision is made based on ridiculous things.
A lady had her three children taken from her, including a breastfed baby because she went to the ER for a child’s broken ankle and they judged that he must have been beaten by his parents (only based on the ankle). X years later the parents manage to prove the fracture was due to scorbut. And they found out the initial report from the ER says “no sign of fracture”.
The judge admitted they shouldn’t have taken the children and the parents were innocents. But the children were given to adoption so the parents will never see them again.
That is just one of the stories.
Some women are told while pregnant that their newborn will be taken as soon as he arrives (and they do it).
The documentary says it is due to the facts that counties have to reach a number of children given to adoption so they target poor/uneducated parents and find any reason to take their children.
And as fostering costs money to the state they prefer adoption.

AIBU to ask if you heard about it here in the UK? And if yes, what do you think? Could it be true or are they exagerating?

All credit to the robust common sense of the average mumsnetter, a variety of responses were provided to reassure the op that this was dangerous nonsense. However, a number of women posted about their fears that their child would be taken, particularly those women who suffered mental health issues and were very worried about the quality of the support they were getting.

There are real and serious problems in the child protection system in the UK. The Transparency Project has been an important part of supporting debate about what we can do to make it better – in particular CPConf2015 and CPConf2016. But what these people are doing is diverting attention from real problems that we might be able to do something about to fabricated, scaremongering gibberish that serves only to terrify people. That an apparently respectable French broadcaster has given this even five minutes of airtime, let alone an entire hour is beyond my comprehension.

UPDATE 1 Jan 2017 : Read Sarah Phillimore’s second post on this topic here. Read Maggie Mellon’s Response to this post here.