Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not in front of the children

A week or so ago I referred to the 'quasi-religious zeal' of David Southall's defenders in the wake of his being struck off by the GMC. What I meant by this was the impression they gave that only they saw the true scale and evil of child abuse and that those who disagreed with them were heretics and unbelievers.

This impression is reinforced by this article by paediatrician Nigel Speight in Sunday's Observer in which he claims that his fellow paedistricians are now 'worried about participating in child abuse cases'.

However, it isn't the emotive language of the article that bothers me, so much as the name of the organisation Dr Speight belongs to: Professionals Against Child Abuse (Paca). There is something quite sinister about a group of people adopting such a name. For there is a subliminal message being given here - we are those professionals who are against child abuse. Other professionals - those outside our organisation - are, by implication, professionals indifferent to, or professionals in favour of child abuse.

Southall's defenders believe that there is a conspiracy to deny the existence of child abuse, and in naming their organisation thus, appear to believe also that there are those who do accept that child abuse happens but who don't care and are happy for it to continue.

Of course the reality is rather different. I have never heard anyone, professional or otherwise, express the view that child abuse, in whatever form, either doesn't really happen or is basicially all right. Indeed for anyone to say so would break a major social taboo. Child abuse is widely and rightly recognised as a great social evil of our time, and I doubt whether there is any professional person or public figure who is not against it.

It seems to be that the anguish Dr Speight and Co. feel about being pursued through the GMC by aggrieved parents, is pretty much a mirror image of the pain parents must feel if wrongly accused of harming their children by a paediatrician or other child protection professional.

Child abuse is a deeply emotive subject. The idea of children being harmed by adults who are supposed to be caring for them is a horrific one that rightly stirs people's deepest anxieties. But for that very reason, it is important that cases of suspected child abuse are invesitated thoroughly but dispassionately, with the aim of getting at the truth not pursuing a wider agenda.

Dr Speight comments that:

Professionals against Child Abuse (Paca), may be reluctant to participate in the child death review panels being set up to scrutinise all cases of child deaths.

If so this may be a good thing. For parents involved in such tragic cases are likely to feel concerned about a Paca member taking part in such a review. They will fear that because Paca professionals are on a mission to expose child abuse and believe that others are in denial about its existence, they are likely to have it in for them.

Mutal antagonism between parents and professionals is clearly not good for child protection. If parents feel that they are constantly under suspicion from doctors and social workers, while child protection professionals fear vendettas from aggrieved parents for raising legitimate concerns, the welfare of the child will get lost amid the bickering.

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