Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why HAS the British State got it in for foster parents?

Harriet Sergeant spent a year studying the care system and was shocked by what she found...

Foster parents are the saints of our age. A good foster parent can transform the fortunes of a child who has had the worst start in life. One woman, abandoned by her mother at birth and discovered two days later covered in rat bites, later described to me what her foster mother had done for her. 'She taught me the things that carried me through. She showed me all the really good things in this world.' So how are local councils behaving towards the foster families who invite some of the country's most troubled youngsters into their homes? Are they praising them and giving them appropriate support in their difficult task?

No. Shamefully, they are doing nothing of the sort. In fact, many councils treat foster carers with almost criminal negligence. Two recent cases make it clear where their priorities lie - and it is not with the foster parents, their families or even the child that is placed in their care. Just yesterday, it was reported that a foster couple from the Vale of Glamorgan took in a homeless teenager, only for him to rape their two-year-old son and molest their nine-year-old daughter. Scandalously, the council had failed to tell them that the 18-year-old had a history of alleged sex attacks on youngsters.

Equally shocking is what happened to another family who fostered a baby for Newham council in East London. It was reported last week that the council failed to inform them the baby was possibly infected with HIV, even though they had three young children of their own. Indeed, Baby J, who was born to a HIV positive mother, was considered such a risk that medical staff who delivered him wore protective masks, goggles, boots - and two sets of gloves. No such precautions were taken for the foster family.

There are, of course, many councils and social service departments who take seriously their duties to foster parents and the children they care for. Phil Evans, director of social services at Vale of Glamorgan council, for example, claims these tragic cases are rare. 'Such events are never repeated,' he said. But this is simply not true. As I discovered during a year-long investigation into the care system for the Centre for Policy Studies, such cases are not only commonplace, but the result of a shameful and deliberate policy.

When midwife Tricia McDaid, for example, raised 'difficult questions' with Newham council about the case of Baby J, they ostracised her. 'They tried to freeze me out as they didn't want this getting out,' she said. 'This is happening all the time, and it's putting foster carers and their children at terrible risk.'

So what is behind all this tragedy and incompetence? The answer is simple - cost. More and more seriously disturbed children are coming into care and after a spate of paedophile scandals, local authorities have closed many of their larger children's homes, putting them into specialist private care instead. And the cost of caring for a child in one of these small, private homes is eye-watering. Weekly fees in the ones I visited ranged from 3,000 to 6,500 pounds.

Compare that to what a foster family receives - as little as 50 to 200 per week. In a recent survey, six out of ten foster carers said their allowance failed to cover even their expenses. But for obvious economic reasons, councils want to keep young people, however difficult, out of private care homes and with foster parents - whatever the terrible cost to the latter.

Human rights legislation is making the problem even worse for those who volunteer to look after troubled children. Article Eight of the European Convention On Human Rights protects an individual's right to respect for one's private and family life. But councils can use this legislation to justify keeping foster families in the dark by claiming disclosure of a child's past infringes their human rights. The brutal truth, however, is that it allows councils to off-load disturbed youngsters onto unknowing families - and to save a fortune in the process.

For foster carers don't just suffer from a lack of background information. Many of the foster families I talked to told me that they received little support from social workers. They said their social workers would often disappear 'for months' on end - or turn up only for an annual review. This is a scandal, for foster families desperately need regular expert help. When a child first arrives at a new foster home, typically all goes well. It is only weeks later, as the child relaxes and begins to feel more confident that their emotional problems surface - sometimes with devastating results. To the untrained foster carer, this sudden explosion of bad behaviour is often inexplicable. If social services are absent from the scene, there's no one else to turn to and they can give up just as the child needs them most. This is often tragic for the child as, once again, they find themselves rejected, their problems compounded.

Ian and Gail (not their real names) described what happened when they took in a difficult child with no training, support or information from social services. The social worker informed them they were to receive 'a dear little boy' of six who had been attending school. This, as Gail remarked bitterly, 'was all lies'. The social worker arrived with the child, who immediately threw himself on the floor and began to indulge in frenzy of sexual behaviour. The social worker looked 'really surprised', explained Gail, and 'left us to him'. Only later did the couple discover what social services had not told them. Born dependent on heroin, the child had been through ten different foster parents in his first year alone. And things got worse.

When he was two, he'd been moved to foster parents who sexually abused him. But his social worker had been on long-term sick leave at the time, and he had been forgotten about for four years before he was finally removed from his abusive carers and placed in a new home. The tragic effects of this soon became clear. He woke Ian and Gail at night by punching them or smearing excrement on the bedroom wall. He associated affection with sex and threw explosive tantrums. 'We felt like we had been set up,' said Gail. When they sought advice, their concerns were dismissed. As Ian remarked bitterly: 'We got virtually no support and training from social services. It has had a huge effect on our health and our relationship.' Three years on, they are still fighting an uphill battle.

To make matters even worse, foster carers are offered little stability. Children will be moved for what is perceived as the child's benefit - but also if one foster parent is cheaper than another. Children desperate for stability and a loving relationship have their cases reviewed every six months by some local authorities who refuse to sign long-term agreements with foster carers. This can go on for years.

One woman I spoke to had fostered a little girl from the age of two. The local authority promised it was permanent, but suddenly announced that it was moving the child. They had been together for five years and both mother and child were devastated. 'She called me Mum,' the woman told me. 'Losing her was like a death for me.' But two social workers arrived at the foster mother's house and dragged the child away, screaming. The foster mother hasn't heard from the child since.

The care system should be about transforming lives for the better. Instead, foster families, and the children they care for, are too often being treated disgracefully - and all in the name of human rights and cutting costs.


Once again we see that British social workers are only good at attacking decent people

Ferals are just too hard -- so are ignored

A toddler who was killed by his mother's heroin-addict boyfriend had been on social workers' files for more than a year - but was not considered to be at risk. Brandon Muir died from a ruptured intestine after an assault by Robert Cunningham, 23, at the Dundee flat he shared with his mother, who was also addicted to drugs, and sister. Cunningham was found guilty yesterday at the High Court in Glasgow of culpable homicide.

The boy's grandparents had contacted social services at Dundee City Council 19 days before his death, begging social workers to remove Brandon from the shambolic flat shared by their mother, Heather Boyd, 23, and her new boyfriend. The court was told that, less than three weeks later, Cunningham delivered a blow of such force to the toddler's stomach that it ruptured his intestine, leading to his death from peritonitis. A post-mortem examination also noted up to 40 other injuries including bruises, scratches and four fractured ribs. The boy was 23 months old. Professor Robert Karachi, a consultant paediatric surgeon, said that the injury was consistent with a child receiving a "massive blow" and Brandon would have been in "severe pain" before he died.

Veronica Boyd, 43, the boy's grandmother, said that she had called social services on February 25 and told them she and her husband were "not happy about the relationship Heather had got herself into". Mrs Boyd said: "My husband phoned social services...and was told by them we had no parental rights. It was social workers that put those children back into that accommodation. Not us."

The Scottish government has asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education to bring forward its report on measures to protect children in Dundee and publish it three months early. A separate investigation into the circumstances leading to Brandon's death has been commissioned by the Dundee Children and Young Persons Protection Committee, headed by Peter Wilson, a former Chief Constable of Fife.

Adam Ingram, Scottish Parliament Minister for Children and Early Years, said: "This awful case is a harrowing reminder to us all why child protection measures are so important and it's crucial that, in light of this case and the public concern it has raised, we get a clear picture of how child protection services are performing as quickly as possible."

During the trial, it emerged that there was only one bed in Ms Boyd's flat, which had no sheets or pillows. On March 15 last year, she went out with Cunningham's sister Ann Margaret to a local shop leaving him to care for Brandon. During this time, Cunningham admitted shouting at Brandon after he twice climbed on to a window ledge, but claimed that he simply told him to stay in the "naughty spot" as punishment.

The court was told that Cunningham and Ms Boyd later took the sick child to a party. He repeatedly vomited brown liquid, while the adults dranks and smoked cannabis. Ms Boyd refused to call the emergency services. She later left to work as a prostitute and earn more money for heroin. Charges against Cunningham stated that he seized Brandon, making him stand against a wall or other surface, and applying pressure to his abdomen "by means unknown" the day before he died.

Their was already being monitored by the council's antisocial behaviour team after repeated complaints from neighbours. Boyd had also failed to attend medical appointments with her son. Charges that Ms Boyd ill-treated Brandon and that she killed him by failing to get him medical help were dropped last week.


CA: Challenge to anti-homosexual law reaches state Supreme Court

Once again the Left is trying to use the courts to thwart democracy

One year and one day after the state Supreme Court entertained arguments on extending marriage to gay couples, many of the same lawyers will be back before the same seven justices Thursday arguing why California's voter-appproved ban on same-sex marriage should stand or fall. The passage of Proposition 8 last November changed the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage and trumped the high court's decision as few months earlier to legalize it. But the ballot measure was appealed and the justices are getting the final word on whether marriage is an institution that must accommodate two women or two men.

The debate will be framed by not only the gay and lesbian couples who see their struggle as the modern equivalent of prohibitions on interracial marriage, but the 7 million citizens who rejected that comparison in an $83 million election.

The stakes are high - for the 18,000 couples who married while same-sex weddings were legal, for gay marriage opponents who object on religious grounds and for others who are deeply divided on the issue. And whatever the court decides is likely to have ramifications not only for millions of Californians but also for other states grappling over gay marriage. The question is whether a majority of the justices will defer to popular will or, having already declared that preventing gay people from marrying was unconstitutional, will do so again. Legal experts say it is a tough call and that the court's decision, due within 90 days, will be debated for years to come.

"It's very unusual for any kind of state court to do what the petitioners are asking the California Supreme Court to do," said William Eskridge, a Yale University constitutional law professor who frequently writes on gay issues. "If you are going to do something like that, it had better be on an issue where you are sure what the verdict of future generations is going to be."

Same-sex marriage supporters are urging the court to overturn Proposition 8 on the grounds that the measure made such a sweeping change to the state constitution that its sponsors lacked the authority to put it on the ballot without approval from the California Legislature. Citizens can petition to put constitutional amendments, but not substantial revisions, directly to voters.

In a rare departure, the state's own top lawyer, Attorney General Jerry Brown, has refused to defend the initiative and is urging the justices to invalidate it. Brown says Proposition 8 itself is unconstitutional because the Supreme Court's 4-3 decision last year recognized gays as a minority group entitled to judicial protection and established marriage as a fundamental right.

Legal experts say Proposition 8, which won 52 percent of the vote, would almost certainly stand if not for one notable fact: the marriage amendment represents the first time in California history that the constitution was changed at the ballot box to deprive a protected minority group of a right expressly carved out by the court. "It would be unprecedented for the court to overturn Proposition 8 only because Proposition 8 is unprecedented," said Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota constitutional law professor.

Carpenter, who support marriage rights for same-sex couples, said he immediately thought the appeal was the reaction of a sore loser. "But when you get away from the particular issue of same-sex marriage and ask the question in general, 'Do we want a simple majority of voters to take fundamental rights away from protected classes?' the answer is no," he said.

A broad spectrum of civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Organization for Women, have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, saying other minorities could have their rights put up for a vote if the measure is upheld.

Others, however, see just as much danger in limiting California's tradition of direct democracy. Lynn Wardle, a Brigham Young University professor who submitted brief in support of Proposition 8, said, "Do you defer to the political establishment, which in this case supports same-sex marriage and wants Prop. 8 undone, or to California's history of being probably the most populist state in America?"

In the 99 years since California has allowed constitutional changes by citizen initiative, the Supreme Court has tossed out only a handful of voter-approved measures because they were significant revisions that needed prior legislative approval. Meanwhile, the court has upheld hundreds of voter-approved constitutional changes. One reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s after the panel had ruled that capital punishment was unconstitutional.

On Thurday, the court also will hear arguments on what should happen to the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages that were sanctioned in the state before election day, if the measure is upheld. The sponsors of Proposition 8, represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, argue the measure's language makes it clear the state can no longer recognize those marriages. The attorney general and lawyers for the couples and local governments say the initiative was not explicit enough to undo the unions.

Legal observers, even some gay marriage opponents, say they think the court may be reluctant to void existing marriages. "There is no question, for a period of time, there was same-sex marriage in California, albeit a very short period of time," said James Sweeney, a constitutional lawyer in Sacramento who represents the California Catholic Conference. Most of the plaintiffs in the original gay marriage case now have wed but wonder whether the same justices will void their unions. "The fact that we have to sit here and wait for another court case is painful and takes something away from our joy and our celebration," said Jeanne Rizzo, 62, of Tiburon, who married her partner of 19 years last year.


The MBA menace

If Robespierre were to ascend from hell and seek out today's guillotine fodder, he might start with a list of those with three incriminating initials beside their names: MBA. The Masters of Business Administration, that swollen class of jargon-spewing, value-destroying financiers and consultants have done more than any other group of people to create the economic misery we find ourselves in. From Royal Bank of Scotland to Merrill Lynch, from HBOS to Lehman Brothers, the Masters of Disaster have their fingerprints on every recent financial fiasco.

I write as the holder of an MBA from Harvard Business School - once regarded as a golden ticket to riches, but these days more like scarlet letters of shame. We MBAs are haunted by the thought that the tag really stands for Mediocre But Arrogant, Mighty Big Attitude, Me Before Anyone and Management By Accident. For today's purposes, perhaps it should be Masters of the Business Apocalypse.

Harvard Business School alumni include Stan O'Neal and John Thain, the last two heads of Merrill Lynch, plus Andy Hornby, former chief executive of HBOS, who graduated top of his class. And then of course, there's George W Bush, Hank Paul-son, the former US Treasury secretary, and Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a remarkable trinity who more than fulfilled the mission of their alma mater: "To educate leaders who make a difference in the world." It just wasn't the difference the school had hoped for.

Business schools have shown a remarkable ability to miss the economic catastrophes unfolding before their eyes. In the late 1990s, their faculties rushed to write paeans to Enron, the firm of the future, the new economic paradigm. The admiration was mutual: Enron was stuffed with Harvard Business School alumni, from Jeff Skilling, the chief executive, down. When Enron, rotten to the core, collapsed, the old case studies were thrust in a closet and removed from the syllabus, and new ones were promptly written about the ethical and accounting issues posed by Enron's misadventures.

Much the same appears to have happened with Royal Bank of Scotland. When I was a student at Harvard Business School, between 2004 and 2006, I recall a distinguished professor of organisational behaviour, Joel Podolny, telling us proudly of his work with Fred Goodwin at RBS. At the time, RBS looked like a corporate supermodel and Podolny was keen to trumpet his role in its transformation. A Harvard Business School case study of the firm entitled The Royal Bank of Scotland: Masters of Integration, written in 2003, began with a quote from the man we now know as Fred the Shred or the World's Worst Banker: "Hard work, focus, discipline and concentrating on what our customers need. It's quite a simple formula really, but we've just been very, very consistent with it."

The authors of the case, two Harvard Business School professors, described the "new architecture" formed by RBS after its acquisition of NatWest, the clusters of customer-facing units, the successful "buy-in" by employees. Goodwin came across as a management master, saying: "A leader's job is to create the conditions that enable people to believe, in their hearts and minds, in the value of what they are doing."

Then just last December, Harvard Business School revised and republished another homage to RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland Group: The Human Capital Strategy. It is tragic to read now of all the effort put in by those under Goodwin, from "pulse surveys" to track employee performance to "the big thank you", a website where managers could recognise individual excellence in customer service.

Every trendy business school idea was being implemented, it seemed, while what really mattered - the bank's risk assessment, cash flow and capital structure - was going to hell. To be fair, neither Podolny nor the authors of the case studies were finance professors, but it's still pretty shocking that a school that purports to teach general management should fail to see the gaping problems at a firm they studied in such depth.

Is there a pattern here? Go back to the 1980s, and you find that Harvard MBAs played a big enough role in the insider trading scandals that washed through Wall Street for a former chairman of the SEC to consider it a good move to donate millions of dollars for the teaching of ethics at the school. Time after time, and scandal after scandal, it seems that a school that graduates just 900 students a year finds itself in the thick of it. Yet there is remarkably little contrition.

Last October, Harvard Business School celebrated its 100th birthday with a global summit in Boston. While Wall Street and Washington descended into an economic inferno, Jay Light, the dean of the school and a board member at the Black-stone private equity group, opened the festivities by shrugging off any responsibility.

"We all failed to understand how much [the financial system] had changed in the past 15 years or so, and how fragile it might be because of increased leverage, decreased transparency and decreased liquidity: three of the crucial things in the world of financial markets," he said. "We all failed to understand how that fragility could evidence itself in a frozen short-term credit system, something that hadn't really happened since 1907. We also probably overestimated the ability of the political process to deal with the realities of what could happen if real trouble developed. "What we have witnessed is a stunning and sobering failure of financial safeguards, of financial markets, of financial institutions and mostly of leadership at many levels. We will leave the talk of fixing the blame to others. That is not very interesting. But we must be involved in fact in fixing the problem."

You would think after failing on so many levels, the school that provides more business leaders than any other might feel some remorse. Not in the least. It's onwards and upwards, with the very people who blew apart the world's financial plumbing now demanding to fix the leak.

You can draw up a list of the greatest entrepreneurs of recent history, from Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google and Bill Gates of Microsoft, to Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Lak-shmi Mittal - and there's not an MBA between them. Yet the MBA industry continues to grow, and business schools provide vital income to academic institutions: 500,000 people around the world now graduate each year with an MBA, 150,000 of those in the United States, creating their own management class within global business.

Given the present chaos, shouldn't we be asking if business education is not just a waste of time, but actually damaging to our economic health? If doctors or lawyers wreaked such havoc in their own professions, we would certainly reconsider what is being taught at medical and law schools.

During my time at the school, 50 students were chosen to participate in a detailed survey of their development. Scott Snook, the professor who ran it, reported that about a third of students were inclined to define right and wrong simply in terms of what everyone else was doing. "They can't really step back and take a critical view," he said. "They're totally defined by others and by the outcomes of what they're doing."

A group of people unable to see their actions in the broader context of the society they inhabit have no business being self-regulating. Yet in the financial services industry this is pretty much what they demanded and to a large extent got - with catastrophic consequences.

The happiest in my cohort, which graduated into the rosy economic conditions of 2006, are now certainly those who went off to do the unfashionable jobs: a friend who spurned Wall Street to join a Mid-western industrial firm, and now finds himself running the agricultural division of an Indian conglomerate; one who joined a foundation promoting entrepreneurship; one who went into Boston city government, another who moved to Russia to run a cinema chain. However, these were the rarities: 42% of my class went into financial services and another 21% into consulting, both wretched sectors to be in today and for the foreseeable future.

Applications to business schools in America and Europe are broadly up, as people search for a safe haven from the recession. What are they thinking? Many MBA jobs will not be coming back. Students who stump up more than o60,000 for a two-year MBA can expect a long wait to make that back.

For those about to graduate from business school, these are grim times. Financial and consulting firms, which used to soak up two-thirds of the MBAs from top schools, have all but vanished from campuses. Suddenly jobs in government and at nonprofit organisations are in hot demand from students who used to consider them laughably underpaid.

A dose of modesty among MBAs and business schools is long overdue. But it's not going to come from Harvard. Light, told his audience in October: "The need for leadership in the world today is at least as great as it has ever been. The need for what we do is at least as great as it has ever been." A bold claim to which many might say: please, spare us.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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