In a historic judgement Judge Sir James Munby has overturned an injunction by Staffordshire social services forbidding the father of a child who was taken into care from talking to the media or posting a video of the event on social media.
The Judge has said that the parents have a right to discuss what has happened to them with anyone they like and that it is satisfactory to have the video publicly displayed. He has said that there is no reason to believe that this will in anyway compromise the identity of the child.
This is landmark decision and in my opinion a good one for social workers. Firstly on the point of the video recording - this type of video is becoming common in the United States where citizens film 'cop watch' videos of police going about their duties. I recently saw one which featured a policeman shooting someone's dog. The intention of cop watch videos is, I believe, intended to highlight bad or unfair practices although it could also be used to highlight instances of good practice. As video technology becomes more common and easier to distribute on the web all professionals will have to get used to the idea that they could be getting filmed in their duties and this will involve I plications for practice and training.
On a wider issue I think that greater transparency and public discussion about why social workers take the decisions that they do. This is necessary because the decisions that social workers take are of legitimate public interest and concern. Imagine a world on which the Police would arrest people without publicly charging them with anything and then refusing to allow them to tell the media their side of the story. People would lose all trust in the Police and their authority, respect and the co-operation of the public would be lost.
It ought to be possible for people to discuss and/ or film their dealings with social services and discuss this in the media. It also ought to be possible for social workers to discuss their reasons for taking decisions in the media too - subject to some restrictions and any ongoing proceedings.
There is no reason to believe that the decision to remove this child was in any way incorrect or that there was any unsafe or incorrect procedures. Perhaps if the public were allowed to hear both sides of the story then they could be trusted to reach a reasonable conclusion. A social work profession that engages with and involves the public through the media will be one that is trusted to make good decisions. That will require some rethinking of issues such as privacy and confidentiality but in an increasingly public and online world these changes will have to happen.