Essex Council have today issued an explanation of the facts behind the c- section story which has hit the worlds press. It gives a good account of the council/social work involvement in this case.
In any case there is nothing in the Council's account which gives me cause for concern ( though others may disagree).
However, I never really believed that the Council had acted in bad faith. My beef has always been that the Council did not think it owed the public an explanation for its actions.
Many social work bloggers and tweeters had come to the defence of the council saying that it could not say anything to the media for fear of breaching confidentiality or going against some legal restrictions.
I was never very convinced by these arguments or convinced that the Councils policy of not speaking about ongoing cases was a good one.
In fact today's statement has vindicated my position because the council has now broken its (unwritten?) policy of not commenting and it is at least now trying to undo some of the bad publicity which it should accept some responsibility for. It's clear from the council's new response that they have written it because there has been unprecedented international interest in the case- not because they think involving the public in their decisions in an ongoing basis is a good thing of itself.
Over the years I have met a few journalists. I think they are basically people with a job to do like the rest of us and if they are given a convincing argument or interesting information that the public will want to know - then they will print it.
I have never been convinced by the argument that the press has it in for social work. If I was a journalist and one side of a story would not speak to me or address legitimate public concerns then I would not give them a very sympathetic write up either. When you see 'no comment' from a public body it gives a message that public opinion does not matter to the agency. In the current world of 24 hour news, bloggers, and greater interaction between public bodies and the public they serve, the secrecy which is associated with much social work practice is outdated as well as undemocratic.
Let's hope that the latest statement by Essex is start of a new openness and social work starting to take control of how it is reported rather than just reacting. Essex has now shown that you CAN comment on live cases ethically- and it is the best way to protect the profession, protect the reputation of local authorities and their social workers and most importantly reassure the public that they live in a free country where professionals cannot override civil liberties without exceptionally good processes, reasons, and accountability.