Tortoise Media – Family separation: The solutions

30th September 2019


We are working with Tortoise Media to host a series of discussions around the country on issues in social work, in particular family separation and how to work towards solutions.

Tortoise is a new kind of journalism, setting out to report news in a different, more inclusive way. Tortoise believes the world deserves a slower, wiser news. One where everyone has a say. Their members – who come from all walks of life, right across the country – actively contribute to the stories they write, so Tortoise news reflects what people really care about. They do this by having open meetings about their reporting, called ‘ThinkIns’, where members can debate the issues they are investigating.

We have a limited number of free Tortoise memberships – usually £50 – to share across the Frontline network. Just click here and enter the code TEAMTORTOISE to access their daily journalism and ten ThinkIns per year.

Read below for journalist and facilitator Polly Curtis’ summary of the first ThinkIn we held in partnership with Tortoise Media last Wednesday:

At Wednesday night’s ThinkIn on family separation it felt like we had a real purpose. We were there to share our ideas about the solutions to a problem that we all agree on (at a high level at least): too many children are going into care, we didn’t plan it, we don’t know why it’s happened and there is too much variation to make it fair.

We have been reporting on this all year. On the breakdown in trust between families and the system, on the postcode lottery in whose children are removed, on the close links between poverty and child protection and on what happens when the decisions to remove a child permanently is the wrong one.

You can see the whole project here.

The discussion last night moved this to the next level. What particular areas could we focus on to start to find some solutions? There are three that we are now going to look at:

  1. Relationships. How do you change the conversations that happen between social workers and families? There was a very distressing description of how social workers sometimes move to court proceedings because, without adequate resources, the relationships are just too scary and out of control to manage. Meanwhile, families feel they are losing control. How do we reset the relationship to make it more collaborative and less confrontational?
  2. How do we avoid getting to the point of legal proceedings? We heard about the “vortex of doom” – how once you have a court experience how hard it is to get out of the one-way street towards intervention. What does life at the edge of the vortex look like? What more could be done there?
  3. The hardest question: what does good-enough parenting actually look like? We think we know but it is very different in different parts of the country. Children are removed according to different standards. Is it time to actually talk about this?

Some of you, our members, have already been in touch with ideas to follow up. On “good enough” parenting, Ryan, a social worker, writes:

“Our standard for good parenting is unclear but often when punitive decisions are made the standard can be unrealistic and rigid, it does not take into consideration the uniqueness of the family and their experience. There is a tension between having a standard with exploring the context for each specific family. Also, how can we have a standard of good parenting when there is significant inequality in society?”

Sarah, one of the lawyers watching on the app and contributing via Whatsapp said on Twitter: “These are the conversations we desperately need to have. Good people are being forced into roles and actions that betray their own essence.”

Belinda, former family court judge, makes an essential good point: “The more one delves into the issue the deeper we have to go.” As ever, we won’t rush to publish but will focus on getting this right.