Save us from social workers on crusade

Donna Laframboise. National Post: Jul 12, 2001. pg. A.18


Social work is a noble profession, but it's also a heartbreaking, thankless one. Idealistic young people are attracted to this field because they want to help others. But many soon realize there's a limit to what they can realistically achieve. Some of their clients have such severe addictions or mental illness, getting them through the day is a major challenge. Others make bad decisions left and right, learning little from their mistakes.


Dispirited social workers are particularly vulnerable, therefore, to crusades that offer them a renewed sense of purpose. Crusades such as those against spanking and sex abuse.


Last week, at the behest of child welfare workers, police wrenched seven frightened children, aged six to 14, from their Southern Ontario home -- apparently because their parents refused to promise not to spank them. When the dust settles, this may turn out to be a textbook example of how the social work profession, consumed by anti-spanking fervour, traumatized these children needlessly. Anyone who thinks turning young children's lives upside down is preferable to mild corporal punishment has lost the ability to imagine what it must be like to be plunged into a world of strangers at the age of eight.


In Massachusetts, the Governor is being urged to commute the 30-40 year sentence of Gerald Amirault, jailed for the past 15 years in one of America's most notorious daycare sex abuse cases. Starting from a single allegation lodged by a mother whose judgment was suspect, the case mushroomed into dozens of accusations after social workers told the parents of other kids in the daycare that a long list of normal childhood behaviours indicated sex abuse. [The reporter here blames all these events just on social-worker zeal, but the history shows that countless others were also caught up in the hysteria, from police to medical professionals to the families of the children.]                                                                                                                                                                                                           [Back]    

Transcripts of interviews conducted with these children, then between ages two and five, reveal authorities who refused to take no for an answer. To say these kids were badgered until they finally "remembered" being abused is putting it mildly.


The return of this case to the news -- last week the state parole board cast grave doubt on Mr. Amirault's conviction and recommended his release -- serves to remind us that, during the 1980s, overzealous adults convinced hundreds of children they'd been sexually molested by their daycare workers when nothing of the sort had happened. Large numbers of these youngsters were then subjected to counselling to help them overcome the imagined abuse -- a recipe for mental health difficulties if ever there was one.                                                                                              [Next]


Nor is there much reason to believe the social work profession has been appropriately horrified by these mistakes. In April, a judge lambasted Illinois' equivalent of Children's Aid in a 102- page ruling that concluded the way child abuse is investigated in that state (and elsewhere in the United States) is fundamentally flawed. In three-quarters of the instances in which social workers found caregivers guilty of child maltreatment, the standards of proof were so low the finding was later overturned. Which, as the judge pointed out, means all those children lost "the benefit of a stable environment" for no good reason.


Here in Canada, judges have condemned social workers for taking sides when divorcing mothers have falsely accused fathers of child sexual abuse. In one such case, an Ontario judge concluded in 1994 that the Children's Aid Society of Durham Region continued to argue in court that a father was guilty even after it had belatedly realized he was innocent. (In effect, he was being punished for declining the society's offer of a financial settlement.) That this was a dismal way to serve the interests of the man's two daughters - - who were supposed to be the society's sole focus -- seems to have escaped the social workers involved.


In another false sex abuse case, a Manitoba judge condemned a social worker in 1999 for, among other things, glossing over serious concerns regarding a mentally disturbed mother's ability to care for her daughter. In the words of the judge, the social worker "was determined to stop [the father] from seeing [his daughter] and it appeared that she would go to any length." The child suffered terribly as a result -- to the point where, noted the judge, this six-year-old "spoke of jumping out a window."


Most social workers have only the best of intentions. But that's clearly not enough to prevent them from devastating children's lives under the guise of saving them.