According to Phil Mitchell’s know-it-all lawyer (apparently paid so handsomely, he treats his clients to a slap up meal at the local Italian after a hard day at court), little Lexi is the fourth generation of her family to end up in care.
Tragic indeed, however Eastenders portrayal of social services, the courts and the advocates have really not given credit to the realities of what really happens in situations like this. Not that we are accusing Eastenders of sensationalising matters for a dramatic storyline, but there are some myths here that we need to dispel here.
1. If you were brought up in the care system, you will be a terrible mother and your baby will have social services on their back from the word go.
Definitely not true. We understand Lola was brought up in a children’s home (which by the way, are unusual nowadays. There is a preference for children in long-term care to be brought up in permanent placements such as long-term foster care or adopted). As she is under the age of 18, she is possibly still subject to a care order herself and therefore will have her own social worker. However, simply because she was brought up in care does not mean there is going to be a social worker waiting to gather enough evidence to remove her child.
Lola may have her flaws but she knows she does not want her daughter to be raised the same way she was and she wants her to grow up with her family around her. This is true of many clients who I have represented and have been in care themselves.
2. Social workers are effectively enjoying removing children.
This is the part which really upsets me and my colleagues. Admittedly, social workers do have a bit of a bad reputation- they are only ever in the news when they have made a mistake (after all, “social worker does a brilliant job and child lives happily ever after” is hardly a sensational headline, is it?). Lexi’s social worker has been portrayed as someone who is humourless, comes in and makes notes about how awful the family is, gets the ‘wrong end of the stick’ and has ridiculously unreasonable expectations. There is a real sense that the social worker takes pleasure in all of this.
I certainly don’t envy the job of a social worker, they have to make difficult decisions, and they put themselves at risk to protect children from real and significant harm. They have to do all of this in the knowledge that the decisions they make will be deeply unpopular with parents and scrutinised by the courts. It is certainly not fair to portray them in a popular soap as villains who operate in the style of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s’ the ‘Child Catcher’.
3. Social workers can remove your child, day or night, for whatever reason.
Contrary to popular belief, social workers cannot just come to your house and remove a child. It is not lawful.
The only time a social worker can remove a child without an order from the court, is with a police protection order (a PPO). Where a police constable has reasonable cause to believe a child may suffer significant harm, he may remove the child to suitable accommodation. In practice, this usually means a child is placed with social services (if there are no suitable family members immediately apparent). However, a PPO will only last for 72 hours after which either the child will need to be returned, the parent will need to agree for the child to remain in social services care or social services will need to start court proceedings to keep the child in social services care.
4. A social worker will pull a baby out of the arms of her hysterical mother.
Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen- there may be times when it has to happen. However the social worker is concerned with the child welfare and to forcibly remove a child from her hysterical teenage mother cannot be in the best interests of welfare. In reality, a social worker is trained to handle difficult situations like this. I doubt they would have wanted to remove the child on the street in full view of the community and they certainly would have taken steps to calm Lola down and to ensure she was supported by her family.
5. Screaming at your social worker will go unnoticed.
I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when the vast majority of my client’s in Lola’s situation did not want to march down to social services office and scream at their child’s social worker. However it is not advisable to do so, and I would strongly advise my client’s to keep their cool when dealing with their child’s social worker. Social services are going to want to see that she is co-operative, reasonable and rational- after all it is them she is going to have to convince to support Lexi’s return to her care.
6. You don’t need legal representation if you are going through court proceedings.
On Thursday we saw the “dramatic” (or entirely fictitious and unrealistic, depending on your point of view) court hearing where Lola had no legal representation. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this! Lola definitely needs the benefit of good legal advice. The Mitchells have a long history of appointing hotshot lawyers (all dodgy, but don’t get me started on that!) including Ritchie, Marcus and the latest offering Jimmie. I would strongly suggest Lola finds her own legal representation urgently, from a different firm from that which supplies the Mitchell’s usual offerings!
In reality, as Lola would be entitled to FREE legal advice and representation throughout the entire court proceedings through the legal aid scheme. She would benefit from regular meetings with her solicitor, and appointing a barrister if the situation called for it.
7. You can easily pull the wool over the eyes of people carrying out assessments for the purposes of court proceedings.
Ten out of ten to Eastenders for highlighting those assessments of family members and friends (kinship carers) will be carried out where there are such people willing to offer care to a child. However I don’t believe a social worker carrying out such an assessment would not have uncovered Phil and Sharon’s sham relationship. These assessments go into really quite extraordinary detail about the potential carers’ childhood and adult life, they will ask for references from other people too.
Would they not have known that Sharon was almost married to someone else a few weeks ago? That Sharon was married to Phil’s brother and that all ended in spectacular style? That Sharon seems to have omitted the fact that she has an addiction to medication? That they are really not a couple, and Sharon is hooked up with Jack Branning? See myth number 10 for the issues Phil seems to have kept quiet. Quite how the social worker would not have smelt an almighty rat is beyond me!
8. Court proceedings are between the parent(s) and social services.
Not true. The first thing the court will do in care proceedings is appoint a children’s guardian. This is usually a representative from Cafcass and there will also be a legal representative for the child. The purpose of the guardian is to represent the interests of the child through the court case. Lola’s guardian was nowhere to be seen in the court and I would certainly expect the guardian would have some misgivings about Phil being approved as a foster carer.
9. The judge approves someone as a foster carer.
No. The local authority’s fostering panel approves someone as a foster carer and that placement can be endorsed by the judge. If the local authority did not approve someone as a foster carer, the judge may be persuaded to approve them to care for a child under a residence order or a special guardianship order.
10. Phil Mitchell would be likely to be approved as a foster carer.
Where to begin? He comes from a notorious east-end crime family. He burned down the car lot and killed someone. He has a very, VERY long history of violence and intimidation. He is a recovering alcoholic. He had an affair with his brother’s wife. He entered into a sham marriage to help his wife stay in the UK. Lisa, the mother of his daughter, was so aggrieved with him that she shot him. He does not see his daughter Louise. He had been to prison. He has been under investigation for murdering his ex-girlfriend Stella. He was responsible for selling Kevin Wickes the dodgy car that killed him. He swindled a large amount of money from his cousin Roxy. He had an addiction to crack cocaine not too long ago. He is a bully and refused to accept his son’s sexuality, his son who is incidentally serving a prison sentence (his second) for killing Heather Trott.
I’m not saying potential carers for children have to be flawless, far from it. But I am quite confident that never in a million years would Phil Mitchell be assessed as an appropriate person to care for a child!
As this storyline develops, you can be sure of one thing and one thing only. I (along with the other soap-loving members of the profession, and probably a good number of social workers across the land) will be sat shouting at the TV from the comfort of my sofa, thankfully safe in the knowledge the real world simply does not operate according to the 10 Mitchell Myths…