Save us from socialworkers on crusade

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


Social work is a noble profession, but it's also aheartbreaking, thankless one. Idealistic young people are attracted to thisfield because they want to help others. But many soon realize there's a limitto what they can realistically achieve. Some of their clients have such severeaddictions or mental illness, getting them through the day is a majorchallenge. Others make bad decisions left and right, learning little from theirmistakes.


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


Last week, at the behest of child welfare workers, policewrenched seven frightened children, aged six to 14, from their Southern Ontario home -- apparently because their parentsrefused to promise not to spank them. When the dust settles, this may turn outto be a textbook example of how the social work profession, consumed byanti-spanking fervour, traumatized these children needlessly. Anyone who thinksturning young children's lives upside down is preferable to mild corporalpunishment has lost the ability to imagine what it must be like to be plungedinto a world of strangers at the age of eight.


In Massachusetts, theGovernor 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 daycaresex abuse cases. Starting from a single allegation lodged by a mother whosejudgment was suspect, the case mushroomed into dozens of accusations aftersocial workers told the parents of other kids in the daycare that a long listof normal childhood behaviours indicated sex abuse. [The reporter here blames all these events just onsocial-worker zeal, but the history shows that countless others were alsocaught up in the hysteria, from police to medical professionals to the familiesof the children.]                                                                                                                                                                                                           [Back]    

Transcripts of interviews conducted with these children,then between ages two and five, reveal authorities who refused to take no foran 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 stateparole board cast grave doubt on Mr. Amirault's conviction and recommended hisrelease -- serves to remind us that, during the1980s, overzealous adults convinced hundreds of children they'd been sexuallymolested by their daycare workers when nothing of the sort had happened. Largenumbers of these youngsters were then subjected to counselling to help themovercome the imagined abuse -- a recipe for mental health difficulties if everthere was one.                                                                                              [Next]


Nor is there much reason to believe the social workprofession has been appropriately horrified by these mistakes. In April, ajudge lambasted Illinois' equivalent ofChildren's Aid in a 102- page ruling that concluded the way child abuse isinvestigated in that state (and elsewhere in the United States) is fundamentallyflawed. In three-quarters of the instances in which social workers foundcaregivers guilty of child maltreatment, the standards of proof were so low thefinding was later overturned. Which, as the judge pointed out, means all thosechildren lost "the benefit of a stable environment" for no goodreason.


Here in Canada,judges have condemned social workers for taking sides when divorcing mothershave falsely accused fathers of child sexual abuse. In one such case, an Ontario judge concludedin 1994 that the Children's Aid Society of Durham Region continued to argue incourt that a father was guilty even after it had belatedly realized he wasinnocent. (In effect, he was being punished for declining the society's offerof a financial settlement.) That this was a dismal way to serve the interestsof 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 in1999 for, among other things, glossing over serious concerns regarding amentally disturbed mother's ability to care for her daughter. In the words ofthe judge, the social worker "was determined to stop [the father] fromseeing [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. Butthat's clearly not enough to prevent them from devastating children's livesunder the guise of saving them.