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Welfare of children must be a priority.

BARNARDOS'' Martin Narey has repeated his call for more babies to be taken from unsuitable families.

It's ironic that he did so in the week we heard of formal apologies to generations of children, many taken from their families, sent out from Britain as late as 1967 by charities including Barnardos, to be abused by those supposed to protect them. Australian Families said "this is a significant step in the healing process for former child migrants".

The social workers who took those children from their families and dispatched them to what, for many, was hell on earth, believed absolutely that what they were doing was for the children's good. They were wrong.

The government website, Parliament UK, says "exact numbers of child migrants to Australia and New Zealand are not known, but it is thought that during the final period in which the migration policy operated, from 1947 to 1967, between 7,000 and 10,000 children were sent to Australia".

It goes on: "These children were placed in large, often isolated, institutions and were often subjected to harsh, sometimes intentionally brutal, regimes of work and discipline, unmodified by any real nurturing or encouragement. The institutions were inadequately supervised, monitored and inspected".

The voluntary agencies charged with that monitoring and supervision included Barnardo's. Only a fool would ignore the very good work the charity does in other areas or quarrel with the removal of the two children concerned in this week's horrific case. The only question is why removal did not take place sooner.

But the taking of children from their parents is not something to be undertaken lightly or behind closed doors. That is why I am glad that Children's Minister, Ed Balls, has come out against Mr Narey's call.

There have been too many miscarriages of justice for me to support that call until accused parents are given a trial in a proper court. And the right of courts to gag parents must be withdrawn. Most vital is the need to thoroughly investigate reasons for removal before adoption takes place.

John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP who campaigns to stop injustices in the family court, said last week: "Very often care proceedings are used as retaliation by local authorities against 'uppity' people who question the system."

The mother of a 13-year-old girl who became partly paralysed after being given a cervical cancer vaccination says social workers have told her the child may be removed if she continues to link her daughter's condition with the vaccination.

Another couple had all six of their children removed from their care after they disputed the necessity of an invasive medical test on their eldest daughter, although it was subsequently confirmed that she was not suffering from the condition. That is frightening.

We must think carefully about what is needed to improve the woeful state of child protection, both for children taken in error and children not taken soon enough. When it comes to their welfare, we cannot afford another mistake.


OPPOSITION Martin Narey and Ed Balls, right, are at loggerheads.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2009
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