Imagine living thousands of years ago. There are no electric lights, internet, books…information is passed orally from scholars, to teachers, to people you know, trust and love.
This information isn’t independent of your own experience of the world – in fact, this cascaded knowledge supports your view of how things are.
You look down at the ground – of course the earth is flat – of course the sun and moon and the stars orbit us – we are, obviously, at the centre of the universe.
Looking back from our rarified position of post Newtonian, post Einsteinian knowledge of the universe, it’s clear that the earth, at that time, was obviously inhabited by fucking idiots.
So now, here we are in this modern day and age.
What makes knowledge trustworthy?
What is it knowledge of?
Is it of stuff? Of, ‘Yes, that’s definitely a Blue footed Booby,’…
Of who…’You’re my best friend, and I trust everything you say …’
Of where, ‘Keep the sea to my right…er, where’s it gone…?’
And why? ‘If they’re duplicitous, cheating bastards, why should I listen to them?’
In the past few weeks we’ve watched the evolution of the sad case of the Italian woman who, we were told by the ever so trustworthy and reliable Daily Telegraph, had had her baby forcibly removed from her by Caesarean section by order of Essex Social Services following a panic attack – seemingly a symptom of her bipolar disorder – a condition for which she’d stopped taking her medication.
The child, we are told, had been kept by the social work department for about a year and now, was going to be passed on for adoption even though the woman had now started taking her medication again, had greatly improved and had family members who were happy to help/ adopt if need be.
Crikey! In the UK? And in this day and age?
Surely Christopher Booker of the Telegraph wouldn’t…er…and what about the Liberal MP, John Hemming, surely they speak the truth? With no axe to grind?
Well, let’s dig a little deeper…
To quote directly from a fine blog called
‘Booker, Hemming and the “forced caesarian” case: a masterclass in Flat Earth news’ Carl Gardner writes…
“In his excellent book, Nick Davies explains what he means by “Flat Earth news”:
A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.
The process of Flat Earth news making is assisted by the media. The heart of modern journalism, Davies says, is
the rapid repackaging of largely second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.
This, Davies says, explains why someone with an agenda
can simply slide his unreliable publicity stunt direct into the mass media and see it relayed around the world.”
The rest of this blog can be found here –
The author goes on to whip the rug from beneath these two writers of wrongs…demonstrating that their arguments may not be as clear as they first appear, and that their previous actions demonstrate they have both got axes to grind in this particular arena.
The overall implication here is that the rabble who’ve allowed themselves to be roused around this story are no better than the gullible minions who’d fallen for the flat earth hypothesis all those years ago…
Why would we believe such a story?
Well, it might be true.
However, it appears that there is at least one factual inaccuracy here – it seems it wasn’t the social work department who had the caesarean performed for psychological reasons – it was, apparently, the obstetrician who had physical concerns about the baby and the mother.
Facts that, in turn, generate their own questions…
What had the woman’s wishes been when she’d been ‘well’?
Seemingly, she had expressed a desire not to have a caesarean…
What would the obstetrician have done with a mother who hadn’t been sectioned – but all other conditions were the same?
What was the actual risk?
I don’t know – but it’s certainly a bunch of questions worth asking.
So, why would we believe the account in the Telegraph?
Is it because we’re fans of conspiracy theories? We have a naive belief that the NHS, the social work departments and the judiciary are out to get us?
Or do we take into account our previous knowledge of the powers that be?
The fact that people with physical maladies have a guarantee from the NHS that the maximum time they’ll have to endure between diagnosis and treatment is 14 weeks? A guarantee that isn’t given to folk with mental maladies.
In fact many people given a mental health diagnosis are given no offer or hope of appropriate input after any period of time.
Or that the state, the very folk charged with the care and support of people with mental health problems, had to be taken to court because of the prejudicial treatment this vulnerable group received at the hands of ATOS and the department of work and pensions who are supposed to effectively assess an individuals right to benefits?
Or the regular misreporting in the media, the misrepresentation of people with mental health problems in TV soaps and films?
Perhaps it’s the lack of knowledge of a number of the primary care providers who replace their lack of knowledge of mental health problems with ‘why not have a bath?’; ‘pull yourself together,’; ‘we’ve got people with proper illnesses,’ prejudice?
Or maybe we’re just fucking idiots who’d believe anything?
No, I don’t think so either.
I’m surprised that,with this case, there has been little mention of support for the mother…unless one counts sectioning.
But what kind of support could there be for a woman with ‘querulous paranoia’ – the diagnosis which, according to MP John Hemming, appeared on the original petition.
A condition – I’ve got to say here – that has the same Catch 22 feel of Drapetomania – the mental illness that was suffered by many black slaves in the 19th century – symptoms include running away from captivity.
Prescribed treatment ‘whipping the devil out of them’
The problem in amongst this great big bun fight is that the needs of the mother have been lost.
They can be guessed at by well meaning activists and bystanders – I’d be astonished if the woman herself, given the circus so far, would be inclined to honestly state what her needs as an individual and as a parent are for fear of losing all over again.
In his judgement in December 2012, Judge Mostyn described the mother as ‘being bipolar’ as opposed to ‘having bipolar’ – perhaps a subtle difference in language – but who knows if this represented a difference in attitude to people with mental health problems that may have made a difference in his decision making.
Who knows? Because now the case is bipolar with opposite camps stating the evidence for their case and, possibly conveniently, forgetting the inconvenient truths that may topple their argument.
An openness and willingness for both sides to work together is what’s required here.
Pie in the sky? Let me tell you a story about a woman who I once social worked with…
Mrs X had a profound physical disability that meant she required support with many of her activities of daily living, including washing, dressing, cooking and going to and from work.
Mrs X gave birth to a child.
The ongoing hoo-har within the social work department was fascinating to behold.
In Scotland there are essentially 3 flavours of social worker –
Children and families – who do exactly what’s on that particular tin;
Criminal justice – similarly
And community care – social workers who work with adults with all the possible maladies you can think of.
I understand it’s similar in England.
I was a community care social worker, working with Mrs X.
We had managers calling out that this was a case for the children and families team. The undercurrent being that she was unable to care for her child…also, any support she received would come out of their budget and not ours.
We/ I argued that, as we were community care social workers, with a duty to help this woman with her activities of daily living – we had a duty to support her with a very specific activity – that of being a parent.
There were fears about the potential cost to the department of this package.
This too was pretty straightforward to those in the know. Part of the package (at the time £200 per week) would be paid by the social work department – the Independent Living Fund (previously a government quango – now a part of the department of work and pensions that the government tried and failed to shut down recently. Political points? Me?) would pay the rest.
Mrs X would pay the whole of the care component of her disability living allowance towards the whole thing and she would get to, effectively, employ her own personal assistants.
She was in complete control.
There are other packages where children and families and community care teams worked together to make things work.
We did this with a woman with physical disabilities – what would prevent social workers applying the same ethos to someone with a mental health problem?
A package of care that takes into account the potential of a relapse into the bipolar that Judge Mostyn feared?
If he applied that same logic to society as a whole then 1 in 4 parents would have their children whisked off, just in case.
In an ideal world a handbrake should be applied here.
A community care social worker should be pulled in to assess the mothers needs fully and honestly over time.
A lot of time, given the polarised camps and the lack of trust on both sides.
Then, and only then, would we have the best outcome for this Italian mum and her baby.
Is this a good time to mention the massive cuts to local authorities that have led to ‘efficiency savings’ in all social work departments?
Well, we all have axes to grind, don’t we?
Walk a Mile