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We hope that 2006 will be a significant year in the fight for justice for families with sick or disabled children or adult illness, disability or mental health difficulty.

The last few weeks of 2005 have been an exciting time with Parents Protecting Children UK and several other related small voluntary sector or special interest groups being recognised as Stakeholders by the Department of Constitutional Affairs in the current “Childcare Proceedings Review”.

There seems to be much greater awareness of the issues which concern us by the DCA than we have ever found in the DoH and the DfES. This must (at least in part) be because the DCA are aware of the vast cost to the public purse when families are devastated by false accusations and official misunderstandings.

Saturday 10th December sees the first Unity in Justice Conference bringing together many of the relevant groupings and personalities. Platform speakers include the solicitor Sarah Harman, the seasoned campaigner Beverley Beech from AIMS and me. There will be a supportive message from Parents Protecting Children UK founder member Charles Pragnell.

For your Christmas reading and entertainment I would like to make a few recommendations:

I believe that in order to begin to understand the issue of false allegations it is essential to understand the issue of the “inevitable script” and would therefore like to recommend that readers and interested parties take time out to watch three pieces of drama.

The first play is the video of Arnold Wesker’s stage play “Denial” which is available in London from the National Theatre bookshop (£14.99 – 5 copies in stock this week) or by phone / internet from “Heritage Theatre”. There are also DVD rental copies available online.

Arnold Wesker's Denial (2005)

“This new play by Arnold Wesker deals with a very difficult subject: False Memory Syndrome. A controversial play that explores how vulnerable patients can often have 'false' memories of childhood abuse 'planted' by unscrupulous therapists who believe that hidden memories of child abuse is the root cause of most of their patients. The play (recorded live at the Bristol Old Vic) runs for 90 minutes and is followed by an interview with the author”.

“Denial” could equally well apply to many other forms of false or mistaken accusation. In watching this informative and entertaining piece of theatre please pay particular attention to the character of the journalist who has “seen it all before” and can predict each scene before it occurs. I am often reminded of this character when the phone rings and a distraught mother or father begins to tell me their tale:

  • “My toddler tripped, fell over and landed on the Moses basket containing the baby, we took them both to hospital” - and I know that they will have landed up with an emergency placement order pending a Child Protection conference or Family Court appearance.
  • “My Aspie teenager needs help” and I know that the mother is being and will continue to be blamed for the fact that her child’s educational environment is not the vital prosthetic “Aspie friendly” environment and that therefore the student is unable to function in a way which others see as appropriate.
  • “My child had a series of ENT infections and this developed into chronic fatigue and it might even be ME and s/he is missing a lot of school” - and I wait to hear about the accusations of neglect and the “revolving door” created by inappropriate official attempts to force the child to do more than s/he is capable of. The pressure stems from the school’s anxiety to meet attendance targets and the almost inevitably leads to a Child Protection conference at which the parents won’t be allowed to have their say and where the outcome is determined before anyone enters the room.
  • I suggest that an in depth study of Wesker’s “Denial” should be compulsory on all training courses for professionals concerned in any way with Child Protection or related services in schools, social work, the legal profession, the Courts, Government et al. In particular they should look at the issues about the “script” as raised through the character of the journalist.

    The second play I recommend is Arthur Miller’s acclaimed “Crucible” – ideally the original stage play, rather than the more recent film which to some extent confused the issues. There may be local amateur or school productions; there may be video or DVD versions of the stage play. There are a number of student editions of the text available with very helpful notes. The DVD of the film version is readily available online.

    The Crucible (1996)

    “A powerful adaptation of the classic stage play about a Puritan community in seventeenth century Massachusetts awash in guilt, denial, and hysteria when a ring of lustful teenage girls begins accusing its citizens of witchcraft. When one man fights to retain his integrity in the face of madness, the adolescent slander invariably extends to him. Based on actual historic events and meant as a metaphor for the paranoid persecutions of the McCarthy era, the story (re-penned for the screen by playwright Arthur Miller) is a parable about society's fascination with and revulsion for cultural scandal.”

    “….And suddenly, the Devil is loose in Salem. The girls are discovered and, spurred on by their terrified accusations, the entire village is consumed by cries of witchcraft. One by one, the blameless victims of mass hysteria are torn from their homes until, inexorably, Abigail's vengeance is turned on Proctor's wife.”

    The phenomenon of false accusations taking on “a life of their own” could not be better described than it was by Miller, who wrote the groundbreaking play as his attempt to debunk the myths surrounding Senator McCarthy and the workings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, but which stands to help us understand what is going wrong with the Child Protection Industry today.

    The third and last piece of relevant drama is a Meryl Streep TV film made in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore USA, entitled “First Do No Harm”. The title of which is taken from the Hippocratic Oath to which all doctors subscribe. This film shows how a mother (Streep) can be misunderstood and misrepresented and thwarted in her attempts to get help for her seriously ill child. It is readily available online in DVD format.

    ...First Do No Harm (1997) (TV)

    “You do solemnly swear, each man by whatever he holds most sacred; That you will be loyal to the Profession of Medicine and just and generous to its members; That you will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability; And my judgment and above all else first do no harm.”

    “Meryl Streep was asked, "How do you relate to the character you play?” “…. basically she's somebody who is going along in her life, the way we all do, happily, and then reality flips--and that's when you find the measure of your character, in adversity: what happens when it all goes bad. So, she's probably somebody who believes in everything that her doctors tell her--and that they are telling her the whole truth and nothing but the truth--but her faith is shaken along this journey. “

    I hope that you enjoy these dramatic and literary offerings and on behalf of everyone connected with Parents Protecting Children UK I wish all visitors and readers a very Happy Christmas.

    Jan Loxley Blount 8 12 05.

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