The Child Catchers

I see that this year's Paul Foot award has gone to Camilla Cavendish, for a series of articles in The Times about the way government takes peoples' children away from them.

I hadn't seen the articles, and while I will probably go back and read them, I don't need to, because I've seen the hideous process in operation, over five years ago.

Two things struck me. The first was the vicious cycle. As a young mother was slowly deprived of the baby son who was the only thing she cared about, she became gradually unhinged. Of course, the effect it had on her was used as a reason why she couldn't be allowed to keep her child, as if most women wouldn't have reacted in the same way.

But the second thing that really affected me was the sheer stupidity of the officials involved. They were people who I wouldn't have trusted with responsibility for my cats, and they were given the job of deciding whether a baby boy should be allowed to stay with his mother. That's one reason why I wasn't really frightened, only horrified - like floods in Bangladesh, the events could only possibly happen to other people. Someone with an education and educated friends and money to pay lawyers could have run rings round them. However, the pauperised underclass are helpless.

It's actually related to what I wrote this morning. When the framework and laws were being drawn up, the cost of management of the system was not considered. The civil servants and MPs knew perfectly well that their children could never be taken away by low-level council functionaries with room-temperature IQs, because Britain simply doesn't work that way, and they didn't understand what they were inflicting on those less privileged.

For the urban poor today, it is a constant threat. Cavendish's articles are not news to them - they know that if they piss off the council, they can lose their kids. They are not outraged by this, because every other aspect of their lives are run by the state, too. They don't know any other way of life.