Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six steps of thematic analysis were used to identify and analyze patterns in the survey responses as added to individual questions, and in the Free Text sections. The first step of thematic analysis is to become familiar with the data through repeated reading. The second generates initial codes that begin to show patterns. The third step is to search for ‘big’ themes in these patterns. The fourth step reviews and refines the themes. The fifth step gives a name to these themes. The sixth step offers the result of the analysis with excerpts from the text that provide illustration. In addition, ‘member checking’ was employed as a method of validating the survey results: ‘Member checking involves sharing results with participants to determine whether the themes of a qualitative study accurately represent their experiences’ (Anzur and Myers, 2020, p.6). In this case, the results were shared with PAAR members and it was felt that these were reflective of their experiences and the other parents and family members involved in child protection with whom they were in contact.
Eleven themes emerged in the analysis of the survey results. Six of these corresponded to themes identified in the existing literature and these are presented first in order of frequency of expression, e.g. the theme with the most instances throughout the survey responses was that of being ‘punished or harmed’ (on forty occasions, such a feeling was expressed). Comment has been kept to a minimum to allow these voices from child protection to be heard, but also restricted to two per theme for reasons of space.
Punished and Harmed
I was absolutely destroyed by it and I consider it an achievement that I did not actually kill myself. The only reason I did not is that I could not add bereavement to the huge suffering my girls were already living with because of the social worker. My girls are back with me now but we are all deeply scarred. At one terribly low point while we were apart I had a nervous breakdown because of the emotional stress (S1.FT90).
A second contribution spoke directly (physical) harm their child:
My child was left with tooth decay from 2002 to 2005 with tooth decay – aged 5 my child had 8 teeth extracted From 2007 to 2010 we raised concern about child’s teeth – A’s teeth were “dirty, rotten, pitted and chipped and black stumps”. 2010 we asked the Family Court for a specific order that child receive dental treatment. 2011 child received dental treatment to 16 teeth including extraction of both primary and adult teeth (S4.FT39).
Anger and Conflict, Hostility and Cynicism
In thirty-four instances there were expressions of anger and conflict (though the latter is an implicit thread throughout the survey).
Value judgements and references to outdated theories with the application of the social services handbook rhetoric, only added to the levels of persecution felt. Fabricated and cut and pasted false reporting and blatant lies has totally ruined my life and because no one within LA SS, SSSC would allow complaints to be rectified and corrected, I have been left feeling like a child abuser and have missed out on a right to private life and family for 21 years (S1.FT60).
…lies in reports are taken as facts even when proven, if can’t prove one allegation then social services change allegations throughout proceedings, social services ignore complaints under guise of can’t investigate whilst in court despite proof of lies, children are encouraged into giving negative answers to questions that are misleading in order to be used against parents and often ignored when they say they want to come home. Social work should be honest and truthful not biased and not work with preset agendas. Contact with Social work should be recorded fully for both party’s protection as the inherent dishonesty from most social work in my experience is disgusting… (S4.FT23).
Anger and conflict shaded into hostility and cynicism in some cases:
It had nothing to do with child protection, it’s all about them. everything they wrote was utter rubbish, made up crap because they know nothing is recorded, it might be in black or white it might on certain occasions even signed but you can’t complain, god forbid if you do all they do is even expand the lies they tell about you to make sure you never ever dare to complain ever again (S1.FT48).
In twenty-nine contributions, feelings of lack of justice (‘unfair’) were evident.
Two children were on the protection register for 17 months, for no valid reason other than being related to their sibling. These 2 children were referred to the Children’s Reporter and as there was no valid reason for referring them the Reporter dismissed the case immediately. Nevertheless, SS kept these 2 children on the register for a further 10 months. What a total waste of money and resources, sending a sw out every fortnight for 17 months for 2 children who were never at any risk from their parent or their sibling. These 2 children were traumatised by this 17 month experience. And though the wildly inaccurate child plans for these 2 children have been repeatedly challenged by the parent, in writing, these 17 month old, inaccurate child plans are still on file and in use and have been shared inappropriately with 3rd parties. This is not GIRFEC. This in no way has been in these children’s best interests. It has caused them a great deal of detriment (S1.FT46).
Social work reports were frequently handed to us in the waiting room of hearings, where we often discovered for the first time, anecdotes which were simply untrue, based on “community reports”. Motivations were ascribed to myself, my partner and my children which again, were simply untrue, and any attempt to clarify in the hearing were brushed off. When the children attempted to clarify things in hearings we were subsequently accused of coaching them. There was no ability to get any erroneous information corrected (S1.FT87).
No Power, Not Heard, Judged
There were fourteen references to having no power, not being heard or judged.
Anything I sent in writing prior to meetings was ignored and disregarded. Anything I sent in writing following meetings was ignored and disregarded. Minutes of meetings were incredibly inaccurate and when challenged about the inaccuracies I was, again, ignored and comments disregarded. (S1.3.5 – Section 1 Question 3.5)
Social work reports were frequently handed to us in the waiting room of hearings, where we often discovered for the first time, anecdotes which were simply untrue, based on “community reports”. Motivations were ascribed to myself, my partner and my children which again, were simply untrue, and any attempt to clarify in the hearing were brushed off. When the children attempted to clarify things in hearings we were subsequently accused of coaching them. There was no ability to get any erroneous information corrected. When this was attempted, we were continually encouraged “not to dwell on the past”, and accused of being more interested in paperwork than the welfare of our children. We were repeatedly told that social services act in the best interests of the children, therefore any action that they took were in the child’s best interests and to disagree with their actions meant that we did not have our children’s best interests at heart (S1. FT87).
Threatened and In Fear
Eight responses spoke to being in fear:
Any involvement with social services make you fear for yours and your children’s life. They write biased opinions about you as a person without having ever met you or heard your story. They have made me so scared and paranoid of losing my children, it’s made me ill (S1.FT28).
I live in fear every day that my son who lives at home with me will be taken away from me, also through no fault of my own I have wrapped him up in cotton wool because I’m terrified he dare get a knock or bruise or cut as little boys inevitable do and if he does, my heart panics thinking someone may report me. I live in fear every day from social services (S1.FT74).
A sixth dimension in the literature was that of the qualities of social service provision and social workers. These too feature in the survey responses.
Social Worker Qualities
The author has struggled with how to engage with some of the more scabrous comments and invective relating to social work involvement. Whilst most of the above themes already emerging carry implicit assessments of social work, more direct comment has emerged. This has been dismaying and alarming to read. Although some discretion has been exercised, it is fair to say that the survey responses are colourful and damning of social workers’ behaviour. Whilst this may not be too surprising given the obstacles to partnership with parents that are built in to a child protection system that regularly sets the needs of children against those of parents (as indicated earlier), and the potential for biased survey responses already discussed, the depth of lack of trust in social workers is astonishing. On a scale of 1-10, 81% (n=128) said they had no or little trust in the social worker working with their family (S1.Q.7). When asked whether they felt treated with respect and dignity by social workers and other professionals (S1. Q4), 87 out of the 129 that answered said ‘never’ and a further 29 said ‘rarely’, making 90% who felt that they were never or rarely treated with respect. Free text responses provided added evidence: “the majority of social workers these days do not seem to have an ounce of compassion or empathy towards the children and families they say they are there to protect!!!” (S1.FT55).
An additional theme within these comments was that of social worker turnover rates and absences: “Social worker changing 5 times in 8 months didn’t help anyone either” (S1. FT62) and: “Our social worker was off sick more than she was working and apparently another 4 social workers were also off sick and this left some people us included having no social worker for months” (S1 FT65).
Just one comment in the survey spoke well of social workers: “I’m an approved adoptive parent, not the sinister, bad parent the social worker alleged) so I have also experienced excellent social workers (in our home area of …) who were open and honest, well informed, adhered to best practice and were in every way worthy of praise” (S4.FT43).
Just as themes in the literature overlap so too have the survey themes, for example, not being heard is a form of injustice.
 Responses are titled according to the relevant section of the survey, e.g. S1 FT90 is Section 1 Free Text entry number 90