This is a profoundly humane book. It brings to light the constraints and obstacles facing social workers concerned with the protection of children suffering from parental neglect and abuse a decade before the Children Act 1989 reformed the previously chaotic law. In following through a number of contested cases in the courts, it maintains suspense – and, at the same time, in its portrayal of characters involved, is both moving and frequently very funny. Mr. Ellison writes with great compassion, while puncturing the pomposities, ignorance, prejudices and arrogance of people at the top in local government, and in the legal profession and the magistracy. Anyone concerned – whether professionally or otherwise – with the welfare of children should read this book. I look forward to a sequel.
Former manager of special-needs housing, care & support for disadvantaged young adults)
by Jeff Morsman
This is, in an odd way, a book whose time has come. From one angle, it is a nostalgic look back at life in the legal department of a well-known north London local authority, at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘efficiency’ agenda, told from the perspective of a young solicitor named Robert Fordham. However, a backdrop including a vignette of a young Jeremy Corbyn and other political references, confer a contemporary note to the story, which is set during the winter of 1979-80.
The story focuses on Robert, as he makes his way through the labyrinth of red tape and pathos which makes up life in the child protection functions of social services departments, who are his clients. The stories of neglected and abused children are told in a straightforward, unsentimental fashion, reminding the reader that, in most cases, parents just need some help and if they don’t get it, the consequences can be devastating. Just occasionally, some people are not able to act adequately as parents, and we get a glimpse of the anxiety and responsibility which rests on the shoulders of the young social workers as they encounter these.
Much of the narrative of the book is taken up with the way in which the state deals with poverty and disadvantage, and once again, has strong parallels with today. It presents the stories in a non-judgmental way, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.
This is an absorbing and well written novel. It will have a particular attraction for those who worked in local government at the end of the 1970s, evoking the spirit of the time and the sense that the world could be changed. However, it is a good read in its own right, with all the ingredients that make up a good story – including a love interest, but one which does not dominate, the whiff of unprincipled careerism, frustrated ambition and thwarted ideals. The characters are well depicted and the foibles of Edward Shimble, the particularly irritating head of department, are a peculiar delight.
by Sue Daniels, chief executive of a housing association