Case study: children, families & child protection

Authors: Mel Cadman & Kathryn Cameron


The phone call


This is Clydetown Social Work Services, Tracy speaking, how can I help you?


I am phoning about this junkie woman in our street, she is leaving her three kids at night, she is going out and leaving them, I think you need to get it sorted out.


Can I take some more details please could you give me the names of the children?


She has got these three kids, one of them is about thirteen, her name is Jasmine. The other one must be about eleven…that’s Jack and then there is a wee baby as well, Amber. 


Do you know the address?


It’s 23 Donaldson flat.


Thank you very much, can I take your name please sir.


No…I’m not going to give my name.


Okay… I am going to have to put you through to a senior social worker, but I’m afraid he is not in today…. I will see if I can speak to the duty social worker. One moment please. 

Receptionist (to duty social worker):

Anna there is a man on the phone and he is making serious allegations about three children. I think you should speak to him, he won’t give his name. 

Duty social worker nods and leaves to return to her office.


Hello I am just putting you through to Anna she is the duty social worker, thank you. 

Duty social worker:

Anna Hutchinson, duty social worker how can I help you?


Hi there I’m phoning about this woman in our street, I just said to the lassie at the desk there that I need to speak to somebody about her.

Duty social worker:

Could you give me this lady’s name?


Her name is Sharon Donnelly and she lives in Donaldson Crescent, it’s number 23 the top flat. She’s leaving these kids all the time…you are going to have to sort it out.

Duty social worker:

Kids?... How many children are there?


She’s got three kids…three okay.

Duty social worker:

Do you know their names?


There is a teenage lassie she’s thirteen…her name is Jasmine. There’s another boy, he’s eleven…his name is Jack and there’s a wee baby as well…18 months old. 

Duty social worker:

I really appreciate you calling Mr?...


I’m just somebody who knows her. You’re going to have to sort this out to be honest.

Duty social worker:

It would be really helpful if I could have your name.


I don’t really want to say my name…if you just sort out her…because she’s leaving these kids every night.

She’s on the game…she’s going out every night shooting up as well.

I think it’s out of order that she is leaving these weans there by themselves. It’s really your responsibility,… you are going to have to sort it out. 

Duty social worker:

I can understand that you’re concerned, but we can’t just go barging into people homes, you know, with accusations unless you've got some real evidence?


But you know her…you must have a file on her as big as…who knows.

Duty social worker:

I’m sure you understand that we do have a duty of confidentiality here.


But everyone knows what she’s like and you guys must do too.

Can you help these kids, these kids really need your help.

It’s out of order….who knows who they are hanging out with, you know… I look at the oldest lassie Jasmine…she is hanging about with 20 year olds and before you know it she’s going to be doing the drugs as well.

Duty social worker:

But you can understand that it is very difficult for us to do anything when the person who is alleging these things is anonymous.


Aye well, look I’m not going to tell you my name, because before I know it she will be down on top of me and then her folk will be down on top of me as well. So I am just not doing that.

Look…it’s your responsibility….could you get it sorted out. That’s what you’re there to do. So just help out the lassie and her kids. At the end of the day it’s the kids that’s the problem…I mean you’ve got to help them out.

Duty social worker:

I really appreciate you phoning, and I really appreciate your concern here, but as I say if I had more details that would be a lot more helpful.


Look what else do you need to know. I’ve told you everything I can tell you. If you get it sorted out that will be fab okay…(hangs up phone…dialling tone sounds).

Duty social worker:

Alright, hello, hello, hello…

After the visit


  • Sam is the senior social worker
  • Michael is the case worker

Sam: I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Michael. [sound of door shutting] You'll never believe it. Just as you and Gina left to interview Sharon Donnelly, Sheila called to say that her doctor had sent her off for the next two weeks. I've had to cancel all of our appointments; there has been no time to do any of the usual inquiries. Anyway, how did you get on?
Michael: Gina says she's sorry she couldn't wait; she had to go and see that toddler in the nursery. Anyway, we were just saying it's been a while since we've met someone quite as angry and hostile. Wow.
Sam: Yeah well, these investigations are never easy, but this one was particularly difficult then?
Michael: On a scale of one to ten, I would say about twelve!

I don't think either of us expected to find her in, so no surprises when there was no answer at the door. But, you know how you sometimes get that feeling when you know that someone's in, even though there's no real noise? And sure enough, just as we were going down the stairs, she opened the door a crack.

Right from the start she was pretty aggressive, saying that we had no right to harass her. I suggested it might be better that we'd talk inside the flat rather than the close, and after a bit of "to-ing and fro-ing" she eventually let us in. Told us we had to be fast, as we had no right to be there, that she had done nothing wrong.
Sam: Hmm, yeah. You can't really blame her, but we've got a job to do, and we've got to follow up these allegations. So, what happened when you got inside?
Michael: The flat was a total bomb site. Not so much dirty, though pretty grubby. A total cowp. Dirty dishes everywhere, two vodka bottles lying on the floor, dirty clothes, used nappies, filled ashtrays, the smell of old hash. I must have looked a bit taken aback, because she started screaming, who do we think we are, poking our noses in? I fear a bit of the usual abuse.
Sam: And what did you tell her about why you had come 'round?
Michael: Well, the usual really: what we'd been told, the fact that it was anonymous -- and that really got her going. She started poking me in the chest and screeching: "And you believe that bastard, my ex, before you even talk to me?"

It took a bit of time, but Gina eventually calmed her down, saying that we had to take the allegations seriously, but that we believe nothing, and we had to talk to her to get her side of the story.
Sam: Was there any sign of the children?
Michael: Every time an investigation like this happens, it's easy to get caught up in the adults' world. Anyhow, I noticed that Gina was trying to get my attention, making it clear with her eyes that she could hear noises in the bedroom. I asked if I could only speak to the children, and nodded in the direction of the bedroom door.

Sharon stepped in front of me, saying we had no right to do that. And she looked really angry. Gina gently tried to point out that we just wanted to make sure that the children were safe, but she was having none of it. She started screaming at us to get out of the flat.
Sam: Hmm. And that's how things were left? You couldn't see the kids?
Michael: Well, we had to leave, didn't have an option, really. But before we left, I told her that we couldn't leave things like that, that we hadn't had a chance to talk to her properly, or the kids. [sigh] That just made it worse.
Sam: OK, let me sum things up then, but stop me if I've got it wrong.

We've got an anonymous call about a family, alleging the mother has got a serious drug problem. Also alleging that she's a prostitute, leaves the children alone, and also that the children are seriously neglected, and may be at risk of worse.

The family, they're known to us, we've had the plaintiff contact in the past, but nothing for quite a while. The two of you visit to follow up the allegations, and you are prevented from seeing the children by their mother. She's angry, abusive, and uncooperative. There are indications of drinking and possibly drug misuse. The house is a mess, bordering on unhygienic.

She ends the interview by telling you... Or she tells you to leave. [beeping sounds] Oh, I'm surprised we've got as long as a few uninterrupted minutes; that's the summons I've been waiting for.

Listen, Michael, you've been through these things before, you know the score. Can you make the usual inquiries, and we'll meet back here in what, about an hour, and we'll decide on our next move. OK?

[Michael walks out of the room, sound of door closing]

The neighbour

Neighbour talking straight to camera:

You know if it hadn’t been for my man, they weans would have never been put into a home…it was him that phoned the social that time.

I told him no good would come of it…but I miss them so I do…but there’s not much I can do about that is there?

I mean she was no use as a mother was she? I ended up looking after the weans twice, maybe three times a week. In fact in the last few months they stayed with me more than they did with her. In fact I can’t remember a weekend when they weren’t with us.

And the state they where in when they came over. Tired and hungry. Jack was always starving and Jasmine was always trying to look after the wee one. But she’s only a kid herself.

If it hadn’t been for us giving them a good scrub, feeding them, buying them a few wee things, what would they have been like? Oh, I would have looked after them full-time so I would…but my man wouldn’t put up with it. Right enough, the social would have never let us…I mean that’s not for the likes of us is it?

And wee Jack…see the stories he would come out with about his mum. And poor wee Jasmine, loyal and sticking up for her until the last.

She phones some times but not for a while right enough. Last time she phoned she sounded desperate, said that she was doing great and that they would be home soon. I knew that she was just saying it, she knew it. I think she was in tears when she put the phone down.

I only wish…they could have stayed here with us…(starts to cry)

The foster carer

Foster carer  talking straight to camera:

Well I just can’t get away with that social worker, what they are saying now.

I mean, first of all we got the impression, obviously we have been looking after Amber and we got the impression that, that was going to go on. I mean basically, what we where told, I certainly had the impression - I think it was at the preparation meeting -that we would actually have some rights…but now what the social worker is saying to us is that it’s the birth parents that still have got the rights.

In other words her mother would have the rights and responsibilities, but they would have to show that they where responsible. What is worrying us is that in actual fact that - from what I know about that woman - she wasn’t responsible. I mean the previous carers, the previous foster carers of Amber, I mean when they took the child on, she was really, really skinny. She is a two year old child, it was just terrible…so when they took…

…we have been told by now that we are very capable foster parents, but it really looks as if we are not going to be able to adopt Amber.

I mean okay we’re getting on a bit. I’m fifty two now and I mean, I understand that age can come into it…but it just doesn’t seem right to me that the child would be sent back again to a mother who obviously didn’t have  responsibility to look after her.

I mean we had the three boys and that was great, but having a wee girl…it’s just meant so much to us…and I just feel so…I just really feel sad.

I mean we were kind of led down the garden path here a bit you know. We wanted the wee girl, we really did and she has been fantastic for us. She’s changed our lives…and anyway…I mean obviously, at end of the day it is not going to be our decision now, but we would offer her such a good home…and we would offer her such great opportunities for life…

…and I mean (to be honest with you) the other two kids…I mean (I’ll be quite honest here) I don’t really want to have anything to do with the other two kids. Because I just think it‘s too late…especially for Jasmine. She’s what now? She’s fifteen or something…I just think…it’s hopeless for her.

But there is so much opportunity for Amber…and surely, surely that’s what counts?

Jasmine Donnelly

Jasmine talking straight to camera:

I just hate all this. It’s like living in a prison, with screws all around you…watching every step. I know  they mean well, taking care of us and stuff, but I need my own time, be able to do my own thing. Instead it’s “We need to talk about your future now with your review coming up” and stuff like “You need to trust someone”. As if!

That’s not what I felt when I heard all these stories coming up about my Mum at the last review. I mean it was things like “history of drugs misuse”. I know they mean junkie so why don’t they just say so? And instead of saying she was on the game it was stuff like “worrying behaviour outside the home”. Do they think we’re stupid or something?

Of course I hate her. I’ll never forgive her. It’s bad enough treating us like we never existed when we’re at home, but to run away when the social work came. What kind of mother is that?

Leaving us to get all this…splitting up the home…splitting up the family…foster homes, and who knows what next?

When I was wee I used to listen to all the stories, about who was to blame, but you’d have thought she would have been good to us – make it up to us. How stupid can you get?

We are getting like her but worse now. I just hope I don’t end up doing this to my own weans. After this, no, I’m not having any.

You cannae tell the social work any of this. If I had we‘d have been taken away years ago. I mean when we were at home at least we were like a family, the three of us. Looking after Amber and that, keeping her safe.

Now it feels like I’ve not got a family anymore. Not now.

Do you know what the worst thing is? Being away from Amber. When I look at her, you just, it makes you feel so sad. You just see how good she’s getting. But who am I to her now – I’m a stranger- she doesnae know who I am. It’s the foster parents! They want rid of me and Jack. They try and act like she belongs to them. But she doesnae!

What’s to happen to us now? It’s frightening I can’t bare to think about it.