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Slovakia, UK: “Child Snatching” or “Child Protection”?

On September 18, about 150 people (or, according to another source [en], more than 400 people) protested [sk, images] in front of the UK Embassy in Bratislava. They were holding banners that said, “Kids to Mom,” “Kids are not business,” and “Britain thief of children.”

It all began this past summer, when the Slovak TV channel JOJ broadcasted a report about Miroslav Goroľa and Veronika Čonková, an unmarried Roma couple from Slovakia. They took four of their nine children and moved to Britain “to search for work.” Čonková was pregnant at the time of the move and soon gave birth to the couple's next child. When they asked the British authorities for social support, all the five children were taken away from them.

From the netizens’ intolerant comments to this SME article [sk], it is clear that this Roma couple's case was not the reason for the protest in front of the UK Embassy.

ghostface:

[The Roma] bring a car full of kids [...] later they will log them in social care and live better than the well-paid Slovaks at home [...] Thanks to the Brits – and with happiness we will send them other families of ‘Slovak’ citizens.

doo:

Britain has discovered how to stop large-scale [Roma] child production without sterilization.

vlasok:

Over there [in Britain], a uterus will probably not work as a production tool…

Later, even the Slovak PM Robert Fico praised the British approach to cases like this as “inspiring” [sk].

What caused the recent anti-UK protest in Bratislava was another TV JOJ report: it told the story of a UK-based ethnic Slovak family whose two children had also been taken away by British social workers, due to alleged sexual abuse by the father.

The Boor family visited a doctor because of one child's genital infection, and this was reported as suspicious to the social office. Even though the court later confirmed that there was no proof of the father's wrongdoing, the children were not returned to family.

The children's mother, Ivana Boorová, has worked as a carer in Britain for the past seven years and got qualified to run a nursery. Now, however, she is allowed to meet with her own children only if accompanied by social workers. (A Facebook page devoted to this case is here [sk].)

A screenshot of the Facebook page set up to support the Boors family effort to return their children.

According to SME [sk], Britain introduced stricter child protection rules after the scandal caused by the death of Victoria Climbié, an 8-year-old African girl, in London in 2000, when social workers failed to recognize the signs of long-term abuse.

But some believe that cases like the Boors’ may not be as straightforward as they are presented to be. The Daily Slovakia's John Boyd wrote this [en] in a recent piece about the protest in Bratislava, mentioning, among other things, journalist Christopher Booker's report [en] for The Telegraph:

[...] The tearful documentary on the Boor case raises accusations that the motive behind such cases is big money, because one child feeds a whole chain of people in the social services network. In this case, the Telegraph cites various court hearings, four social workers, seven specialist doctors and psychologists, 16 interpreters, 13 contact supervisors and dozens of lawyers. [...]

Booker has worked on the issue for three years, despite the rules that make it difficult to publish specific information about the cases. Writing for Týždeň [sk; subscription required], he thanked Slovakia:

[...] It is the first European country that started to protest against this mass violation of human rights that is happening in Britain. [...]

All these reports have sent a wave of panic among some Slovaks living in Britain.

Petra Schwarczová, a Slovak native who has firsthand experience of the British social care system as an interpreter, decided to blog her perspective on the situation after speaking with a UK-based Slovak mother whose parents back in Slovakia were so worried that they were urging her to return home:

[...] It is necessary to understand that adoption is absolutely the last solution, when a family ignores all advice, requests or regulations and continues to threaten/neglect their child. Social offices are here not only to take the children away from families. They are here primarily to teach families to take care of their children properly and responsibly. So, a social worker usually visits the families assigned to her and spends months and months with them while she is helping them. This system of work is called Child Protection Plan.

I recommend reading it all. [...]

[...] Parents ignore the well-meaning advice and experts’ assistance, the child is still at risk [...]. Then comes the court decision for the children to be removed into temporary foster care. It is still not bad, parents can still get their children back. Meetings between parents and children are arranged – I think it's three or more times per week – and a social worker is present, who observes the interaction between parents and the child, and, of course, there are detailed written reports about it. Yes, those meetings take an hour or two [...]. Parents are still under scrutiny – in terms of finances – it is determined whether they have sufficient funds to support the child, but they are also receiving adequate help with finances. Whether other children who stayed home are attending school regularly and have something to eat. Whether they are not skipping visits to the doctor or dentist. If the child in foster care gets sick, the mother can (if it is not even an obligation) arrive at the agreed time to the doctor. Many times I've seen mothers who ignored it, literally, because they did not want to go visit the kids, or even mothers who abandoned their children – they shouted at the social worker that they they would never come to the next session again, and let the child be adopted, though we tried to convince them not to do it, because later they would regret their decision.

Families can no longer complain about the lack of funds. Compared to Slovakia, here they have heaven on earth. Nor is it even possible to use the language barrier as an excuse, as they have interpreters absolutely everywhere – and they even do not need to ask for them. The mistake made by the Slovak families and not by the English authorities is that they think that once they come to England, they'll be greeted with bread and salt and benefits and work within the first three days. They do not realize that [...] it can take months [...]. And for those few months, their savings from home simply will not last. Then they will begin to apply for emergency loans, they'll fail to pay the rent, they are thrown out onto the street, and a social worker, because of their children, will, of course, contact them. Nor am I going to count the cases when social workers advised them to return to Slovakia, otherwise they risk ending up on the street in England. Some authorities even bought tickets for families to return home, because for them it is cheaper than to take care of them forever. But when a family decides that, despite it all, it will stay, it also risks having a social worker getting involved.

[...] Only extreme cases end in adoption, so what is stated in the SME article are only unsubstantiated facts and information taken out of context.

Meanwhile, the Čonka family has already been re-united and is back in Slovakia. The Boors, thanks to MP John Hemming, has recently got a second chance in court.

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