Upon my recent return to the UK from my adopted home of Egypt, I was sadly excited by the prospect of watching a few EastEnders episodes. The excitement turned to horror as I watched an appallingly written episode which showed a frightening lack of proper and relevant research into current family law and social care practice. In my opinion, it was dangerous.
In this particular episode, Roxy Mitchell left her three-year-old daughter in the temporary care of one of her teenage family members (Ben) until the girl’s dad, Jack, got back from work, while she went on a night out. Jack and Roxy are an estranged couple and the little girl lives with the mother, a situation familiar to many families in England and Wales. To cut a short story shorter, Ben left the toddler on her own, she decided to give herself a bath and nearly drowned. She was rushed to hospital and doctors examining her discovered a fractured arm which showed up on x-ray as being two or three days old. Social services were called in and a social worker proceeded to hold separate interviews with Roxy and Jack.
The bit that really got my goat was when, without any break in the story, two police officers (out of nowhere) stopped Roxy going into the hospital room to see her daughter. The next thing we know, the little girl is released from hospital into the care of her father.
This is factually and legally incorrect. We all know the power of television soaps and thousands of young, single mum viewers may now be less inclined to take their children to a hospital with genuine injuries for fear of such serious repercussions.
This simply would not happen. In the first place, where was the opportunity for Roxy to obtain legal advice? Secondly, a single social worker attending hospital does not have the power to transfer a child from her mother’s primary and sole care to that of any other person without an Order of the Court and without an investigation. There is as much possibility that the father had caused the injury as the mother, and yet this story shows the mother was automatically blamed.
It is, of course, most likely that an active little girl sustained the injury by accident. Undoubtedly, some people who watched the episode will now be wary of social workers so the story is unfair to that profession also. Their primary function is to protect children and they should not to be seen as the scary person who has some Godlike power to remove a child from your care.
A mother should not have to think twice about whether to take a child with a broken bone or, for example, a head injury to a hospital because they are worried that an ex-partner will use it against them to take their child away. It is an outrage that a programme such as EastEnders cannot get its legal facts right and has not given any thought to the potential serious consequences of this. It’s about time TV programmes were held to account for this type of blurring of real life in the pursuit of “entertainment”.