The Social Reaction to Maria Colwell

  • Nigel Parton
Chapter

Abstract

The case of Maria Colwell proved crucial in establishing the issue as a major social problem and in introducing fundamental changes in policy and practice. Not only was the death of Maria Colwell constructed as a national scandal in its own right but the reaction to it reflected a more pervasive social anxiety about inadequate families and the role and activities of social workers.1 The case ensured that from then on the issue would no longer be experienced by the professionals concerned as marginal to their everyday practice but would take on the highest priority and would generate considerable concern and ‘fear’.2

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The analysis in this section draws closely on N. Parton, ‘Child Abuse, Social Anxiety and Welfare’, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 11, no. 4, 1981, pp. 394–414.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A word used to summarise the feelings of social workers in the mid 1970s about this area of work in DHSS, Social Service Teams: The Practitioner’s View (HMSO, 1978);Google Scholar
  3. see also E. M. Goldberg and R. W. Warburton, Ends and Means in Social Work: The Development and Outcome of a Case Review System for Social Workers (Allen & Unwin, 1979);Google Scholar
  4. D. Howe, ‘Division of Labour in the Area Teams of Social Services Departments’, Social Policy and Administration, vol. 14, no. 2, 1980, pp. 133–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. J. Mattinson and I. Sinclair, Mate and Stalemate: Working with Marital Problems in a Social Services Department (Blackwell, 1979).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rockers (Paladin, 1973) p. 9.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    See Bob Holman article in The Times, 29 January 1975.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    S. Hall, C. Critcher, T. Jefferson, J. Clarke and B. Roberts, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order (Macmillan, 1978) ch. 8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 6.
    This is very common with child abuse for it is claimed: (1) that the identified bruises etc. are symptomatic of much more worrying parental attitudes and parent-child relations; and (2) that the officially identified number of abused children is only a very small number of the real total. For instance, C. Schneider, J. K. Hoffmeister and R. E. Heifer, ‘A Predicative Screening Questionnaire for Potential Problems in Mother -Child Interaction’ in R. E. Heifer and C. H. Kempe (eds), Child Abuse and Neglect: The Family and the Community (Ballinger, 1976) claim that 20 per cent of the parental population have child rearing attitudes and experiences that are so similar to known abusers as to make them indistinguishable from abusers on any dimension except the absence of documented evidence.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    It is far from apparent that S. Hall et al.’s grand theory that moral panics in the early 1970s were part of a wider crisis is valid. Some critics have argued that the actual material selected as proof of the slide into crisis does not add up to anything that was particularly ‘exceptional’. See S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Blackwells, 2nd edn revised 1980).Google Scholar
  11. Similarly it is my own view that we should not necessarily view this period as unique, for similar developments, with a correlation between crisis and moral panic, seem to have been in evidence in other periods in history. However the nature of the social reaction and the form of the panic have differed. This seems to have been the casé in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For interesting discussions of S. Hall et al.’s thesis see D. Downes and P. Rock, Understanding Deviance: A Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule Breaking (Oxford University Press, 1982) ch. 10;Google Scholar
  12. and J. Ditton, Controlology: Beyond the New Criminology (Macmillan, 1979) ch. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 8.
    Parton, ‘Child Abuse, Social Anxiety and Welfare’; and N. Parton, ‘The Natural History of Child Abuse: A Study in Social Problem Definition’, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 9, no. 4, 1979, pp. 431–5.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    See A. Shearer, ‘The Legacy of Maria Col well’, Social Work Today, vol. 10, no. 9, 1979, pp. 12–19, in which it is suggested that the local media helped sustain interest in the case in East Sussex and would not let the problem go away until an inquiry was ‘secured’ from central government.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    See note 4.Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    See in particular Sir Keith Joseph’s speech to the Pre-School Play-groups Association, 29 June 1972, reproduced in E. Butterworth and R. Holman (eds), Social Welfare in Modern Britain (Fontana, 1975);Google Scholar
  17. and Sir K. Joseph, ‘The Next Ten Years’, New Society, 5 October 1972, pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    Adrian Webb in P. Hall, H. Land, R. Parker and A. Webb, Change, Choice and Conflict in Social Policy (Heinemann, 1975), p. 68. A specific example of this priority was the establishment of the SSRC/DHSS research programme on ‘transmitted deprivation’ at this time.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    For a discussion on the nature and implications of the cycle of deprivation thesis for social policy and social work practice see B. Jordan, Poor Parents: Social Policy and the Cycle of Deprivation (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974);Google Scholar
  20. B. Jordan, Freedom and the Welfare State (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976) particularly chs 10, 11, 12 and 13.Google Scholar
  21. B. Jordan, Automatic Poverty (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981) particularly chs 7 and 8;Google Scholar
  22. B. Holman, Poverty: Explanations of Social Deprivation (Martin Robertson, 1978).Google Scholar
  23. 14.
    Perhaps most explicitly stated by S. Wasserman, ‘The Abused Parent of the Abused Child’, Children, no. 14, 1967, pp. 175–9. Sidney Wasserman was involved with the Scientific Advisory Committee of the NSPCC Battered Child Research Unit at the time.Google Scholar
  24. 15.
    Quoted from A. W. Franklin (ed.), Concerning Child Abuse (Churchill-Livingstone, 1975) introduction.Google Scholar
  25. 16.
    Dr Alfred White Franklin has a long and distinguished career in paediatrics. During the 1960s he was honorary consulting physician at the Department of Health, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital; honorary consultant paediatrician, Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital; was formerly chairman of the Invalid Children’s Aid Association; co-founder and treasurer of the Oastler Club; past president of the British Paediatric Association; president of the British Society for Medical History (1974–7); with a practice in Harley Street. In recent years he has been a central figure in the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and its international equivalent.Google Scholar
  26. 17.
    See British Paediatric Association, ‘The Battered Baby: A Memorandum by the Special Standing Committee on Accidents’, British Medical Journal, vol. 1, 5 March 1966, pp. 601–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 18.
    Much of the information for this section is taken from personal discussions with Dr Franklin.Google Scholar
  28. 19.
    A. W. Franklin, ‘Personal View’, British Medical Journal, vol. 4, 16 October 1971, p. 167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 20.
    Clarke Hall and Morrison’s Law Relating to Children and Young Persons (Butterworths, 9th edn by Margaret Booth 1977 and Supplement 1979).Google Scholar
  30. 21.
    These included Eileen Ring, who had headed the recently instituted DHSS internal committee to discuss the problem.Google Scholar
  31. 22.
    S. Smith, R. Hanson and S. Noble, ‘Parent of Battered Child: A Controlled Study’ in Franklin (ed.), Concerning Child Abuse.Google Scholar
  32. 23.
    J. Mounsey, ‘Offences of Criminal Violence, Cruelty and Neglect Against Children in Lancashire’ in Franklin (ed.), Concerning Child Abuse.Google Scholar
  33. 24.
    Speech to the Annual General Meeting of the Magistrates Association reported in The Times, 12 October 1973.Google Scholar
  34. 25.
    A phrase used by Dr A. W. Franklin in a personal communication.Google Scholar
  35. 26.
    See Parton, ‘Child Abuse, Social Anxiety and Welfare’, where this argument is developed further.Google Scholar
  36. 27.
    J. O’Conner, The Fiscal Crises of the State (St James Press, 1973);Google Scholar
  37. A. Gamble, The Conservative Nation (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974);Google Scholar
  38. I. Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State (Macmillan, 1979).Google Scholar
  39. 28.
    For example the law relating to homosexuality was amended in 1967 to legalise sexual relations between consenting adults; the 1969 Divorce Law discarded the notion of ‘matrimonial offence’ and established ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as the sole criterion for divorce; the 1967 Abortion Law enabled women to gain a legal abortion more easily.Google Scholar
  40. 29.
    See R. Wallis, ‘Moral Indignation and the Media: An Analysis of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association’, Sociology, vol. 10, 1976, pp. 271–95;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. R. Wallis, Salvation and Protest: Studies of Social and Religious Movements (Pinter, 1979);Google Scholar
  42. Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke and Roberts, Policing the Crisis; T. Nairn, ‘Portrait of Enoch Powell’, New Left Review, no. 61, May/June 1970, pp. 2–27.Google Scholar
  43. 30.
    See S. Hall, ‘Reformism and the Legislation of Consent’ in NDC Permisiveness and Control: The Fate of the Sixties Legislation (Macmillan, 1980).Google Scholar
  44. On the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, the Festival of Light etc., see D. Cliff, ‘Religion, Morality and the Middle Class’, in R. King and N. Nugent (eds), Respectable Rebels (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979).Google Scholar
  45. 31.
    As depicted in B. Jackson, Working Class Community: Some General Notions Raised by a Series of Studies in Northern England (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968);Google Scholar
  46. M. Young and P. Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957).Google Scholar
  47. 32.
    In the late 1960s many of the anxieties of the traditional middle classes, which became associated with the New Right, were voiced by Enoch Powell, whose recipe for filling the political vacuum was unmistakably populist in intent. He was one of the few senior politicians at the time who had the ability to tap into this growing feeling of social anxiety and who attempted to return the ‘silent majority’ to the fold. In doing so he tried to re-establish the ‘sense of Englishness’ which seemed so important, vis-à-vis an ‘internal enemy’ i.e. black immigrants. While such a scapegoat gave concrete recognition to many popular anxieties, it also helped to restore a popular content to English self-consciousness.Google Scholar
  48. 33.
    A. Gamble and P. Walton, Capitalism in Crisis: Inflation and the State (Macmillan, 1976);Google Scholar
  49. A. Glynne and B. Sutcliffe, British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze (Penguin, 1972);Google Scholar
  50. Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State; S. Bolger, P. Corrigan, J. Docking and N. Frost, Towards Socialist Welfare Work; Working in the State (Macmillan, 1981) ch. 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 34.
    K. Phillips and M. Wilson, ‘The Conservative Party: From Macmillan to Thatcher’, and M. Wilson, ‘Grass Roots Conservatism: Motions to the Party Conference’ both in N. Nugent and R. King (eds), The British Right (Saxon House, 1977).Google Scholar
  52. 35.
    Lord Hausham, Guardian, 12 February 1970.Google Scholar
  53. 36.
    1972 was the year the government and the working class entered on a collision course and more strike days were lost than in any other year since 1919. The conflict in Northern Ireland reached new heights, the year opening with the deaths of thirteen Catholics on ‘Bloody Sunday’. The temper of violence seemed to be reflected abroad with the regular news of American bombings in Vietnam, while terrorists groups such as Black September, Bader Meinhof and the Japanese Red Army emerged in what was seen as an international conspiracy, and which captured the headlines in the British media.Google Scholar
  54. 37.
    S. Chibnall, Law and Order News: An Analysis of Crime Reporting in the British Press (Tavistock, 1977) ch. 4.Google Scholar
  55. Others have also commented on a complementary development in the growth of the concept of ‘dangerousness’. See I. Taylor, Law and Order: Arguments for Socialism (Macmillan, 1981);Google Scholar
  56. A. E. Bottoms, ‘Reflections on the Renaissance of Dangerousness’, The Howard Journal of Penology and Crime Prevention, vol. xvi, no. 2, 1977, pp. 70–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 38.
    Taken from Chibnall, Law and Order News, p. 76, Fig. 1.Google Scholar
  58. 39.
    See for example Leader ‘Caring for Children’, New Society, vol. 24, no. 55, 7 June 1973, p. 542.Google Scholar
  59. 40.
    See J. Clark, M. Langan and P. Lee, ‘Social Work: The Conditions of Crisis’, in P. Carlen and M. Collinson (eds), Radical Issues in Criminology (Martin Robertson, 1980).Google Scholar
  60. 41.
    What has come to be called the ‘re-discovery of poverty’ was important here. See A. Harvey, Casualties of the Welfare State (Fabian Tract, no. 321, 1960);Google Scholar
  61. D. Cole and W. Utting, The Economic Circumstances of Old People, Occasional Papers in Social Administration, no. 4 (Bell, 1962);Google Scholar
  62. D. Cole, ‘Poverty in Britain Today — The Evidence’, Sociological Review, 1962, pp. 257–82;Google Scholar
  63. B. Abel-Smith and P. Townsend, The Poor and the Poorest, Occasional Papers in Social Administration, no. 6 (Bell, 1965).Google Scholar
  64. 42.
    See in particular D. Donnison, P. Jay and M. Stewart, The Ingelby Report: Three Critical Essays (Fabian Society, 1962)Google Scholar
  65. and The Longford Study Group, Crime: A Challenge to Us All (The Labour Party, 1964).Google Scholar
  66. 43.
    A phase introduced in P. Townsend (ed.), The Fifth Social Service: A Critical Analysis of the Seebohm Proposals (The Fabian Society, 1970).Google Scholar
  67. 44.
    For a discussion of the internal politics behind Seebohm see P. Hall, Reforming the Welfare (Heinemann, 1976);Google Scholar
  68. J. Cooper, The Creation of the British personal social services, 1962–1974 Heinemann, 1983).Google Scholar
  69. 45.
    R. Bacon and W. Eltis, Britain’s Economic Problem: Too Few Producers (Macmillan, 2nd edn 1978). Also in The Sunday Times, 2, 9 and 16 November and 14 December 1975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. 46.
    For more recent developments of this argument see C. Brewer and J. Lait, Can Social Work Survive? (Temple Smith, 1980);Google Scholar
  71. D. C. Anderson (ed.), The Ignorance of Social Intervention (Croom Helm, 1980);Google Scholar
  72. D. Anderson, J. Lait and D. Marsland, Breaking the Spell of the Welfare State: Strategies for Reducing Public Expenditure (The Social Affairs Unit, 1981);Google Scholar
  73. C. Brewer, T. Morris, D. Morgan and M. North, Criminal Welfare on Trial (The Social Affairs Unit, 1981).Google Scholar
  74. 47.
    H. Molotch and M. Lester, ‘News as Purposive Behaviour: On the Strategic Use of Routine Events, Accidents and Scandals’, American Sociological Review, vol. 39, February 1974, pp. 101–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. 48.
    See for example Social Worker 2 in the Lucie Gates case, ‘Savaged by the Press’, Community Care, no. 445, 13 January 1983, pp. 16–17;Google Scholar
  76. A. Hill, ‘How the Press Sees You’, Social Work Today, vol. 11, no. 36, 20 May 1980, pp. 19–20;Google Scholar
  77. M. Phillips, ‘Social Workers and the Media: A Journalists View’, Social Work Today, vol. 10, no. 22, 30 September 1979, p. 22;Google Scholar
  78. R. Young, ‘Social Workers and the Media: A Social Services View’, Social Work Today, vol. 10, no. 22, 30 January 1979, pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  79. 49.
    C. Andrews in Social Work Today, vol. 4, no. 12, 1974, p. 637;Google Scholar
  80. quoted in R. Mawby, C. Fisher and J. Hale, ‘The Press and Karen Spencer’, Social Work Today, vol. 10, no. 22, 30 January 1979, pp. 13–16.Google Scholar
  81. 50.
    But see also R. I. Mawby, C.J. Fisher and A. Park in ‘Press Coverage of Social Work’, Policy and Politics, vol. 7, no. 4, 1979, pp. 357–76;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. D. Walker, ‘Are Social Workers Badly Treated by the Newspapers?’, Social Work Today, vol. 7, no. 9, 5 August 1976, pp. 292–3;Google Scholar
  83. M. Roberts, ‘Giving the Public the Right Image’, Community Care, no. 308. 27 March 1980, pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  84. 51.
    However, see Chibnall, Law and Order News; P. Golding and S. Middleton, Images of Welfare: Press and Public Attitudes to Poverty (Martin Robertson, 1982);Google Scholar
  85. P. Golding and S. Middleton, ‘Making Claims: News Media and the Welfare State’, Media, Culture and Society, no. 1, 1979, pp. 5–21.Google Scholar
  86. 52.
    S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain (Hutchinson, 1976) ch. 2;Google Scholar
  87. Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke and Roberts, Policing the Crisis, ch. 3; S. Cohen and J. Young (eds), The Manufacture of News: Social Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media (Constable, 1973).Google Scholar
  88. 53.
    Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke and Roberts, Policing the Crisis, p. 62.Google Scholar
  89. 54.
    Hall and Jefferson (eds), Resistance Through Rituals, p. 76.Google Scholar
  90. 55.
    Chibnall, Law and Order News, ch. 2.Google Scholar
  91. 56.
    Chibnall, Law and Order News, p. 44.Google Scholar
  92. 57.
    For a discussion of the differential treatment of social work and child abuse by the press see references in note 50 above.Google Scholar
  93. 58.
    Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke and Roberts, Policing the Crisis, p. 61.Google Scholar
  94. 59.
    See C. Anderson, The Care-Takers (Bookstall, 1972).Google Scholar
  95. 60.
    Graham Bagnali (born 20 May 1970) died on 28 May 1972. His condition had been a matter of concern since he had been about 10 months old, and at 13 months he had been in hospital ‘with injuries consistent with battering’. Three months later his elder brother (then aged 3) was also admitted to the same hospital with suspicious injuries. Meanwhile, Graham had been boarded out in an approved foster home. The possibility of adoption by the foster parents was discussed but rejected by Graham’s parents (his mother and step-father) when they understood the implications of adoption. While Graham was in foster care his mother gave birth to her third child, a daughter. Graham was returned to the parents because there seemed to be no grounds for opposing their request. Six weeks later he was found dead in his cot. Subsequently, both parents were convicted of manslaughter. His stepfather was ‘educationally sub-normal’, he had been to Approved School, and was known to have been aggressive/violent on three occasions. A report was published by Shropshire County Council in January 1973, with a supplementary report by Shrewsbury Group Hospital Management Committee in March 1973.Google Scholar
  96. 61.
    S. M. Smith, R. Hanson and S. Noble, ‘Parents of Battered Babies: A Controlled Study’, British Medical Journal, no. 4, 17 November 1973, pp. 338–91.Google Scholar
  97. 62.
    M. Hall, ‘A View from the Emergency and Accident Department’ in Franklin (ed.), Concerning Child Abuse.Google Scholar
  98. 63.
    P. D. Scott, ‘Parents Who Kill Their Children’, Medicine, Science and the Law, no. 13, 1973, pp. 120–6.Google Scholar
  99. See also P. D. Scott, ‘Fatal Battered Baby Cases’, Medicine, Science and the Law, no. 13, 1973, pp. 197–206.Google Scholar
  100. 64.
    Smith, Hanson and Noble, ‘Parents of Battered Babies: A Controlled Study’.Google Scholar
  101. 65.
    Apart from media entries discussed in the text see also: B. Brandenburger, ‘Are We All Kid Bashers at Heart?’, Observer, 18 March 1973, p. 30;Google Scholar
  102. S. Smith and S. Noble, ‘Battered Children and Their Parents’, New Society, 15 November 1973, pp. 393–5;Google Scholar
  103. S. Norris, ‘Research has Highlighted the Problem of Battered Children’, Guardian, 3 October 1973, p. 9;Google Scholar
  104. D. Tindall, ‘Maria Colwell’, Listener, 22 November 1973, p. 690;Google Scholar
  105. J. Goodwin, ‘Baby Batterers: Are They Really Villians or Victims?’, Daily Telegraph, 14 September 1973, p. 17;Google Scholar
  106. M. Holland, ‘Children at Risk’, New Statesman, 16 November 1973, pp. 721–2;Google Scholar
  107. M. Kellmer-Pringle, ‘Every Day Two Children Die …’, Observer, 25 August 1974, p. 18;Google Scholar
  108. H. Dawson, ‘The Left Alone Children’, Observer, 11 August 1974, p. 18;Google Scholar
  109. ‘Tug of Opinion’, The Economist, 7 September 1974, p. 30;Google Scholar
  110. J. Linklater, ‘Baby-Bashing’, Spectator, 10 August 1974, pp. 174–5.Google Scholar
  111. 66.
    A phrase used by S. Smith, ‘Correspondence’, British Medical Journal, 25 May 1974.Google Scholar
  112. 67.
    P. Hartley, Child Abuse, Social Work and the Press: Towards the History of a Moral Panic. (Unpublished M.A. Dissertation, Department of Applied Social Studies, University of Warwick, 1982.)Google Scholar
  113. 68.
    Golding and Middleton, Images of Welfare, pp. 89–91.Google Scholar
  114. 69.
    A. Waugh, ‘The Lesson of Lucie Gates’, Spectator, 20 November 1982.Google Scholar
  115. 70.
    Golding and Middleton, Images of Welfare, p. 90.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nigel Parton 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nigel Parton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations