Date Published: September 27, 2015
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author(s): Jennifer Crane.
In July 1985 Steve and Susan Amphlett established Parents Against Injustice (PAIN) to support and represent parents falsely accused of child abuse. The Amphletts ran the organization from their own home, and struggled to gain funding, before closing PAIN in 1999. PAIN was to an extent a reflection of the ‘new politics’ of identity and lifestyle, concurrent with the rise of New Social Movements, as falsely accused parents utilized communication technologies to make their experiences public, and to contact and support one another. At the same time, PAIN also sought to exert political influence through relatively traditional channels—contributing to public inquiries, encouraging their membership to write letters to Members of Parliament, and shaping media critique. Despite its small size, PAIN was able to act as an intermediary between parents and politicians, social workers, solicitors and physicians. PAIN represented, but also collated and shaped, parents’ experiences. The case study of PAIN suggests that small groups have been able to mediate between ‘public’ and ‘experts’, effectively working with both groups because of their ability to combine experience and professionalism. These groups have brought experiential knowledge into social policy, and more broadly shifted the roles and responsibilities accorded to children, families and parents.
PAIN worked effectively with falsely accused parents because the Amphletts themselves had had personal experience of the child protection system, as had many of PAIN’s other staff and volunteers. In their support work, PAIN sought to enable parents to communicate with one another, a project which assumed the value of shared experience. To facilitate these support networks, PAIN instated formal structures of management and organization, reflecting the broader ‘professionalization’ of the voluntary sector. Thus, parents came to PAIN because of the Amphletts’ personal experiences but, at the same time, relied upon PAIN’s expertise in establishing channels for contact, gaining funding, and communicating with solicitors, physicians and social workers.
PAIN also mediated between falsely accused parents and policy-makers, seeking to bring the experiences of parents into the construction of policy. PAIN offered case studies to newspapers and public inquiries, and encouraged parents to write directly to their Members of Parliament. PAIN was, to an extent, working within the political system and bringing experience into policy through the mainstream channels but, at the same time, was also very critical of the state in many of its statements to newspapers and parents.
PAIN thus mediated between falsely accused parents, policy-makers, solicitors, physicians and social workers. PAIN was able to work with each of these groups because the organization sought to represent personal experience in a professional manner. But did PAIN represent the experiences of all falsely accused parents? I will demonstrate that the evidence available suggests that the majority of PAIN’s membership were middle class. Furthermore, I will argue that PAIN worked hard to actively represent their membership as ‘respectable’; articulate, affluent, and mother-oriented families. By propagating this representation, PAIN drew on broader anxieties about the state of the family, and argued that its members were not the ‘type of people’ who would abuse their children. Whilst this presentation reflected prevailing social concerns, it also placed clear limitations on the ability of the group to represent all falsely accused parents.
The history of late-twentieth-century Britain remains incomplete without attention to the small voluntary groups who acted as ‘buffers’ between new identity-constituencies and traditional sources of ‘expertise’ such as physicians, social workers, solicitors, and policy-makers. These groups have emerged and multiplied in the field of child protection since the 1970s. Alongside PAIN, groups have also emerged to support, represent and empower adults who were abused as children, including national groups such as the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, One in Four UK and Phoenix Survivors, and also regional groups including Survivors Swindon, Survivors Helping Each Other, Nottinghamshire, and Norfolk’s Surviving Together. Buffer groups emerge because child protection and child abuse are serious, important and emotive issues which straddle institutions related to health, crime and welfare. Many other issues—such as drug use, sexuality, juvenile crime and homelessness—also straddle such areas, however, and it is likely that small groups have emerged to act as buffers in these areas too.