Czech Republic: More than 100 people demand investigation of social work in Litvínov
Members of the social welfare department of the Czech town of Litvínov, accompanied by municipal police and a reporter with a video camera, recently paid unannounced visits to allegedly troubled families, primarily Romani ones, to see whether adult family members were using alcohol or drugs in the presence of their children. Zuzana Candigliota, legal director of the League of Human Rights (Liga lidských práv) says the staff of these public authorities exceeded their official powers during the incidents.
The families at the Janov housing estate and elsewhere in Litvínov were visited after 8 PM and never received an exact explanation as to why they were being monitored. More than 100 people have signed an open letter about the visits to the mayor of Litvínov and the head of its social welfare department.
News server ROMEA.cz publishes the open letter below in full translation:
Dear Mayor Šťovíček, Dear Ms Knoblochová,
We are writing to ask for a thorough investigation of the procedures undertaken by the social workers of your local authority and its municipal police patrols with respect to the so-called troubled families living in your catchment area who were captured on the video published on 12 September of this year on news server e-mostecko.cz. We are not writing to you about the article by Jan Vraný which the video is a part of (even though both it and its headline were written in a manipulative fashion and contain very little information explaining or justifying this incident), as it is obvious to us that town is not responsible for the content of that particular news server.
Our question is how it was possible that this video was not only made, but that it was published by a private media outlet? The video itself is also far from the only problem here.
We consider social work with families who neglect their children to be necessary and useful. Ms Knoblochová has explained the visit to the families who were filmed as having been social work, and without reviewing the child welfare authorities' files we are naturally unable to question the degree to which these families in particular are in fact "troubled".
What was this video intervention motivated by, what was its aim? How can you justify the repressive approach of the staffers that is captured in the video footage?
How can you defend the arrogant tone taken by the staffers, or the fact that they paid this visit during the evening hours? Why are the social workers so offended (and making their displeasure evident in such a disdainful way) when this or that member of the household is not home at the time of the visit?
What right do the staffers have to rake the other members of the families over the coals as to where the absent family members might be - had appointments been made with them? Why, instead of making unclear statements such as "You haven't seen the last of us", don't the social workers negotiate to return at a time at when the client is available?
None of the video footage shows any small children at home alone, and that is the only reason such an intervention might be justified! Moreover, the municipal police patrol member who was present during this monitoring refers during the visits to regulation no. 553/1990, which is a decree by the Czech Authority for Workplace Safety and the Czech Banking Authority - but he probably was trying to reference either Section 53 paragraph 2 of the Law on the Social and Legal Protection of Children (ZSPOD), or maybe it was regulation no. 553/1991 Coll. on the municipal police?
Whichever it was, even regulation no. 553/1991 Coll. does not authorize municipal police to proceed in the way that has now been documented by this video. That, as well as their references to what they clearly consider to be just a bunch of numbers is proof not only of the lack of professionalism of this entire "supervision", but also that it was an effort to terrorize these clients.
The arguments that these families are suspected of "using alcohol or drugs in front of children" are indefensible. We do not want to trivialize the problems suffered by children living in families of alcoholics or drug addicts, but we would like to point out that there is no legal rule in the Czech Republic banning the use of alcohol in front of children.
It is also dubious in such a situation to force a breath test or drug test; the presumption of guilt should the clients refuse such tests (as the social worker said in the video, "That means we will consider you to have been using") is completely unacceptable. It is also unacceptable to threaten to take people's children away from them (as the social worker said, "This can happen to you") - this must not be tolerated from a professional social worker, even in tense situations such as the ones the "controllers" themselves have provoked in these households, and even more so when a client demonstrates good will, shows he is properly caring for his children, and is willing to communicate with social workers.
We consider the approach taken by the municipal police to be even more problematic, as their very participation in this action is controversial. According to the information available, it is they who invited the cameraman along, and in our view there was not enough of a reason to include him.
Even if the police had anticipated difficulties and might have needed a video recording of the intervention for evidence later, it was out of order to use a journalist to film the visits, especially one who filmed the situations despite the express wishes of the client (including filming the very children whose protection you claim to have been monitoring) and then published it! The production of audiovisual recordings of children and the environment in which they live is permitted exclusively for official needs (see Section 57 paragraph 3 of ZSPOD)!
The municipal police patrol also monitored electric meters, which they do not have the authority to do, and their entrance into the client's apartment was also unjustified. We agree, therefore, with the evaluations of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and the League of Human Rights that this entire action, as it has so far been explained and presented, does not seem to have been a reasonable intervention to benefit the parents concerned (and indirectly, their children), but that it is just one long series of examples of behavior that is unethical, unprofessional, and in some cases illegal.
We respect the fact that working with some clients can be demanding and thankless. However, we protest against the authorities performing this work in the spirit of abusing their position of dominance, of harassment, intimidation, and manipulation, which has demonstrably occurred in this case.
Since we have read that the town is planning similar monitoring visits in days to come, we are appealing to your ethical restrictions, your legal obligations, to the powers entrusted to you, and to your professionalism. We appreciate your effort to intensify your collaboration with the Agency for Social Inclusion and nonprofit organizations, but we are primarily asking for an honest investigation into and explanation of this incident and for the necessary repercussions for those responsible for it. There is never any justification for compromising the standards of equal rights, maximum protection for privacy, and respect for individual dignity as guaranteed by our ethics and by the legislation of the Czech Republic.
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