Teresa Thornhill’s new book, In Harm’s Way: the Memoir of a Child Protection Lawyer, was published by Harper Collins Nonfiction on 14 March 2024.

In Harm’s Way: the Memoir of a Child Protection lawyer is an account of my 33 years working as a child protection lawyer in the Family Court in England and Wales. I practised partly as a barrister representing parents and children in care proceedings and partly as an ‘in-house’ lawyer in various local authority legal departments, representing social workers. When I retired in 2023, I had a lot to say about the impact of austerity on our child protection system, its deficiencies and what could be done to enable more children to remain in the care of their birth parents.

Because of the sensitivity of the issues it deals with and to preserve the privacy of children and parents, the Family Court sits behind closed doors. Following criticism that such secrecy was not appropriate in a democracy, 2023 saw the introduction of a pilot scheme allowing journalists to report in a limited way on certain anonymised cases; this has recently been extended to approximately half the locations where the Court sits. While I have reservations about allowing journalists to report on such sensitive cases, it is a fact that till now the general public has had little idea of how care proceedings are conducted and how judges make their decisions.

All the cases I relate in the book are fictitious creations. My emphasis has been on describing the processes by which decisions about children are reached; and what could and should be done to help struggling families long before they fall into crisis. I talk about trans-generational trauma and the need to offer therapy to parents who themselves experienced abuse or neglect in childhood. I also think about the need to improve social work recruitment, training and pay; and the need for longitudinal research into the impact on young adults of the decisions which Family Court judges made about them when they were children.

Harper Non Fiction describe In Harm’s Way as a “hard-hitting and revealing first-hand account… Conveying the dilemmas inherent in the job, [Teresa] highlights how our under-resourced system of child protection – in both its social work and legal aspects – often fails to provide support that could enable the most vulnerable parents to continue to care for their children. By lifting the lid on this little understood court system, she also presents a framework from which we can seek to improve the support provided to parents and children.”

Praise for In Harm’s Way

“This thought provoking book should be ‘required reading’ for all involved in the safeguarding of children and young people in England today.”

Professor Sir Al Aynsley – Green Kt, former first Children’s Commissioner for England and Professor Emeritus, University College London

“Our society’s biggest moral and economic failure is the way we treat families who are struggling. This book is full of insight and wisdom and I hope it reaches the hearts and minds of those who need to plan the future of our child protection system.”

Louise Allen, author and campaigner

“From the terrific opening section- “Alice G”-to the epilogue, [Teresa] not only enables us to see why childcare law and practice is such an important area to work in but also how challenging it is, how it is still something of a Cinderella area of law and why it takes such a toll on those who work in the Family courts. At times uplifting, at times depressing, I thoroughly recommend this book for childcare practitioners, those who work in the Family Law system – and those who don’t but want to know more.”

Sarah Forster, Barrister and retired Deputy District Judge

Teresa Thornhill is represented by Jane Graham Maw at Graham Maw Christie.