Phantom social workers

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The term "phantom social workers" (also known as "bogus social workers") arose in the United Kingdom and United States following sporadic reports to police and media about people claiming to be social workers and attempting to abduct children from their parents. Police investigations into these reports failed to find any substantial evidence or locate any suspects.

The phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the early 1990s.

Media coverage[edit]

In the early 1990s, reports emerged in the UK media concerning the purported conduct of persons claiming to be social workers. In some versions of the story, the "visits" included several women with a man who always seemed to be acting in a supervisory role. "Visits" consisted of an inspection of the children in the household, during which the "social workers" displayed strange behaviour. Claims about the nature of the "examinations" fed concerns that children were being sexually abused.[citation needed]

Police investigation[edit]

Operation Childcare was launched in South Yorkshire in 1990, gathering 250 reports; of these, police believed only two cases were genuine and 18 deserved to be taken seriously. Criminologists speculated that even genuine cases may have involved self-appointed child abuse investigators, or individuals seeking to make false accusations, rather than child sexual abusers. No arrests were made and Operation Childcare has since been disbanded.[1]

Lothian and Borders Police set up a special unit to investigate the subject, but disbanded it in 1994 with no arrests.[1]

Speculated origins[edit]

It is thought that reports of unidentified "social workers" attempting to take children away from their parents were merely scare stories or urban legends fuelled by the story of Marietta Higgs, a paediatrician from Cleveland, England who diagnosed 121 children as being victims of sexual abuse from their parents without any evidence or reason.[2][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cooper, Glenda (August 16, 1995). "Huge sums wasted on bogus social worker hunt". The Independent. Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  2. ^ Charles Pragnell (2002). "The Cleveland Child Sexual Abuse Scandal". Children Webmag. Archived from the original on April 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Abuse inquiry doctor under fire again". The Northern Echo. 2001-01-22. Retrieved 2007-07-29.