Small details

Last week, I heard an interview that refused to stop popping up in my head. It illustrated how a small detail can make a huge difference to how people feel.

The interview was on BBC Radio Four with a mother of one of the girls who was abused by the Oxford grooming gang. It was broadcast the day after a Serious Case Review was published which slammed various agencies including both the Police and County Council, finding that over 300 children had been abused by the gang over 15 years.

Of the police, the mother said: “almost all of the police that we dealt with responded to us as human beings. They were concerned, they were empathetic, they were completely out of their depth in being able to realise what was going on, but they did try.” She also recounted how after  the criminal trial in 2013, where seven men were convicted of abusing six girls including her daughter, the Chief Constable visited the house to personally apologise.

When speaking about social services, her tone was far less forgiving. You could hear her anger as she spoke about her contact with them, both as she tried to keep her daughter away from the gang, and after the trial. 

She explained how both she and her daughter had both received a letter of apology only a few days earlier: “That might have given us some comfort or satisfaction if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so close to the Review coming out and the letter was a photocopy. Even the signature was a photocopy. They couldn’t even spend the time to personally sign their letters of apology. And that basically says it all about the County Council and how we’ve been treated all the way along.” 

That small detail, that it was a photocopy, undid any possible good and reinforced an already bad opinion. Yet her opinion of the police was far more objective, even though the review criticised their actions as much as those of social services. For this mother, the photocopy wasn’t a small detail, it was a massive issue. And it shows that even in – perhaps especially in – awful situations like this, the small details really do matter.

With thanks to @katebentham for her advice on this post

BBC News report on the Serious Case Review:

Photo credit: I’ve got mail – concrete and nail envelopes by Sharon Pazner via Flickr


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