Bringing public bodies to account

A Social Worker’s perspective on the judgment in W (A child)

This is a post by Kate Wells a retired social worker, who sets out her views about the case of W (A Child) [2015] – an extra-ordinary judgment, both in its decision to refuse to make an adoption order and return W to her father’s care and also for the language used by the Judge to criticise the decision making of Judges, social workers AND the guardian. There is now an appeal lodged against this judgment and we will await further news. 

I hope you will see that I am not defending the LA social workers at all, and the Guardian was clearly lazy and incompetent. I think the Judge’s criticisms of the psychobabble were justified and yes it does underline the need to use plain English, both in writing reports and giving oral evidence.

However I am really upset that this little girl is going to be moved from the prospective adopters and am very frustrated that so called experts can honestly believe that to subject a child to 5 moves before her 3rd birthday is acting in the child’s best interests.

 

Dealing with the threshold criteria

The overarching concerns about the children’s safety and well being resulting from their mother’s chronic mental ill-health remained when the case came before the District Judge. Both parents accepted that the threshold criteria as set out in s 31 of the Children Act (CA) 1989 had been met which would allow the court to make care orders or supervision orders under the CA. The DJ had failed to set down the threshold criteria on which he was basing his decisions as to the children’s welfare. The learned judge said under the heading “Threshold” that:

The mother accepts the criteria are met. The father has made concessions also the majority of these [sic] and that the children have suffered emotional harm as a result of the parents’ relationship and the mother’s mental health and alcohol issues and his lack of awareness or insight of the stress he was under in December 2012. What he does not accept is the allegations in respect of the ‘toothbrush’ incident with [X] in November 2012 and the injury to [Z]’s ear in December 2012.
Insofar as the toothbrush incident is concerned, there is no medical evidence to assist. We have [X]’s account of how this came about, but true to say that she had in the past apparently said things had happened to her which were not in fact true. I am unable to find on the evidence that the father ‘shoved’ the toothbrush as alleged.
As to the injury to [Z]’s ear, there is no reliable medical evidence and one sees that [Z]’s evidence do in fact differ on occasions. I am unable to find evidence to support this allegation.
I am satisfied however otherwise the threshold is crossed.”
There are no details of that “otherwise”. Fortunately in reaching a decision as to W’s future welfare and placement I am not directly concerned with the threshold at the time the care and placement orders were made; indeed those orders are no longer extant as a result of the decision of the Court of Appeal. Importantly, in respect of W, no findings were sought or made regarding the baby falling off the sofa.

It would be interesting to know exactly what grounds the LA put forward to prove significant harm. Is there any way that this can be sought? I also wondered why there were no findings in relation to the baby falling from the sofa, at aged under 4 weeks, although the baby had been examined at hospital and no serious injury found.

 

Criticisms of the SW Evidence

The District Judge was very critical of the social worker’s (Ms Hendry) evidence calling it “unconvincing” and “totally focussed on one aspect namely the ability of the father to change.” Despite advocating the immediate removal of the three older children based on a decision reached at an unrecorded meeting in May 2013 between social worker, managers and solicitors, Ms Hendry had not assessed the effect on each child of such a removal and was unable to address it in her evidence. The district judge went further and said that she should be replaced as the allocated social worker for the family.

Given the DJ’s criticism of the social worker’s unconvincing evidence, in an application to remove all 4 children from the care of the father, it seems to me all the more curious that the DJ made a Care and Placement Order in respect of W. Incidentally is it within the Judge’s remit to order that a social worker be replaced – suppose it is! Is this a common occurrence?

18. The parenting assessment carried out by Ms Hendry in October 2012, as I alluded to above, formed the basis of the local authority’s case and continued to inform it even after her oral evidence had not been accepted by the court. The evidence of the social workers now allocated to this case continued to focus on their perception of the father’s inability to change or accept the need for change (although the circuit judge had given him permission to oppose the adoption of W precisely because he had changed his circumstances). Despite the fact that there were no findings of physical abuse these allegations continued to be repeated by the local authority and, I repeat, their concentration on “the need for the father to change” remained a constant part of the local authority’s case and the basis for their opposition to his attempts to have W returned to his care. In September 2013 the court found that the father provided “very good care” and was satisfied that he had separated from the mother and “had reached a turning point recognising that he must concentrate on the care of the children to the exclusion of his relationship [with the mother]. I am satisfied that he is intending to address his difficulties and has started to do this by engaging in counselling. I am satisfied that the children are for the main part doing well at school. I am satisfied that they have significant attachment to their father.

It seems clear that Ms Hendry was well out of her depth in proving that these 4 children were being significantly harmed. The substitute social workers must have felt very anxious and intimidated, but did themselves no favours by repeating the same arguments i.e. the need for the father to change, and repeated allegations of physical abuse, which had been disregarded by the DJ. It could be however that the DJ’s judgement was also “erroneous” in this respect, but that doesn’t excuse the LA from persisting along that track.

However there is no mention of the LA lawyer and why an application to remove 4 children from their parents was not scrutinised to ensure that the evidence met the standard required to prove significant harm in the balance of probabilities.

 

What is the Impact on W of being moved 5 times in 3 years?

41. Dr Willemsen was clear when I asked him that he had thought hard about this child and what was best for her throughout her life; he said when he was preparing the report in the first instance he thought “this child belongs with her father, that was the starting point, then I became very worried about child and good attachments and at that time had the legal evidence as it was she should stay. This verged [sic] me towards thinking I am really worried about this child moving. The additional evidence there is now is a father by going to the Court of Appeal says ‘I want to be a good father to my child’ and further evidence that [he] understands some of [her] needs. So I think it is clear to say that it has changed. I think most important argument knowing what Court of Appeal decided what are you going to say to child when she is 12 or 13 or 14 what are you going to tell her and say? What are you going to tell her? This is a miscarriage of justice. Much will depend on how will she take it. This argument is the one that went through my mind if she comes to ask”. When asked on balance what he thought he said, unequivocally, “I think she returns to her father.”

Here we have a clinical psychologist talking of “good attachments” – good, as opposed to “bad”……….grrrh. There are references in the judgement to “strong” attachments – I MUST make those notes on attachment theory. However I am really concerned that Dr W can believe that this child should be moved back to her father. The wrong decision was almost certainly made by the DJ but this child was moved 3 times before moving to her adoptive placement, where she has lived for 16 months, and Dr W is recommending a 5th move for a child not yet 3 years old. Does he not realise that the first 3 years of a child’s life are the most important years of all, and lay down the foundation for the remainder of her life, be that positive or negative.

 
All this talk of what W is going to think when she is 12/13/14 and asks why she was adopted and not the other 3 children, is pure conjecture, nothing more, mothing less and it seems to have totally influenced the Judge. There is absolutely no way of knowing what W might think about the reasons that she was adopted. It is just as likely that she will be glad that she was adopted especially if she has had a happy and untroubled childhood and a family who will continue to support her throughout their lifetime.

 
Balanced against this child being subjected to 5 moves before her 3rd birthday it is, as far as I’m concerned a “no brainer” (much as I dislike that phrase) W was placed with her adoptive family at the age of approx. 1.5 years and will be 3 years old in Nov this year. We know nothing of the early weeks and months of W’s placement with the prospective adopters, and the difficulties of settling a child who had 3 moves in 18 months.

 
At some point in the judgement, the Judge acknowledges the trauma for the prospective adopters but comments that their failure to re-assure the court of their willingness to facilitate W’s move back to her father as evidence of them not putting the needs of the child before their own. I think this comment was grossly unfair and unnecessary. It was also unfair to put the adopters on the spot by asking how they would explain to W that she was adopted whilst her 3 siblings remained in the care of their father, and again the Judge was critical of their inability to provide a satisfactory response. Prospective adopters are all told that the child must know that they are adopted right from the word GO – and it is usually done by means of a life story book which should contain pictures of the birth parents/siblings, other members of their extended family, foster carers etc. Photographs can be added as the child grows. Birth mothers are usually referred to as “tummy mummies” and all explanation obviously have to be age appropriate. However to expect adopters to be able to “fast forward the tape” to answer the possible questions of an older child is simply unfair, as so much will depend on the child and the nature of any questions, if indeed any are forthcoming. Many adopted children are not interested in their background although this tends to change once they are adult and especially after giving birth to their own child. This is a key time for searching for birth mothers, though many adoptees wait until the adoptive parents have died before searching.

 

The wishes and feelings of W’s siblings

42. Mark Hatter is an independent social worker with considerable experience of social work and, in particular, with working with adolescents when adoptive placements have failed and broken down. He had seen the father and the three children at home and had made very positive observations of their father with X, Y and Z. He too had felt able to work with the father, was impressed by the children and found their father to be responsive to them and managing the family in what is a very cramped environment. Mr Hatter found the family as a whole had a strong awareness of W and that her return was something that X wanted, which may lead to a reduction in her anxiety. His recommendation altered when he gave oral evidence to the court when asked he said “[The recommendation] is still extremely balanced but in light of those changes I would have to support the return of W [to her family].” The changes he referred to were the evidence of Dr Willemsen and the decision of the Court of Appeal.

What I wonder is a “strong awareness” – yes the children know they have a little sister but they haven’t seen her for over 18 months, though given their ages, they will remember her of course. On what basis does Mr H make his assertion that W’s return to the family reduce X’s anxiety? It is small wonder that X is anxious given her family background and the fact that her mother is seriously mentally ill, and she therefore is not able to have a good relationship with her, something that is very important to young women on the brink of adolescence. There is no mention of a supportive granny or aunt who may be able to offer X the support she will need as she reaches puberty. I think it naïve in the extreme that Mr H believes that having W back in the family will alleviate X’s anxiety – it could well increase it, especially as W is going to be very confused and upset at the move, and this distress will be played out in the family home, in my view adversely affecting all 3 of the other children. The father will of necessity need to divert his attention to W and so the other children could be disadvantaged as a result.
So much talk of “finely balanced” ……….

 

Matter is finely balanced, recommendations vague

43. Mr Hatter observed that he had not had long to consider those changes and he had not heard the evidence of Dr Willemsen, but as much of his opinion was based on the attachment of W to the adopters and as he is not a psychologist and he would rely on Dr Willemsen and as his recommendation has changed he would acknowledge and respect that change. He voiced the same concerns for W going up in an adoptive placement with the background of this case and said “I struggle with what W’s journey would now be in terms of being an adoptive child when backdrop to the case appears to be care and placement orders now set aside and I struggle to understand how she would cope with knowing that at some stage whilst also knowing has three siblings remaining in the care of her father and on balance I believe that with very clear support to the father that with the father fully engaging with that support that the potential harm to W of being adopted in the present circumstances versus potential of remaining within her birth family outweigh [adoption]and make me wish to change recommendation. Though I again stress it is very finely balanced in my professional opinion and I would still hold concerns however now faced with other concerns for W if she remained.”

Seems to me that Mr H has bowed to the “superior knowledge” of the clinical psychologist and does not have the courage of his convictions. Any experienced social worker should know that to move a child 5 times in her first 3 years of life is NOT acting in her best interests. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know this, and of course Dr W doesn’t seem to know that either.

44. He had based his original recommendations on matters that were relied on by the local authority as I set out in paragraph 32 above; most of which are without foundation, as can be seen from the evidence of Dr Willemsen. Mr Hatter said that he found the father to be “completely open to working with me.” He was also very concerned about overcrowding; an issue which cannot weigh heavily with this court as it affects so many low-income families and cannot be the basis for the permanent removal of children from their families. Mr Hatter urged the local authority to support an urgent move for the family to larger accommodation. I am assured by counsel on behalf of the local authority that such support would be forthcoming. He said that bearing in mind the cramped surroundings he was most impressed by the children, their interaction and the father’s management of them. He praised the children’s mother for the position she had taken which he described as “good”. He spoke of X, who as the eldest and a girl had the response of wanting to help and voiced the, wholly reasonable, opinion that she could do with some individual support, perhaps from a mentor, and “time out”.

What do these vague recommendations actually mean? Yes I agree X needs support, but where is this “mentor” going to come from – the LA won’t be in the business of paying anyone to perform this mentoring duty, and what is meant by “time out” ??? Hmm the Judge doesn’t seem to be concerned with vague comments that don’t mean anything.

45. As to the father seeking help and support when and if necessary Mr Hatter emphasised that it was a two-way street and that the father had to feel that he and the local authority were working from the same sheet. He said that from his observation the father was not a man seeking victory as his empathy towards the adopters was real. Moreover the father acknowledged he’d need support and would appreciate support from the local authority. Mr Hatter felt that the biggest remaining upset within the family was that W was missing and they saw themselves as disjointed; although he still had concerns “the balance moved to W going home.”

Mr H “feels” – the court shouldn’t be concerned with “feelings” surely, they should be concerned with evidence. This is a family that have all suffered in their different ways, the mother because of her mental health issues, the father attempting to save the marriage and the stresses and strains of doing that, alongside being the primary carer for 4 children, one just a few weeks old. And the children have witnessed their mother in irrational and angry states and attacking their father on at least one occasion, and the turmoil and distress this must have caused them, and now the mother is no longer in the family home – and Mr H believes that the “biggest remaining upset” is that the family “see themselves as disjointed” – I’m sure they do, because they are, but not necessarily because W was missing.

 

What will happen in the future?

46. Mr Hatter has had experience of teenage adoption breakdown both as an independent social worker and a social work manager and he anticipated difficulties for W in the future if she finds out the circumstances of her adoption. He considered that she would find out and would be upset and feel anger about the adoptive placement.

Ah I see Mr H can see into the future! I am simply astonished at this comment and even more astonished that it has been accepted by the Judge.

48. Mr Hatter had pointed out in his report at paragraph 76 that should W remain in the adoptive placement she would be likely to want to have direct contact with her parents and siblings in the future, particularly as her siblings remained living with their father. “It will be relatively easy once W has unsupervised access to the internet and Facebook for her to make contact with her family should she wish to do so which will be in turn a challenge for her adoptive parents to deal with and to manage. I am concerned that this situation may be compounded if there is the potential of the family moving abroad during W’s minority.” He went on to say, in his oral evidence, that it was a valid point to add to the likelihood of breakdown the fact that the As are part of these proceedings and voicing resistance to her going home. He saw the difficulty as being that W was securely attached to her current carers but that the change was a positive one of being back with her birth family; there would be losses but also gains. In the longer term, if the local authority works with the children’s father, there is a lot more to be gained by going home.

Given Mr. H’s comments about the internet, this could well be true for any child who has been adopted and it is a valid issue, but if this is going to weigh so heavily in deciding a child’s future then it surely will only be a matter of time before it will mean an end to a child’s future being secured by way of adoption or any other form of permanent care. And again we see Mr. H’s capacity to see into the future, evidenced in his comments about the possibility of the prospective adopters moving abroad during W’s minority! Astonishing!

 
As you can see I am very frustrated about Mr. H’s “expertise” but that changes to anger when he assert that “a breakdown of the adoptive placement is likely because the As are part of the proceedings and voicing resistance to her going home.” Dear god, of course they are resistant to her going home. Mr H claims to have an expertise in adoption and adoptive placements, and yet he can make such a ridiculous comment. They would be very strange adopters if they would happily agree that this child, who they have loved and nurtured for 16 months and who they envisaged being a part of their family for ever, should be returned home to the care of her father.

 
Maybe Mr H spelled out in details just how exactly “there is a lot more to be gained by W going home.” Or then again maybe he didn’t, but he’s impressed the Judge, so that’s all that matters.

 

Psychobabble and defensiveness

47. I heard the oral evidence of Lucy Wilkinson the current social worker. She had not filed a statement but her practice manager Ms Alsop had done so which was largely based on Ms Wilkinson’s interaction with the family; I am still unclear as to why the evidence was produced in this way and, although Ms Wilkinson denied it, it seems the likely explanation is that she was not considered to have been a “success” as a witness in the previous hearing in December 2014 when permission was given to the father to oppose the adoption.
48. The statement of Ms Alsop, in addition to containing evidence which could only be attested to by Ms Wilkinson repeated outdated evidence (of Gail Miller) and what can only be described as psychobabble about the effect on the father’s parenting of his own childhood experiences. In short it voiced opinions which neither Ms Wilkinson nor Ms Alsop are qualified to make. I give two examples only; at paragraph 4.6 statement of Ms Alsop dated 2nd March 2015 it reads”[the father] is unable to have a dialogue with the children about [W] as it is too painful to him. It is my opinion that due to [the father]’s own experience, this has had an impact on his emotional intelligence and that is so poor that he may not be able to put himself in his children’s position and think from their perspective. His own adverse childhood experiences may have led him to develop maladaptive strategies in order to protect himself from his own experiences and his therefore not able to acknowledge the difficult experiences of his children and the difficult experiences they have suffered.” Not only is this evidence entirely at odds with the evidence of the qualified clinical psychologist Dr Willemsen, it is not supported by any evidence from the school or the observations of independent observers such as Mr Hatter; both in the care proceedings and in the adoption application the local authority has given insufficient weight

It is very odd in my view, and totally unacceptable that the social worker with case responsibility does not file a statement, but this is done by her team manager and I am sure the Judge is right in thinking that Ms Wilkinson did not feel she was capable of making a statement and being cross examined. Maybe the Ms W was a newly qualified worker. But Ms Alsop’s noble attempt to step in fell on stoney ground, and as much as I dislike the term “psychobabble” as a derogatory term, I have to agree that her comments made little sense.

 
I have tried to de-gobbledygook the comments made by Ms A: – The father has had such a traumatic childhood that he can’t really talk to the children on their level, and he has tried to shut out the pain of the past, and this prevents him from understanding the distress the children are suffering. Best I can do! However this is opinion not evidence and it doesn’t make much sense even when phrased in simple language

Not only is this evidence entirely at odds with the evidence of the qualified clinical psychologist Dr Willemsen, it is not supported by any evidence from the school or the observations of independent observers such as Mr Hatter; both in the care proceedings and in the adoption application the local authority has given insufficient weight to the observations of professionals working with the family apparently where that evidence does not accord with its case. The wholly positive and unchallenged evidence regarding the parenting skills of the father of the Family Support Worker, the health visitor and the school welfare officer is barely touched on.

Poor Ms A – the team manager who stepped in to show the social worker how it’s done – maybe she should remember that when you’re in a hole, stop digging!

In paragraph 6.8 in an attempt to dismiss the counselling the father has undertaken and to build their case against him they say “I am aware that the father has undergone counselling at the R clinic but it is my opinion that the trauma C has suffered in his own childhood is still unresolved and this is impacting on his ability to offer attuned parenting to the children. Research strongly suggests that [reference to part of a sentence from a publication identified only as Cozolino 2002, The neuroscience of psychotherapy]. I would question whether the father uses disassociation as a defence against the trauma he has suffered, as a coping strategy to stop thoughts and memories causing anxiety.” This opinion is used to justify comments about his alleged inability to cope with and provide for the individual needs of each of his three children. Again there is no evidence to support these assertions either from the school or in the assessments of Dr Willemsen and Mr Hatter, whose evidence I prefer. The continued reliance on the report of Ms Miller (which is clearly out of date) alone raises questions as the validity and substance of any view expressed by the social workers but the continued references to the father not being able to put into practice what he has learnt after engaging in parenting work at paragraph 6.20 are almost risible when considered against the evidence of Dr Willemsen and Mr Hatter.

Churlish of Ms A to disregard the counselling the father has undertaken. Ok there are no quick fixes and 11 months (or even 11 years) are sometimes not enough to alleviate the long term difficulties associated with a traumatic childhood, as these can persist through the lifespan, often in the form of PTSD, but credit should be given to the father for seeking help via counselling. MsA is very hung up on the notion of the father “using disassociation as a defence against the trauma he has suffered” expressed previously as “adopting maladaptive strategies………

To describe the social workers’ written and oral evidence as merely grudging when it comes to the care and security the father has given his children is too generous; Ms Wilkinson was certainly both grudging and defensive when giving oral evidence; their unprofessional attempts at case building are reprehensible. There is no evidence that they have moved on from the social work assessment carried out in October 2012 by the then social worker Ms Hendry who was criticised by the district judge.

I’ve stopped feeling sorry for Ms W – there is absolutely no excuse to be grudging and defensive in written and oral evidence and demonstrates a complete lack of even a modicum of professional wisdom and integrity. I have come across this attitude when working as a Guardian (before guardians were employed by CAFCASS) and we worked on reciprocal arrangements with neighbouring LAs, and when I was working independently. However I still think it was regrettable that the DJ made the serious error in the first place and this must have influenced the LA social workers that they had a good case. Again where was the LA lawyer in all this………….?

 

Guardian’s evidence – beyond shocking

At the hearing before the district judge in September 2013 the guardian produced a brief report that was scant of any real analysis and which failed to set out the reasons for and against permanent placement outside her family. Re B-S, though heard on 22nd July 2013, was handed down on 17th September 2013 (2 days prior to the reserved written judgment being handed down the hearing having taken place earlier in September), as Lord Justice McFarlane said at [22] of his Court of Appeal judgment in this case “Although the district judge may not have had any knowledge of this court’s decision in Re: B-S, which was only handed down some 2 days prior to the district judge’s judgment, Miss Branigan submits that the district judge should have been fully aware of the Court of Appeal decisions given some two or three months earlier upon which much of the judgment in Re: B-S was based (Re R (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1018; Re G [2013] EWCA Civ 965; Re S (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 926).” The guardian should have been aware of the decisions which preceded B-S at the time of the hearing in September 2013.
The lack of any real child-centred analysis within these proceedings is inexcusable, the report he filed on the 27th April 2015 contained very little analysis (in barely two pages from the foot of page 7 to the foot of page 8 setting out what he considered to be the “essential balance”) and certainly not the table setting out the advantages and disadvantages to W of adoption, which he was advocating, that the court could expect from the child’s guardian. Moreover Mr Madge explicitly criticised the father for pursuing multiple applications and appeals, which he described as at sixes and sevens with each other and blamed him for causing significant delay for W. He clearly accepted the local authority’s view of the children’s father describing the father as a thoughtful man whose reflection of W’s situation was “systemically closed”. I do not know to what he referred as it is a jargonistic phrase empty of meaning, unaccompanied by an explanation.

Shocking, clearly hopelessly incompetent Guardian – “at sixes and sevens with each other” WTF! And “systemically closed” – I have absolutely no idea what this means and I doubt he did either. “Shut out” is a guess!

I expressly asked Mr Madge to provide the court with a balanced analysis at the outset of the hearing and he did so, finally, on the 21st May 2015. His counsel complained on his behalf that the court had prejudged the issue; in fact it was he who had done so. He did not attend court for counsels’ final submissions. The import of his last report was to swing behind the expert opinion but he was rancorous about it and I found his analysis lacking both depth and balance, bereft of objectivity and of little or no assistance.

Beyond shocking – sounds like he just didn’t care about these children or their future, and having been criticised for aligning himself with the view of the LA, he grudgingly aligned himself with the expert opinion. I imagine this was to prevent any further criticism from the Judge, rather than anything else.

 

Conclusions

Well Sarah this took rather longer than I expected and I am beyond burning the midnight oil. I hope you will see that I am not defending the LA social workers at all, and the Guardian was clearly lazy and incompetent. I think the Judge’s criticisms of the psychobabble were justified and yes it does underline the need to use plain English, both in writing reports and giving oral evidence.

However I am really upset that this little girl is going to be moved from the prospective adopters and am very frustrated that so called experts can honestly believe that to subject a child to 5 moves before her 3rd birthday is acting in the child’s best interests. I think far too much weight was given to what she might think about her adoptive placement when she is old enough to understand – and how this influenced the Judge. At one stage he mentioned that W will have some residual memory of her father and siblings at the last contact, which must have been some 18 months ago. I absolutely disagree and in the child’s sense of time, at her age, she can’t possibly have this kind of recall.

 
There is not a great deal of criticism from the Judge about the DJ’s judgement, other than to say it was “erroneous” (something of an under statement) and again no criticism of the LA lawyer. What IS it with these lawyers – do they not understand the need to ensure that there is sufficient evidence for the LA to prove their case. That surely is a fundamental task of such a lawyer.

 
The other issue is the mother of the children, and little is said about her in the judgement. I think I read father has a RO on the 3 children. I do wonder if the LA were critical of the fact that the parents were obviously having a sexual relationship which resulted in the birth of W. This wasn’t made explicit, but I wonder if it was somewhere in their thinking, as there were comments that the father was putting his relationship with the mother before the needs of the children.

 
I also wonder about the mother’s mental health. I note that she has a diagnosis of recurrent depressive disorder with Emotionally Unstable PD, but I wonder if there is also a psychotic element to her mental illness, as some of the descriptions of her behaviour would suggest this could be the case. She has also been sectioned under the Mental Health Act on more than one occasion I think and it’s very unusual for the use of a Section in the absence of a psychotic illness.

 
If this is the case, then there is the possibility of this illness emerging in one (or more) of the children, as psychosis is by and large a hereditary condition. This doesn’t seem to have been addressed at all. I think EUPD is a bit of a “catch all” diagnosis and until relatively recently wasn’t seen as a treatable mental illness. Very often though patients are wrongly diagnosed and this may well be the case with this mother. Mental health services as I’m sure you know are very stretched and it is easy for people to “slip through the net” as it were.

 
Ah well, those are my thoughts/views for what they’re worth.

Kate Wells

Bringing public bodies to account

What are my remedies if a public body doesn’t do its job properly?

What happens if you suffer harm because a professional involved in your family life hasn’t done his or her job properly? This can be a very thorny issue because such professionals often have very significant powers to interfer in your private and family life. If they fail to do their job properly – either by failing to act when they should have done, or acting carelessly or irresponsibly – this can result in a lot of emotional distress or harm.

This is clearly relevant in the child protection system – the statutes and accompanying guidance and regulations give individuals who work in the system significant powers and duties to act in certain ways that would be unlawful if attempted by a private individual; for example getting information about your child or removing your child from home.

These laws which give professionals such power, have been passed for the benefit of society as a whole and therefore it is not considered in the public good to curtail or limit their operations in individual cases unless really necessary.  People are expected to carry out their statutory duties ‘in good faith’, i.e not doing anything deliberately malicious or harmful.

However, even if you are not the victim of deliberate malice, the consequences of carelessness from public officials can be very serious. For example, take a botched investigation into abuse of a child; if an innocent parent is wrongly labelled an abuser this can cause enormous harm both emotionally and through loss of reputation or even the ability to look after your child whilst investigations are carried out or the matter comes to court. Equally, if guilty abusive parents aren’t detected, their children remain unprotected and at continuing risk.

If professionals cause harm to parents or children because of the way they have carried out or failed to carry out their statutory responsibilities, what are the legal remedies?

We will look at what are the current options to bring public bodies to account for their actions in the child protection system which  have caused harm to parents or children.

 

Making a formal complaint.

You can complain about the activities of public bodies. For example, see section 26(3) of the Children Act and our post about making a complaint about a professional.

This may be an appropriate remedy if you want acknowledgement that mistakes have been made which could be put right,  or at least procedures could change so the same mistakes are less likely to occur in the future. However, you are highly unlikely to be entitled to claim for any compensation under a statutory complaints scheme.

 

Other remedies

If you are not satisfied with the response under the formal complaints procedure or you need a more urgent remedy and/or compensation for loss you have suffered you will need to consider other remedies. We will consider these remedies in more detail in other posts.

The remedies are:

For information on how to obtain information from public bodies, either generally or about yourself, please see our post on data protection and freedom of information requests.