Who should I trust?

This is a guest post by family law barrister Lucy Reed, who writes the Pink Tape blog.

Read a review of her book Family Courts without a Lawyer here.

For a discussion about when your barrister has to tell the court something you have disclosed, in confidence,  see this guide from the Bar Council – basically if what you say is relevant to an issue of child protection, its probably going to have to be discussed with everyone. Otherwise your discussions between you and your barrister are private.

 

The importance of good advice

If social services are involved with your family or wanting to remove your children one thing you need is sound advice. There is lots of information out there on the internet, but not all advice is good advice, and general guidance does not always translate into a plan for what you should do in your own individual circumstances. Some things are universal but your family and your exact situation is unique.

The most important thing is to get information and advice before taking any rash actions. You don’t have to follow the advice you get, the decisions are up to you – but first listen to what people who know the system tell you.

If you are a parent and social services are talking about going to court or about removing your children you will be able to get free legal advice, and representation in court through legal aid – it doesn’t matter what your income is or how difficult your case is. If you are a family member such as a grandparent caring for a child you may also get free legal advice and representation – but this is generally not automatic and will depend on your finances and how strong your case is.

Most legal aid lawyers act for parents and children in these kinds of cases as their specialty. So they know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. If they advise you on a course of action think very carefully about what they are saying before disregarding it. If you don’t understand why they are advising you to do something – ask them. A good lawyer should explain why they are advising you to do or not to do something.

 

 Your lawyer acts for YOU and takes your instructions

Your lawyer is just that – your lawyer. They are independent of social services and will fight for you. But a part of their job is to advise you if something is hopeless or very unlikely to succeed, and to explain why pressing for a particular thing might make things worse. You need to know what your chances are before you go into court. So don’t be upset if they tell you something you don’t really want to hear – think seriously about what they say.

Your lawyer must act on your instructions though – so even if you decide not to accept their advice they will still argue your case for you. Do not worry that just because they have given you advice you don’t particularly like, or that you hope is overly pessimistic, that your lawyer is not on your side. They should be frank in private about your chances, but when in court or in negotiations will present your case and your arguments in the best light, putting forward the best points and challenging the evidence for you. They are used to having clients disagree with their advice, and will not be offended if you say you’d like to take a different course of action.

There are some restrictions on how far a lawyer can press a case for you – they can’t mislead the court by telling the judge something they know is not true, they can’t argue something that in their professional opinion is wrong in law or completely unarguable (they can still argue a weak case though), but it is ultimately up to them not you to decide how to run the case to give you the best chance of success – sometimes this means they won’t mention things that you think are important because they aren’t relevant or aren’t going to be as helpful as you think. But apart from those things your lawyer will run your case based on your instructions. If you think your lawyer is not doing this you can change your lawyer, but do think carefully about doing this because it can be difficult to get your legal aid transferred to a new lawyer’s firm and this can cause delay.

Most family lawyers are pretty good at what they do, but of course there are some that are not so good. It’s best to talk to your lawyer if you think they aren’t fighting your corner – they should be able to explain to you why they’ve adopted a particular approach in court, so it’s best to clear up any potential misunderstanding before rushing off to another lawyer.

 

Be wary of some sources of information

There is a lot of material out there on the internet about other people’s cases, some about cases which have gone wrong, or where social services have been criticized – some of it may be very frightening for you. You might feel like you should run away or that you shouldn’t trust social services. Don’t panic and take decisions based on what you read online – read it by all means, but ask your lawyer about it and how it applies to your case. And then, make your decisions.

Some information on the internet suggests that legal aid lawyers are “professional losers” who advise their clients not to oppose removal of their children, or who even agree to it without their clients instructions. It generally makes no difference to your lawyer financially whether you agree or don’t agree – there is no financial advantage in pressurising you to agree to settle something – a shorter hearing is usually paid less than a longer one. I’ve already explained that your representative must act on your instructions, even if they are foolish. It is your lawyers job to encourage you to make sensible decisions that are most likely to achieve your long term goal of keeping or getting back your children, but if you insist they must take the course of action you instruct. If they refuse to act on proper instructions your lawyer is committing professional misconduct and you can complain or change lawyer. I can’t say this never happens but in 11 years I have never been involved in a case where this has happened.

There is also some material on the internet and in the press that suggests or implies that there is a widespread corruption or conspiracy amongst social services or that social workers cook up allegations in order to snatch children from loving homes just so that they can be adopted, and that this is somehow for financial reward. I don’t think that is true, and the evidence for it is very weak : I think, based on my 11 years of experience of dealing with these cases and acting for parents, social services and children, that sometimes some social workers get things wrong, and sometimes some social workers make up lies or paint a misleading picture, and sometimes some social workers are too quick to suggest removal or adoption of children. Which is why you need a lawyer to guide you through the process. Ultimately you will have to make up your own mind about these sorts of things. Be sure to put yourself in a position where you have enough good quality information to assess those claims before jumping to conclusions or freaking out.

All family lawyers know that social services don’t always get things right, and they also know the best ways of demonstrating that to the court. But although you may not agree with everything social services say about you, usually there is some legitimate basis for their concern even if they have exaggerated or mixed things up or painted a misleading picture. You do need to address the points that they have got right rather than just deny everything.

 

Listen to what other people are worried about

Every case is different, but almost always your best chance of keeping your children or of getting them back is to listen to the concerns that are raised – really listen – think about whether the people raising those concerns might have a bit of a point, and think about what you can do to reassure people or to change things. It’s okay to say you’ve got things wrong in the past and that you haven’t been a perfect parent, but you do need to reassure people that things will be different in the future and show them why. It’s also okay to say that social services have got things wrong, but you’ll need to explain and show them where they’ve got it wrong. Burying your head in the sand, being angry or rude, or running away may make social services – and the court – more worried about how your children can be kept safe.

 

Summary of Advice

  • Listen to what social workers are saying even if you don’t agree with them.
  • Get some legal advice and think about that advice before acting on it.
  • Come to court and if you can, follow the advice of your lawyer about what you need to do at court and between court hearings, to give yourself the best possible chance.
  • Base your actions on good information rather than on the advice of people who don’t know all the facts about your family or on your own emotions.
  • And take responsibility for your own decisions.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Who should I trust?

  1. C

    I think it is vitally important – because some social workers may lie or mislead, as you say – that you always record every meeting, and get them to sign notes as to the accuracy of what has been said.

    I have bitter experience as a result of not having done this.
    You cannot afford to risk trusting a social worker.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Phillimore

    I hope it is only a minority of social workers who routinely lie or mislead. I accept that there can be confusions and misinterpretations that can gather a status they don’t deserve, so getting as much in writing as you can is always wise.

    I accept that when they get things wrong, the consequences can be catastrophic but in my experience mistakes are much more likely to be due to pressure of caseloads and not having enough time. I don’t think you can reasonably damn an entire profession as untrustworthy.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: “How to get the best out of your family lawyer” – Guest Post by Sarah Phillimore | Surviving Safeguarding

  4. Christine Lennon

    My daughter and her 4 kids live with me , i have looked after her oldest 2 for the past 6 years because she couldn’t cope after there dad left, she started a relationship with someone else they had a little girl who is 5 in july, when there little girl was 2 they split up because both him and his mum that also lives their both are control freaks and manipulative made my daughters life hell, when i found out what was going on and she told me she wanted to get out with her little girl, i didn’t have a clue who to turn to in the end i spoke to the surport worker at the school the oldest kids attend , she got in touch with the social service who got my daughter away from the house. to cut it short the little girls dad could only have supervised visits because it came out that there was domestic violence going on in front of there daughter.

    when they allowed him to have her with out being supervised they closed the case but as soon as they did he changed back to his old self. after a few visits her little girl didn’t want to see her dad she would scream the house and once they had her there it was hard to get her back, one night her mum went to pick her up she came back crying her arms covered in bruises with no baby she said he was dragging the baby out of her arms who was screaming that didn’t bother him he hit her mum with the baby in her arms to stop him pulling the baby she let her go, and after that one night would turn in to 3 nights. and his mum would come for her with a little girl that lives by them saying she wants to come to nanny’s to play with you knowing that she would go without crying but when the little girl went home she would cry to come home and they wouldn’t let her they didn’t care how she felt in the end my daughter said she wasn’t letting her go again. and for 7 months she never once asked for him or her nan.

    then he started court proceedings which meant social service again we told her why the contact had stopped any way the judge said she is to live with her mum but gave her dad access it wasn’t long before she stopped wanting to go again so her nan started looking after a little girl not because the mother was working and needed a baby she was there just to get his daughter there who started school in september in reception . the social worker came one morning just after 9 the kids had only just left for school my daughter had giving birth to a little boy who was then 8 months old she split with the father when the social worker came in my 2 year old grandson was there and he was eating toast and he had dropped some on the floor and my daughter had put her makeup bag and hair straighteners on the work top in the kitchen and she had left the butter on the work top because of this she said the home conditions was bad i couldn’t believe it she came back out the same day just as i got in from work she said i have come to see if the home conditions have improved from this morning when i come i said there is nothing wrong with my home she said it was a mess this morning food on the floor work tops were cluttered with food on she came in and looked all around the house and said that’s fine , jumping a head a few months social services knocked on the door a few times but if my daughter hadn’t cleaned up she wouldn’t open the door. they found out that the kids had missed dentist opponents. they had a core meeting saying that they can never get in the house which was a lie because they had been in a few times but because the house was tidy they forgot to mention them times they told my daughter to make dentist opponents and to open the door when they came. they planned a core meeting for 4 weeks after then she got a letter saying it had been cancelled till the 9th of this month but a week before they called a family meeting but she never got a letter telling her to go the next day i got one addressed just to me i couldn’t go because to short notice for work the little girl father got addressed to her and him my other daughter and her partner got on addressed to them both my daughter didn’t get one so didn’t go on the same day she went to pick her little girl up from school to be meet by the father who said social services said i have to keep her because of the home conditions and she had nits she told me to tell you if you come for her trying to get her back i have to phone the police on you. he said it wasn’t the social worker it was her manager.

    you can imagan what this done to us all. that was on a friday on the monday the manager came out we didn’t know she was coming but the home was spotless and tidy she was with a young girl who must of been trainning she went in the kitchen without the girl and shouted this kitchen is filthy it needs a good cleaning she never opened any cupboards or the fridge then she said the living room was filthy and a mess then the landing floor had bits on it the bathroom was filthy the toilet was thilthy the kids rooms and bed were filthy when my daughter tried to say why are you lying she shouted don’t talk to me unless i tell you to my daughter was looking after her baby nephew and the cheeky lying cow said does the mother of that baby know she’s leaving it in this filthy house as she walked out my daughter said what about my little girl she said if you want to see her apply to the courts.

    when i came she was in a right state i phoned the social services said the manager wasn’t in. for a week the little girls dad wouldn’t let her see her mum she phoned s s got told no good phoning us nothing to do with us if her dad doesn’t want you to see her that’s his choice. we went to the core meeting on the 9th of nov i said to the manager i found out yesterday that you had no rights giving my grandaughter to him as he was sitting there she said i never gave her to him he has PR and he took her because he was concerned i said told to by you don’t tell me home conditions he hasn’t been in my home for years and it was good enough for him to eat there then.i said we havent seen her for over 2 weeks she said thats got nothing to do with us it’s her dads that desides if he want’s her to see her mum i went mad i said that little girl loves her mum and brothers and sister and me to bits not one of you have thought about what it is going to her and how she feels. the the school social care woman said i have got the thoughts and feelings report here she went to say she’s very confused she said her brother hit her her baby brother bit her she said sometimes her nanny scears her her nan said i will have to stop playing hide and seek with her and she also said and sometimes my daddy scares me the stupid cow that she is laughed and said it’s probably when your playing with her i couldn’t believe what i was hearing i said if that was me or her mum she said it about it would of been abuse she stoppet the meeting and they walked out.

    i know why she scared because when she is crying for her mum they are shouting at her on the monday i got a email of the minits the social worker had took and guess what there wasn’t anything about my daddy and scare me nothing to incriminate her father she wrote my brother hit me my baby brother bit me. But i know all the lies about the home were to justify her telling him to take her from her mum a’m i write in thinking that her mum can just take her back because on friday the health visitor wasn’t happy when she heard they has been no contact she went around to his house and told the little girl needs to see her mum so he agreed that her mum could pick her from school and have her till 6 i work across the road from were i live and i went over to see her she run to me put her little arms around my neck and wouldn’t let me go but she’s not the same little girl she has gone in to a shell the social worker came why she was here and she said god look how talkative you are here you don’t talk at your dads when i came home i asked what she was like when her dad came for her she started crying and said she cant stop thinking about it i said what happened she said the little girl had tears in her eyes and running down her cheek but she never cried out load it broke my heart because i know they have said to her if you cry when i pick you up you wont be going there again ans she knows he is nasty enough to mean it, the next time she comes i’m going be here and we are not letting her go back asher PR she is concerned about he little girls the physiological damage that they are cursing her.

    are we right in thinking that tecnatley she has the right . sorry this is so long but it’s so frustrating when no one wants to know and they have took the horns off her dad and nans head and replaced them with halows

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore

      to be meet by the father who said social services said i have to keep her because of the home conditions

      If that is true, then although your daughter has PR, if she does try to take the child away from the father, it sounds as if social services will start care proceedings – I assume they haven’t started them if the child is living with her father?

      I am sorry, it does sound frustrating but if your daughter decides off her own bat to take the child away then i can see this escalating quite quickly. There should be contact between this child and her mum.

      What is the plan? Is it for the child to say with her dad for good or only until the house is sorted? I appreciate you don’t agree with the criticism of the house, but I would very strongly advise you just do what they say and clean up. We all have different standards but sometimes it is not always easy to see where we live through others’ eyes. Their standards may be different, or too fussy etc but meeting their standards about housework etc is an easy win, so I would just grit my teeth and get on with it.

      Reply

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