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.



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

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

  1. Peter Dale

    Kate Wells makes some very good points in her post although I fundamentally disagree with her main conclusion.

    The poor practice of the social work team, and the Guardian in this case is rightly severely criticised by the Judge; however such poor practice is far from uncommon.

    As standards of social work continue to deteriorate in social services (inexperienced staff; agency staff; constant staff changes; unmanageable workloads; poor management and supervision; inadequate resources and risk-averse culture) it is easy to predict that local authorities will increasingly fail to convince judges that a ‘nothing else will do’ case for forced adoption has been made. In my view this will be a positive trend, and the rate of forced adoptions will continue to diminish.

    What of Cafcass? Like Kate Wells I was once a (part-time) GAL in the 1980s when the service was independent and locally managed. Cafcass has destroyed the credibility of the Guardian role to such an extent as to raise doubt whether there is any purpose in it continuing. In too many cases it amounts to the (national) State (Cafcass) ‘rubber-stamping’ the forced adoption plan of the local State (social services). As experienced independent social workers have now largely been frozen out by legal aid cuts, there is often no independent professional social work scrutiny of complex cases. (Although this did not apply in this case of W.)

    My main issue with Kate Wells’ argument however, is that it cannot be wrong (from a lifelong perspective) to return a two-and-a-half year old child to a natural parent (even from a prospective adoptive placement) when it has been determined that the parent is capable of providing good enough consistent care, and where there is a significant sibling group. The fact that this will entail another move for a ‘settled’ not-yet 3 year old child should not be the determining factor. Social services often move young children who have had several foster placements into prospective adoptive homes, with the rationale that the good care and attachments formed with the foster carers will actually enable the child to attach in the prospective foster home. The current case of W is simply this common process in the reverse direction.

    At her age (still not age 3), she will remember very little about this early period of her life, and if her care with her father is ‘good enough’ (with appropriate professional family support) she should thrive. ‘Thrive’ perhaps not as much as she might do if she remains in the care of the prospective adopters – but this raises the major concern about social engineering. Most adoptions involve an upward transition in social class for the child with all the associated benefits. But this can never (or should never) be a determinative reason for adoption in a situation (such as this) where it is determined that a natural parent can provide good enough care.

  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Thanks Peter for your thoughtful comment.

    For me a large part of the problem is asking the Judge to make a placement order with a view to adoption by looking at the child’s welfare for the rest of his life. This must surely involve such a large degree of unhelpful speculation and conjecture.

    I don’t feel I know enough about attachment and the consequences of harming that.

    I hope Kate will soon write her post about attachment issues – it does seem to be a poorly understood and poorly applied theory.

  3. Sam

    Kate being an ex social worker has missed out a couple of very important issues from a parent’s perspective. Firstly it appears that the father’s first legal team failed him, he applied on appeal as a litigant in person and secondly Children’s Services made a malicious referral so that he lost his job. Oh so familiar to many of us.
    Sarah I do not want you to throw your computer across the room in despair!
    We need is a fair transparent process without children’s services playing dirty tricks to advance their case. THEN parents have no right to moan. I am not saying that we will stop but that’s human nature . I suspect the social workers who made the malicious referral are still working:they shouldn’t be they have clearly breached their code of conduct and I very much doubt if the CPS are thinking about prosecuting even though the social workers where trying to unfairly influence the outcome of court proceedings which I think is a criminal offence.

    As for legal teams, Sarah has already said some of them do not work in the best interests of the client.

    On a slightly cheerier note this case http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/71.html could raise hope for quite a number of parents. It seems legal aid should be available if a parent can provide information that was not heard at the original fact finding so that there was an unfair trial.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I hope I don’t react with despair when someone makes perfectly reasonable points!

      Yes, I was surprised Kate didn’t comment on what happened with the father’s job. That’s a perfect illustration of how far the ripples spread when unfair assessments are made. I have a case at the moment where the police clearly over reacted massively to a report of domestic violence and the consequences have been huge and we may never unpick them. We certainly can’t go back in time and restore the lost years to my client.

      I accept also that a light needs to be shone on what the first lot of lawyers were doing (or not doing). I have just written an article for Jordans about collective responsibility, which unfortunately won’t be out until October. But in precis, I identify 3 categories of error in case cases – errors of incompetence, errors of competence and errors due to systems failures. Its my argument that pervasive systems failure (SW off sick due to stress, no judges available to hear cases or to keep continuity etc etc) is probably the most serious problem that leads to error. And that is a problem outside the control of the individual practitioner.

      1. Peter Dale

        In my book ‘Child Protection Assessment Following Serious Injuries to Infants: Fine Judgements’ published in 2005 I identified 4 main ‘system’ dynamics:

        1. ‘Reasonable’ family interacts with ‘reasonable’ professionals (the ideal type e.g. ‘Working Together’)

        2. ‘Unreasonable’ family interacts with ‘reasonable’ professionals (e.g. high profile public enquiry cases in the 1980s/90s)

        3. ‘Reasonable’ family interacts with ‘unreasonable’ professionals (very unreported, but some judgments now beginning at last to comment on this)

        4. ‘Unreasonable’ family relates to ‘unreasonable’ professionals (largely unreported in the literature).

        In my view independent Serious Case Reviews should take place in categories 3 & 4 to stimulate professional education as to how interventions can become so damaging and inappropriate.

  4. Kate Wells

    Thank you for the interesting comments in relation to my post. Sorry I am not able to respond in detail just now, but will do so over the weekend. I didn’t comment about the business of the father and his job because I had spent hours copying and pasting parts of the judgement and adding my comments, and just ran out of steam! I also need to read the judgement again as I am not entirely sure where I stand on that particular issue.

  5. Kate Wells

    Peter – I found your response to my piece on the child W very interesting. I completely agree with you about the sad demise of the social work profession, and for the reasons you outline. Of course the situation is not going to improve as budgets are cut to the bone, and the massive problem of recruitment and retention of social workers continues, especially experienced practitioners. However when you say that you think this will inevitably mean far fewer “forced” adoptions, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that the LA case will not be proven and these children will be returned to the parents, maybe with a Supervision Order, or maybe no Order at all. But if the LA case for significant harm is proven do you envisage or a Care Order will be made but the children will be permanently fostered rather than adopted. If so I see a big problem as there is a national shortage of permanent foster carers, although of course they are usually sought for “older children” (over 5) sibling groups and children with disabilities. If young children are going to be permanently fostered, there may be more foster carers coming forward, but is it right that a young child should be deprived of the security that can be afforded by adoption. Also IFAs will be quick to jump on the band wagon and recruit foster carers for younger children, costing the LA exorbitant rates, which they can ill afford.

    CAFCASS – interesting that you too were a GAL in the days before CAFCASS employed social workers as guardians. I think there were “reporting officers” too but can’t remember their exact function. Maybe something to do with step-parent adoption? I recall doing around 10 or 12 cases for a neighbouring authority and being very critical of the LA in at least half (possibly more) of those cases. I was highly critical of the LA in my very first case and I recall the clerk of the court saying (before the Magistrates arrived) – no judges in those days! “well after reading this report I now believe in the independency of social workers acting as Guardian-ad-Litems.”

    I think the problem with CAFCASS is very similar to that of Children’s Services, overload of work and problems of recruitment and retention. I recall many social workers leaving CAFCASS and beginning to work independently around 10 years ago, as the workloads were unmanageable. I recall being told that managers were telling guardians (in private law cases) that they had to write their report without seeing the children!! This was worse than the old Divorce Court Welfare Officers, employed by the Probation Service, who were in the main very “adult focussed” though think some of them did move over to CAFCASS.

    I recall a time when guardians were very influential in court and I’ve seen cases where social workers/team managers changed their care plan to align themselves with the guardian, rather than face a difficult time in court. I have to say this really used to annoy me, but I was powerless to change anything as I was a Team Manager for a Fostering & Adoption Team for the last 10 years of my career with a LA SSD (as it was then called) and so wasn’t involved in care proceedings.

    You mention independent social workers being “frozen out” by the cuts in legal aid, and this is really regrettable. I was commissioned by the court to carry out parenting assessments when working independently and was paid a good rate, with mileage allowances etc., but when the cuts came into force, it wasn’t worth my time and effort really. The other thing that made me stop taking cases was the fact that even with lower rates of pay, there was no guarantee that your invoice would be paid, because the amount of time spent on a case was scrutinised and hours “chopped” so that work that had been undertaken was unpaid. Of course what followed was just as bad, as it was then prescribed how many hours a sw could spend on a particular case. That was the death knell for me, and for many others in a similar position.

    OK back to child W and her future re-unification with her birthfather. I appreciate what you say about LAs moving children on to adopters after several moves, on the basis that the secure attachments they had made in foster care would be “transferred” to the adopters. To be honest I was never convinced by that argument. Obviously so much depends on individual cases, but not all foster carers are able to offer an abused/neglected child the care that he needs to enable him to “heal” and begin to learn that adults can be trusted to keep him safe. Indeed I think such foster carers were in the minority. I don’t mean that they were uncaring, but almost all had their own children, up to 3 fostered children and child minded children too, hence they were very busy households and fostered children didn’t get the one-to-one attention that they needed. Mind a lot of our foster carers used to say that they had to childmind to enable them to “afford to foster.”

    You say that returning baby W back to father is just the reverse process of moving a fostered child to adopters. Yes in a sense, but there is so much we don’t know about this child. How was she parented in her first 4 weeks of life, why was she moved between 3 foster homes? It is very unusual for foster carers to request that a baby is moved – maybe they were “over numbers” or the foster carer became ill or some other family problem emerged. But self-evidently there was insufficient time for any kind of secure attachment pattern to be built between foster carers and child W, regardless of the quality of care she received. We know nothing of her disposition and temperament at the age of 1.5 years when placed with the adopters, nor whether she was meeting her developmental milestones. What we do know is that this was her 4th home in 1.5 years and 16 months later she will be moving to her 5th home just 3 months before her 3rd birthday.

    You say Peter that W will have no memory of those early years and of course that is true. I don’t think many of us have very clear memories of our lives before 3, 4 or even 5. I think we have “stills” – pictures of particular moments in time, though this does of course vary with the individual. However just because W will have no memory it isn’t the case that the insecurity of those early years will somehow dissolve in the mists of time. If that were the case there would be far fewer adults still suffering the effects of childhood trauma in their early years.

    I firmly believe that what troubles us in our adult lives (the here and now) are in the main a re-enactment of something in childhood (the there and then) though these links are often not made. I have personal experience of this and I consider that I am of an analytical frame of mind and have studied psychology at UG and PG level. My mother who was very warm and nurturing became anxious in a specific situation, and unwittingly passed this anxiety on to me, as I become anxious in exactly the same situation. It wasn’t until I underwent therapy some years ago that I actually made that link, even though once made, I was astonished at how I failed to make the link in the past; it was so absolutely obvious. I still become anxious at this specific situation, so making the link didn’t “cure” me of the anxiety. In my case it hasn’t really caused me a great deal of trouble over the years, but when there has been trauma in childhood, the effects are almost always long lasting and adults who suffered in childhood often develop PTSD or become diagnosed with “Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder” suffer depression, anxiety, OCD and other types of mental illness.

    We know little about W’s father (other than he impressed the judge) and that may well be valid and he has commented that he knows that “things will be difficult when W returns” but what exactly does he mean by that I wonder. Is he aware of the confusion and distress that this move will undoubtedly cause and will he be able to understand that she may never recover from such an unsettled past in the most important years of her life. And what of the other children – they want W back home, (and I can’t recall their exact ages) but I think the boys are around 7 and 9, – children are concrete thinkers and are unable to conceptualise abstract matters. When assessing foster carers/adopters we were of course tasked with talking to the birth children about the plans, but with younger children it was a fairly meaningless exercise, for the reasons outlined. The youngest child will lose his position as the “baby” of the family, and that can often cause problems. And what of the mother – we know so little about her – she’s almost portrayed as “Mrs Rochester” the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre! We know she has mental health issues and can only have contact with the children on a supervised basis. I think she is currently living with a relative. But how do we know that she won’t move back into the family home and the children (including W) could be subjected to her anger and arguments between the parents. Indeed W’s siblings must have insecure/anxious attachment patterns with their mother, and possibly their father, given their unsettled past. This is all conjecture I know, but it seems to me carry far more risks for W than moving a fostered child to an adoptive family.

    I totally agree that a move upwards in social class for children who are adopted should never be the determining factor. My concerns are those that I have outlined above.

    1. Peter Dale

      Kate, I appreciate the very thoughtful nature of your reflections on these very important issues. Ultimately we still disagree about key points, and our different perspectives are central to dilemmas that arise on a regular basis with regard to determining the ‘best interests’ of children (particularly from a lifelong perspective).

      In my view, far too many children have been placed for forced closed adoption, when this was far from the ‘nothing else will do’ standard. There is negligible research evidence about the long-term outcomes of forced closed adoption in the UK; but anecdotal (and emerging) evidence that unknown numbers of such adoptees abandon their adoptive parents in adolescence/young adulthood and reunite with their natural families (contact made via social media searches). Nobody wins. Adoptive parents are left feeling abandoned and bereft.

      My point about predicting a lessening in the number of future forced adoptions is that local authority social workers (for reasons I outlined in my last post) will be increasingly unable to demonstrate (and coherently communicate) that all other relevant options to adoption have been systematically and professionally explored. Courts are clearly becoming much more alert to this inadequacy in local authority social work practice.

      Finally, in my view, assessments and predictions stemming from attachment theory need to be examined with much greater scrutiny (by judges) than they have been in the past. There is a major problematic issue stemming from the misapplication of attachment theory in forensic settings. Most pertinently, attachment theory ‘devotees’ too often ignore the primary theoretical base of attachment theory – that is the short and long term effects of separation between parent and child. Too often the unsettled behaviour of a child in a foster/adoptive home is blamed on previous poor parental care – ignoring the equally strong hypothesis that the behaviour is a consequence of the separation and loss itself.

      Bowlby, and the Robertson will be turning in their graves at all this.

      1. Kate Wells

        Sorry Peter I didn’t check to see if there were any more posts, so have only just seen yours of 15th Aug. Re your comment “there are far too many children have been placed for forced adoption when this was far from the standard of “nothing else will do” – on what do you base this assertion. It sounds vague – do you have evidence to support your view? I’m still puzzled as to what you think should have been the outcome of these care proceedings. Do you mean these children should have been returned home, or long term fostered. I raised these issues in my last post but you haven’t responded. Although without knowing the facts and hearing all the evidence I’m not sure how anyone can arrive at the conclusion that “far too many children have been forcibly adopted.”
        Your comments about the lack of long term evidence of forced adoptions, and the anecdotal and emerging evidence that unknown numbers of adoptees are abandoning their adoptive families and re-uniting with birth families via social media is also vague. Where is this “emerging evidence” of “unknown numbers of adoptees”? I think the problem with any research into this area is that there are too many variables as to whether “forced” adoption has been successful or otherwise. And how do we measure “success” or “failure” of these adoptive placements?
        I’m sure it is the case that many more adoptees will make contact with their birth families via social media but there is no evidence to suggest that these contacts result in adoptees abandoning their adoptive families and setting up “happy ever after” situations with birthparents. You do seem to making assertions without any evidence.
        I’m not sure what you mean by “assessments and predictions based on attachment theory need to be scrutinised more carefully by Judges” – I don’t think that social workers address the issue of attachment theory in their reports, as many of them don’t even understand the basics and would be unable to explain why an ill treated child would by definition have an insecure or anxious attachment to the parent(s). Psychologists may delve into this area, I don’t know, but I gather that LAs can no longer afford to pay psychologists for reports in care proceedings unless they are expressly requested by the Judge.
        I did post on the Child Protection Resource “the basics of attachment theory” and it was shared and tweeted a great many times but no responses.
        As for your comments about the effects of a child separated from his parents and placed in foster care, I cannot imagine how any social worker would not realise that in part the child’s distress would be related to the loss of his parents. Indeed when preparing foster carers (which I did for many years) for the task ahead, a whole session would be spent on the effects of separation and loss and the effects this might have on a child. Indeed if my memory serves me well Bowlby’s first publication was entitled “Separation and Loss” and Michael Rutter in “Maternal Deprivation” dealt with this issue in detail – I’m delving into the crevices of my brain here so may not have the exact titles correct.
        Having said that I don’t think it’s an “either/or” situation – a child who has been abused/neglected will suffer from the loss of the parent but will also be adversely affected by the trauma he has suffered in his birth family.
        I don’t agree Bowlby would be turning in his grave – I think he might be pleased that his original work has been developed to such an extent that the vital importance of the child’s care in his formative years (especially 0 -3 years) is now widely recognised, and many publications are available on the issue of the importance of understanding attachment theory. “Why Love Matters” by Sue Gerhardt provides evidence that the pathways in the brain of the young child can be altered when there is abuse/neglect. It has also become incorporated into the training/preparation of foster carers and adopters and I have been involved in collaboration with a clinical psychologist in delivering this training in the past.
        So not very impressed Peter with your response unfortunately but Ian Josephs is because anyone who thinks there is too much “forced” adoption is a winner in his book!

  6. Kate Wells

    Sam – I’m not ignoring you – I’ve been struggling MHwise over the past weeks and am only just “coming up for air” – I will respond to your posts, but my post to Petetr was longer than I intended and I now need sleep………zzzzzzz

  7. Julie D

    I have only just read all this – many thanks Kate. I have been struggling to understand this decision but in rather a legalistic way. Your thoughts on all that speculation by Russell J about the future are really interesting (and troubling).
    Anyway, can anyone answer these questions for me?
    When the original decision was made for the care and placement orders, back in 2013, Re B-S wasn’t out. I know the CA says that the original decision was too thin anyway but does anyone honestly think it would have gone to appeal in the pre Re B-S world? And letting the father apply after time limit to appeal, If we are going to start to apply post Re B-S to pre Re B-S – where does that stop? isn’t that going to lead to other retrospective challenges out of time?
    And how could the adopters still apply to adopt W after the orders were set aside? Surely by then the LA didn’t have authority to place her with them anymore?
    It is mentioned that there is an appeal – but I’m not even sure what the decision is anymore …
    I hope the child hasn’t had to go to new foster carers now.
    Well – sorry that sounds all rather technical but I’m genuinely puzzled by this case and its implications.

  8. Angelo Granda


    The interests of children, as dictated by the Law (set down by the High Court) are that they remain with natural family except where nothing else will do in the direst circumstances. I think this overrules any attachment theories put forward by SW’s like Kate. Of course children will suffer some disturbance from moving out of a foster-placement ,they suffer disturbance when any change is made in their lives .That is why stepped rehabilitation plans are put into place and why so much harm is done when SW’s charge in and remove children sudde3nly in the first place without warning.

    The High Court has repeatedly defined the BEST INTERESTS of children are served by keeping families together at all costs regardless of whether or not life in care might appear to be more advantageous to children on account of any benefits it is thought might accrue from removal. That ruling must be followed. Working Together frameworks have to be followed. Professionals cannot just ignore them, refuse to work with parents and decide for themselves the procedures are superfluous. This often leads to the separation of families disproportionately. We all know why they do it because constructive discussion on the CRS forums has revealed it. They do it because the Local Authorities find it more expedient financially to remove children into care rather than supply family support in line with the law. We know such action is unlawful and would be instantly appeallable were the truth known.

    In order to establish all the circumstances and the seriousness of each case, each one must be conducted correctly to enable realistic appraisals and court hearings have to be fair and impartial. Procedures should be followed and fair hearings not compromised by ‘conflicts of interests’ amongst professionals, outside influences linked to budgetary considerations or commercial profits. Limited time for the making of assessments, the pressure of court business and court action or time-scales for medical treatments should not be allowed to affect decisions unfairly. The very essence of children’s rights depends on realistic appraisals.

    The Magistrates Courts and the County Court (Family Division) do not enforce the high standards necessary for Justice. Whilst imposing stringent tests and requirements upon parents, they cannot be trusted to apply the necessary tests to Local Authorities and their methods. THEY ARE NOT WHOLLY IMPARTIAL, maintaining a flattering, servile style when dealing with Social Workers and other system professionals. At the very least, notwithstanding whether courts feel their decisions right, respondents should have an automatic right to an Appeal in the High Court when procedures are flouted and evidence unlawful.

    If any reader can come up with a solution to this problem, please do so. Perhaps Civil Family Courts should be banned from ordering the permanent liquidation of natural families; its powers must be limited. A compromise would be that if a family court thinks removal is necessary, then a maximum term of six months should apply during which time rehabilitation of children home must be planned for and implemented.

    It does not matter whether the respondents think the lower court judge is right or wrong, whether threshold criteria are felt to be met or whether the lower court feels there is a future risk of significant harm, principle demands that a CHILD’S interests are paramount. When the LAW is not followed scrupulously, CHILDREN’S human rights are abused in respect of Articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR convention. When children are taken from their parents forcibly, their rights are abused in respect of Article 3. That is why guidelines are laid down. Not to stop child abuse by parents or to punish parents; that is the task of the criminal law. They are set to protect citizens from authoritarianism and institutional abuse. Parents and children have to respect the Law, its guidelines and its administrators. They have to adopt a lickspittle relationship with social workers, lawyers and the Court and are continually encouraged to cooperate slavishly with the system. In return for their trust, procedures should be applied scrupulously and offending officials are tyrants who should be sacked, in my opinion.


    These are the Looked after children (fostered, adopted or residing in Local Authority residential homes without any parental figure at all). They are the ones who are powerless to protect themselves, the ones who have their former happiness destroyed and the smiles wiped from their faces; the carpet pulled from beneath their feet and their childhood worlds turned upside down. They, the ones whose mental conditions suffer as a direct result of separation from their natural Mums, who often develop epilepsy and facial tics due to emotional disturbance, whose behaviours deteriorate to an extent where they have to be drugged up to the eyeballs on various cocktails of drugs or be expelled from school, who lose weight, whose development is stunted in other ways, who are pounced upon and overpowered by gangs of Local Authority staff if they are deemed disruptive or out of control, whose previous childish confidence, precociousness, freedom to think and talk as they wish is stripped from them ( they are ignored and castigated if they express a wish to return home to Mum ). It is they who are denied their freedoms and civil rights to communicate freely with their natural families , who are placed miles away from their roots and friends, misled and deceived by the Authorities who tell them their real parents don’t want them or are unable to care for them, patronized and not kept informed by professionals about the issues which affect them at the time when they can make known their preferences, who are forbidden to move freely and go to visit anyone they want, who have to live a second –class life without love, who often take second place to the financial interests of their carers ( it is not advisable to ask for more) , often abandoned ( turfed out) and consigned to residential homes by foster -parents when they reach their difficult teenage years, are dogged by predators and perverts attracted to employment in the child-care system. and who lose totally all trust in parents and adults. They are the real victims of the professionals who watch the procedures flouted and endorse unrealistic appraisals, they are the ones who are marginalized as adults, treated as third or fourth rate citizens and have their own children targeted by LA’s even before they are born; GP’s are compelled to report pregnancies.

    Few of the General Public notice or are bothered about what is happening to these brave characters and not many would agree to a Children’s home in their own backyard. The victims face Public indifference to the fate foisted upon them by wayward Authorities. The barristers and judges rarely even see them whilst simultaneously claiming to be acting in their interests. The CS, Local Authorities and the Courts (to an extent) live a lie at the same time making the child in care invisible to the Public as a whole. Every fault in the system and all harm suffered within it by the child victims are simply excused on the grounds that the parents are to blame for it. That removal was unavoidable is the lie they live!

    All children who have to go through the care system need very high levels of resilience, resourcefulness, mental and physical fortitude also tremendous empathy and courage to survive what they are put through. They self-harm ,they are four times more likely to commit suicide and they develop criminal traits due to the upbringing they are subjected to but they remain invisible; off the map and no-one knows or thinks much about them ( except their real Mums who cannot intervene)..In effect, they are lost! Those who endure mental torture ,degradation and abuse over long periods of time if not for life are heroes and those parents, Local Authorities and Guardians that cause it to happen are tyrants.

    These are quotes from Looked after children:-

    “I learnt that there is so much untruth, I had to feel how people were rather than listen to what they were saying”.

    “Social Workers were usually so ignorant and out of touch; most would get my name, age and other details wrong and pass wrong information to carers and Doctors. My doctor kept calling me the different name and when he asked for my medical files, my old GP, had not heard of me. They had to start a new file. I lived for years without my real name being used, as a consequence of which my medical history was unknown to my carers, I was neglected and I ended up in hospital for life-saving brain surgery. I was ignored by anyone I tried to correct; they took the official word of the CS above mine and I was denied access to my certificate of birth. I had to get used to the new name although it did cause me great distress”.

    “My parents were unable to talk to me freely and honestly for fear that contacts would be stopped and neither was I able to converse with them. I hardly dared talk. A contact worker took down notes, I was warned not to ask questions and our interactions were supervised”.

    “ one of the lads on the security staff used to sell us cannabis to supplement his wages. He gave us some free to start with but then kept putting the price up. Everyone tried it , he said it wouldn’t do us any harm and it wasn’t cool to say no to him…”

    “Truly, there must be more freedom and humanity in a prison| I was continually supervised and I think much of that has to be put down to the Health and Safety Act which was cited endlessly when I asked to be left alone”.

    “She said I couldn’t go home because Dad had smacked me and bruised my back. She said I had to tell the truth and I told her it was an accident caused when we were playing wrestling on the sofa. I told her Dad never smacked me and she said I was a liar. I wished I could have gone to court to tell the judge but it wasn’t until two years after that I found out there had even been a court case about it. The social worker told everyone that I accused Dad of hitting me. She has now left and when I complained to my foster- dad and my new social worker, they said it was probably all for my own good that she had lied. Mammy and daddy are in heaven now. There’s nothing I can do about it…….its too late now….. ”.

    Readers, this is not nonsense. Neither is the truth ever dangerous. When children go into care, they are physical proof that the care system has failed and it is they who suffer for it.

    The Social Workers and other professionals who use clichés like ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’ and ‘ we have a duty to protect children’ to justify breaking the rules and those who permit them to get away with it should face the truth not turn away.

    Children are the subjects of Family Court proceedings, they are the ones named on court notices and applications, not parents. It is they who rely on lawyers to ensure the law is followed and that Local Authorities act fairly. I have referred to heroes and tyrants above. The Children do not want lawyers who see themselves as ‘child savers’ to work with the LA tyrants against them! They ( and parents) rely on the law to banish Human Rights abuse.

    The law says the parties are to work together to enable children to live with natural family. Where necessary, parents should have reform forced upon them and/or support and monitoring put in place to lessen or eliminate any perceived risk of significant harm. In a sense ,all parties AND the mediating lawyers have failed the children if a court decides the circumstances demand removal.

    Readers understand that lawyers have conflicting duties which they have difficulty balancing. It is imperative those conflicts are done away with.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      sorry, I didn’t read all of the comment as it is very long.

      But I did note this bit early on “The High Court has repeatedly defined the BEST INTERESTS of children are served by keeping families together at all costs”. No court has said that. Because it is not the law. Efforts must be made. But families are not to be supported ‘at all costs’. What if the ‘cost’ for example is keeping a child in a house with the adult who abused him or her? Some costs are too high to be paid. That is why the test is what is ‘proportionate’. This is what underpins Article 8.

      I think your misunderstanding of the law will inevitably infect the discussion that follows. Some families are positively dangerous and must be broken up, for the safety of the children in them. Other families are broken but could be mended. The challenge, as ever, is identifying which is which.

  9. Angelo Granda

    Of course,I was referring to financial costs.
    Obviously the magnitude of abuse has to be considered. Dire cases of abuse are one thing and minor cases another. Also the risk of future neglect another.
    The point i was trying to make on the behalf of families is that monetary costs should not stand in the way of Human Rights. The aim of the Children Act is to maintain children in placement with their natural family and that support packages are put in place where needed to ensure children’s safety.That legitimate aim applies even when it may be to the financial advantage of a Local Authority to remove children into care.
    Cases should always be conducted properly putting finances aside.
    Otherwise human rights are abused.
    1. If LA’s have illegitimate aims ,they may well save money by not carrying out its duties properly.( e.g. fail to establish facts and make up storie)s.
    2.When limits are set on the legal funding paid to respondent lawyers, it is inevitable they don’t have the time to work on a case to the best of their ability.
    3.When the Court system is so hard-pressed ( not enough court time available) that also leads to injustice because cases are rushed ( summary ones)
    Hope this clarifies my ( parents views) a little.Sorry for missing out the word ‘monetary@ when i referred to costs.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      But where is the money going to come from? LA have limited budgets and a huge amount of demand upon those budgets from a variety of competing needs. That’s why some hard choices have to be made. I am afraid that financial considerations are ALWAYS relevant. They should not be the ‘driver’ of decisions in some areas, but they simply can’t be ignored. There just isn’t the money available to provide some families with the 24/7 support they would need to keep their children safe. And that is hardly fair on the children either. Who will the children think is parenting them? Their birth parents or the paid carers provided by the State? Who may come and go every few months, causing further instability and worry?

      Hard decisions indeed. They may not always make the right ones – and sometimes they get it very wrong indeed – but you can’t deny the reality of the very challenging landscape in which they have to operate.

  10. Angelo Granda

    We all pay for it as we do now.In the case of support work at home ( which is not usually 24/7), we pay through our council taxes. Hard choices have to be made and my view is that Human Rights should be the decisive factor in child-protection.I do not believe it is the duty of lawyers or the courts to take financial decisions.They are not politicians,they are lawyers,after all.
    Sarah, you should not worry about money.There is a never-ending supply of weal;th ; it is replenished each year . Where do you think it comes from? We all supply it and the Government and Local Authorities control it. Our Family rights take precedence over their predilections.
    Do you think it is over-simplistic to suggest that foster care-agencies and private operators in residential homes etc. might switch to supplying LA’s with home support services? They could still ensure a healthy profit for their shareholders but children’s Human Rights would remain intact.That would be a political decision,i guess.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Good luck with finding a politician who would attempt to get re-elected on a manifesto pledge to increase income and council taxes. Because that is what they would have to do. It’s not a vote winner sadly. Part of reason we are in the mess. People just don’t want to pay for it.

      I can’t see foster care agencies or private operators switching to a model of providing support at home. That model would make it more difficult to turn a profit I imagine and profit seems to be all we are supposed to care about.

  11. Angelo Granda

    The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the Judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever they consider to be right for children be that in a particular case or more generally towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.

    Parliament sets the Law and its frameworks and it the is the duty of the courts and lawyers to enforce them.The Crown has a duty to protect citizens from abuse including that which may be imposed upon them by Local Authorities and other Public bodies; it invests the power to protect them into the hands of the judiciary. I don’t know if you have copied your article to Jordans onto this resource, Sarah, but I do believe all lawyers involved in cases have a collective duty to report instances of systemic abuse to the Judge and , by my standards at least,that will include abuse of procedural correctness.
    The lawyers alone have the power to make the politicians pay to put in support services as per the statute.All the Court has to do is force the authorities to follow the Law and its guidelines rather than impose their own biased preferences in defiance of them.
    Sarah,most of this is to be found amongst various High Court Judgments which suggests to me ( as a parent) that many lawyers fail to carry out their duty.I understand it must be difficult for them to balance the clear conflicts of interest. That a lawyer be chief procurator for a Local Authority one minute and in the next,chief defender of a child’s rights to be with natural family is a situation which should be eliminated from the whole cp process , in my opinion.

    The office of the Prime Minister advised through its spokesmen that the only remedy when a parent feels his or her child’s case has been cconducted incorrectly is an appeal to a higher court.Why are lower courts generally so reluctant to grant permission for appeal on those grounds? What do they have to lose by having the cases scrutinised at a family’s request?
    If a Crown Court made a decision to seperate a family for life by gaoling a parent for life ,would there be a right of appeal? If the Police or the prosecution broke with procedure in the criminal system, would that justify an appeal?
    I look forward to your answers and thank you for your interest.

    P.S. I cannot get this new site on my mobile . Are other readers having the same problem?

    1. ian josephs

      Judges and lawyers deliberately deceive parents !

      If at the conclusion of the case the family court judge as says the usual “I refuse leave to appeal”that is not final at all though both the judge and your lawyers would like you to think it is .They rarely tell parents the truthful position and later judges remark that the parent FAILED TO APPEAL as though this mean’t they accepted the loss of their children. Do not hesitate therefore to ignore the judge’s initial refusal. Just go back to the court and apply for an oral hearing asking for permission to appeal !

      1. Sarah Phillimore

        What complete nonsense.

        If leave for appeal is refused, you can apply to the higher court for leave. What lawyers will say to clients is that they will have very little chance of success.

        What do you want us to do? Lie to our clients about what a brilliant case they have, of course they will win, why don’t they spend more time and money fighting a losing battle?

        What parents need to understand is that they need to fight their case at the care proceedings – not listen to the poisonous and dangerous rubbish peddled by Ian Josephs and his irresponsible gang of foolish mates. If you don’t engage with the proceedings while they are happening, you are likely to lose and you are highly unlikely to have any grounds on which to appeal.

  12. Angelo Granda

    There are several reasons why folk fail to appeal and i am sure you are right ,Ian ,that some respondents are deliberately deceived.
    What i am suggesting is that in all cases where children are removed from home( not only for adoption) there should be an automatic right to an appeal! Especially when it can be demonstrated that a case has been conducted wrongly, that is the only remedy for parents.

    To restore public trust in the system,narrow the gulf which exists between families and professionals and as an additional safeguard against miscarriages of justice and human rights abuse,i think this needs to be one of the changes we introduce.
    A social worker told me that they are confident most parents are unable to appeal and they rely on it ,ion my opinion.Thus they do more or less what they want.Were appeals granted as a right to all those who wanted one,they would c hange their ways radically and conduct cases correctly.They would have to.

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      Nope. You still cling to this belief that ‘most’ cases are bought for spurious or trivial reasons. They are not. However badly social workers behave – and some I accept do behave very badly – you are still often left with parents who cannot parent well enough to keep a child safe.

      We can waste our time and emotional energies appealing court decisions if we wish. But I think our energies are much better expended on trying to get the right kind of supports in place at the right time and encouraging parents to engage with it.

      Rather than, as Josephs and his friends would wish, to encourage a mind set where parents can do no wrong, have absolute power over their children and can mistreat them as they wish because they are ‘family’.

      1. Angelo Granda

        I am not clinging to any belief,you are Sarah!
        I am claiming the system has to change ( which is something you agree with i think) and I have suggested a way to do away with the chasm which exists between parents and professionals(one of your aims)also how Public trust in the system can be restored.
        At an appeal, innocent children would still be protected (either returned to parents or not as the High Court decided).
        In fact,i think there would be far fewer appeals than there are now and no energy would be wasted.A blind man can see that when there is an automatic right to an appeal, the right will rarely have to be used because cases will be conducted correctly more often than not.The LA would have to reform itself.
        I suggest you listen to parents more and recognise that RADICAL CHANGE is needed.
        When lawyers resist change it only makes citizens more suspicious .I ask again what have lawyers and Judges to lose from allowing automatic appeals? They are impartial aren’t they?

  13. ian josephs

    My point Sarah is simple.When judges say at the end of the granting of aninterim care order (for example) “leave to appeal is refused” or similar the judge does NOT explai to the parents that they do have the possibility of an oral hearing at which they can ask for “permission to appeal”.The judges NEVER mention this possibility and very rarely do the legal aid lawyers mention it either;
    The parents are left with the impression that they cannot appeal at all irrespective of the merits or otherwise of their case.
    If the family court judges were honest they would follow up their refusal to grant an appeal with an explanation to parents that nevertheless they can still ask for permission to appeal.The fact that they do not do this represents deliberate deception especially for litigants in person .

    1. Angelo Granda

      I suspect it is fairly common that respondents are discouraged from appealling by their barrister who tells them correctly or not that the chances of being granted permission to appeal are so slim that they are unlikely to be granted legal funding.They may advise victims to submit a complaint under the LA complaints procedures if they are unhappy about the way the case has been conducted and that the best chance of getting their children home is by accepting the wrong judgment,making changes and applying six months down the line for the care-order to be discharged with new evidence.
      That may or may not be good advice but it means that that whilst there may be good reasons for appeal ,it is the legal funding issue which denies many victims the opportunity.
      Thus when I call for the automatic right to an appeal ,I also mean that legal funding should be provided to vulnerable families automatically too!

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