I find it almost impossible to believe that justice will prevail.
This is a contribution from one of our readers ‘M’ about how her partner saw the system unfolding around then and how it made them lose faith in the proceedings and to feel very unfairly treated. It is very sad to read this, as a lawyer and wonder why these parents felt so unsupported by their own legal team. What should parents’ lawyers be doing differently or better, to have a positive impact for these parents?
Support for Parents in Care Proceedings
When a child is taken into care the parents are often left completely in the dark as to where they should go and who they should approach. The only thing you are told is that you should get legal representation as soon as you can.
Emergency Protection Order
In the case where your child is taken on an Emergency Protection Order you have less than a week to organise any legal representation. Additionally on an EPO the first hearing for an Interim Care Order it seems is often heard at a magistrates court which means you have no chance of getting the order reversed. If you are lucky enough to find a good solicitor in the few days it still seems to make no difference. As in our case the ICO hearing was scheduled in a magistrate’s court and was given enough time only for the ICO to be granted stopping us from challenging the order. We then find that we can only contest the ICO at a hearing at the end of August some 6 weeks after M’s son was taken into care. Even then the hearing was postponed for a further 2 weeks.
Care Proceedings 6 Month Limit
The 6 month limit on care proceedings starts from the moment the child is taken into care. This is clearly grossly unfair in the situation where your child is taken into care on an EPO and you are not allowed to challenge this for 2 months. It is particularly unfair in the situation where the child is taken into care in July as the 6 month period would end late December / early January and it was clear in our case that there was no intention and that finishing the case within 5 months became the target. Given the late start due to the summer and wanting to finish within 6 months we had barely 2 months to go through any assessment’s or possible solutions. It is hardly surprising the local authority took the “easy” approach and stuck with their original plan to keep M’s son in care and seek a placement order.
No-Win For Parents
Everything you say during the period you are in proceedings is used against you no matter what it is. If you are emotional when seeing your child then you are deemed to be harming them and if you are not then you are uncaring. It seems that once a decision has been made by Social Services to pursue a course of action you have almost no chance of getting a fair hearing. I can barely believe that we were not allowed to challenge much of the case that Social Services put forward. It may be that we were poorly represented in court – I cannot be sure as I only have this experience to go on. M was criticised for considering a move to B as if B was somehow an inappropriate place to live and yet M’s son is placed in G where Primary school education is one of the poorest in the UK.
The Basic Fault in the System
The underlying fault in the system as it stands is that you are assumed to be “guilty” unless you can prove you are innocent. Justice has been turned on its head in the drive to protect children and can only lead to many miscarriages. Considering the damage taking a child into care can do to the child and to the parents it should very much be a last resort. However I believe our case demonstrates that it is being used as anything but a last resort and possibly in […] in particular is being used to excess as can be seen by the Local Authority now finding it has neither the finances nor the numbers of foster parents needed. I don’t believe there is any independence in the courts as M’s son was taken on an EPO on two grounds which we proved were incorrect. There seems to be no restraint on the Local Authority if it decides to pursue parents. Documents were presented in court with outright lies in them and M was told several times that the Local Authority have to put these statements in even though they know them to be “untrue” because they would otherwise “weaken” the Local Authority case.
Aggressive Questioning in the Final Hearing
During the Final Hearing I was subjected to the most aggressive questioning I’ve ever witnessed. I have twice done Jury service and have never seen such questioning used in the criminal cases there. I felt I was being attacked as if I was somehow guilty of some serious offence like murder. I had previously made it quite clear to the Social Services that I wouldn’t put myself forward to care for M’s son unless I honestly believed I could do this. The people that know me know that I am a very honest person. I produced a couple of witness statements from people I know and have worked with to this effect. Before this hearing I had believed that justice would prevail but I find this almost impossible to believe now.
Local Authority Policy on Keeping Children in Care
I had thought the Local Authority would take a realistic look at the options for returning M’s son but instead they’ve taken a hard line attitude which seems to be at odds with the stated objectives of keeping families together. Given M’s sons cultural background they should have made efforts to keep up his language skills which would have put him ahead of his peers at school. Instead they seem to have made a conscious effort to remove this heritage and made no effort to keep his language skills. M was banned from speaking to him in anything other than English during our contact sessions.
Missed Contact Sessions
We missed 2 contact sessions in August last year as I had to be in E for work. I know M could have stayed in K and gone to the contact sessions but she was not coping well at the time and also the contact locations were far away in G.
Placement of M’s Son in Foster Care in far away location
We were told that G was the only place that M’s son could be placed but from our conversations with the contact supervisors it seems to have been an unusual foster placement. How many other children in care are placed an hour’s drive away or 2 hours by public transport? It may be that the foster placement was the only choice but along with the later statements and lack of support from Social Services it’s hard not to believe that the intention was to make things as hard as possible for M. Applying extra pressure to both M and me while we were already under pressure is completely immoral and has destroyed my trust in Social Services. All along it seems the actions of Social Services have been aimed at justifying taking M’s son into care and making life as difficult as possible for both of us in the hope we would give up. I can no longer believe they have the best interests of children at heart but are pursuing their own targets and objectives. Speaking as an honest person who finds lying virtually impossible I cannot understand how the Social Worker can stand in court and say that M’s son has suffered “emotional harm” when there is nothing to suggest this. All along the “expert” legal advice has been to accept the findings and agree a plan with Social Services to return M’s son but following this got us nowhere as at no time would Social Services offer us any credible option.
God like Powers Granted to Social Services without any Checks
It seems we have given God like powers to Social Services but without any checks or balances. Reliance on the courts to provide this is clearly not working and especially so when the system of Guardians is clearly not providing any independence. Considering the cases one reads about and which I have more recently heard about from M’s contacts in Facebook our case seems very unusual and our treatment exceptionally severe.
We are still awaiting the Court’s response to our appeal. Lamentably, the LA solicitor has written to the Royal Court of Justice, submitting that the permission to appeal should be refused. There is obviously no requirement for the Local Authority to provide a response to our Appellant’s Notice, so their attempt to “expedite matters” can be viewed as their attempt to infringe upon our right to a fair and public hearing, guaranteed by Article 6 of the ECHR.
This tale sounds at once awful, and fairly typical.
The only part I disagree with is ‘ our case seems very unusual and our treatment exceptionally severe’.
The behaviour of the LA in this seems to me to be at once appalling – and fairly ordinary practice.
Certainly having every action you take in whatever direction categorised as a reason for inadequacy as a parent is normal. The misrepresentation in court documents is pretty standard, as is making contacts difficult, and cancelling them at very short notice.
So why do you think the parents’ lawyers are so ineffective – or perceived as so ineffective? I would certainly challenge misrepresentations in court documents, as would great majority of lawyers I know. So who are all these supine and useless advocates?
re: ..Supine and useless advocates. There are some solicitors firms who have established a good reputation in the family courts, who have then traded on that reputation -taking on far too many cases to be able to do them justice, and passing the legal aid cases to trainees, who are too often incapable of doing them justice. These under-rehearsed, inadequately briefed solicitors then go up against LA’s using barristers, and S/w’s and cafcass guardians with the clout of expert witnesses, and come completely unstuck. Do you want me to name names?
It seems to me you require a solicitor who has a criminal background to provide the necessary forensic attention to detail, and one happy to brief a barrister. That may just give a parent a chance against the overwhelming, stacked odds that too often prevail in the family court,.
You don’t want a criminal solicitor. You need a specialist family solicitor. Crime and family cases are very different. What works in a criminal court won’t necessarily fly in a family court.
And its not always the fault of the advocates. Some people have rubbish cases. But they can’t accept that. So they blame their lawyer for ‘failing’ them – when it is they who have refused to have drug tests, refused to accept police reports, denied and minimised etc, etc.
Even the best lawyer can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Get a lawyer you trust and feel you can work with. And then LISTEN TO WHAT THEY ARE SAYING. If you can’t/won’t take their advice, don’t waste each other’s time.
We are just going through this process at the moment and I concur with everything that is being said. If we agree within the statements then we are colluding and the alternative is that SS either twist or lie about other things. The children were taken from the parents, note children, not just the younger one with injuries. The grandmother was accused because she occasionally helped out and were then removed from her care. The older child had a medical examination which was good and all around they were good reports, the parents never missed a contact session despite the father working but to no avail. The grandmother paid for a statement produced by a solicitor and the ss never even looked at it. The LA even rolled out a QC and a barrister to make sure they won. Is this fair??
I could provide the barrister’s name. I think we challenged all the misrepresentations in court documents – obviously after the Emergency Protection hearing – which we weren’t invited to attend. However, what amounts to a misrepresentation? When the social worker wrote: “I was very struck by the difference between mum and Peter in their demeanour and attitude. Peter was relaxed, natural and participative and mum was rather rigid, uncomfortable and posturing. He in a T shirt, jeans and trainers, she in high heels and tight cropped trousers”, we thought that was a completely meaningless comment, yet the judge praised this observation!
That is not a misrepresentation. That is the SW’s observation, with which others may have agreed or disagreed. However, I fail to see how that is a relevant observation to issues of child protection. Many women wear high heels and are excellent mothers, many men wear t shirts and are abusive. If your clothes and demeanour were meant to be diagnostic of some personality disorder or mental health condition, I doubt a SW has the expertise to link the two!
That was exactly one of the objections we had!..
In terms of aggressive questioning, my partner was asked who he loves more – H or his own children. The (Guardian’s) barrister and the judge referred to it as a “difficult question” – we think it is also rather meaningless as adults don’t usually calculate their feelings in that way. Would you agree?
It could be a relevant question if there were issues about an adult treating children differently – but I would be wary about using such an emotive term in cross examination; for it to be meaningful you would first have to define what the adult understood by ‘love’ for a child and how that love was manifest. I don’t think its a particularly useful question. You need to establish what the adults have done or failed to do before you go on to asking what they felt.
The issue is he is perceived to have prioritized me over his children, yet in 2013 he put himself forward as the main carer for H. The situation with his own daughter is complicated: he’d been separated for six years prior to meeting me, however his separation was acrimonious, which resulted in his children (probably encouraged by their mother) giving him an ultimatum, effectively asking to choose between them and me. He refused to part from me and intended to either negotiate with his ex-wife or go to court – but then health issues got in the way (he had a collapsed lung) before H was taken. Our fight for H has hit him very hard and left him unable to deal with other issues – as you can see from the letter, so unfortunately the situation with his daughter remains unresolved.
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