What is significant harm? And how do we prove it?

I wonder how deep the murky waters of sub-optimal care need to be before it is deemed as “significant harm.”

Kate Wells, a retired social worker considers the recent judicial criticism of social worker’s ability to analyse the case before them and provide the necessary evidence of ‘significant harm’. She notes that the distinction between ‘sub-optimal care’ and ‘significant harm’ is not always that easy to find – and what does it say about us as a society that we have such low expectations for so many children?


When the courts criticise social workers for not providing evidence of ‘significant harm’

I do wonder why the LA lawyers are not picking up on this, and whether some of the blame should be placed in their direction. In my view it is unfair for criticism to fall on the social worker who has failed to provide the evidence to prove significant harm.  The Team Manager should pick up the shortfall and if he/she fails in this way, then the LA lawyer most certainly should not fail to spot the lack of evidence to support the LA’s case.

Pressures on the newly qualified social worker

I am aware that newly qualified social workers are most definitely “thrown in at the deep end” in this day and age. Whereas, when I qualified in 1980 I was supported by experienced workers who had the time and motivation to coach me in social work practice, and this enabled me to gradually grow in confidence and become a credible and competent practitioner.

I do have some direct experience of poor quality social work and the reasons behind this, as from 2005 to 2009 I worked independently and carried out work for various LAs including Birmingham City Council. They were during those years, operating with approx. 30% vacancy rates. There were high levels of sickness with stress related illnesses and a reliance on agency social workers. There were struggles with excessively high caseloads which unsurprisingly left social workers feeling overwhelmed, stressed and de-moralised and managers seemed to lack the competence required to assist and support their social workers, but particularly the newly qualified.  I spent a lot of my time carrying out this task myself on an informal basis of course.

I believe that in the intervening years, the situation in social care nationally has reached crisis point.  I attribute this to the fact that the government have demanded all public services make massive savings in their budgets, with the result that they are largely unable to cope with their statutory responsibilities and this is certainly the case for Children’s Services.

Now that the Conservatives are re-elected I believe that the situation will deteriorate further, as they pursue their privatisation agenda.  Allied to this is the fact that there is a dearth of social workers who are opting to work in child protection and who can blame them – to coin a phrase “They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

It is highly stressful and sometimes dangerous work, and if a child on your caseload dies at the hands of the parent or some family member, then you will be pilloried by all and sundry.  The Director of Children’s Services will be on TV talking about “learning the lessons” and I am frustrated to the point that I shout at the TV – “why don’t you tell the truth – that no amount of learning lessons will prevent these horrendous child deaths at the hands of their parents/step-parents – RISK CAN NEVER BE TOTALLY ELIMINATED no matter how many risk assessments are undertaken.

It’s small wonder people unconnected to child protection are frustrated too, because they keep hearing the same things parroted each time there is a tragedy.  Following procedures, working together with other agencies and close monitoring of a child at risk of abuse/neglect will NOT save that child when they are in the hands of an individual who is capable of inflicting serious harm on a child.  Sad but true.


The particular criticisms in A (A child) [2015]

What the social worker got wrong

I can see only too clearly the fundamental flaws in the social work assessment, and maybe the first flaw is that it was undertaken by a newly qualified social worker which is highly irresponsible BUT probably because there was no alternative.

It appeared that the social worker had decided the father was a “bad lot” and then proceeded to scrabble around to dig up as much dirt as she could.  All that nonsense about whether or not he was present when his friend was killed on the railway.  I can’t believe they went chasing after evidence as to whether he was there or not – what did it matter that he was engaging in a bit of hyperbole.  But this was used to try to prove that the father told lies about everything.

More nonsense with all the USI rigmarole.  Dear god, he was 17 and the girl 13, not ideal of course, but I could barely believe how the social worker had contrived to label this as child sexual abuse and the whole immorality issue and how this might affect his son. I’m not surprised the bloke got angry and accused them of “throwing this back in his face” and quite how she came to the conclusion that he was a risk to “vulnerable young women” is unfathomable.

The other great mistake was all the stuff about the EDL.  I’m sure many of us look upon this group with contempt BUT it is a democratic society and as the Judge pointed out there was no link between the father’s involvement in the group with “likely significant harm” to the child.  It seems the mother decided to have a “walk on part” by insisting to the social workers that the father was still very much a part of the organisation, although he was denying this was the case. How could the social worker  not question the motives of the mother in making these claims?  And whether he was or wasn’t still a member of the organisation is neither here nor there, as the Judge pointed out.


What the judge got wrong

It wasn’t clear whether the father knew about the mother’s sexual offences before or after she became pregnant with A.  It was difficult to prove one way or other I know, but there was no mention of the mother’s account of this issue – did they not bother to discuss this with her, or did she back up the father and so they decided against including it in the assessment.  However the Judge decided that the father was being truthful and didn’t know about the sexual offences until the Court hearing.  He didn’t say on what basis he made this decision.  Is it not for him (or any other Judge) to make it clear in their Judgement the reasons for their decisions about the truthfulness (or otherwise) of witnesses?

I was also concerned about the fact that the father was on his 3rd relationship in a relatively short space of time, demonstrating that he was unable to sustain lasting relationships, which would in fact cause emotional harm to a young child, especially as based on past experience, this young child was likely to have a series of “step-mothers” and so no continuity of care.  Maybe the Judge would have discarded this too, as failing to prove significant harm.

The issue of the conflict between father  and his 1st partner H and the reasons for the separation, and the allegations about bruising to the children whilst in his care, should have been thoroughly investigated and fully outlined in the assessment.  Maybe it was, as I haven’t seen the full report obviously, and I know there was some reference to comments made by a CAFCASS social worker  but it all appeared to be inconclusive and the Judge threw it out again as failing to prove likely significant harm, which indeed it did, but I think it was a serious omission by the social worker..

The issue of the father’s relationship with J I found very worrying.  There seems to be no doubt that the father  deliberately failed to mention that he was in a relationship with J and the report did evidence the fact that this was the case as they had evidence that the pair had made a joint housing application.  I don’t believe the father didn’t realise he should have mentioned his relationship with J in the assessment.  Clearly he was keeping it quiet in the knowledge that if the LA discovered J’s child had been removed from her care it would significantly weaken his case, which indeed it should have in my opinion.  His parents were complicit in this omission too.  I think this issue (probably above anything else) demonstrates that the father  is unable or unwilling to put the needs of the child before his own needs, in his choice to form a relationship with J, knowing about her child being removed from her care.  He was happy for her to become a substitute mother to his own son

I am aware that the father later stated that his relationship with J had ended and I was astonished to read that the Judge stated quite categorically that the father said the relationship had ended and “I believe him………..”  I DON’T – not for a single minute!  Again there was nothing about what had led him to believe the father on this important issue.

The thing is Judges have absolutely no idea of how the parents caught up in care proceedings live their lives (I don’t want to sound judgemental) but am aiming for realism.  I know it would be difficult for the social workers to prove that they were no longer in a relationship, but not beyond the realms of possibility.  I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the father  returning to his relationship with the mother either, or allowing her to have unsupervised contact with her son.

I realise I couldn’t prove this in any way shape or form, but I think it is a huge problem, that Judges and lawyers can have no idea of the mismatch between their own lives and those of the parents who are opposing the LA’s application in care proceedings.  In my experience most of these parents live a chaotic lifestyle, often engaging in “serial monogamy” often characterised by domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.  think that Judges and lawyers can have absolutely no understanding of the way in which the parents for whom they act, and are caught up in care proceedings, actually live their lives.  I make this assertion not as a criticism but an observation.

I shared the social worker’s concerns about the conflict between the father and his parents, particularly his step-father and how the police had been involved on at least one occasion.  Again I was astonished by the Judge’s comments that he had observed the father’s mother and step-father in court and had formed the view that there was a mutually supportive relationship between them! (or something similar)  How naïve is that??   He has come to this conclusion simply by observation!  They are hardly likely to become involved in conflict in the court arena are they!


What was really in the child’s best interests?

I was pleased that the Judge stressed that the newly qualified social worker should never have worked on such a complex case, and that the failure to evidence “likely significant harm” should have been picked up by the TM and/or the LA lawyer.  It’s not surprising that the LA lawyer (unless it was outsourced in this case) gave up on most of the issues put forward by the social worker in her assessment.  Too late was the cry.  Maybe the LA are short of competent lawyers too?  The Judge also commented that Senior Managers should be held to account and I absolutely agree.  However he should also have cognisance of the fact that Children’s Services are buckling under the weight of having to make massive savings in their budgets, imposed by the Tories.  And I can guess where he put his cross on polling day!

The CG also appeared to be “hapless” and contradicted herself in her written and oral evidence.  However I believe that guardians are now inundated with work in the same way as LA social workers.  I will return to this issue later in these notes.

The real issue here though is that this little boy in my view should have been placed for adoption to give him the permanence and stability that he deserves.  He will almost certainly receive sub-optimal care with his father and frequent changes in substitute mothers.

The pity is that this case (and presumably so many others like it) was not handled by an experienced and competent social worker who understood the need to produce evidence to back up their case, rather than going off at a tangent on all sorts of irrelevant issues.  BUT I note the Judges believe that sub-optimal care is to be accepted for some children, rather than “good enough” parenting.  I wonder how deep the murky waters of sub-optimal care need to be before it is deemed as “significant harm.”


What’s going wrong in social work practice?

There has always been a marked inability for some social workers to actually analyse a situation

Lack of knowledge

I believe that many social workers have a lack of knowledge on the following issues:

  • Child development
  • The needs of the child at different ages and stages of childhood
  • The crucial importance of the very early years of life.
  • Attachment theory
  • The importance of observation of parent and child interaction
  • The ability to analyse this interaction and other relevant issues
  • The way in which ill treatment of a child can have an adverse effect on him throughout the lifespan
  • The child’s sense of time
  • The possibility of FAS in babies whose mothers abuse alcohol in pregnancy
  • The adverse effect on children witnessing sustained domestic violence
  • Sexualised behaviour in children
  • Frozen awareness/watchfulness in babies and children.


Whether these sorts of social work skills are taught on the new degree courses, I don’t know, but I somehow doubt it.  Moreover I think there is no likelihood that these skills will be learned in practice, given the lamentable lack of experienced workers with the time to coach newly qualified workers, allied to the overwhelming volume of work for social workers and managers alike.

Additionally I think that social workers became gradually de-skilled as it became custom and practice in care proceedings for birthparents to be assessed by a psychologist and there was an over reliance on his/her assessment.  There has always been a marked inability for some social workers to actually analyse a situation.  Assessments typically contain a great deal of factual information about a family, a lengthy description of the sequence of events, with dates when meetings/discussions dutifully recorded, but a LACK of analysis as to what all this really means.

As far as care proceedings are concerned, obviously social workers need to understand the importance of evidence based assessments and the need to prove significant harm.  Allied to this I think they need to have the courage of their convictions and “fight the child’s corner” with more spirit and determination in their assessments.  It isn’t enough to keep talking about the “best interests of the child” – it needs to be spelled out exactly what the child needs, what are those best interests, and what are the consequences of the child’s needs not being met. But this can’t be done without a working knowledge of the issues I outlined above.


Lack of confidence

Another issue is lack of confidence in the court arena.  I have rarely met a social worker (or Team Manager or Middle Manager) who is confident in this setting.  Indeed I would go so far as to say most social workers are intimidated by the process and this causes them a great deal of stress.

I’m sure that this lack of confidence is observable when they are giving evidence, especially in cross examination.  I may be doing social workers a dis-service here but somehow I think not.  I think they “undersell” themselves – they are the ones who know the family and the child/ren at the centre of the proceedings and will have seen at first-hand how the children are ill-treated, spent hours and hours with the family in their home surroundings and been involved in numerous meetings about the family, and the ones who have had disturbed sleep worrying over their cases, especially when newly qualified.  Lawyers don’t have the same kind of understanding about child care, nor would it be expected that they would have, but it is for social workers to recognise this and not be intimidated by lawyers/barristers acting on behalf of their clients.

Where barristers are instructed for the birthparents in care proceedings, I think there are added difficulties, as I believe there is a significant “mismatch” between the ability of the average social worker and the experienced and competent barrister who is extremely confident in the court setting.  Social workers may complete many years of practice and have very little experience of being involved in care proceedings, and maybe none at all, hence the court arena is a very unfamiliar place to them.  There are publications to assist social workers when giving evidence in the Family Courts, but certainly there was no formal training for social workers on this important issue during the time that I worked for a LA Children’s Services Department.


Why is it ok to leave some children in sub-optimal care?

Munby in his Judgement on the case commented “there’s more than a whiff of give a dog a bad name here……..”

In my view this acceptance that many children will receive sub-optimal care has “more than a whiff of – well they’re the children of the lower working classes so they’re never going to make much of their lives…………”

Possibly unfair of me – I don’t know.

BUT I think that we should be aiming for good-enough parenting.

I did wonder if the Judge had made his decision for the child to be brought up by his father as a sort of punishment to the LA for their failures in proving significant harm.  Possibly unfair – I don’t know.

There’s something I find very distasteful about this notion of sub-optimal care.  Why SHOULD these children not be cared for in a stable home where their needs are met – with “good enough” parenting?

If they are left in sub-optimal care they will struggle in school, they will almost certainly have behavioural and emotional difficulties, and this prevents learning at even a basic level.  They may well be assessed as having special educational needs, but this simply means they might have a Teaching Assistant to help them for an hour or so each day.  They will be lost in the class of 30 children.

In 1973 Peter Wedge and Hilary Prosser wrote “Born to Fail” – a sociological study of the way in which children born into a deprived background were indeed “Born to Fail”

Over 40 years on and little has changed.


115 thoughts on “What is significant harm? And how do we prove it?

  1. angelo granda


    QUESTION: What is the PRIMARY duty of the CS?

    ANSWER: It is its duty to SUPPORT FAMILIES in order that children can remain at home with natural parents.

    QUESTION: What is the department’s duty in respect of Children’s Act proceedings?

    ANSWER: This is how the duty of Children’s Services has been laid out clearly and succinctly in Law by High Court judges:-

    The Social Work department’s duty ‘is simply derived from a duty to carry out a bona fide and open-minded investigation into what they find and to REPORT ACCORDINGLY AS TO FACTS’.

    ‘To be OPEN AND HONEST and to disclose all evidence contra-indicative of the case to remove children from home’.

    ‘Great care indeed should be taken to ensure there is proper pre-proceedings disclosure and SCRUPUOUSLY FAIR PROCEDURE’.

    Social Workers do not understand these duties fully . Certainly they do not understand their simple but basic duty to REPORT FACTS.Removal can lead to the serious harm of children and adults involved and cannot be ordered or recommended on the basis of ‘concerns’,allegations or suspicions.The validity of all those must be investigated and the facts established first.It is not the duty of any social worker to decide unilaterally or even with Police colleagues that children be removed from natural family.Actions affecting our CIVIL LIBERTIES should never be forced on us by social workers.S20 voluntary care agreements,Police involvement and other emergency procedures are not to be used inappropriately prior to ‘in-depth’ investigations as a way of ‘protecting’ children without an order of the Court.

    The Public require that social workers do the job for which we pay them.Guidelines are laid down to support them in LEADING A CHILD-PROTECTION PROCESS. After fair investigations, their power is limited to the initiation of a
    CHILD-PROTECTION CONFERENCE ( CPC ) to be attended by parents.the key social worker and all relevant professionals and experts.That is the only ‘authority’ we grant to them and it is quite basic that they should follow proper procedure in order that correct decisions in respect to children’s safety are taken.

    THE DUTY OF THE CS is to complete ‘in-depth’ and fair investigations within the legal frameworks set down by The Children’s Act in full compliance with legal guidelines

    .APPRAISALS MUST BE REALISTIC AND FULLY INFORMED ones.The guidelines include the provisos that parents should be advised of their right to advocacy services;sould be told of all ‘concerns’; should be informed of time-scales for action to be taken or changes to the situation deemed necessary ; should be involved fully in assessments and appraisals;should be given the opportunity to express agreements and disagreements without prejudice; should be able to inform the CPC of them and other facts and circulate them amongst all participating professionals.

    The CS is NOT QUALIFIED to make its own decision that removal is warranted, should investigate thoroughly and should not make emergency court applications unless an emergency situation exists.A CPC may decide on a care-plan which entails such serious action , however,it does not have the authority to order it.A LOCAL AUTHORITY may seek an order from a court designed to share parental responsibility for children at the recommendation of the CPC chair.Only a court can order interference with our civil liberties.

    The Children’s Act particularly states that any decision to remove must be taken by a court and debars the CS from doing so.The Law recognises that in any case where the CS makes a decision itself and/or advises removal it has inevitably thereafter disqualified itself from LEADING THE CHILD-PROTECTION PROCESS. It’s ability to make fair and impartial investigations is compromised and the welfare and civil liberties of children and families jeopardised.Social Workers will already have strayed from their duty to carry out ongoing ,OPEN-MINDED AND IMPARTIAL investigations.

    Too frequently,Social Workers misuse the system and abuse our trust.The removal of children into care must never be instigated by the CS neither can a parent be forced to leave a family home by the department without an order from the Court.

    Parents should make a careful note of times,dates and instances where their cases have been conducted improperly IN ANY WAY and be prepared to testify against the CS in court.One such would be if a social worker tries to ‘persuade’ you to agree to your children going into care with threats of taking court proceedings to remove them for adoption.

    Hope this post helps parents.Next time an sw says he has a ‘duty to protect children’ refer to it.

    The Lawmakers recognise the potential risk that exists to the making of impartial enquiries and decisions because social workers and many other professionals are inextricably linked and associated with Local Authorities.

    THE LAWMAKERS RECOGNISE THE SEVERITY OF SUCH INTERFERENCE WITH CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE GREAT HARM CAUSED.A decision can only be made by by a Court after hearing all sides. Crucial decisions may only be made fairly by an authority detached from all the parties to a case.

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      I agree there are serious problems with the way some social workers analyse and make decisions about their cases and I suspect one of the main reasons for this is that they have to at the same time attempt to support families whilst gathering evidence to justify removing a child! these two roles are very often in conflict.

      But it doesn’t help that one person’s ‘significant harm’ is another person’s ‘sub-optimal care’ is another persons’ ‘well it never did me any harm’…

      I share Kate’s unease that we seem happy to abandon certain children to an unhappy future on the basis of ‘o well, its sub optimal care, what else can you expect from these types of parents’. I agree we shouldn’t descend into social engineering, therefore the focus has to be on early intervention to help families before their lives spiral into chaos and dysfunction.

    2. Kate Wells

      I’ve read your post several times Angela and can agree with you on some points, and you’re right that the first duty of CS social workers is to keep the family together wherever possible. The Children Act 1989 placed a duty on social workers to work in partnership with parents. But it has always been a duty to take action where necessary to protect a child from what is now known as “significant harm” – you can’t have missed the way in which social workers are blamed when a child on their caseload is fatally injured by his parents/step-parents or someone else in his household.
      You are also right to stress that social workers do NOT have the authority to remove children from their home (though many people still think this is the case) and this can only be done by a Court order. The police can remove a child for 72 hours under the terms of the Police Protection Order. You mention emergency orders and social workers DO have a duty to apply for an Emergency Protection Order where they have EVIDENCE that a child is being significantly harmed, or is likely to suffer from significant harm, but as I think you mention, the parents have the right to be heard when the application is made. I’m not sure if they are entitled to Legal Aid for legal representation (maybe Sarah can confirm?) but certainly legal aid is available for parents once care proceedings have been initiated.
      I agree totally that parents should be encouraged to get their own lawyer once care proceedings have started and of course they should be present at Case Conferences, Core Group Meetings and any other meetings. Social workers should be open and honest with parents, at every stage, even when parents don’t want to hear what they have to say. I absolutely agree that social workers should only initiate care proceedings when they have EVIDENCE, rather than concerns, suspicions etc.
      Some cases don’t present any difficulty in collecting evidence, but in other cases, there may be concerns/suspicions but not enough to take action, so the social worker continues to support the family, and this is what happened in the Baby P case. I don’t know how much concern the social worker had in that case, but she believed the mother’s accounts of Peter’s injuries, and of course she was wrong. So in a way they’re “damned if the do, and damned if they don’t.”
      I imagine you have had a bad experience with Children’s Services but it’s important that the duty of social workers is understood. And you are right of course that it is NOT social workers nor indeed anyone else submitting reports to the court in care proceedings, but the Judge that makes the final decision after hearing all the evidence presented.

      1. angelo granda

        Kate, Thanks for reading my post carefully.
        The point is that social workers are badly managed,poorly trained,low calibre individuals in too many cases these days and CS departments in many parts of the country are unfit for purpose ( see independent Ofsted reports).I notice that you have also made some observations which support that assertion.

        The CS appear to misinterpret their role in the child-protection system. Do not just assume that I come from a position of a woman who has had a bad experience of social work.

        It is not I who has defined the duty of social workers and stipulated what is expected of them ( as quoted near to the beginning of my article); it was a high court judge!

        Too often, Social workers start by taking a knee-jerk reaction to a referral which has called their attention to a family.It is an easy mistake to make especially in a situation where a family does have problems and are needy and when the children have suffered from neglect. At first sight,they make their own decision ( without doing a properly-conducted in-depth core assessment based on facts first) that a child/ children are at risk of significant harm and should be removed into care. From there on in they then start gathering evidence to obtain an order. You appear to confirm that assertion.

        In fact ,according to the law , it is their duty to work towards supporting a family in order to keep it together which the Children’s Act states is best for the ‘welfare’ of children. Natural family is best!

        When I refer to experts, by that I mean doctors, consultants,health visitors,teachers,advocates and so on,people who know a family well, whose task is to analyse and make appraisals (well informed and realistic) about the welfare of the children and organise all the support necessary.

        The role of the social work team is to arrange a properly-convened Child Protection Conference with an independent chairperson, to investigate the facts fully in accordance with the legal frameworks ( Children’s Act 2013) and report what they find to the decision-makers at conference.

        It is not the department’s duty to make the decision to remove and to seek out evidence or arrange for evidence to support it own premature reading of the circumstances of a case. They are not qualified to do that, particularly the young ‘twenty somethings’ referred to by Sarah and the inexperieced ones ‘thrown in at the deep end’ whom you mention.

        Think about it! How can a child-protection investigation possibly be ‘open and impartial’ as prescribed by the Act when it is embarked upon with the intention of proving the case for removal? The CS is hardly likely to consider the less intrusive alternatives and the case contradictory to removal with that state of mind,are they?

        Social workers have used the cliche ‘damned if they do,damned if they don’t for years’ but, with respect to you all, no-one is conspiring against the department. The Public quite reasonably expect that you merely do the job for which we pay you and FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES which are clearly laid out to direct and support you in the task.

        1. Kate Wells

          PHEW….”social workers are badly managed (sometimes true) poorly trained, low calibre individuals.” Otherwise OK? Social workers have to complete a 3 year degree course to qualify. I don’t claim to know anything about the quality of the teaching on this degree course, but I suspect you don’t have that information either, so I wonder on what you base your assertion that they are “poorly trained” – and “low calibre individuals” – a very judgemental comment! Again where is your evidence for this assertion?
          You are absolutely right that OFSTED will rate some LA Children’s Services as “not fit for purpose” BUT this is nothing to do with the calibre (to use your expression) of individual social workers and everything to do with the fact that there is a great shortage of social workers willing to go into child protection work. Many LAs have up to 30% vacancy rates, and an over reliance on Agency workers, high sickness rates – social workers off with stress related illnesses. The government has demanded massive savings in the budgets of CS (and all other public services) and this will get worse as they intend to starve public services of funding in order to clear the deficit, in addition to 12bn cuts in welfare spending. This is why they are “not fit for purpose” – and there will be more and more of them, just as more and more hospitals will be “unfit for purpose” because they too have to make massive savings, and schools in special measures for the same reason.

          Angelo you have some serious misconceptions about legislation underpinning social work and to be frank, I think you are somewhat muddled about the legislation and the duty of CS. It seems to me (and I may be wrong) that you have looked at various pieces of legislation and pulled out what you believe supports your view, i.e. that social workers are not acting in accordance with the law. Believe me if they were not following procedures it would soon be discovered. And YES it is a very difficult task for a “20 something social worker who is newly qualified” but a task that they have a duty to perform nonetheless. Hence the dearth of social workers opting for child protection work. I was fortunate in that I was 37 when I started my training (with a fair bit of life experiences behind me) and it was then a 2 year course so I was 39 when I qualified, but it was still a “baptism of fire” but I was fortunate enough to have experienced people to support and guide me, whereas that is not the case today.

          Another misconception is revealed in your assertion that “all too often social workers take a knee jerk reaction to a referral and at first sight decide that a child is suffering significant harm and then collect evidence to support this view.” You say I confirm this assertion. NO I do not, absolutely not. In my experience the opposite is true, social workers will respond to a referral hoping against hope that the referral was malicious and they can NFA the matter (No further action) They don’t want another child protection case on their workload – they’re already overwhelmed with them. IF there is cause for concern then they will in the first instance offer what support they can to the family, though this is not really possible these days because of the serious under funding I have referred to. In my day we could maybe pay for a child to have a nursery place to take some of the stress off the mother, or provide new beds, bedding, a cooker/washer to ease the load etc. There is no money for such things now, thanks to the government. They will continue to support the family though will at the same time be monitoring the care of the children and engaging with the parents about how they might improve their parenting. There are I believe still parenting classes available, but not all parents will agree to attend and for some this would not be of any benefit. The crucial thing is when does support have to end and a decision made that the evidence is building into a case where it is no longer safe for the child to remain at home.

          The support in the Peter Connelly case went on and on……….and we know now that he should have been removed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I have carried out parenting assessments as in independent social worker and after reading all the documentation and the history of the family, I have wondered why on earth the children were not removed years before the case finally came to court.

          I believe that children are failed by social workers, NOT because the family is broken up because the children have been removed by order of the Court, but because they are left too long in a home where they are being significantly harmed. Some children in a family are scapegoated (this was the case with Daniel Pelka and Kyra Ishak) both children had siblings who were not being ill treated and deprived of food. This makes it all the more difficult to believe that one child is being ill treated.
          I note that you perceive “experts” to be doctors, consultants, health visitors, teachers and advocates (anyone but a social worker it seems) and you see their role as making realistic appraisals of a family and putting in support. Might I remind you that a Paediatrician examined Peter Connelly a couple of days before he died and failed to notice the injuries to his body including broken bones, and in fact noted that she concluded her examination as he was “miserable” – I’m sure he was. In the case of Daniel Pelka the teachers at school failed to follow child protection procedures when they could see that Daniel was getting “thinner and thinner by the day” and was scavenging for food in bins and other children’s lunch boxes. They believed the mother’s account that he had an eating disorder. It was NOT their role to conduct a child abuse investigation BUT it was their duty to refer Daniel to Children’s Services. All schools have clearly defined procedures where child protection is concerned.

          I’ve probably said far too much Angelo. You told me not to assume you have had a bad experience with CSs – it was what I inferred from the tone of your first post. I don’t know what your interest is in these matters. Maybe you act in some sort of advisory capacity for parents involved in care proceedings. I don’t know, and you might not want to say.
          I think that ironically you are doing exactly what you accuse the social workers of doing, making a decision about something at first sight, and then attempting to collect evidence to prove your case. I’m sorry but you seem to have many misconceptions about social work practice and as far as the legislation is concerned, putting 2 and 2 together and making 5. If you are acting in an advisory capacity this is not going to assist those who need advice and support.

          Social workers need to have an understanding and working knowledge of the relevant legislation, so that they are able to prove in their reports that a child is suffering significant harm, and it seems that in too many cases this is not happening. This doesn’t mean that they are telling lies or that the child isn’t suffering significant harm, it means that they include details in their reports about the parents which is true, but does not link up with how this constitutes significant harm. I gather from Sarah that there is often “sloppy recording” – possibly scant detail, not dated, or insufficient information – I don’t know. There are problems with CSs for the reasons I outlined, and of course there will be social workers who are highly competent and caring at one end of the continuum and those that are woefully inadequate at the other end and many others somewhere in between……….a bit like all other professionals and employees really.

  2. angelo granda

    Social workers should be taught better,in my opinion especially that it is not a social worker’s duty to prove that a child is at significant risk of neglect, sub-optimal care,less than good enough care or anything else.

    That is the duty of a multitude of experts paid to appraise such issues and make decisions.

    Social workers are not experts and we should not be surprised that Kate appears just a little unsure about what are often psychological or medical decisions.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Again, I disagree. You will note from the Children and Families Act 2014 that social workers are now firmly repositioned as ‘experts’ in care proceedings as other assessments can only be sought if ‘necessary’ – social workers and guardians are now expected to provide the evidence the court needs. Psychiatric and psychological assessments will fall outside social work expertise so Kate can’t be criticised for not being sure about those areas. Her job is to recognise when she needs extra help.

      I also agree with Kate that we need to be asking ourselves why the LA lawyers are letting so many poorly evidenced cases get through. And why the courts aren’t managing these ruthlessly at a much earlier stage. This simply cannot be the entire burden and responsibility of a social worker. Very few people would be capable of carrying that burden, and certainly not a 20 something fresh from college.

    2. Kate Wells

      I’m puzzled at why you think it is not for a social worker to prove in care proceedings that a child has suffered significant harm. Surely as they believe they have evidence of this and have been to Court to request an Order – an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order, then they SHOULD be expected to prove their case in court. I think some Judges are critical of social workers because they are unable to provide the evidence to prove significant harm, and if this is the case, then the Local Authority’s case could and probably should collapse.
      These “multitude of experts” that you mention – I assume you mean psychologists, doctors, paediatricians etc. They are not able to make decisions, they can (like the social worker) only make a recommendation to the Court because the Judge makes the final decision.
      I am now retired but I remember when social workers were regarded as experts in the case for which they had responsibility, and it was usually just the Paediatrician who submitted a report and gave evidence, as well as the social worker. Then it became common practice for a psychologist to be brought in to assess the parents, write reports and give evidence and social workers I think were viewed as “second best” to the psychologist.
      I gather from Sarah’s post that social workers are now regarded as experts again! I have to admit that I know nothing of the Children and Families Act 2014 that Sarah mentions, as this came into effect long after my retirement.

  3. angelo granda

    In many cases , I’m afraid, it is the LA lawyers who direct the social workers, they tell them what evidence they require to get a care-order etc. and the workers go out to get it! They certainly don’t do anything without consulting their legal advisers first. Please note this is not a conspiracy theory; a social worker told me that.
    I give you just one example.It is usually possible to get an ICO if it can be demonstrated that a parent is unable to work suitably with the departmente. So the CS tell them that if they don’t sign a contract , their children will be removed for adoption. They then just sit back and wait for one of their inhuman conditions to be contravened and go for it.I have lost count of the number of times parents have complained about this particular ruse.

    1. Kate Wells

      With respect Angelo I don’t think you are in a position to state that “in many cases it is the lawyers who direct the social workers……..etc” as this is just the view of one social worker. Lawyers aren’t expected to have knowledge of child care and when there is concern for a child, and I’ve certainly never known a LA lawyer who has this expertise, and so I don’t see how this social worker’s view can make any sense. Of course there has to be collaboration between the social worker, manager and LA lawyer when it is likely that care proceedings will be initiated. The job of the lawyer is to ensure that the social worker has EVIDENCE to prove that a child is suffering significant harm, or likely to suffer significant harm. It seems that these lawyers are failing in their duty, as so many cases are before the court apparently where the social work reports contain a lot of detail about the failings of the parents in all sorts of respects BUT do not PROVE that the child is suffering significant harm. The example you give of a parent not “working suitably” with the department does NOT prove significant harm.

      I’m sorry I don’t really follow your last para and the issue you mention of “inhuman conditions” – what would be an example of such a condition?

      1. Kate Wells

        Angelo – you haven’t answered my query about these “inhuman conditions” that you say are forced on parents by social workers?

  4. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Are the parents’ lawyers asleep? Or pocketing their cash bonus? If one of my clients was asked to sign an ‘agreement’ that contained an ‘inhuman’ condition, you can bet I would have something to say about it – and so would the court.

    Of course, if you sign an agreement and then breach it, it doesn’t reflect well on you. The agreements I have seen are usually quite sensible – don’t hook up with your violent boyfriend again, don’t get drunk when with children etc. So if the agreements are breached, it is often a pretty clear indication that the children are at risk and should be removed to keep them safe.

    They should not be a ‘ruse’. If you think they are – don’t sign them. Bring them to the attention of your lawyer or the court. But don’t sign them, breach them and then complain when that gets used against you.

  5. angelo granda

    If two or three social workers are standing over a Mum threatening to take her children for adoption should she not sign, she tends to succumb!
    Most don’t have a lawyer until legal proceedings commence and generally the workers make no effort to inform them of their rights to the services of an advocate ( as they should to accord with the frameworks of the Children’s Act).
    I find your views very interesting. Do you think it reasonable that a social worker should forbid a woman from living with her husband or partner (without a court order) because of alleged violence? That takes away her civil liberties; surely it cannot be proportionate to the risk involved to tear the family apart and deny children their father on the basis of allegations. If violence of such gravity is alleged then the right thing to do is take the case to court immediately for an order.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Depends on the seriousness of what is alleged. When a man has a string of previous convictions for violence, then yes I think it is a proportionate breach of that woman’s wish to have a family life with him. Her ‘civil liberties’ to date an abuser, don’t over ride the needs of children to be protected. It doesn’t make much difference if they are married and he is the father of the children; they will still be seriously harmed if they have to watch or listen to violence in their home.

    2. Kate Wells

      When you talk of “two or three” social workers “standing over someone asking them to sign” – do you mean agree to a S.20? No social worker should be threatening to “take a child for adoption” though they should be straight with the parents and advise them of what could happen, always of course stressing that it is the Judge that makes the decision. I think there should be more care over S.20s because we hear of them drifting on and on and as you say this is unfair because parents are not eligible for legal aid until care proceedings are initiated.
      I don’t know how the PLO effects these matters now because this legislation has come in since I retired but I know there are strict timelines (26 weeks I think) from the time a child is removed from the parent and the matter is finalised in court. No doubt Sarah will correct me if I don’t have that right.
      I think S.20 should be used in cases where parents are requesting the LA look after a child for a specified period of time, because of their circumstances. Many parents of teenagers “kick out” their kids from the family home and refuse to take them back, and S.20 is appropriate in these cases.

      You pose the question of social workers “forbidding” a woman to live with her husband or partner because of alleged violence. Social workers have NO authority to forbid anyone to do anything. There are many situations when a woman is being physically assaulted by a husband or partner (sometimes the opposite way around, but these cases are in the minority) and this really means that a man is exercising dominance and control over a woman. This sadly often has the effect of seriously diminishing the woman’s self esteem, she can become very afraid of him, and moreover afraid to tell anyone what is happening, for fear of further violence. Typically these men do everything they can to keep the woman isolated from her family and friends, so that he has total control. I have lost count of the number of cases I have witnessed where this is the problem. Sometimes women in this position will talk a little about the violence but will then back track, as they fear the repercussions from the male in their life. It’s not difficult however to observe these situations even when no violence is taking place. It can be seen by the way the couple interact – the woman will be making sure she doesn’t displease her H/P and he will often dominate the conversation. She may appear nervous, agitated and won’t say more than is necessary. Body language tells us a great deal too, as does eye contact (or lack of) and the tone of voice used.

      If a woman is afraid of her P/H with good reason, then it follows that she is unable to protect her children from witnessing the violence and it can be shouting and threatening (doesn’t have to be punching) and it is VERY harmful to children who witness this sort of behaviour. If the father/step-father then turns his violence on the children, the mother is too afraid to protect them. She is in a kind of emotional paralysis as she becomes more and more dominated by the man. Then of course the children are in danger – real danger. IF they are ill treated by the father and the mother is too afraid to stand up to him she is deemed as “failing to protect” which indeed she is, but because of the insidious nature of male dominance and the effects it can have on women. The mother can become complicit in neglecting the children (I recall a case where the mother’s partner insisted they went out drinking in the evening together, leaving the young children alone in the flat) and again she is too afraid to refuse. Not all women will behave in this way of course but we must never under estimate the effect of male violence on women, or the other way around if this is the case.
      OK back to the scenario you pose – you say “alleged violence” – so presumably the allegation has been made by someone else. As with any referral a view has to be formed as to the credibility of the referrer and this isn’t always an easy call – but if there is sufficient concern then it needs to be checked out.
      If there is evidence that there is DV in the home, then the mother should be offered support and her agreement should be sought to move from the violent partner, into a Women’s Aid Refuge with the children so that they are safe. If she refuses, then that raises concerns, because she is effectively opting to stay in a violent relationship which is I would argue “significantly harming” her children. In those circumstances it may well be that the social worker advises of the consequence of this i.e. request for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) and if granted the children will be removed and care proceedings initiated.
      IF the mother agrees to go to the Refuge, the situation has to be closely monitored because very often the couple will get back together again (though they may strenuously deny this is the case) The woman may not want to resume the relationship but the male still has control over her (this isn’t “shaken off” for the woman because she has physically moved) And violent men will very often do everything in their power to get the woman to resume the r/ship, often by making promises that he will change etc etc and the woman believes him and returns and the whole weary saga starts all over again, with the harmful effect on the children.
      Sorry this is so long, I’m trying to point out that the issue of DV is not a simple matter – and I think there are many parents who don’t understand the emotional harm that is done to children by witnessing this in the home.

      1. angelo granda

        In my opinion, if the facts indicate that a child is in imminent danger then it is the social worker’s duty to apply to court for an order authorising them to remove the children.It is not for you to take the decision on your own.It is not your remit to do so.

        I repeat it is the simply duty of the social worker to investigate the facts and report them to child-prtection professionals ,not, for example, to make their own judgments on the basis of body-language and what you would argue.
        Knowing the family better than you, the health visitors,schoolteachers and the others are much more qualified to make decisions about the action to be taken.They are usually senior to social workers too and will have a much better understanding of domestic violence and action required to contain it.
        Local Authorities should not act ‘ultra viries’ on the advice of social workers but should obtain authority from a court.

        As you say, the issue of domestic violence is not a simple one and certainly not one to be decided by social workers.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Of course I do not disagree with what you say. SW have no power to take children away. The only way children can be removed from home is by the parents agreement via section 20, by order of the court or by the police exercising their emergency powers.

          If you are objecting to parents being bullied into signing a section 20, that can of course be a problem. But a consent to section 20 can be withdrawn at any time.

          It is the HV, teachers etc who usually back up the SW decision to remove. I have never had a case where the HV, teacher, doctor etc all thought the SW had got it wrong. They usually provide quite concerning evidence in support of removal; in fact they are often the people who make the referral in the first place.

  6. angelo granda

    It is curious that you say that but it does give one an insight into the curious world of family court lawyers. Of course, it is to be expected that a lawyer will look at a situation differently to the average citizen. What I like about you is that you are open and honest and that is a great help.

    I think it tyrannical that social workers should part a loving family by edict in such a manner on the basis of projected future risk particularly in view of the Law which states that the authorities cannot interfere with family life on such a scale without a court order and without following procedures scrupulously. There are many less intrusive alternatives to breaking a family apart which is extremely detrimental to the welfare of children involved ; these would include supervision and anger management and so on. In fact I would say it is natural cruelty to deprive a child of his or her father in such a way.
    One wonders whether family lawyers have any appreciation of the trauma and severe emotional and physiological disturbance which is caused when social workers liquidate ( break families asunder) as they do. I think they should pay more attention to article 3 of the Human Rights Act.

    Please don’t take any general criticism of lawyers personally when you read complaints about ‘ professional losers’ on the internet. When I am criticised, I always say ” If the cap fits, wear it! If not , just ignore it!

    I don’t think they refer to barristers but more to the Children’s Legal Panel solicitors who are meant to seek out evidence and instruct you. Barristers only really come to cases at court and then often at the last minute after a hasty look through the files. It is not meant as an insult ; no parent would say it to your face.
    I look upon it as a reflection of the fact that the Local Authority win the great majority of cases. Those lawyers fighting for the Local Authority are the winners and those for the parents almost invariably the losers!
    Also, please do not assume that all lawyers have the same high standards as you. Don’t forget that Judge Jeffries was a highly respected, eminent lawyer.

    1. Kate Wells

      I don’t understand why you think what Sarah says is curious either?
      When you talk of the “tyranny of social workers who part a LOVING family” and go on to say that this can only be done by a court Order. Spot on. But why would a social worker be concerned about a LOVING family in any event? You then talk of “projected future risk” and I think you are referring to the wording in the Children Act 1989 (the likelihood of significant harm) and this was included to cover specific situations, BUT the Court will need EVIDENCE of this before granting any Order.

      You talk of the “detrimental effect on the welfare of the children” when a family is broken up (AND this can only happen by Order of the Court) not anyone else. I’m not sure if you are still thinking of DV here or other matters. The thing is social workers HAVE to put the needs of the child before anything else, and that is wholly right in my view. Adults are to a greater or lesser extent responsible for themselves, but children are helpless in the family in which they live – and if this is a family where there is DV – sustained shouting, bullying, threatening, pushing, slapping, throwing things, punching holes in walls etc etc then the children have to survive the best way they can, but are seriously emotionally harmed and this will effect them throughout their life to some extent.
      You talk of it being “natural cruelty” to deprive a child of his father (the one that fits the description above? ) You also talk of the emotional and psychological trauma when a family is broken up, but I suspect you are talking of the adults in the situation and YES I’m sure they are very upset, angry and traumatised when children are removed from their care by a Court Order, but social workers and other professionals have an absolute DUTY to put the needs of the child first, as does the Judge.

      1. angelo granda

        Kate, I think that, in the situations you describe,the children are at risk of significant harm and it is the social workers duty to investigate the facts thoroughly , convene a child-protection conference, and report the facts to it.They should also report all facts contra-indicative of the case for removal. They should be open-minded and impartial ( NEUTRAL) .

        After hearing from the social worker and reading the FACTS ,also after hearing from parents ( who should be permitted to express agreements and disagreements without prejudice), it is the duty of the conference members to ascertain whether or not the LOCAL AUTHORITY should seek an order to remove .Before considering such an extreme action, the members will carefully consider all the less-intrusive measures and support available
        I hope that is clear to you.

  7. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    I am very curious as to why you think what I say is curious!

    Is this just another example of the wide gulf of understanding between what parents accept as ‘normal’ and what professionals know to be extremely harmful? – because we see the adults who were children in those violent relationships and we see how damaged they have become.

    I had one client who said ‘yes he hit me, but who doesn’t get hit in a relationship?’ she was desperate for this to be ‘normal’ and got very angry and defensive when told that it wasn’t normal and no one should ever get hit in a relationship. How could her children be left in her care when she refused to accept that they were at risk of really serious harm from exposure to her violent relationships?

    If someone has a string of convictions for violent offences, it isn’t a great leap to assume that they pose a future risk, particularly if they don’t accept they have done anything wrong and won’t try to get any help to change their ways.

    Of course I agree that wherever possible families should get help and support to stay together. I completely understand that the alternatives for the children are often not much better than leaving them where they are.

    But I also understand that the necessary support just isn’t available in many areas or is only available at huge cost or after a long wait… so in reality it isn’t available. So often the easiest way out of that situation is to take the children away.

    Is this a good situation for us to find ourselves in? Emphatically not. But the anger can’t be directed solely at the social workers. They are part of system set up and maintained by various governments. I think your criticisms are better aimed at those who are actually in control.

    And given that Gove is one of the main proponents of the ‘child rescue’ narrative, I suspect things are going to get much worse before they get any better.

  8. angelo granda

    Sarah, I am not angry and I hold no enmity at all towards either social workers or family court lawyers and any cricisms I may direct towards either is intended to be constructive.

    I recognise that you agree with me on many points but at the same time glad that you have mentioned the chasm which exists between yourself,social workers and the average citizen.

    One of the great problems , in my opinion, is that solicitors and counsel for parents often approach a case under the dangerous illusion that it arrives with them as a result of a ‘bona fide’ child-protection case.

    They don’t give parents the credence they deserve when they protest otherwise and appear to give too much to dyfsunctional (see Ofsted reports) CS departments who certainly don’t deserve it. They don’t test the CS evidence rigidLy and don’t appear to seek out evidence which would support their own clients.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It does constantly surprise me, the massive gulf between my experience of how I and my colleagues conduct cases and how parents perceive them. I think in 15 years I have met only 2 lawyers who I thought were lazy and who didn’t make the right arguments for their clients. That is a tiny, tiny percentage of the 100s of cases in which I have been involved.

      The problem is, in 90% of my cases the evidence of significant harm or risk of significant harm is overwhelming – police reports, criminal convictions, medical records, reports from the school, etc, etc so my job then becomes trying to re-direct the LA to a less serious intervention than adoption. Sadly, I am often successful as there doesn’t seem to be much commitment to seriously investigating the immediate family to see what kind of support they can offer.

      In some cases, the immediate family are part of the problem, but not all. I would like to see more willingness to have family group conferences at all stages.

      But I don’t approach ANY case with any assumptions – it is dangerous to do so. I don’t know any lawyer who does. But if, after two hours of reading through the papers I have an overwhelming mass of evidence against my client, I am a fool to try to deny this or to give my client false hope.

      However, it is interesting what emerges from a close reading of the papers and preparing a chronology. I accept that you can find some very sloppy reporting and misrecordings which can change the tone of an entire case. But again, these have been a minority in my experience.

    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      sorry, when I say ‘sadly I am often successful…’ I don’t mean it is sad that I get the LA to reconsider their care plan! I mean it is sad that they need me there to point out there are options they haven’t fully considered yet.

      1. angelo granda

        If you don’t mind Sarah, what would you say to a client who protests that the Local Authority evidence is simply untrue ( for the most part perjury and invented hearsay) and that the case had not been conducted properly?
        When a parent tells you that, he or she would certainly expect you to disbelieve the Local Authority evidence and argue the case primarily on the basis that it was fraudulent and perjury. If you did not listen to the parents voice in such circumstances and were you not to go to great lengths to seek evidence to support them, then a very wide gulf is bound to open up. One thing lay people expect in a family court setting is that professional evidence scrupuously honest!
        It is so easy for the Local Authority to overwhelm lawyers with fraudulent evidence especially when the social workers fail to report positives for a family or make an attempt to establish the facts of a case.

        Judges and the other lawyers must understand that each case relies on the absolute integrity of the social workers and their evidence.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          ‘what would you say to a client who protests that the Local Authority evidence is simply untrue ( for the most part perjury and invented hearsay) and that the case had not been conducted properly?’

          I would reply – lets look at the evidence in the trial bundle. The President has now decreed that trial bundles may only have 350 pages in them but we can ask for other evidence to go in if relevant.

          I would say – this record of your criminal convictions – do you say it is false? These notes from the contact supervisors? What do you say they got wrong or misrecorded? This letter from the school – what is wrong about this? The report from the HV/Doctor – what did they get wrong?

          You seem to have a mistaken idea about how these cases are conducted. It is NOT ‘easy’ for the LA to ‘overwhelm’ me with fraudulent evidence; it would in fact be very difficult to do that as they would – in most cases – have to forge evidence from other agencies such as police, hospitals and schools. And this is very easy to check because we get the author’s of those reports to court and we ask them questions about what they have written.

          you deny the conspiracy theory exists, but you seem to be describing it in your comment!

          Where cases go wrong is emphatically not the wholesale forgery of evidence from other state agencies – I have never seen this happen in 15 years – but in the sloppy or inaccurate recording of the events that have led to referal/investigation/court proceedings. As an example, I have seen one allegation of sexual abuse (later investigated by the police and found to be malicious) morph into three allegations in the case papers, which obviously gave the case a very different flavour. But I discovered this by simply reading the historical documents and checking against the chronology. That is not an ‘overwhelming’ exercise, it took me about 3 hours.

        2. Kate Wells

          I think Sarah has answered your query on this post Angelo about your query as to how a lawyer would react if a client wanted them to argue their case on the basis of the contents of the social worker’s report (I assume) being fraudulent and presumably all the other professional’s reports? You say lawyers should listen to their clients – of course – and as Sarah points out they must carefully peruse all the documents submitted to the court and decide I imagine what points/queries/explanations/clarifications they will use in cross examination, which could go in their client’s favour. But what you propose is frankly ridiculous. Are you seriously suggesting that a lawyer should stand up and say “Your Honour I find that this case is built on a tissue of lies and the social worker’s report is fraudulent and she is committing perjury in this respect………” Really? Lawyers have to maintain their credibility in Court you know. I will say no more as Sarah has given you a detailed response on this issue.

          I know a lot of parents whose children have been removed will talk of the fact that social workers have told lies in their reports, but when I have asked what sort of lies, there has been no response. I have never heard these same parents admit to a single thing that they may have done (or not done) which would lead the Judge to believe after hearing all the evidence that the children are not safe in their care and make an Order accordingly. I’m sorry but I just don’t believe social workers tell lies in their reports. I think it’s highly probable that there is a difference in perception, in that the parent doesn’t agree with the reasons that the social worker is putting forward (and can hopefully evidence) is harmful to their children. Maybe this is where the issue of social workers telling lies comes from, I don’t know. Sometimes of course it is the parent’s word against that of the social worker. I have had experiences where parents have denied something that I have written in my report e.g. “I met Mrs X on 14th April at 2.30p.m at her home address and she told me XYandZ ” and the parent will deny that this meeting took place. Her lawyer will rightly ask me about this in cross examination and all I can say is that the meeting did take place and I recorded it in detail immediately after the meeting and I have the date and time of the meeting. Then of course it is for the Judge to decided which of us is telling the truth. I find it strange that parents never seem to criticise other professionals involved in the case, the blame as far as they are concerned lies with the social worker. I can understand this I suppose because it is the social worker that has a duty to investigate the circumstances where a child may be being abused/neglected and if there is sufficient evidence, it is them that apply to the court for an Order to remove the children

          1. angelo granda

            Kate, at no time have I used the term ‘lies’. Please excuse me, I shall give my opinion on that subject at a later date.

  9. Sam

    I disagree that social workers spend hours and hours with a family before care proceedings both from experience and from reading judgements, I think a couple of hours would be more likely in a number of cases. In my case, once my children were taken before proceedings , I never saw a social worker and there was no parenting assessment despite it being a court order.
    The second point that unfortunately comes across is that all parents are sub human. At risk of appearing judgemental myself, some of us don’t drink,smoke,take drugs. We even play with our children,breastfeed , read bedtime stories,cuddle them, feed a suitable mixed diet and take them to social activities. Some of us don’t ,but are you not just applying middle class values? Unless it is a life or death situation does it actually merit state intervention? Children have been brought up for years in sub obtimal conditions , for some it actually forms their character in a positive way. My Dad had cardboard mending his shoes as a child,and ate bread and dripping so did everyone else in his pit village, it’s all relative. From speaking to him his childhood was clearly happy and as an adult bread and dripping was still a treat. He became a very hard worker, a great role model ,as did his siblings and we certainly were not brought up in deprivation. Would he have been taken into care today?
    Lastly if the child’s welfare comes first why the focus on a social working may get the wrong type of publicity if they make a mistake. So actually the social workers welfare comes first. You will be surprised to hear that I do not approve of social workers being named,but I do believe in complete transparency including where parents can prove to the contrary what has been presented in court this ought to be added as an addendum to the published judgement. Providing the judgement is published,only a small percentage appear to be.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Sam, that is an interesting point about ‘sub optimal’ parenting actually strengthening character. But I think we have to look carefully about what type of depriviation we are talking about. You mention your dad’s poverty when it came to material things – but if he had a happy childhood I assume he had parents who valued him and loved him and made him feel special. So many children don’t have that – they may have designer clothes and smart phones but if they have parents who neglect or them or expose them frequently to harmful situations, I do not think that is ever anything but a destructive and harmful experience for the child.

    2. Kate Wells

      Sam I cannot understand how care proceedings were initiated without any contact with a social worker. I know that social workers are overwhelmed with work and so may not spend the length of time that I was able to do when I was working (now retired) but they have to be able to present EVIDENCE to the court and I can’t see how this can be collected in 2 hours. Possible but very unusual I think.
      I can well understand how parents feel they are perceived as being “sub human” and all I can say is that I was taught many years ago when I trained to be a social worker that it was essential to “have respect for people” regardless of the circumstances, and I think/hope that I never lost sight of the importance of this, and would take issue with any social worker or manager who I thought was treating a client (or service user) with a lack of respect. This didn’t mean that I “fudged the issues” as I believe part of being respectful is to be totally straight and honest with people, even in very difficult circumstances.
      Are you willing to say how your case got to court without any contact with a social worker or parenting assessment?

  10. Sam

    Sarah I agree. I think if I say anything else I will end up sounding like a manifesto for the communist party . I am not sure it still exists and there has been quite enough political argument lately.
    I must add despite my dad’s “deprived” childhood, lousy diet, rather fond of a cake or three as well as the odd bacon butty, he was the right weight and he lived to a ripe old age.

    1. angelo granda

      All parenting is sub optimal.

      I hope social workers and lawyers haven’t introduced such a silly concept into family courts?
      It is already impossible to define the concept of ‘significant risk of emotional harm’. Let’s not try to define what is ‘ significant sub optimility’. My apologies if that word isn’t in the dictionary.,

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        It is not impossible to define this term – it has been defined in many cases, most notably by the Supreme Court in Re B. What you are really saying I suspect is that you don’t agree with the concept being sufficient to permit removal of a child. This is not an unreasonable position and many others would agree with you – possibly even Lady Hale as the minority judge in Re B.

        I agree that people can have very different internal representations of what constitutes ’emotional harm’ – some people scoff at the very concept and deny it exists. They are wrong. Often, the most corrosive damage done to my adult clients when they were children is almost always the damage to their emotional development caused by neglect. Broken bones can heal but a young mind that is never allowed to develop healthily is a very difficult thing to ‘fix’ once grown.

      2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        But I agree we need to quash any development of arguing about degrees of ‘sub – optimality’ as this is not the legal test. We need to focus on what the law actually demands which is prove of significant harm or risk of same.

  11. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, with respect ,in the circumstances I describe I would expect my solicitor to listen carefully to my claim that the social workers had not conducted the case properly.
    I would expect the lawyer to take a copy of the Children’s Act, look carefully at the legal frameworks and guidelines,examine them meticulous detail and take great pains to establish instances where the social workers had failed.
    I would then expect the lawyer to inform the court and to challenge the whole face-validity of the ‘trial bundle’. The lawyer should explain and prove to the Court (on the balance of probabilities) why not only that every expert report was probably wrong but that the entire ‘trial bundle’ particularly the social worker statements were not compiled objectively.

    Indeed , I would expect my lawyer to appeal to a higher court on my behalf.

    For example, Sam has told how the social workers failed to involve him in their investigations. They are supposed to.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I don’t understand what I have said that you take exception to. The cases are decided on the facts that are presented to the court. Therefore, if you challenge those facts, you tell your lawyer what you don’t agree with and the lawyer will challenge by a combination of putting forward your own rebuttals/other evidence and challenging directly what is asserted by others. But you can’t just say to your lawyer ‘X is wrong!’ We need to know why x is wrong, you need to explain it.

      I appeal when I think there are grounds to appeal. i.e. the judge got it wrong by ignoring relevant facts/law or taking into account irrelevant facts\law. Sorry, I really don’t understand what you find so objectionable about the process I describe.

  12. Angelo Granda

    Sam ,

    No,no it is unlikely you will be linked with the Communist Party. l think, however, that if you say to much, it will be suggested that you are in some way a believer in a ‘ conspiracy theory’.
    Attempts may be made to discount your views on that score .

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      People who make serious and unsubstantatied allegations run a very real risk of having everything they say discounted. And some of the things you have been saying Angelo I am afraid do fall into that category – for me at least.

      Perhaps you could give an example of what you say are ‘inhumane conditions’ in a schedule of agreement so I can see if we share the same understanding of ‘inhumane’? If you can do so without breaching confidentiality in any particular case of course.

  13. Angelo Granda

    My claim that conditions cited in a contract of expectations are sometimes inhumane are substantiated by the law. One such would be when family life is interfered with to the extent of separating a family without a court order in my eyes anyway. It is against the human rights act.What more can I say?
    The CS contrives to part children from their natural parent by when they command a father to leave home or they will remove the children for adoption. Even our domestic law says they should apply for a court order.
    Hadn’t you heard they do it on a regular basis and often just on allegationswhich later turn out to be false. They also habitually effect the removal of children under an S20 by threats without following due procedure,investigating correctly and applying for a court order.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You need to say a lot more. It is lawful to interfere in family life when this is necessary and in accordance with the law. So you can’t simply say that a condition which leads to a family being separated is against the Human Rights Act. You need to examine the proportionality of that interference to reach that conclusion. Separating families is not necessarily ‘inhumane’. Sometimes, sadly it is absolutely necessary to protect the more vulnerable members of that family.

      yes, there have been serious problems with the use and abuse of section 20 agreements, about which the courts are usually extremely concerned and will take action about this. If parents don’t feel comfortable signing a section 20, they should refuse and ask the LA to take the matter to court.

  14. Kate Wells

    I hope I haven’t caused confusion – am new to posting in the CPR. I have answered Angelo’s posts but AFTER your responses Sarah, as I have only just had time this evening to read through the posts. Angelo my replies are probably far too lengthy but I don’t seem to have the knack of concise responses……….I hope you will accept my replies in the spirit in which they are written, even though I have made some comments that could be perceived as derogatory in my replies to you. I aim to be honest and open and not shy away from making constructive criticism where necessary.

  15. angelo granda

    Thanks very much Sarah and Kate for your replies. I appreciate your replies Kate and recognise you are considering my comments carefully in the spirit I intend them.

    Sarah, I feel embarassed about your criticism and apologise profusely should any of the other contributors to the forum find my posts questionable,irresponsible, overcritical or indeed iffy in any way.

    I feel it necessary to declare that I come to the forum as a self- appointed judge of a child-protection system which the General Public (including many distinguished professionals) regard as an extremely flawed one.So kindly bear with me; love you all as I do , it is not my wish to hold back or temper my criticisms because I believe the system needs a good kick up the backside!

    I have nothing but admiration for those amongst you who do a good job. I understand that you see yourselves as child-savers but I see myself as a myth-buster! I feel that, on the whole,the Local Authorities do far more harm than good in the child-protection
    field; there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that many,many children are removed cruelly from their natural families in situations where such action could and should have been avoided.

    You appear to welcome parents to the site and I thank you Sarah.Yet,surely
    you don’t expect all of them to bend down on their knees and thank you all for removing their children!

    You will not see me apologise for the system or attempt to cover-up blatant wrong-doing on account of lack of resources. We,the tax-payers, pay fortunes to finance the professionals in their work and, like everyone else, they have to work within a budget.

    Having said all that, I will not duck your question.

    There is,of course, more than a little irony when a family division lawyer insists that all allegations be substantiated.We all know that the family court system does not require the CS or its lawyers to substantiate assertions and allegations.The professionals simply pile them on to the scales using that protocol to its own advantage.

    No allegation has to be ‘substantiated’ in the conventional meaning of the word. The only standard of ‘proof’ lies in the balance of probabilities ‘no more and no less’. The balance is supposed to be judged on a factual matrix of a case.The CS seems to prefer to overload its evidence with suggestion,speculation,suspicions and hearsay and apparently are unable to differentiate between fact and guesswork.

    Sarah, I used the word ‘inhuman’ as a subjective term. Everyone will have there own ideas and perspectives on the meaning of the word, I suppose. I might have used a term such as ‘sub-optimal humanity’ or ‘ significant inhumanity’ but let’s allow readers to make their own judgments.

    The FACT is that it contravenes both the European Convention of Human Rights and our own domestic Children’s Act when Social workers effect the separation of families ( interfere in their family lives) without an order from a court following a fair and impartial hearing in accordance with the Law.

    That is how I justify my use of the word inhumane. There is much evidence that the CS use ‘Contracts of Expectations’ to separate families against that principle.They browbeat parents to sign them under threat of having their children removed for adoption.The department uses the same tactics to persuade vulnerable parents to sign S20’s.Judges have criticised the practice in open court.Some have used the term blackmail.

    Please let us not pretend it doesn’t go on.

    I welcome the comments of anyone,particularly if they disagree with me. Sarah if you don’t agree and you believe the CS should be allowed to ignore the Law at it’s own discretion,please add a comment.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Of course I don’t agree that LAs should be above the law. The rule of law is vital for the proper running of any society and anyone who breaks it should be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

      But this is the problem with the debate in this area isn’t it? We seem to end up in such polarised positions. If I say that the problems in the system are not to do with corruption and bonuses but rather over worked, over stressed, poorly managed social workers and parents who are frightened and confused and who retreat into aggression and denial and thus won’t even engage with the few services on offer…

      You then chuck in some comment to suggest I align myself with LA who break the law? I don’t think that helps. If I have to be open to your arguments, then you have to be open to mine. We appear to have a gulf between us in terms of what we accept as the reasons behind the current failings of the system.

      All I am saying is – the more time we waste attempting to substantiate just how big the SW bonuses are for stealing children (which I don’t believe happens) the less time we have to try to do something about the very real problems that currently exist; the government drive to speed up proceedings on the basis that adoption is the gold standard for children, the continued cuts to welfare provision and services for struggling families, the continued demonisation and ‘othering’ of the poor.

      Recognising that the failures of the current system come in many different guises in no way means that anyone who refuses to accept it is ALL the SW fault is in any way supporting or propping up a corrupt system. Parents also have to look to their own behaviour and accept that sometimes they behave in ways which hurt their children and which will attract State intervention – because that is the LAW.

  16. Kate Wells

    Angelo – I spent several hours last night answering all of your posts, possibly in more detail than was necessary, but it was an attempt to explain to you some of the issues about which you are confused, in the hope that you would take some of my comments on board. My attempt was in vain.
    You tell me that it is not up to me (a competent and experienced social worker – prior to my retirement) to make a decision about a particular case, but I have to report it to “child protection professionals” – a child protection social worker IS a “cp professional.” You seem to be stuck on this notion that the only duty that the social worker has is to convene a case conference and you are wrong, as you are in so many other issues that you have raised. A case conference IS an important part of child protection work but it is just ONE of a myriad of task that falls to the child protection social worker. Of course it is not just the decision of the social worker with case responsibility about the way a particular case is handled, and this is the whole point of a multi disciplinary case conference, to pool information, share knowledge, listen to the parent’s points of view, and then to make a decision, which may be 1) That no further action is taken 2) The cp social worker will continue to support the family and monitor progress 3) the child is placed on the child protection register but remains in the care of the parents 4) the social worker goes to court to request an EPO and if granted, will initiate care proceedings. NB…..I have been retired for 11 years and this was how things worked prior to my retirement. There is now the Public Law Outline and I think this changes procedures.
    I find it very strange that you are intent upon telling me what social workers can and can’t do, and that they take a “knee jerk” reaction to referrals and decide straight away that this is a case of significant harm (which is not the case) yet YOU decide on the basis of what I have outlined in a post to demonstrate that violence can be verbal as well as physical, that THAT IS A CASE OF SIGNIFICANT HARM!! You make this decision purely on a few lines of text on a screen!
    As I have already said I think you are very muddled about the legislation and the duty of children’s services. You claim that health visitors and teachers and doctors know the family “much better” than the social worker – NO sorry not the case. Doctors rarely even bother to attend case conferences and might have seen the family in the surgery once or twice. Teacher see the child in school and NEVER visit the family home. They may have had discussions with the parents in school for a short time. Health Visitors do visit families at home and some of them get to know the family well, BUT they have no statutory duty in terms of child protection in the way they social workers have. You seem to think these people are “proper” professionals whereas social workers are “low-calibre individuals.” In my experience social workers spend hours and hours with families, over time, supporting the family and monitoring the care of the children. As Sarah has pointed out this dual function carries inherent problems for the social worker.

    I note that you describe yourself as a “self appointed judge” of the child protection system, which the general public see as a very flawed one” – that’s a big claim – the general public, do you mean the entire population of the UK or a percentage of them – how do you arrive at this assertion? A judge implies that you are indeed trying to judge; would it not be preferable to think in terms of “evaluating the child protection system” which implies that you will include both positive and negative aspects and that you will be able to provide evidence of the considerable number of allegations that you make about the system.
    However I don’t believe anyone can evaluate the cp system without having a full and clear understanding of the nature of the work carried out, the issues that need to be considered, procedures that need to be followed, and the legal issues that underpin that work, and I think Angelo you have demonstrated quite clearly that you fail to understand these issues, even at a very basic level.
    I find it slightly arrogant that you quote the law to a competent and experienced family law barrister and you tell me (a social worker and manager with a career spanning 30 years) how a child protection investigation has to be conducted. I don’t know what your motive is for this “self appointment” but I really hope you are not acting in an advisory capacity for parents caught up in care proceedings because you will simply cause them increased confusion.
    I’m sorry if my post is a little harsh but I’m being honest. I have acknowledged that there are social workers who are too young/inexperienced to cope with complex child protection cases, and some who would be better off in another occupation. My experience is out of date and I’m saddened to hear of Sarah’s experiences of so many reports submitted by social workers that lack the crucial element, that of providing evidence that actually proves significant harm. Though one must blame the Managers and LA lawyers especially who should be able to spot this fundamental flaw without any problem. Judges have criticised the system and I’m sure that there are improvements to be made, but I have found your posts to be somewhat patronising in tone, inaccurate in content and most importantly allegations and assertions which cannot be backed up with evidence.

  17. Sam

    I do not want to add oil to the fire but in thinking over what has been going on in these opposing answers something clarified for me. Kate you spoke before about being an unmarried mother in the 60’s and how you would have gone to a mother and baby home if it hadn’t been for your cousin advising against it. From what I understand sexual barriers came down in the 60’s due to the pill but the ideals of the Catholic Church lagged behind hence the mother and baby homes. I also understand that the Nun’s running them tended to be judgemental;actually the polar opposite of how Jesus related to “fallen” women
    The Children Act was operative from 1989. It was a very different moral climate in 1989 to it is today. Although there was definately sex outside marriage, it was still far more normal to be married , women were less likely to have had multiple partners and children tended to have the same father. There were more defined gender roles .There was more shame in being “dysfunctional” and family problems would be kept secret.
    Today is is normalised to be “dysfunctional” indeed it sells magazines , I selected this at randomhttp://www.chatmagazine.co.uk/cover-issue-3/ and lots of people openly air everything on the internet.
    The parents who had their babies taken from them in the 60’s feel outrage , after all they were doing what everyone else was , they were unfortunate to get caught. I think (might have to stop thinking!) the outrage felt by parents whose children are taken from them is the same. Their moral code is nothing different from thousands of others, who still have their children, they would consider themselves unlucky. Indeed there is a postcode lottery with regard to care proceedings.Just as the Church was out of step with the times in the 60’s and caused great anguish , does child protection legislation need revising to reflect how we actually live our lives today?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Its an interesting point but I don’t agree that we lower our standards for children because society has become more openly dysfunctional. I agree that it can seem like a ‘lottery’ – some drug addicts get their children whisked away, other drug addicts are left to muddle through for years.

      But we do have to keep a base line of ‘significant harm’. there is a massive difference between a narcissistic, emotionally uninvolved parent and a parent who is so seriously mentallly ill that they stave their child to death. The first is very far from ideal, but at least the child has a chance of coming out alive and may even be reasonably ok if other adults in the family have been protective.

      The massive difficulty in child protection proceedings is knowing when the first kind of parent is likely to tip over to the second i.e. when do we go from sub-optimal to significant harm? Making that judgment is very difficult and I accept that social workers often get it very wrong – misled by their own prejudice or assumptions, or panicking because they know there is no support or services they can offer the parent, so safest thing is to remove the children.

      That is what I think we need to focus on – how do we make decision making better? How do we increase/improve access to support? How do we encourage parents to accept they need help sometimes?

      But I emphatically do NOT think we can move away from a base line of significant harm, just because some people are encouraged to vomit their dysfunction all over Chat magazine and because the benefits system now allows some people to survive who centuries ago would have been in the workhouse – or dead.

    2. Kate Wells

      Hi Sam – I will e mail you about my particular experiences of being an “unmarried mother” in the 1960s as I don’t think it is of general interest on here. I have however referred at some length to Mother & Baby Homes in the 1960s in my post to Angelo last night, so you might find that interesting. I can’t altogether agree that “sexual barriers came down in the 1960s due to the pill” – yes the 60s was a decade of fundamental change in many respects, after the austerity of the post war period. I can’t recall when the birth control pill became available but I certainly knew nothing about it in 1966 when I became pregnant at the age of 22. I lived in a small village close to a small market town, maybe if you were in a capital city you were better informed – I don’t know. But I think the fact that so many young mothers had to give up their babies for adoption in the 60’s shows that the pill was not easily available. I think birth control at that time was “handled” by the Family Planning Clinic and my recollection is that only married women were prescribed the pill!
      I am no defender of Catholicism believe me, even though I was born into a staunchly Catholic family and spent half my childhood in church! However I don’t think they “lagged behind” the general attitudes, values and beliefs in society at that time. It was a scandal – a disgrace to become pregnant if not married, no question about that – I was there at the time!! There was an organisation called the “Moral Welfare Department” and I think was run by the CofE diocese, where young unmarried women were referred by their GP. But I think the clue to the attitudes at that time is contained in the very words “moral welfare.”
      Mother and baby homes were not just run by catholic nuns, though many of them were of course. And don’t get me started on the atrocities perpetrated on young unmarried mothers of those so called Christians!! This was especially true in Ireland.

      It’s interesting what you say about the time the CA89 came into effect, as I was a social worker by that time, and when I read your comments I had to stop and remember that 1989 was some 24 years ago whereas to me it seems very recent. This is one of the things that happens as you get older!!
      You may well be right about the difference in the “moral climate” of that time to the present day, but of course the work of a social worker was/is related to families struggling with all sorts of problems, poor housing, financial problems, mental health issues, DV (just like today!) and of course concern over parenting of children. You para on what was “normal” at that time doesn’t accord with what I experienced as a social worker, but of course that doesn’t reflect what is happening in the wider community. I have a clear recollection of driving to work one morning and just noticing little children skipping along holding their mother’s hand on their way to school and actually feel surprised ……….it came to me that being a child-care social worker (what we were called back then) had made me view the “abnormal” as “normal” and I had lost sight of the “normal/ordinary” way of bringing up children. Or to put it another way, the dysfunctional family had become normal for me. Maybe this is inevitable, but potentially dangerous.

      You mention Sam that there is a “postcode lottery” in relation to care proceedings – can you enlarge on this please? I am sure there is room for improvement in the cp system but I’ve seen Sarah’s reply and I agree that we should not lower our standards of ensuring (as far as is humanly possible) to seek an Order of the Court to remove children from families where they are being significantly harmed. Times have changed for sure, but the needs of children haven’t – all children deserve to be brought up in a stable loving home, not perfect because life’s not like that, but “good enough” – free from abuse and neglect.

  18. Angelo Granda

    I think thou both doth protest too much!

    The tones in which you ,Kate, as a child-protection professional, you write indicates to me that you have not understood and taken in the chief concerns I am trying to address.

    You appear very defensive and, closed-minded towards the ‘voice’ of a common parent . Your reaction to my words on what, at first sight, I think is intended to be an open forum on a constructive, well-meaning website is somewhat intolerant.

    I hope they are some indication to the uncommitted, less entrenched reader of the general attitude cp professionals show to parents when they show any opposition.

    I sense, Kate, that if we were in a court setting your next step would be to ask the department’s legal representative to request full psychological reports and suggest I need therapy. I anticipated your reaction.

    I take note of the disdain you have displayed towards your fellow professionals on the conference panel . GP’s, I remind you, should be consulted . Present day social workers should show more respect to others. If doctors are unable to attend conference then they should go and see them or write and ask for written opinion.Doctors are able to provide expert assessments on the causes and significance of bruises and what they ‘suspect’ might be deliberately inflicted violence.They can give the workery information on brittle-bone disease,anaemia and the like and will certainly have more factual knowledge of a child’s medical history than they have. They should consult him for the ‘in depth’ facts before even considering making their own assessment of possible,future risk. In general,teachers used only to see parents on parents evenings,these days they have the chance to meet parents most days when they take and collect children from school or nursery five days a week.They also know and monitor children’s behaviour day in day out and have active child-protection representatives/ units.Of course, if they have neglect concerns, they will ( or should have) called on and consulted parents about it.What is more, contrary to what you assert,health visitors very rarely see parents or children ( ask any parent) and usually not at all following the three years old health check.They do ,though, usually receive copies of clinic letters etc but rarely contact families personally in my experience.

    Most importantly, establish whether there is any clear, factual evidence of neglect. Do not rely on suspicions and speculation,for example, Mum possibly withdrew the allegations because she was terrified of a violent and controlling husband/partner and don’t rely on unclear evidence ( such as readings of body language) to make your assessments. They should ask both parents clear, objective QUESTIONS and most of all LISTEN to their voices which is the best way to establish FACTS. It may well be that Mum withdrew the allegations because they were false.If they follow the frameworks of the Children’s Act closely,they will also inform parents of the availability and their right to a personal advocate.That expedient would explain the process to them more expertly and stop such a gap developing between your words and actions and their expectations.The advocate can support them at conference,put what they see as valid disagreements forward for the parents and that would help prevent misunderstanding and raised voices.Not least accurate minutes should be made and signed by all present.

    I am, of course,an ordinary parent.For the sake of an exercise I have adopted the position of a Judge. Get your head round that if you are able. I am addressing the forum as a Judge would parents.They brook no argument.

    I have said that I admire and support social workers who do their jobs properly and I trust that you always did.All cases are different and not many are conducted improperly but you should accept that many go wrong.

    I agree you were harsh; thank you for being sorry for that and I hope you have the capacity to change.

    Sarah, we seem to be at cross purposes. I don’t believe I have accused you of accepting bribes or cash-bonuses or aligning youself with the LA. I haven’t mentioned corruption! I made the point that lawyers often assume too readily that all cases have been conducted properly as a result of a ‘bona fide’ investigation. Sometimes,NOT ALWAYS, they haven’t and evidence is either mistaken,misleading or made with malicious intent to pervert the course of justice. As an example,chronologies may be compiled with wrong dates to show that a violent offence committed 25 years before took place only three months before.
    I did not criticise your performance as a barrister, I merely asked what you would do in a particular event and then told you what I think a parent would expect you to do.

    That was my attempt to close the chasm between us and I appreciate your reply. In my next message, I shall tell you why I would expect it but not right now because I have a full schedule.

  19. Kate Wells

    Grrrrrh – I have just written a long reply to Sam about being an unmarried mother in the 1960s and clicked on Post and poof it disappeared! This is not the first time this has happened. Has anyone else had problems? I’ll try again later Sam.

    Angelo – I honestly don’t think there is anything to be gained from communicating with you further. Yes I know my comments were harsh but I allowed myself to become frustrated at your insistence that you know more about the child protection system than those who have worked in it for many years.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I have just deleted nearly 2,000 spam comments which may have been slowing the site down – let me know if you keep having problems.

  20. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Sorry Kate, I think there is some glitch with the site again – when I have tried editing stuff it disappears. I will need to ask the more tech savvy site administrator!

    Given that we approach this topic from some very different perspectives I think this is a reasonably sensible debate but I don’t think making it personal is ever helpful or constructive. Kate can be pretty robust in her views but Angelo you do tend to make ‘digs’ which aren’t helping move the argument forward.

  21. Sam

    Kate I have had problems posting before. I find it easier to use a word document if making a long comment then copy and paste. I am no technical wizard but I dislike my ramblings disappearing too.

  22. Kate Wells

    Sorry maybe I was hasty Angelo in saying I didn’t think there was anything to be gained by communicating with you. I suffer from intermittent depression and yesterday wasn’t a good day so I should have waited for the cloud to lift. Having said that I do find some of the assertions you make about the cp procedure and duties of social workers and lawyers very inaccurate.
    You’ve mentioned several times “Children’s Act Framework” and I wonder if you actually mean “Common Assessment Framework” which outlines in detail the way in which assessments should be carried out in child protection cases. If you google it you might find it helpful. You told me in my first reply that I shouldn’t assume you have had a bad experience with social workers but I find it difficult to believe that this isn’t the case, or maybe you know people who have had children removed by the court.

    I’m not disdainful of other professionals at all, I was simply trying to point out that the people you mentioned are not the ones closest to the family. And of course children need to be medically examined where necessary but a GP will always refer this to a Paediatrician as he/she can carry out diagnostic tests which the GP can’t do, and of course because Paediatricians have more expertise as you would expect.

    I DO understand that a case can’t be put before the court built on suspicions and speculations. I mentioned “body language” and you seem to think I would use this in my assessment – No of course not. The thing is when you are going into a family for the first time where someone has raised concerns about the care of the children (often the Health Visitor) you have to find out what’s going on………you need to observe the way the couple (if there are 2 parents) interact with each other and of course how they interact (or not) with the children. This takes many hours believe me, and dare I say a skill in observing and interpreting what you see. The thing about body language is just one thing (amongst many others) that can help. I’ll try to explain what I mean. If the father/step father is pacing up and down and jabbing his finger at his wife/partner (or me) and talking in a raised voice then it’s obvious he is agitated and my task is to try to calm him down and it’s not that difficult to be honest. I would lower my voice and suggest he sits down………(I find being slightly humorous can help – I might say “X you’re making me dizzy pacing up and down, can you come and sit with us….” ) If he is sitting down but clenching and unclenching his fists and his leg is “going up and down” this tells me he is angry and frustrated, and I back off – it’s also useful to understand body language for keeping myself safe – there’s no point in winding someone up when they are already wound up – and over the years I found ways of calming situations that worked for me. But this is just ONE thing that helps me to see what’s happening in the family. I would never use the term in a court report.

    I’m really concerned that you perceive that I am intolerant to the “voice of a common parent” – why are you describing yourself like this – this saddens me. We are all ordinary mortals with different life experiences and skills, but I have never believed anyone is any “better than anyone else” – I don’t look down or up to anyone else. And yes maybe I am intolerant, so apologies. I don’t want to stifle debate but do have a tendency to be “robust” as Sarah puts it………..but please Angelo don’t stop posting on my account.

  23. Angelo Granda

    Kate, Thank you very much. Why don’t we resume with my a brief summary of the thread so far. It is entitled ‘ What is significant harm? And how can we prove it? You came in with a professional post on the subject explaining how social workers had difficulty proving significant harm . I replied by pointing out that it is not the duty of a social worker to prove significant harm. i QUOTED THE HIGH COURT WHICH OUTLINED THE DUTY OF SOCIAL WORKERS.

    Sarah then came on agreeing with me in some respects. Next we started talking about evidence and Sarah and I agreed that there was a wide gulf between respondents perceptions and that of professionals.

    You and I ,Kate continue to disagree after some attempts by me to clarify my position. I do not wish to align myself with a lawyer, a social worker,a respondent with a ‘ bad experience’ or any other side as i want to be impartial as far as i possibly can. I want to be neutral like a judge has to be.

    Sam came in with two good points a) that in his child-protection case,social workers did not analyse his case fully in fact only saw him for two hours and not at all after proceedings commenced. b) that there are alternatives to removal such as mother and baby units which were in use regularly 50 years ago as a humane alternative to removal but not these days.A very good point.

    Why don’t you read my first post again because i can see it is not going to be easy to convince you that social workers misunderstand their duty.

    Their duty is to work out how they can keep a family together and what ( if any support they can offer and then to report all the facts to the Local Authority and the cp conference.When carrying out investigations,it is absolutely basic that they follow frameworks and legal guidelines scrupulously in order that they be fair and that the cp conference makes well-informed and realistic appraisals. The rules are set out by the Law to direct you for that reason as it is known what a very difficult job you face in many cases. Should they start out with the ( negative) intention of proving their own opinion that children be removed then how can that be in the spirit of the Children Act which states that children should remain at home where possible.If they start with the ( positive) intention of working with the family at all costs to keep the children at home,outcomes are more likely to be better.

    It may transpire that evidence from other professionals at the cp conference cause the experienced conference ( chair) ,who is usually a much more senior social worker than the key social worker, to decide that removal is necessary for the welfare of the children notwithstanding any support and supervision which the CS can provide. In that case , the Local Authority can apply for an order.If it gets one ,even then it is not the primary duty of the Cs to protect the children. I t is the duty of the parents and the Local Authority and the primary duty of the CS TO SERVE THEM BOTH AND PROVIDE SUPPORT.

    Their job is to serve the family, the Local Authority and perform social care duties as asked. It is the primary duty of the parents to protect the children not the CS.

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      Sorry, but it IS the duty of the SW to prove significant harm – once the case comes to court. It is the application of the LA and it has to be proved by its social workers – they are the ones that give evidence to support their assertion.

      The problem is that BEFORE court proceedings social workers have to wear two hats – in one hat they work to support families to stay together. With the other hat they are gathering evidence to support splitting up the family. This is a tension, I accept.

      1. C

        I must be misunderstanding everything. I was under the impression that justice is special in the family court and things don`t have to be `proved` – yet you use the term twice. Doesn`t the fate of the family rest instead on the balance of probabilities. And don`t the misrepresentations too frequently seen in assessments carry the weight of being sbmitted by an expert witness, so hearsay and supposition can be enough to carry the children over the threshhold, whether they like it or not.. Have I misunderstood?

        1. Sarah Phillimore

          Yes I think you have. The balance of probabilities is the standard in ALL civil courts – the family courts aren’t some special snowflake with a deliberately low burden of proof.

          Hearsay evidence IS evidence but considerably weaker evidence than direct evidence and judges – not usually being fools – know this and keep repeating it to social workers (who are more likely to get mixed up it seems).

          ‘supposition’ is never enough to carry a child over the threshold and if you think that has happened in a case you must appeal.

  24. Sam

    Kate . I am sorry you had a bad day yesterday I hope today is better. If and when you feel up to it as well as if you want to could you please answer me. Or perhaps some other professional can jump in and answer ? Perhaps it may be helpful for the discussion to move on if you could comment on what steps should be taken to support families before care proceedings? I have noticed that the Children Act schedule 2 Part 1 paragraph 7 states that every local authority shall take reasonable steps designed to reduce the need to bring court proceedings. I have tried to find out further information on this by looking in ” The Family Court Practice” but it really didn’t help expand other than quote one case R v London Borough of Brent s(1994) FLR 203. Which appears to be about grandparents looking after an autistic child waiting to be rehoused. I am guessing that possibly was a child in need rather than a child protection matter.
    Is there any obligation at all to provide services or is this section of the Act not worth the paper it’s written on?

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      Generally, there seems to be an obligation to assess in various circumstances but no corresponding obligation to provide services – because there is no money. And this situation is highly unlikely to improve anytime soon as this Government is committed to further welfare cuts and appears to wish to support only ‘working’ families.

    2. Kate Wells

      Thanks for your concern Sam and I’m fine now thanks. I am honestly at a loss to understand how care proceedings can be brought before a parent has been seen at all……and I think that’s what has happened in your case? I know you don’t want to say too much but maybe we can discuss this via e mail. You ask what steps should be available to support families before care proceedings. It is enshrined in law that the duty of the LA is to keep families together wherever possible and the CA 89 places a duty for the LA to “work in partnership” with parents. Fine words indeed, and easy enough for some civil servant in Whitehall to write, BUT in reality that is often very difficult. I have seen Sarah’s reply and think her comment “generally there seems to be an obligation to assess in various circumstances” under estimates the duty of social workers to undertake a thorough assessment and follow procedures to the letter. It would take far too long to go through everything on here Sam, but I suggest you look at the “Coram Children’s Legal Centre” where there is a huge amount of very readable information about all aspects of child protection. There are flow charts showing exactly what should be done and in what order. I do however agree with Sarah’s comment about lack of preventative services. I can recall when there was a specific budget in the dept “Preventative and Supportive” budget and this enabled us to support the family in the hope that it prevented the initiation of care proceedings. Examples of this would be funding a nursery place for a child to lift some of the load of the parent, provide beds/bedding, cookers, washing machines and other essential household items for families. This didn’t always prevent the initiation of care proceedings, but there was at least a recognition that many families needed support to enable them to be better parents. I don’t believe that any social worker or manager would disagree with this today BUT there is just not the funding available, either in terms of social work time, or provision of other forms of support and I have NO hesitation in putting the blame for this fairly and squarely with this government. I’m not sure if you follow the political agenda Sam but since 2010 when the Tories came into power they have demanded massive savings from the budgets of ALL public services in order to clear the deficit, which was caused by the greed of the bankers. It goes without saying that public services will NOT be able to deliver the quality or quantity of services with their seriously depleted budgets. You might have seen people demonstrating outside of town halls about cuts in services e.g. no transport for disabled children to get to school, closure of a luncheon club for older people etc etc. BUT it’s central government that are demanding these savings and that’s where the fight should be – BUT they are now in power for another 5 years and as Sarah says, things will get far worse, as they pursue their privatisation agenda and systematically dismantle the welfare state that we have all benefitted from since it’s inception in 1948. Sorry I’d better stop – as you can see I am riding my pet hobby horse!

      Seriously as far as Children’s Services are concerned they are struggling to provide even statutory services and I’ve heard from very reliable sources that in some LAs they are unable to seek an Order of the court to remove a child who is being abused/neglected because they don’t have the funding to look after that child.

      I’ve read your other posts Sam and Sarah’s replies and can’t altogether disagree about “parents being marched down the child protection route” but they DO still have to provide evidence to the court that a child is being significantly harmed if they are to convince a Judge that removal of a child from the family is the only way of keeping a child safe. I don’t think they would be very successful in doing this if they did not take time to properly assess the situation as per the procedures laid down in the Common Assessment Framework.

      I know that after the Peter Connelly case the number of care proceedings initiated by the LA dramatically increased and I can understand this. I think social workers who were supporting families, where children were on the brink of being “significantly harmed” or were getting “sub-optimal care” decided together with their managers and presumably LA lawyers that it would be best to get these cases before the court and then if an Order was refused and a tragedy later occurred, the blame would not fall on the social worker. A knee-jerk reaction maybe, but one I can understand. And I gather from ex colleagues that there is a great deal of “back covering” now in Children’s Services, which is what happens when “backs are against walls” as they surely are now. I am given to believe that social workers now spend some 60-70% of their time in front of screens on box ticking exercises. Lunacy indeed!!

      I will answer your e mail later ……

  25. Sam

    So like going to your GP , being told you have an infection but you can’t have antibiotics because there is no budget. So the infection worsens and you end up in hospital, where they have to treat you at more cost than if you had a prescription in the first place.
    The situation starting to make sense now. Parents need some temporary help , they are assessed as not coping, but because children’s services do not have a budget to provide help , the situation worsens and it ends up in court costing far more than that initial support would have done. I am not saying all parents could be good enough with no matter what support was given but I am sure a sizeable percentage could.
    Complete lunacy and inhumane to the individuals involved who get needlessly dragged through the court system and affected for several generations. Can’t be much fun for the professionals involved either.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yup. Short term thinking – long term disaster. A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, etc, etc, etc, etc, …..

  26. Sam

    I should have added I was working at time of social services involvement ,so presumably Mr Cameron would have approved of me even if the local authority didn’t.

  27. Sam

    Sorry now turned into one of those manic posters! Is it widely known by other professionals such as GP’s and teachers that Children’s Services do not actually provide support, but rather tend to just go down the child protection route ?

    I think this is what has happened to a number of parents, it certainly has to me. You ask for help, professionals ask for help on your behalf and instead of receiving support you are pushed into the child protection route , but as you are actually a good enough parent who just happens to need a helping hand,so the social workers are forced to justify by hearsay and supposition.

    Is it the case is the only way a family actually receives services is by stigmatising them and marching down the child protection route? No wonder there are so many social worker vacancies.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think it is more often a case that families are left for too long and that the situation gets too dire to continue to do nothing so the only option left is to remove the child. Focused early intervention is absolutely crucial – but what do we have now if all the Sure Start Centres are closing down? Will free nursery provision be next?

  28. Kate Wells

    OK Angelo – let’s start again but I will challenge where it’s necessary, but will try to be – well less robust! As Sarah has said it IS the duty of social workers to provide evidence for significant harm, once a case comes to court. Why wouldn’t it be – the LA initiate care proceedings, and the case has to be proved.
    Sam’s case is a puzzle and it’s difficult to comment without knowing the facts. She did mention Mother & Baby Homes used in the 1950s BUT this was not a humane alternative to removal of the child, quite the reverse in fact. These homes were set up to take in “unmarried mothers” in the 1950s and 60s and possibly into the early 70s. Being pregnant and unwed in those days was an absolute scandal and a disgrace for many families. Hence the GP would arrange for the “fallen” woman to go to the M & B home for about 3 months before the birth, or possibly earlier so that the pregnancy could be hidden from relatives/neighbours etc. The young women were made to work, cleaning, washing, ironing etc. and they stayed there with their baby for about 6 weeks after the birth. These mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption and this I consider a correct use of the term “forced adoption” as they had no choice at all because they were unable to care for their children without support, and this was just not available in any way shape or form. I believe in Ireland (and possibly here too) these mothers were told that if they did not sign the consent form for adoption they would be put in a “mental home.” SO at 6 weeks the baby was taken from them and handed over to the adopters, who came to the Home to collect the baby. Around 2 hours later the mother was given the bus/train fare to go home, and that was it. Horrendous. I was an “unmarried mother” in 1966 at aged 22 but I was fortunate enough to have the full support of my parents and stayed at home during my pregnancy, had my son in the local maternity home (and was treated badly by some of the nursing staff) I was called a “slut” by one nurse. In those days you stayed in the home for around 7 days, and then I was welcomed back home with my son.

    You are right Angelo it is not going to be easy to convince me that social workers misunderstand their duty. I’m taking care to answer each point you make: I agree that the first duty is to try to keep families together. That is clearly laid in the Children Act 1989, although it was the case before that Act. You say it is then their duty to offer whatever support is needed (agreed) and “report the facts to the LA” and the CP Case Conference. I am puzzled about “reporting the facts to the LA” – the social worker is an employee of the LA and her manager is an employee of the LA. Every social worker should have regular supervision from their manager (usually once a month when they discuss their caseload and plan the next stages in a case) In the case of a child protection investigation (S.47 of the Children Act 89) it is good practice to convene a Case Conference regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes a S.47 investigation needs no further action as it is clear that all is well in the family. Sometimes malicious allegations are made. However it is more usual that there are some concerns and if there is a serious situation where a child has clearly been ill-treated/neglected, then it is the duty of the social worker to apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) to keep the child safe. The parents have a right to attend the hearing. This is not a common occurrence. It is much more common for there to be some concerns and the situation needs to be monitored, whilst at the same time trying to support the family (I’m sure I’ve said all this before……) IF the situation worsens, then the social worker in consultation with her manager needs to complete an assessment in line with the Common Assessment Framework (if you look it up you will see that It outlines very clearly all the stages of the assessment.)
    You then return to your point about social workers starting off from a negative position to “prove their opinion” that a child should be removed. You can’t “prove an opinion” – it’s not possible. You will form opinions, during the assessment but these need to be backed up by evidence. e.g. you might form the opinion that X is a controlling parent, and that the children are afraid of him/her…….but this is no good without evidence. IF you then see X shout loudly at the children and drag them to their bedroom in an angry manner – that’s evidence, that supports your opinion. You might suspect that X leaves the children alone at home sometimes, and then you visit one day and find the children ARE home alone – that’s evidence, which confirms your suspicion. But only the evidence can be used in the court report.
    You still believe that social workers start off with a negative view of the family and this may well be the case – indeed a competent and experienced social worker can assess a situation quite quickly and will form opinions and have suspicions, but then it’s time to monitor the family over time and see if there is any evidence to support your opinions suspicions. If there isn’t then you go on monitoring and worrying. Sometimes there isn’t any evidence until something serious happens, but then at least there is evidence available. e.g. I’m worried about a mom with a mild learning disability with her baby. She gets support from her own mother and she is coping reasonably well, but the HV is also worried, but worries are not enough, we need evidence. The baby gets to 8 months and is meeting his milestones and you start to relax a little but stay involved. Then you pay a routine visit one winter afternoon and find the baby outside in the pram wearing just a babygro. He’s very cold and has a blue tinge to his lips – you pick him up quickly and wrap him in your coat. The mother is nowhere to be seen, and is not answering the door. You can’t hang around because the baby needs medical attention so you get him to A & E and apply for an EPO. Mother tells us later she had just “popped to a neighbour” but had I not visited the baby would in all probability have died. We have the evidence that the baby is seriously neglected.
    It is not possible if you are fulfilling your statutory duties as a social worker to keep the family together AT ALL COSTS, because that could mean that the children are abused/neglected, and the needs of the child have to come first.
    Back to the cp case conference and I agree that other professionals will almost always have their own concerns, but are less likely than the social worker to have the evidence, apart from the medical evidence of course. You are right that the Chair of the cp case conference is usually a senior person, and this was my experience. However it is now the law that Chairs of Case Conferences must be independent of the LA. In fact SAFEGUARDING is now the term in use. SO the LA have to advertise for a suitably qualified and experienced social worker/manager to chair their conferences, and pay them of course. BUT it is NOT as you say the role of the Chair to “make the decision that removal is necessary for the welfare of the children” – the role of the chair is exactly that to “chair the meeting” – (it will be a multi disciplinary meeting) to ensure that it is conducted in an orderly manner, that everyone is given the opportunity to make their points, including the parents. A good chair will ensure that the parents are treated with respect and encouraged to share their views, and that they understand what people are saying, though this is very daunting for parents, as there can be up to 16 people around the table. The chair’s role is to sum up the discussion at the end, outlining the important points, and then it will be the decision of all participants (though not the parents) as to whether to proceed to initiate care proceedings.

    You say if the Order is granted it is not the duty of CSs to protect the children. In care proceedings the children will already be protected because there will have been interim orders made by the Court to allow CSs to place the child with foster carers. I think you are confused about Cs and LAs – Children’s Services are part of the LA. You say it is the duty of the LA and the parents to protect the children. IF the Judge has granted a Care Order then the LA has parental responsibility for the child, and the parents forfeit their right to protect the child, because by virtue of the Order, the Judge has found the child is not safe in the care of the parents. The responsibility of CSs after an Order has been granted is not as you say “to perform social care duties as asked” (whatever this means) but to ensure that the child’s future is secured and and that they continue to act in his best interests.
    You talk of them (assume you mean CSs) having a duty to serve the LA and the parents. Again can I say (and this is important) that Children’s Services are a part of the LA. I don’t think you understand that to be honest and this may be the cause of some confusion. has been made to “perform social care duties as asked” (whatever this means) It is their job to secure the child’s future for his lifetime and act in his best interests. They do not have any more duties in respect of the parents. I do feel that parents are left “out on a limb” once the court have made the Order and the child is not being returned home, and I can imagine how hurt, distressed and angry they will feel. They need support at this time, but even if there was a duty for CSs to support the parents after the Order is made, it is unlikely they will want the social worker from CSs (part of the LA) to offer them support. I realise these parents will blame the social workers and that is understandable to a degree. It may well be too painful to admit that they have been unable or unwilling to keep their children safe and free from abuse or neglect.
    Finally Angelo – I think this debate will be much more useful if instead of telling us what the law is and what can and can’t be done, and what the duties of CSs is and how social workers misunderstand their duties, you stop and think that you could be wrong. Have you considered that? I appreciate you don’t want to give details about yourself and your motives for being a self-appointed judge (though hardly neutral!) but I have evidence (not a suspicion) that you are involved with people who are or have had involvement with Children’s Services, because in one of your posts you mentioned a particular issue (can’t recall what it was) BUT the important thing is you said “I’ve lost count of the number of parents who have complained about that.” I don’t know where you are getting your information from about the law and the duties of CSs but you are not looking in the right place. I mentioned googling the Common Assessment Framework – this will outline the duties of CSs in these matters in detail.

    I’ve spent a very long time going through every line of your post and have tried to explain my reasons for disagreeing with most of what you say. Do you think it would be better if you asked questions, rather than made statements/assertions?

    Otherwise can you say (without quoting any laws or any flowery language) what EXACTLY is your concerns about the child protection system, and WHAT you would like to see done to improve the situation for all concerned.

    Phew………..good night!

  29. Kate Wells

    Sam – I’m sorry I didn’t get to answer your post or your e mail but will do so tomorrow. As you can see I have spent an age answering Angelo’s post. Thank you for your concern and yes thank you today was a good day.

    Sarah – did you get my e mail with yet more notes! I only ask because you mentioned getting rid of spam, though I think you meant comments on here.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes, got your email and hope to turn it into a post soon. The spam comments were on the CPR site. The last time we had a problem it was due to too much spam so I hope that is fixed now.

  30. Angelo Granda

    Absolutely correct Sarah but I would go further and say the ‘tension’ is fundamental because it denies parents a ‘fair trial’,The court hearing, tribunal or whatever it is,maybe a child-protection conference cannot possibly make a just decision because the investigation must be open-minded and impartial. Should the CS feel it is committed to gathering evidence to prove significant harm and/or the likelihood of it in the future ,then it disqualifies itself. The investigation is not impartial.

    You have commented yourself that the evidence for removal is often overwhelming. Now we know why. The fundamental flaw shows through clearly in the evidence itself. It is unusual to find one word contra-indicative of their case for removal. The department pays no attention at all to that requirement.

    I think Kate’s last post confirms for us how easily natural fears for children can be aroused and how decision-makers can be overwhelmed.It is not hard to induce members of a panel or court to agree to (or rubberstamp) what the CS decided at the outset.

    Kate, I agree with you.The CS is inextricably linked with the Local Authority. Can we all agree also that this exposes another quite basic flaw in the system?

    It cannot be said that Local Authorities do not have a vested interest in taking children into care. Thus a totally impartial investigation cannot really be expected can it?

    I can waffle on and on and you can tell us about the cases you have seen and difficulties families have ’til the cows come home, so let’s stick to fundamentals.When there are flaws in the justice system,it is the task of the lawyers to bring it to the attention of the Judge.It is the duty of the respondent lawyer AND the children’s to protect the family.The Judge has to administer justice.

    It is Sarah we must impress.One day, I hope she will be a Judge.

    The children’s rights to a fair and impartial assessment is sacrosanct.

  31. Angelo Granda

    I would add,Kate,if you don’t mind, that I welcome not only yours but all comments and I have said I particularly critical ones.
    Do not hold back,please.

    Others will see my faults and I don’t mind.

    I hope you can take it aswell in the same vein.
    You still misunderstand the duties of a social worker. For

    example, a care-order imposes upon the parents
    and the Local Authority a duty to share parental responsibility. A parent is responsible for the protection of a child for life ( unless parental responsibility is taken away).

  32. Kate Wells

    Angelo – I will keep this post brief because I take great care to respond to every point you raise in your posts, but you don’t do likewise. It has to be a “two way street” if we are to make progress. I think what’s happening here is that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and the way child protection is handled (you did tell me not to hold back……so I will be “robust” in challenging your assertions) This is evidence in all your posts and I then spend a great deal of time, trying to explain to you why you are wrong and muddled about so many aspects of the matters under debate. This is a pointless exercise as you don’t appear to take any of my comments on board, or admit that you may have been wrong on any issues.
    Your comment about Children’s Services being “inextricably linked” with the LA as another “basic flaw in the system” is frankly nonsense. You ask if we can all agree with this – sorry no! This is like saying that the person on the till at Tesco is “inextricably linked” with Tesco Head Office and this is unfair in some way.
    I find your comment “it is Sarah we must impress” quite astonishing – really? Why do we need to do this?
    You keep talking of impartial assessments – “impartial” means “not supporting any side, or any view” – SO how can an assessment be impartial?
    OK finally I do NOT misunderstand the duties of a social worker. When a Care Order is made it is true that parents do not lose PR altogether but it is for the LA to decide on how that PR may be used. In other words, the LA is in the “driving seat” and the parents are the passengers.

    Yes a parent IS responsible for the protection of a child in all respects BUT if the Court make an Order that they have failed to protect the child then they have lost that right.

  33. Angelo Granda

    I want to impress Sarah because it is the profession of her and her legal fellows to obtain justice for the children. Some of what I say may have an impact on her to the benefit of the system.

    Or are Social Workers responsible for administering justice too?

    1. Kate Wells

      I will leave Sarah to answer this post Angelo, but I doubt you will impress her by claiming to understand the legislation relevant to care proceedings, when clearly this is not the case.

      Oh I see you mention social workers too – it depends what you mean by “administering justice” – I think they should be concerned with social justice for their work with some of the most disadvantaged and deprived people in society.

  34. Angelo Granda

    I think you are over-defensive for the following reasons because :-

    1. If the till girl does not do as Head Office tell her, she is sacked.If she blows the whistle on Company malpractice,she will be sacked.
    2. At no time have I talked of impartial assessments.I have written about open-minded impartial investigations and well-informed, realistic appraisals.
    3. Courts do not make an order that a parent has failed to protect the child. The court issues a care-order granting the Local Authority the right to share parental responsibility for a child with the parents.Have you ever seen an order?,
    They do not forfeit the right to protect their children indeed it is their duty to do so.It is the duty of the CS to keep parents informed about their children and to involve them in the making of all decisions regarding the children’s welfare.

    1. Kate Wells

      Hello again! OK I will reply to your points:
      1. I only used the example of the person on the till at Tesco and his/her relationship with Head Office, to try to explain why it is not unfair that Children’s Services are part of the LA. So perhaps it’s best not to go any further down that route. Angelo – you clearly didn’t realise CSs were part of the LA – just out of interest – who did you think they were – a “stand alone” organisation of some sort, a private company, or what?

      2. I don’t think it’s relevant whether you’ve talked about “impartial assessments” or “impartial investigations” because impartial still means the same – “not supporting any side, or not having a point of view” – SO how can an investigation be impartial?

      3. Re Care Orders: OK I accept that the Order doesn’t actually state that the parents have failed to protect their children (and yes I have seen a few!) but if the Judge makes the Care Order he/she has been convinced that the children are not safe in the care of the parents, even though the Order doesn’t actually state this – and I can only repeat what I said earlier – it is true that the parents don’t lose PR altogether but it is for the LA to decide how that PR can be used (or not)
      You are right that parents should be kept informed of any major decisions affecting the children and be invited to the 6 monthly reviews that are held for children who are looked after under the terms of the Care Order. They might also be able to have contact with their children, dependent upon individual circumstances.
      However, it is usually the case that where babies and young children are at the heart of care proceedings, the LA will be requesting the Judge make a Placement Order (which if granted allows the LA to place the child for adoption). The adoptive parents then make an application to adopt the child and parents have a right to be heard at that hearing. If the Judge grants the Adoption Order, then all rights and responsibilities end between the child and the LA and the parents.

      I’m sorry that you think I am “over defensive” – you did say you would welcome all comments, even critical ones, and said “don’t hold back” – so I took you at your word! I am challenging what you say because I think it is confusing enough for parents who are involved in care proceedings, and so it is important that any information given is accurate.

  35. Angelo Granda

    Of course I knew they were a branch of the LA.Why do you think I made the point.Thanks for your comments nevertheless.I want readers to see all sides of the story.I look forward to the opinions of others.

  36. angelo granda

    One cause of the inhumanity to children inherent in our child-protection system is the incompetence of and the failure of social workers to follow procedure as laid out in guidelines and as laid down by legal directions in individual cases.

    We see it occur time and time again and this leads many of us to question seriously the integrity of social workers and to the suspicion that, as they flout procedures so often, that dishonesty is their deliberate strategy .

    The procedures are laid down by the Law in order that the facts in a case can be established to facilitate correct decision-making. When the procedures are disregarded regularly, it follows that improper decision-making becomes the norm. Supposedly expert reports, statements and assessments are actually based on false uninvestigated conjecture and known to be so because it must be known that legal guidelines and court orders pertaining to establishing reliable material facts have been bypassed. Cases are corrupted where this is allowed to occur. Correctly compiled ‘in depth’ core assessments ( in which parents ARE PERMITTED TO GIVE FULL ACCOUNTS ) are of strategic material significance to Court decisions and guidelines direct that parents are to be consulted and fully involved in their creation. In fact, correct procedures are sidestepped.

    The Social Work Department’s duty of fairness is simply derived from a duty to carry out a bona fide and open-minded investigation into what they find and to report accordingly as to facts. The Social Worker’s are not there to formulate allegations based on hearsay and to report on them to the Court and its appointed experts. A trained worker should have the ability to differentiate between the two types of evidence.

    In many cases, whatever the CS are involved in, it is not a true process of investigation. It is wrong when Social Workers allow investigations and assessments to become subverted by personalisation of the issues. For instance, investigations should not be centred on gathering evidence designed to prove an individual social workers personal opinion of a parent’s character or background. Because guidelines are not followed and when there is no witness to, tape recording or minutes of meetings kept, social worker statements are often uncorroborated; in many cases it is very doubtful if parents really have had a true opportunity to put their point of view persuasively to the assessors and Guardians. Disagreements should be examined fairly not answered with accusations of non-cooperation and discrimination. Threats made to families do not help either. Plainly Social Workers come to a conclusion that no amount of explanation from a parent on personal or any other matters could have a bearing on a decision to remove children which has, in fact, already been taken by the Department.

    The question of whether a parent has had the opportunity to put his or her case, including the case on personal responsibility, to the Social work team during assessments is an important one because it is usually assumed by the Court that guidelines have been followed and that a parent has. However, the crucial question is whether the procedure, taken as a whole, has been objectively fair; not which evidence the Court honestly prefers but whether there has been a real examination of facts and a fair assessment of future risk to children.

    The Law is made absolutely clear by this citation. R v Nottingham City Council [2008] EWHC 152 (Admin): “removal should very rarely be ordered and very great care indeed should be taken to ensure that there is proper pre-proceedings disclosure and scrupulously fair procedure”.

    When court orders are ignored and guidelines flouted, a scrupulously fair assessment cannot ever have been made. What parents require from their advisors and their lawyers is that they provide immediate appropriate support and challenge to the Local Authority to ensure that comprehensive and effective safeguarding arrangements for their children are established. Primarily, no procedural safeguards are accorded to THE CHILDREN INVOLVED or to their parents. This leads to miscarriages of justice and widespread inhumanity to hundreds if not thousands of helpless children.

    There is no doubt in the minds of many, many AGGRIEVED PARENTS AND CHILDREN that Social Workers cause damage and actual harm to individual children and to families as a whole in circumstances where, one way or another, the children’s position with their natural family could and should have been maintained and safeguarded (at least for sufficient time for fairness to be observed). In a nutshell, children are removed into foster-care and/or placed for adoption unnecessarily and illicitly.

    Kate,do not take this message personally. If you have an opposing view just put it in and readers can judge for themselves. One question,do you agree that guidelines aren’t always followed SCRUPUOUSLY by the CS?

  37. Kate Wells

    No I don’t take things personally Angelo. But I think to repeatedly make the same accusations/allegations against social workers, without providing any evidence to support your claim, is not going to convince me of it’s validity.
    I can’t answer your question, as I have no knowledge of whether guidelines are scrupulously followed by all CSs social workers in the UK. How can I possibly know that? I’m not given to making wild guesses about issues of which I have no up to date knowledge.

  38. Angelo Granda

    I believe that any reasonable citizen will judge on the evidence of the interesting discussion at the start of this thread that Social Workers do cut corners and do not follow all guidelines and procedures.
    Take a look at the exerpts below.
    We read too much material to the effect and on various websites to convince us that they do so regularly.

    That Social Workers will tend to be defensive and evade answering such questions is also telling.
    Is it really so hard for them to admit the truth; to be open and honest?Until they show an ability to acknowledge such concerns and change, we cannot begin to reform the flawed system we have.
    We all accept what a difficult job they have to do and we admire them for it but they are not superhuman.Is it really so bad to confess that one has occasionally cut corners and bent the rules slightly especially when under such severe pressure to ‘prove significant harm’ and when tired and overworked?. Occasion mistakes are inevitable!

    QUOTE: I am aware that newly qualified social workers are most definitely “thrown in at the deep end” in this day and age. Whereas, when I qualified in 1980 I was supported by experienced workers who had the time and motivation to coach me in social work practice, and this enabled me to gradually grow in confidence and become a credible and competent practitioner :UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: I do have some direct experience of poor quality social work and the reasons behind this, as from 2005 to 2009 I worked independently and carried out work for various LAs including Birmingham City Council. They were during those years, operating with approx. 30% vacancy rates. There were high levels of sickness with stress related illnesses and a reliance on agency social workers. There were struggles with excessively high caseloads which unsurprisingly left social workers feeling overwhelmed, stressed and de-moralised and managers seemed to lack the competence required to assist and support their social workers, but particularly the newly qualified. 
    I believe that in the intervening years, the situation in social care nationally has reached crisis point.  I attribute this to the fact that the government have demanded all public services make massive savings in their budgets, with the result that they are largely unable to cope with their statutory responsibilities and this is certainly the case for Children’s Services:UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: I realise I couldn’t prove this in any way shape or form, but I think it is a huge problem, that Judges and lawyers can have no idea of the mismatch between their own lives and those of the parents who are opposing the LA’s application in care proceedings:UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: I was pleased that the Judge stressed that the newly qualified social worker should never have worked on such a complex case : UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: Maybe the LA are short of competent lawyers too?  The Judge also commented that Senior Managers should be held to account and I absolutely agree.
    However he should also have cognisance of the fact that Children’s Services are buckling under the weight of having to make massive savings in their budgets : UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: The CG also appeared to be “hapless” and contradicted herself in her written and oral evidence.  However I believe that guardians are now inundated with work in the same way as LA social workers:UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: The pity is that this case (and presumably so many others like it) was not handled by an experienced and competent social worker who understood the need to produce evidence to back up their case, rather than going off at a tangent on all sorts of irrelevant issues:UNQUOTE 

    QUOTE: There has always been a marked inability for some social workers to actually analyse a situation: QUOTE

    QUOTE: from Sarah that there is often “sloppy recording” – possibly scant detail, not dated, or insufficient information – I don’t know. There are problems with CSs for the reasons I outlined, and of course there will be social workers who are highly competent and caring at one end of the continuum and those that are woefully inadequate at the other end and many others somewhere in between……….a bit like all other professionals and employees really: UNQUOTE

  39. Kate Wells

    Ha I see you now claim to represent the voice of “every reasonable citizen” – astonishing! Would that be citizens of the UK or worldwide? Do you not think the definition of “reasonable” would be open to wide interpretation.

    I stand by all the comments I have made and which you have reproduced but I’m afraid none of them support your view, the main focus of which seems to be that social workers do not follow procedures. Given that you have no knowledge of these procedures as evidenced by your many posts, it is quite beyond me how you know they are not being followed.

    Also you have a fundamental failure to understand the legislation related to the duties of social workers, contained in the Children Act 1989 or any other Act for that matter, which has been evidenced in your many posts. I can only assume you ferret out bits of law that you think support your views. Maybe less use of the dictionary would be a good idea too.

  40. Angelo Granda

    Readers appreciate your views as do I , of course. You have wide experience of social work and I stand by most of what you say indeed I would back you to the hilt .

    QUOTE:I know that after the Peter Connelly case the number of care proceedings initiated by the LA dramatically increased and I can understand this. I think social workers who were supporting families, where children were on the brink of being “significantly harmed” or were getting “sub-optimal care” decided together with their managers and presumably LA lawyers that it would be best to get these cases before the court and then if an Order was refused and a tragedy later occurred, the blame would not fall on the social worker. A knee-jerk reaction maybe, but one I can understand. And I gather from ex colleagues that there is a great deal of “back covering” now in Children’s Services, which is what happens when “backs are against walls” as they surely are now. I am given to believe that social workers now spend some 60-70% of their time in front of screens on box ticking exercises. Lunacy indeed!!:UNQUOTE

    Really , the views of contributors to this thread are not so far apart.

    The point I made was that , on any reasonable view, the preponderance of ‘evidence’ ( including your views) leads to the inference that correct procedures are NOT FOLLOWED SCRUPULOUSLY by Social Workers.
    There is much evidence out there to support you not least the complaints we see from parents.

    I recognise you do not feel qualified to answer the direct question I asked and I respect your reasons fully.

    However , I believe readers are entitled to take inferences from your evasion of the question.

    I apologise if you find my choice of phrase or language not up to the usual standards we see on the forum and I regret that. I’m sorry if you think it ‘flowery’.I hope readers ( and the moderators) will understand .I am not a ‘professional’ like most of the other contributors.

  41. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Kate and Angelo, sorry I have not been involved in the discussion, been busy with the Child Protection Conference – which was amazing.

    Angelo, I think you are right. We are not so very far apart. The consensus achieved at the conference was amazing.

    What is dividing us is the reasons WHY we think things are going so wrong. I reject any assertion about deliberate, systemic corruption and SW who lie all the time.

    I actually think its far worse than that. The whole system is dysfunctional due to its structure and misplaced government policies which seek to demonise the poor and the indequate, rather than help them.

    Check out the comments on Twitter #CPConf2015, I think you will find them illuminating.

    Thanks both for being (reasonably) respectful to each other and the debate.

  42. C

    Isn`t the `whole system is dysfunctional due to its structure and misplaced government policies which seek to demonise…`etc. functionally equivalent to `systemic corruption` . THe only word at issue is whether it is deliberate or not, whether it is perpetrated via conscious or unconscious malice. But ignorance of the law is no excuse, and nor it seems to me is lack of care acceptable in the caring professions. It certainly isn`t according to the s/w code of ethics, so lightly upheld by the hcpc. Any individual working in the profession of child protection who is allowing inaccuracy and misrepresentation to pass in assessments and reports is culpable. Whether the mistakes of fact are `deliberate` or not, as soon as they are noticed they should be corrected, not defended. Yet far too often the culture in social care is one of protecting mistakes, covering for each other, and maintaining misrepresentation if it helps them make their case. Last week I was attempting to assist on a case where a social work assessment directly contradicted a police interview that the social worker was present at. In court the judge said he had not read the whole of the bundle, he was relying on the `expert` evidence provided by the s/w and reiterated by the guardian in their reports. He ignored the police interview – and remarkably the barrister did not highlight it. The family lost their children. The s/w and the guardian either knew what they were doing, or are so dull-headed that they are unfit to practice due to their stupidity. Whichever is the case, it makes no difference to the family. Whether we sleep walk over the cliff, or dance over it with our eyes wide open, we hit the rocks at the same speed.

  43. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Of course I accept that whether you fall or you are pushed off a cliff, the end result is the same. But it matters HUGELY whether you fell or were pushed. It has implications for the police investigation, insurance policy payouts, whether work should be done to make the cliff top safer etc, etc, etc,

    The continued insistence that the problems in the child protection system are due to systemic, deliberate corruption (to feed some paedophile ring? to make massive profits for private companies running care homes??) causes ENORMOUS problems for this debate and for parents.

    1. It diverts energy and attention from what is really going on into hanging about outside primary schools howling about satanic abuse and that the local MacDonalds is preparing baby meat burgers
    2. It causes parents to distrust and fear their legal reps – the only people who might actually be able to help them contest the malpractice and apathy of the LA and associated professionals.

    Imagine what Sabine McNeill could have achieved with her obvious drive and intelligence if she wasn’t such an enthusiastic proponent of lunacy. Instead, she’s outside the jurisdiction and can’t come back or she will be arrested.

  44. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, Whether injustice is due to systemic corruption,systemic malpractice,systemic misunderstanding by sw’s of their statutory duty or by either lies,perjury, malicious allegations,social worker’s being badly trained and incompetent or not matters little to families.
    Whatever the reason, miscarriages of justice occur because untruths are entered into court proceedings,also because investigations are not carried out impartially in accordance with the guidelines.
    In my view and also in the view of legal experts who replied to the letter to the constituency MP of one parent I know, the ONLY REMEDY if a family has reason to believe their case has not been conducted correctly in any way ( e.g when frameworks are not followed) THE ONLY REMEDY is an appeal to a higher court.

    Yet many family court lawyers ( not all) appear to prefer the statements of social workers above the complaints of their own clients.They often advise the parents to cooperate with sw’s to the oh so bitter end.

  45. Angelo Granda


    Are you able to answer these questions ?

    You say that you never saw a social worker once court proceedings.Are you saying that the CS did not consult you or involve you at all when draughting their care-plans?

    Take a look at the final care-plan. Does the key social worker state within it that you were fully involved in making the plan?

    Also is the plan signed and sworn by the social worker to the effect that the statements are true to the best of his knowledge and belief?

    I hope you don’t mind me asking you.

  46. Kate Wells

    Angelo – can I ask you a Q – Have you completed the questionnaire that Sam has linked. If not, why not?

  47. Angelo Granda

    Hi,Kate, Thanks for your interest.I completed it but there was something wrong with the process and it would not submit .It kept coming back to me .
    I gave it up as a bad job in the end!
    Why do you ask?.

  48. Sam

    I haven’t had time to look at the care plan yet. What i said before was correct I did not see a social worker after my children were taken. I had no input at all into the core assessments and there were no meetings.

  49. Angelo Granda

    Once again, we have Kate to thank for being absolutely honest and for not shirking ‘robust’ opinion.


    QUOTE:It is enshrined in law that the duty of the LA is to keep families together wherever possible and the CA 89 places a duty for the LA to “work in partnership” with parents. Fine words indeed, and easy enough for some civil servant in Whitehall to write, BUT in reality that is often very difficult. I have seen Sarah’s reply and think her comment “generally there seems to be an obligation to assess in various circumstances” under estimates the duty of social workers to undertake a thorough assessment and follow procedures to the letter. :UNQUOTE

    QUOTE:I accept that social workers often get it very wrong – misled by their own prejudice or assumptions, or panicking because they know there is no support or services they can offer the parent, so safest thing is to remove the children :UNQUOTE

    QUOTE:That is what I think we need to focus on – how do we make decision making better? How do we increase/improve access to support? How do we encourage parents to accept they need help sometimes?:UNQUOTE


    In many cases,Sam’s included,the CS don’t even bother working with the parents at all; they don’t even convene a child-protection conference or look for forensic medical evidence of neglect;they do not talk to a parent; when making statements such as ‘Mum or Dad do not acknowledge concerns,are unable to cooperate with the CS and are unlikely to change’ , often they have omitted to involve the parents in the assessment,have not told them what the concerns are, not told them what changes are expected of them and not offered them any support.The statements are made on suppositions and guesswork which (not by sheer chance) appear to fit templates and precedents of past cases where children have been removed.

    How then, can fair decisions be taken?

    It is not p.c. to suggest that social workers can be dishonest. Dishonesty is not the question. DEVIATIONS FROM THE TRUTH ARE REGULARLY CAUSED BY CARELESSNESS TOWARDS CORRECT PROCEDURE and introduce more false belief into a case than outright lying. When parents complain that the Local Authority has not followed procedure and that investigations held have been a sham, they are ignored. Decisions are often made on wrong evidence. By definition, if he or she disregards lawful procedure, then any statement of evidence a social worker gives is unlawful. Were the general public allowed to witness proceedings and read all the professional statements, they would soon see that most of them are worthless. Unfortunately secrecy prevails.

    The Law says cases are to be judged on a fair and impartial ‘balance of probabilities’ based on a factual matrix and a full investigation of allegations and opinion made in a scientific manner following guidelines. To attain their aims, social workers prefer a court to make decisions based on possibilities, hearsay and unproven allegations and so-called professional opinion garnered from a shallow core-assessment if they even bother to do one at all!

    Other child-protection professionals do not act appropriately because of the trust they appear to have in social workers. They fail to destroy delusions which are developing and gaining strength.

    None of the professionals seem able or willing to show their true selves, possibly because their incomes depend to a large extent on the Local Authorities. Other professionals can say what they think and often criticise social workers actions and support parents in private but will not criticise them to their faces or in public. The system is very much a club with professional members who wish to maintain a mutual, tight and friendly association together.

    The bottom line is that we have an inhumane system. Family rights are abused and children are suffering. When parents protest, a judge will find on ‘the balance of probabilities’ that wrong statements made by Local Authorities are ‘probably’ right and parents ‘likely’ to be self-defensive and erroneous.

    I mention here a letter sent to the Prime Minister by a parent. The reply received from Parliament goes into some detail of the frameworks,states unequivocally that social workers are expected to keep within the rules in order to enable ‘well-informed and realistic appraisals’ and advises :-

    Should a parent have cause to believe his or her family’s case has not been conducted correctly in ANY WAY, the ONLY remedy is to appeal to a higher court.

    That is advice from the very top.It comes from the lawmakers themselves and the home of the Lords Chief Justices themselves. Parliament!

    Do we agree with that advice? I welcome all comments not least those of Sarah and C.

    Surely, the advice given is valid and overrides all other opinions.
    Sarah , please bear in mind that lawyers do not know the real truth.The only ones who know the real and whole truth are the parents!

    Social Workers assert so-called facts and concerns but if correct legal guidelines and procedures are not followed when compiling their statements, whose version of the truth is ‘on the bal of probs) more likely to be the right one?


  50. Sam

    I agree with much you have said, there is too much reliance on hearsay and proper procedures are not carried out. Where I do disagree with you is that all professionals do not care.
    I had the great privilege to attend the child protection conference last week , set up by Sarah and her colleagues from the Transparency Project. They did it by volunteering their own precious time and I suspect partly funding it themselves.They worked their socks off to move the debate over child protection forward. As well as parents, there were all types of professionals in the room, social workers, guardians, lawyers, judges and psychologists to name but a few. Parents were listened to respectfully. I can honestly say for the first time in many years have I sat in a room with professionals ,not felt judged by at least one of them and had my point of view listened to, not instantly dismissed.

    You have identified there are significant problems, that too was the consensus of the conference. However what I took away , is that the system is at fault , it is a risk adverse culture that dominates child protection rather than a family support structure. As soon as a child is known to children’s services they start off down the child protection route whatever the reason for referral. Something else that resonated was rather than lawyers being”legal aid losers” by the time a case has got to court there is little they can do as the assessment process has been completed without the parent having had the benefit of legal advice. So the equivalent of having a police interview, without a solicitor,with the results you would expect.

    Speaker after speaker reiterated that Government initiatives over the preceding years had distorted the 1989 Children Act so that a child is not seen in the context of the family and wider community.There were several parents and a care leaver who spoke openly but anonymously if needed, about their experiences and the devastation caused in their families. A social worker in the Q&A spoke up about the problems she and her colleagues faced. All made a very valuable contribution.

    Yes , there are huge obstacles to change, but I actually came away with hope. It is not because I am a parent who has had an easy time of it, far from it, but I want to see people work together.More importantly there are a great number of professionals that see the damage being done that also want change. My family has been so affected, that I would not wish the current system on the next generation. If that’s wishy/washy then so be it.

    I spoke to a member of the organising committee afterwards, they were so tired that they were worried about the long drive home and they had work to do when they finally got there. Some professionals, not all, do care and it only takes some to start a revolution. It is Government policy that needs attacking as much as anything and we need a united front to influence that.

    Angelo I appreciate that you and other parents may find my viewpoint difficult , I respect that we all have different approaches. I do know , I have every intention of going to the next conference, I would be delighted to see you there as well.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Thanks Sam. Worst case scenario is we have a £2K shortfall which I may have to meet personally. But I thought it was worth going ahead – and I was right. Hopefully we can bring the shortfall down with further donations to the Transparency Project.

      But the biggest group of no shows? Even at a heavily discounted ticket price of £5? The parents. About 20 just didn’t turn up. No warning. So I had already committed to paying about £20 a head for their food on that day.

      We had Dr Lauren Devine present who actually has the ear of policy makers, who have given her a £200K research grant. And yet they don’t want to come and engage with that.

      I do wonder sometimes whether some people are more interested in being keyboard warriors than actually trying to make anything happen.

  51. Angelo Granda

    Speaking for myself, I cannot praise enough those professionals and parents who take up their valuable time and spend money taklng part in campaigns, conferences and so on. By doing so, of course they care, Sam, and they deserve medals, all of them.
    However, I am not all that interested in the political side of the problem as in the legal side of it.
    I happen to think that the C.A.( 1989) is fair enough and provides protection for children and families if only it was followed to the letter.The guidelines are llaid down to protect the innocent as well as to facilitate the issue of care-orders and it already stipulates that at home with natural parents.
    Any Social Worker who says they are acting in the paramount interests of a child’s welfare by removing a child from his parents in cases of neglect or the significant risk of future emotional harm corrupts the aims of the Act. They know the best place for a child’s welfare is with its parents but have their own illegitimate aims.
    Believe me, if the campaigners for change achieve it,perhaps in the form of a new law, then the new one will be corrupted too by those few bad apples who abuse this one.

    Also, I am sad to say , a change in the law will not do anything for those children who have already suffered injustice.Their cases will not be reviewed and the previous wrong decisions will stand. When the 1989 Act was introduced,the Social Services were instructed past cases where flawed evidence of sex abuse had been used to remove children but the reviews ( if carried out at all ) were peremptory and very few children were sent home.Of course, it was too late anyway for the adopted ones!

    I am more interested in establishing reasons for appealing existing wrong decisions and getting children home. Sarah, you have to understand that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.Some can attend meetings if they want and ‘speechify’.Others are useless at that sort of thing and can probably learn more by the written word.The pen can be mightier than the sword which is why one story in the right newspaper can achieve more change than two or three conferences,in my opinion.
    Yes, I admire you all for your efforts but I want to see existing miscarriages of justice corrected under the existing Law..

  52. Sarah Phillimore

    The law I think is sound – its the policy that has grown up around the law which isn’t and that is something we can change. Yes, it won’t help people who have already suffered a miscarriage of justice, but it will help those in the future who may yet suffer if we do nothing.

    Of course some people don’t like conferences, or don’t see the point or wouldn’t benefit.

    But the point I am making is that these 20 people had declared their interest to me, had responded to 2 or 3 emails from me to say yes they were coming… and then they didn’t show up. Leaving me out of pocket.

    So what is going on there? Presumably they did think the conference was worth their time or why did they express an interest? Of course, life gets in the way – some people were ill or couldn’t afford to travel, but they kindly let me know and I was able to give their ticket to someone else.

    Not only did the no shows cost me money, they prevented someone else from taking their place – and I had quite a few people emailing only for me to tell them there was no room.

    Sorry, I don’t want to harp on about this. But things will only change if we DO something – we can talk/type about it until the end of time and that will achieve precisely sod all.

  53. Angelo Granda

    You’re right to be riled about the no-shows! I deplore what happened too ; just learn your lesson and be careful in future.
    Can we get an appeal or not on the grounds of a case not being conducted correctly in accordance with the legal guidelines? ( See above).

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      You have grounds for appeal if you can show that a judge was ‘wrong’.

      this means that he/she did not take into account relevant law; took into account irrelevant law; took into account irrelevant facts or was mistaken about facts.

      the problem is that many family cases involve a wide exercise of discretion and the appeal courts are reluctant to overtturn decisions made by judges who were able to evaluate witnesses as they gave oral evidence.

      therefore it is often very difficult to successfully appeal. No lawyer can properly advise you on your chances of success or failure without having access to all the relevant documents.

  54. Angelo Granda

    Thanks Sarah, I undersand perfectly that a lawyer cannot advise on specifi cases without seeing the case papers.All cases are different.
    Generally,though do we agree that appeal is the only remedy in such cases?The ripple effect of malpractice poisons the whole case.
    Recently, two parents applied for leave to appeal on those grounds. Although no judgment was published, I can tell you what happened.The judge refused leave.He said that on reading the application that there were clear causes for complaint and had the case been conducted correctly, it is likely he would have arrived at different conclusions than the lower court judge.
    However,he found that the respondent lawyers ought to have brought the attention of the judge to the failures at the lower court hearings and challenged the renewal of the ICO at the first opportunity.He felt that the applicant had a case against her lawyers.Also the judge made the case you said which is that the lower court judge heard all the oral evidence.
    In my opinion, in circumstances where the process has been ‘poisoned’, the oral evidence is just as tainted as the written!

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      No, I don’t think an appeal is an effective remedy if you are arguing malpractice at the first hearing. It is essential that is challenged at the time. Appeal judges will be very, very reluctant to effectively attempt a re-hearing on issues that were not raised below. You can imagine the burdens this will put on the court system – there simply isn’t the time or the money.

      this is what utterly frustrates me about some of those campaigning in this field. They tell parents not to co-operate or engage with their ‘legal aid loser’ lawyers and then to appeal! Utterly hopeless and futile.

      If you think you are a victim of malpractice raise it as soon as you absolutely can, with the best evidence you can i.e. not relying on articles from the Daily Mail or Telegraph but with clear reference to your own case. If you have recordings, use them, get them properly typed up. But don’t hang back and think you can sort it all out on appeal – the odds are massively stacked against you once a final care order is made.

  55. Angelo Granda

    Thanks for the advice which I value but which appears to differ from that which emanated via 10 Downing Street.
    What about the High Court’s opinion that complaints appeals ought to have been made via District Judges during the original proceedings?

    Sarah , here are some of my views on CS policy issues. Please consider them and, if you deem some of them valid,put them to the next conference perhaps.


    This is my opinion on policy questions and how the system goes awry despite the safeguards set down in Law.

    The CS corrupts cases due to illegitimate aims. The aim should be to keep children with natural parents except in the MOST SERIOUS cases of child abuse and cruelty. The department appears to believe ( despite the Act) that removal is warranted on account of simple neglect and minor cases of harm such as the smallest bruise or on a finding of significant harm having been inflicted meaning there has to be a risk of it occurring again in the future.

    Family courts have a wide catalogue of orders which can be issued and also,if necessary,can issue full care orders without parting families.In serious cases they can also use foster-carers on a temporary basis. The CS go for permanence plans too readily against the spirit of the Act thus they fail to act in the best interests of a child’s welfare.

    To obtain the decisions they want , the CS have to exaggerate the harm suffered by a child or the future risk of harm, misinform decision-makers and cause them to make unrealistic appraisals. To do this, they have to break with fair procedures and ignore any duty to provide support to families.Just one example, they regularly corrupt the process pertaining to CP conferences.Parents do not have the opportunity to circulate agreements and disagreements to participating professionals prior and children are placed on the ‘at risk’ register when NOT at significant risk ( in the meaning of the C.A. at all!

    Kate, if you are still reading my messages, I hope you understand that if a system is corrupt, that does not mean for one moment that the individuals working within it are all corrupt too. If a system metes out cruel and inhumane treatment and crucifies loving families as so often happens, that is not to say that all Social Workers are cruel too!

    I am confident that the great majority of Social Workers are well-meaning,worthy folk , just like your goodself.

    However,I believe a ‘culture of procedural abuse and malpractice’ exists within Children’s Services.Within the child-protection industry, spanish practices ( unauthorised and ultra-viries) have over a long period of time become the norm.When social workers enter into the job, they inevitably have to comply with the culture to which they are introduced.

    Spanish practices in any industry are historically very,very difficult to overcome. Should it have become the norm for workers to make reports available to parents and inform them of conferences less than 24 hours before, then all newcomers have to comply with the norm. Should it
    be regarded as acceptable for children to be removed from parents for the sake of the department’s own convenience if resources and support services are lacking then even perfect Social Workers will go along like sheep and others within the industry will also follow the ‘mob’.

    As found in so many Ofsted reports, lots of CS departments are not suitable ( as a whole) for purpose. The blame lies with top-management whose job it is to stamp out corrupt practices.

    All comments welcome as always.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think that is what I am saying about appealing – you do it as soon as possible. So if the District Judge has made a mistake, you appeal it. But so many parents seem to disengage from the first set of proceedings and then pop up to try and appeal an adoption order – doesn’t help.

      But don’t just sit back during the hearing in front of the District Judge if something is going wrong – make it clear within those proceedings, cross examine the witnesses etc, show what they are getting wrong.

      With regard to the rest of your post, that is pretty much what everyone was saying at the conference.

      1. Kate Wells

        Angelo – I am weary of reading your posts in which you continue to make allegations which you cannot substantiate. You won’t say what your interest is in these matters and asked me not to assume you are someone who has had a bad experience of social workers. You seem to be obsessed with this notion of social workers not following guidelines. What happened in Sam’s case does not mean that this happens in every case (or even any other case) although I can see that you use it because it supports your assertions that the system is corrupt. I don’t intend to respond to the points you raise as I have spent many hours in the past doing so, to no avail.
        I will however respond to your final sentence about OFSTED reports that some LA Children’s Services are not fit for purpose. This is the second (or possibly third time) I have made this point but the reason for these OFSTED reports are not related (as you assert) to “top management’s need to stamp out corrupt practice.”
        There is an acute shortage of social workers in CSs on a national basis and particularly in terms of child protection. There has been a problem with recruitment and retention of experienced social workers for many years, but the situation now is at crisis point, and likely to get worse. There is a reliance on Agency workers, high sickness rates (with stress related illnesses) and serious under funding in all respects. This means that children are in some cases are not being safeguarded by the LA, who (despite what you constantly claim about keeping families together) DO also have a duty under the terms of the CA 89 to take steps to make application to the court for an Order to remove a child where there is EVIDENCE that he is suffering significant harm. LAs CSs are not found by OFSTED to be unfit for purpose because of “corrupt practices.” I am sure these reports will be available online in the way that school’s OFSTED reports are available to see online. Maybe you would like to look at some of them – try Birmingham City Council as they have been found unfit for purpose, but for the reasons I have outlined.
        I will make a final point – twice (at least) in your post of 8th June you refer to social workers believing that a child should be removed from his family (for simple neglect or something like a small bruise) and social workers wanting a child removed from his family for their own convenience……..” Social workers have NO authority to remove a child for whatever reason from a family. This can only happen if a Court Order is made on the basis of EVIDENCE of SIGNIFICANT HARM.
        Angelo – can I ask you a Q. Have you ever seen a child who has been seriously neglected or significantly harmed??
        You don’t need to keep telling me that I am probably one of the “worthy/good” social workers – I am retired and even if I wasn’t your opinion of me is of no interest.

        Sarah – you say in your last post to Angelo (8thJune) “as far as the rest of your post is concerned this is pretty much what everyone was saying at the conference” – I sincerely hope you are not alluding to Angelo’s post of the same date beginning “The CS corrupts cases due to illegitimate aims” (which doesn’t make sense) and in my view neither does most of the remainder of the post.

  56. Sam

    I think this adds to the debate: Tim Loughton MP former ” Minister for Children” until sacked in September 2012 When speaking about the nine acts of Parliament between 1999 and 2010 ” Over-reacting over -regulation has been the hallmark of children’s legislation over the last fifteen years.” Followed by .How can could you possibly vote against a Bill or regulation that was about protecting vulnerable children?” In other words fear rules.
    These quotes are taken from this book: https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/the-too-difficult-box
    He also comments that many social workers spent up to 80% of their time chained to a desk. and that over legislation got in the way of good child protection.
    There obviously needs to be simplification, but it would need to evidenced that it would not put children at risk and I suspect be cheaper than the current system.

  57. Kate Wells

    Sam – I can’t see anything relevant on the link you posted? Am I not looking in the right place? Re the comment about social workers spending 80% of their time chained to desk, this I believe is a valid comment if somewhat exaggerated. I know that social workers are spending some 60% approx. of their time completing forms online (largely a tick box exercise) and I think I’m right in saying this system was recommended by Lord Laming in a SCR following the death of Victoria Climbie.
    An ex colleague said to me recently that if I walked into a Children’s Services Department now, you would think you were in a call centre.
    I understand that Birmingham City Council (who have twice been deemed unfit for purpose by OFSTED) have now taken on a significant number of admin workers in order to free up social work time, but they are of course still desperately short of experienced social workers, (and inexperienced ones!)

  58. Angelo Granda

    I respect your comments ,Kate, because you are a vastly experienced ex- Social Worker. I understand and agree that your opinion will be counted as more valuable than mine by professionals on this discussion forum.

    I have some empathy with the CS. Social Workers have a difficult job to do and I agree that children are often seriously neglected and that is not a pleasant sight.

    I have seen children who have been seriously neglected emotionally and physically which I complained about to the CS!

    Unfortunately , although my complaints were supported by school reports of the children, ,medical reports of the children, by their foster-carers aswell as their family, the CS failed to act.
    They ignored their responsibilities and failed to investigate.

    Their failures resulted in the worst possible outcome for the children . They remain in the care of abusive so-called parents.

    I have respect for all comments on here including yours and I apologise if you have no interest in mine.
    My contributions are humble compared to most. I suppose.

    We all want what is best for children,however and that is HAPPINESS and JUSTICE.
    Putting our disagreements on one side for a moment; we both agree independent Ofsted reports are valid.
    Let’s concentrate on making the CS fit for purpose.

    Are the CS managers to blame? Or do you pass the buck to Government?

    1. Kate Wells

      Angelo – It’s nothing to do with your comments being “humble” compared to others – and for the record I said your opinion of ME was of no interest. Expressed a little clumsily maybe…….
      I notice that you often refer to “agreements” being made between contributors to the debate when this isn’t the case. Your latest one is “we both agreed independent OFSTED reports are valid” – I don’t necessarily agree at all. I have some reservations about OFSTED and CQC (Care Quality Commission) in terms of how they carry out their investigations, and whether the investigators are suitably qualified, and the way in which issues are scored. One OFSTED Inspector was a social worker with 2 years post qualifying experience! I have experience of the CQC being somewhat disorganised. Maybe some issues raised in these investigations are valid, but I am not in a position to comment further as I don’t make a practice of reading OFSTED reports of Children’s Services. Do you?
      It might be of interest to you that the OFSTED inspection of the London Borough of Haringey immediately prior to the death of Peter Connelly was given a “Good” rating by OFSTED. It transpired that this had been a “paper investigation only” and OFSTED were rightly criticised, and of course there was a re-investigation. I think that serves to demonstrate some of the shortfalls of these organisations.

      I have tried repeatedly to give you reasons why a specific LA may have been deemed “unfit for purpose” but like most matters I have tried to explain, it falls on stoney ground. Why don’t you take a look at Birmingham City Council’s OFSTED reports – you should be able to find them online, which might be interesting for you to read.

      Incidentally I notice your post was at 4.04 a.m. on 12th June – maybe you need more sleep!

  59. angelo granda

    If Social Workers employ malpractices it must give us ALL great cause for concern.

    Legal guidelines and principles are laid down by the Judiciary in order to banish malpractice and to ensure that correct decisions are taken with regard to our children.No-one, not even the CS can ignore them!

    We should be just as quick to acknowledge it when social workers act incorrectly as we are when parents do.

    They may argue that when they act incorrectly they do so through necessity as a means of exercising reasonable caution for the welfare of children involved but that is ingenuine. If they genuinely wished to act in children’s interests, they would exercise reasonable caution by following procedural guidelines and, conducting correct enquiries according to legal principles.

    For whatever reason, rogue workers often act unlawfully.

    Courts and their appointed independent experts assume that the C.S. follow correct procedures at all times.Social workers are granted reasonable latitude for error but this does not license them to breach legal principles and ignore guidelines.

    When these failures occur, the vital questions are what are the aims of the Social Care department? Are their aims legitimate? When they ignore expressions of concern and put up a wall of silence when faced by protesting parents, what does that indicate?

    Why do solicitors not challenge procedural lapses? When parents object what are the indications when system professionals react by deliberately snubbing them and turning a deaf ‘un? Do the failures comprise in effect a declaration of independence and a revolt against the mandatory power of the Court?

    No- one can deny that where procedures are not followed and relevant court orders are disobeyed by the CS, its integrity is, to say the least, doubtful. Are these people operating a confidence trick? At the heart of it is their insistence that they are acting in the interests of children and for the Public good. That is not the truth whenever they ignore legal guidelines and break the Law pertaining to the conduct of fair investigations. They are trained professionals and must know the rules.

    We have to ask ‘ Is it their aim to deliberately pervert the course of justice. In such cases, does the CS have its own illicit aims and motives of which we can only speculate.

    If one examines past records carefully and studies the findings of County Court judges, one will see that in every circumstance it is illegal to ignore directions as to procedure and fair assessments. Such illicit behaviour will always be given short shrift and parties ordered to comply. On occasion, parents have acted in such a manner during Family proceedings, perhaps refusing to take part in a psychological assessment.

    Local Authority solicitors will protest at once.If parents still refuse to follow directions they will be punished for contempt and their children removed without further ado. Strangely when professional parties act illegally in the same way, respondent solicitors appear to turn a blind eye to contempt and make no protest.

    If one studies Appeal Court judgments in those rare cases when parents have been granted leave to appeal or Judicial Review findings, wrong decisions have been overturned for that specific reason.

    The Judge assumes expert assessments are thorough and fair ones made on facts and generally follows advice from Social Workers and Guardians. The Judge acts according to protocol which directs the Court will always accept and accede to the ‘professional’ opinions of case professionals such as the Guardian unless it has exceptional reasons not to. The Guardian extracts much information from CS computer files which he or she takes to be true. If it isn’t true and parents disagree, a guardian generally will back up the CS giving more credence to its written records than to parents’ assertions.

    In other words a Court grants those professionals credit which it does not grant to parents thus cases depend totally on the integrity of professionals. Where it is lacking there cannot be any justice for children and it is surely lacking when procedures are not followed strictly.

    In practice, parents do not have the right to put effective arguments to the Court and this should be another matter of great concern.Their solicitors advise them to co-operate, not to contradict unlawful professional statements and that there will be a fair hearing.

    Because of the trust granted, rigid tests of professional statements are not considered essential and indeed respondents are disallowed by protocol from argument with any fraudulent evidence. Parents are disbarred from access to evidence. The protocol permits the Local Authority to stop parents from obtaining material evidence.if a parent contacts medical or education authorities for impartial evidence those agencies will not respond other than to say they are forbidden by the Local Authority from communicating with respondents in family proceedings and it would be more than their job is worth to supply any impartial opinion or written evidence to parents.They have to rely to a large extent on Social Workers to providing evidence for them.

    The legal protocol directs that much latitude should be applied in the favour of social workers and that protective orders can be issued after summary procedures in private family courts should the Local Authority feel one is needed. Parents accept that. Parents indeed, by paying homage to the Court process and undertaking to comply with orders of the Court have already agreed tacitly to accept a protective court order from the outset if one is issued and recognise that an attitude of safety-first prevails to an extraordinary level on account of cases which have gone seriously wrong in the past such as Victoria Climbie and Baby P.

    The parents, through Public Law, usually have done everything possible to assist the Local Authority in its legitimate task and a Family Court has available a catalogue of suitably proportionate orders which it can make and it is accepted by parents decisions in a Civil Court are made on the ‘balance of probabilities’ even in a case where no actual harm to children has occurred, but where a future significant ‘risk’ under the meaning of the Children’s Act is envisaged nevertheless.

    Sarah,that is why parents appear to go silent only to re-emerge demanding an appeal when it is too late!

  60. Kate Wells

    This “catalogue” of “suitable proportionate Orders” that can be made by the Family Courts Angelo – as far as I know (and I’m sure Sarah will correct me if I’m wrong) The Orders that can be made, IF the JUDGE is satisfied that the LA case has been proven are as follows:

    1. A Care Order. PR “shared” between LA and parents though LA can decide how the parent’s PR can be used. Child usually accommodated by LA and is a Looked Aftered Child. Parents can usually maintain contact. It’s possible for a child to be returned home whilst subject to a Care Order. LAs can apply to revoke a Care Order.

    2. A Placement Order. This allows the LA to place the child for adoption.
    Adopters then have to apply for an Adoption Order.

    3. A Supervision Order. The child remains in the care of the parents but is monitored by social workers and if concerns remain/worsen the LA can apply to the Family Court for a Care or Placement Order.

    4. A Special Guardianship Order. This is usually made in respect of relatives (usually grandparents) who have been assessed as suitable to care for a child (where a Court has made an Interim Care Order) on a permanent basis. PR is with the relatives in whose favour the SGO was made, except for the following;
    Consent needed from the birthparents:
    A. To change the child’s last name
    B. To take the child out of the country for longer than 3 months
    C. To apply for an Adoption Order
    Parents need “leave of the court” to apply to contest the Order, meaning the Judge has to be satisfied that there have been significant changes in the circumstances of the birth parents since the SGO was made.

    In respect of 1 2 and 3 I am not entirely sure of the legal mechanism for parents to oppose the Orders, and in what timescale etc. Maybe you can assist with this info Sarah.

    This then Angelo is the “catalogue” of which you speak. BUT the important thing is that any of those Orders will ONLY be made by a JUDGE after reading all the documentation in the case, listening to the EVIDENCE and the cross examinations, (lawyers acting for birthparents questioning any professional who is recommending that the child is not returned to their care) Your comment that “the legal protocol directs that much latitude in the favour of social workers and that protective orders can be issued after summary proceedings in the private Family court should the LA feel one is needed” is totally ERRONEOUS as are the vast majority of your assertions.

  61. Angelo Granda

    Thanks for your thoughts, Kate.
    I will try and get more sleep.Unfortunately,I think we have strayed too much from the theme of ‘What is significant harm? And how do we prove it?’
    Therefore, I will retire now by referring you again to my first post.
    Keep up the good work and I look forward to your future contributions to the forum.

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