Another expose of state-sanctioned harm to a child, where thankfully forcible, non-consensual adoption has been refused. A damning indictment of the fifth column of overzealous anti-social workers who operate as a blight on their profession. Through false, misleading and inaccurate reporting for court at taxpayers expense such candle-snuffers of family life inflict without compunction the very harm they’re entrusted to protect children in families in society from. The individuals concerned really should be named and shamed and declared unfit to practice until at least they’re certified as cured of their hubris and God-complex. Time for root and branch reform of local authorities and social services complaints departments marking their own homework is long overdue …
|A Local Authority
|– and –
|A mother, a father, a grandmother and a child
Hearing dates: 30th October 2017
HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
Crown Copyright ©
HHJ Wildblood QC :
- Introduction – The principal issue that I have to decide is whether, upon publication of information relating to these proceedings, the Local Authority involved should be named. The issue is narrow and easily stated. The decision that I have to make is anything but straightforward in my opinion and the issues that arise have never been far from my mind for the past three weeks. I am grateful to Baker J for permitting me to resolve them. On 30th October 2017 I sent out this judgment to all concerned in draft. On 5th November 2017 it was confirmed to me that the Local Authority does not seek permission to appeal from my decision. The guardian had informed me on 3rd November 2017 that she did not seek permission to appeal either. I have therefore released this judgment for publication but have kept it in the form sent out in draft. However, I have added a post-script to it for reasons that will be obvious …
- Background – There is very little that I wish to say in this judgment about the background to this case. Any detail that I do give could traverse the very issues that I have to decide and would negate the purpose of the contextual statement. However, there are these important features of the case that I do wish to mention:
i) The grandmother is not only an intelligent and courteous woman but she has put herself out considerably to offer her grandchild the opportunity of being cared for within the natural family. No other family member was in a position to offer that to the child. Therefore I pay an immense tribute to her by this judgment.ii) I see no reason at all why she should not be allowed to state publicly that she is a woman who is accustomed to working with children and has played a significant and successful family role throughout most of her adult life; I do not accept for a minute the suggestion that the disclosure of that information would add anything to the risk of jigsaw identification (see the Local Authority’s submission at paragraph 39).
iii) Although I am not making any pretence of a judgment about the merit of the issues that the grandmother raises I have read the whole of the bundle. I note that there were positive and full assessments of the grandmother as a special guardian in the early stages of the proceedings [C72 and C149] but that then, 5 ½ months into the proceedings, a further report was filed by another independent social worker who reached a different conclusion about her. At the same time as the second report was filed, the Local Authority social worker also took an adverse view of the grandmother as a special guardian and suggested that she showed ‘uncertain commitment’ (I take those words directly from the submission of the Local Authority counsel at paragraph 5). That change of position was then referred to the agency decision maker (‘the ADM’) with a view to the Local Authority’s care plan being one for adoption. By then, the guardian had been informed that the social work team was promoting adoption for the child [see paragraph 15 of the guardian’s final analysis of 4th October 2017]. Fortunately the ADM did not ‘feel able to make a recommendation for adoption [of the child]’ – C183. The guardian in her final report did not accept the adverse analysis of the grandmother and was critical of the delay that it had caused [see paragraph 33 of her analysis]. I mention these points not to express a view on them but because they at least demonstrate that the grandmother may have cause to complain about the process of assessment. On a reading of the papers alone it can be said that they do not read as frivolous or groundless.
iv) As the contextual statement itself states, the child is still a baby.
v) The proceedings took just over seven months to resolve.
vi) I think it worthy of note that the grandmother faced these proceedings without legal representation. I do not express a view as to whether it was right or wrong that she did so.
- The position of the parties on identification of the Local Authority – The Local Authority opposes identification. The guardian does also. The mother, who has been very skilfully represented by a solicitor who has put a lot of work and research into this case, argues that the Local Authority should be identified. The officers of the press, who have prepared a very impressive joint submission (albeit that they refer to the Court of Appeal decision in Re S and not the House of Lords decision in that case which dismisses the appeal but departs from the reasoning of the Court of Appeal) also argue in favour of disclosure of the identity of the Local Authority.
The grandmother’s statement
These are the facts that I would like to disclose to the press, concerning my experiences during the assessments for a Special Guardianship Application and the events that have followed.
This has been an extraordinary experience to me, even though in the course of my life I have previously had to face some remarkably difficult challenges .It is important to me that some good should come from what has happened in this case, to this baby, her parents and to me.
It has seemed that the local authority is unused to being questioned or called to account for their conduct, decisions or even their misinformation. Emails are frequently not acknowledged, questions not answered most of the time. When false information or advice is given it leads to a great deal of anxiety and sometimes extra costs. This has happened throughout this process. Yet no one takes responsibility for their actions. It struck me that social workers are unused to the clients they work with demanding to be treated with respect, honesty and efficiency. There is a reliance on procedure without examining the particulars of a situation.
The reasoning which led to the local authority initial decision to contradict their very positive first report about me was a very narrow interpretation of my character and behaviour. It seemed there was only one way to show commitment and as I had expressed it a different way I was not committed. It was put to me that I had failed because I had not wanted to take the baby straight home from hospital. That I ought to be expressing that I wanted her. I reason that this is a vast decision for anyone to make, and that to respond purely emotionally or instinctively would be a less appropriate way to decide. I have been very open about my deliberations and judged negatively for that. Instead of helping to explore and understand, pejorative notes were taken and not discussed with me to further understand. I was even required to sort out all the typo errors in the first report which is most unprofessional.
I have responded robustly to the addendum report. I would add, however, that I was shocked by the references to identity and attachment, which do not bear examination. Indeed, I felt obliged to explain the meaning of a smile in small babies to the independent social worker such was the degree of her misunderstanding of this. As a final flourish, it was put to me by her that I ought to express commitment in the absence of clear health understanding or a financial assessment, which I felt was an outrageous transfer of responsibility from the local authority to me for their failings.
A complex issue which I feel has been inappropriately dealt with is the baby’s health. Both her parents have health difficulties which may complicate her future health. They may also have a huge impact on my capacity to cope in the future. The local authority followed their set routines in this area and failed completely to respond to my concerns that I needed to have as much knowledge as possible. This desire to have information was to guide my decision but also to ensure the best care now for this vulnerable child. Early investigations would have led to greater understanding. For example, a simple blood test could have been informative on one aspect of this. I fail to believe that this is not possible in complex cases.
A financial assessment is an integral part of this process. I have been given numerous accounts of how this works, how no finance would be offered, that I was ineligible even for assessment. I had to use voluntary agencies and research on line for the facts. The first social worker simply failed to turn up for an appointment to assess me. The baby’s social worker took a few notes and didn’t tell me the outcome though indirectly I was informed I was ineligible as I have some savings, which is completely incorrect. Ultimately, after explaining the process to the uncommunicative unit responsible, I have been offered some support. Following further unacknowledged emails to add information to my case, which explained my understanding of the assessment guidelines, further support has been offered. Is this an acceptable way for this to be conducted? It has led me to have to delay giving notice to my employer until I had discussed the outcome with a solicitor, leaving the baby in care for weeks longer.
There have been unexplained delays, which cannot be helpful for a baby awaiting a permanent placement. Weeks would pass without explanation, or even communication. Was this a suitable case for a newly qualified social worker who would move on, to be followed, by a part time person who would be away on leave without informing those concerned?
I have wondered how this would have ended if I had been a less vocal, expressive or determined person. I am under no doubt that this baby may have been adopted, that others may be, because many people who find themselves in this position do not have the personal resources to cope effectively. It has left me utterly exhausted and feeling shattered by the lack of kindness and understanding I experienced in such a painful context. To add insult to injury, I am accused of being problematically subject to stress by the social worker for the baby in her final statement.
I need to put this process behind me. I will, but I would hope that by airing these facts that those concerned might improve their practice. The central cog in this process needs to be well informed, efficient and dare I say kind, in such a sensitive situation. Their actions have cost me around £700 in legal fees which ought not to have been needed. I could have left this court with no financial support if I had not undertaken to investigate independently and share my knowledge with the local authority, to press for adherence to the D of E guidelines.
Ultimately, and above all, this baby has remained far longer than was justifiable, in foster care. Her parents have experienced a protracted agony of uncertainty. And, we go forward without full medical understanding. I would like to pay tribute to the exemplary care of the foster mother who has loved and cared for this baby and to the Guardian for her faith in my integrity.
The Order of Special Guardianship has now been made. I will love and care for this baby in every way. She will enjoy contact with her parents and develop a positive sense of Identity, drawing on the love of her family and our wonderful friends.