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Judge slams social workers for acting like Stalin's Russia

13th April 2010

Civil Liberty correspondent

 
Lord Justice Wall condemned actions of some social workers
Lord Justice Wall condemned actions of some social workers
 
Social workers have been criticised as “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents” by the judge who takes charge of the family courts today.

Lord Justice Wall said that the determination of some social workers to place children in an “unsatisfactory care system” away from their families was “quite shocking”.

In a separate case, on which Sir Nicholas Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens described the actions of social workers in Devon as “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the West of England”.

The criticism of social workers from two of the most senior family court judges came as the number of children placed in care has reached a record high after the Baby Peter tragedy.

Social workers say that they are not prepared to take any chances after the death of the 17-month-old toddler at the hands of his mother, her lover and their lodger in Haringey, East London. He was being monitored by social workers at the time of his death.

The remarks are likely to be seen as a warning to social workers not to take children into care before all other avenues have been exhausted. They may also be seen as a signal to the family courts to challenge more robustly legal orders to take children into care.

Lord Justice Wall made his comments in a highly critical ruling against Greenwich Council, where social workers had taken two children into care and begun adoption proceedings despite their natural mother’s best efforts to change her life.

The Greenwich case involved a mother known as “EH”, who is seeking the return of her son “R”, aged 5, and daughter “RA”, aged 2, from care.

The children were taken into care in 2008 after the parents had taken RA, then a baby, to hospital, where her left upper arm was found to be broken. Doctors considered that the injuries were not accidental, social services were informed and both children were removed from their parents that day.

Initially they went to live with their maternal grandmother but were moved into foster care after a dispute between the grandmother and their father. Since June last year the father ceased to have any contact with the children and the mother has attempted to separate from him, alleging domestic violence.

Social workers refused to believe that the relationship was over, while rebuffing the mother’s request for help in ending the relationship. Lord Justice Wall described the conduct of the social workers as “hard to credit”.

“Here was a mother who needed and was asking for help to break free from an abusive relationship. She was denied that help abruptly and without explanation. That, in my judgment, is very poor social work practice,” he said.

“What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that.”

The adoption order has now been set aside after the ruling made last Friday.

In the Devon case, on which Lord Justice Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens criticised the actions of social workers in pursuing plans to have a baby adopted without giving his mother a last chance to show that she could look after him. The Devon legal team was given time to read the Greenwich judgment and withdrew their case.

Lord Justice Wall will be sworn in today as the president of the High Court’s Family Division. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, originally challenged his appointment. Lord Justice Wall has been an outspoken critic of some government policies, including the funding of family courts.

From the Times Online.

 

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