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Category Archives: social work

Local Authority, go and sit in the naughty corner

 

We don’t seem to go more than about a week without some Local Authority or other getting a judicial spanking, and here’s another.

 

[I probably need to create a new Category on the website of  ‘judicial spanking’. No sooner said than done. If you did type ‘judicial spanking’ into Google and have arrived here, then I apologise, and I hope that you weren’t doing it on HMCS computers…http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/17/three-judges-removed-and-a-fourth-resigns-for-viewing-pornography-at-work ]

 

TM and TJ (children : Care Orders) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B83.html

 

Fundamentally, these complaints are about the Local Authority turning up to the Issues Resolution hearing, without its final evidence being in order, so that nobody really knew what their plan was and certainly hadn’t been able to respond to it.  It also touches on an issue dear to my heart, where LA “A” who are running the case, decide at the last minute that LA “B” should have a Supervision Order for these children and expect that authority to agree to this without knowing any of the background.

 

 

    1. On 12th March 2015 the Bristol Magistrates ordered that the case should be made ready for a preliminary which is called an ‘Issues Resolution Hearing’ (‘an IRH’). The intention of that kind of hearing is to identify the issues that remain between the parties and see whether they are capable of being resolved without the need for a full final hearing. It is not just a ‘directions hearing’ because Practice Direction 12A of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (which is well known to family lawyers) provides that, at the IRH:
    • The court identifies the key issues (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
    • The court considers whether the IRH can be used as a final hearing.
    • The court resolves or narrows the issues by hearing evidence.
  • The court identifies the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing.
  • The court gives final case management directions.
  1. If, by the time of the IRH, the Local Authority has not filed adequate evidence, it means that the whole purpose of the IRH is negated. Thus the magistrates ordered that, by the time of the IRH, the Local Authority should have filed its final evidence including its assessment of the parents. The Local Authority had been ordered to file its final evidence (including all assessments) by 15th June 2015, the parents had been ordered to file position statements by 22nd June 2015 and the guardian had been ordered to file a position statement by 23rd June 2015. There was to be a meeting of advocates on the 16th June but that had to be abandoned because the Local Authority’s final evidence had not been filed. The court was notified that there were delays. Some final evidence was filed by the Local Authority by 22nd June 2015 although the mother’s solicitor did not receive any of the final evidence until the morning of 25th June 2015.
  2. On 25th June 2015 this case was referred to me by the Magistrates. The parties and their legal teams had all been at court since 1 p.m. that day. I knew nothing of the case before it came in front of me late that afternoon. There were the following reasons for that referral: i) All parties accepted that the Local Authority had not filed adequate final evidence. The Local Authority itself presented its case on the basis that the assessments that it had conducted were inadequate and could not be relied upon.ii) The care plan proposed that the children should go to live with the father in the east of England under a supervision order to a Local Authority in that part of the country. There was no input from that other Local Authority and there was no indication of how that authority might support the father if the children did go there. That authority was first notified of the suggestion that there should be supervision orders in its favour (and also of the hearing on 25th June 2015) on 19th June 2015. Before the email that was sent on the 19th June, that authority had no knowledge of the case at all. It is not surprising therefore that that authority did not consider that it could participate in the hearing on 25th June; it has never seen the papers in this case.iii) There was no adequate evidence of the arrangements that the father would make if he were to care for the children there. In particular, the father’s plan, if he does move to the east of the country, is to be assisted by his aunt in the care of the children. There is no evidence from her; there is no more than a ‘viability assessment of the aunt’ that was filed on 17th April 2015. Although the agency social worker who dealt with the case before leaving is thought to have spoken to the aunt before the care plans were filed, there is no record of any such discussion.iv) There had been no adequate assessment of the mother. She opposes the suggestion that the children should live with the father and wishes to care for them herself. There was an assessment of the mother that was carried out in November 2014 but this was not a parenting assessment and was carried out when the children were already in foster care. There had been a previous assessment of her in January 2014; this was a parenting assessment and was completed at a time when the children were still with her; however, that assessment was underway at the time of the birth of the second child and expressly was not an assessment of the mother’s ability to care for two children. There simply was no parenting assessment of the mother within the proceedings and there was no assessment of her ability, as a parent, to care for two children. That is despite these proceedings having been running now for very nearly six months, with the children in foster care.v) Because the Local Authority had not put forward any adequate evidence or proposals it meant that the parents did not know what case they had to meet. Even now I do not have any idea what the Local Authority recommends for these children.vi) The root cause of the problem lay in the fact that the previous social worker, who was an agency worker who had been employed in January 2015, had been charged with the responsibility of writing assessments of the parents, had said that she had done so and then left her temporary employment with the Local Authority without fulfilling that responsibility properly, I am told by the Local Authority. The new social worker had only been involved in the case for three weeks prior to the IRH on 25th June and, quite understandably, did not have the knowledge upon which to write fresh assessments.

    vii) Given the omissions in the Local Authority assessments I was told that it would take 14 weeks for the current social worker to complete assessments, given her case load and summer leave. The alternative, I was told, was that an independent social worker could be instructed to report by the 14th August. The result now is that the Local Authority will have to pay from public money for an independent social worker to be employed to do the job that a social worker, employed by the authority, should have done.

    viii) Given the shortage of time, the final hearing therefore could not be sustained at the beginning of July and another date would have to be found.

    ix) The work of the guardian was materially impaired. How could she advance recommendations when she did not know what the Local Authority proposed.

 

 

The case had to be adjourned, and an independent expert had to be appointed to conduct the parenting assessments that the Local Authority hadn’t managed to do, and the LA had to pay for that.

The Judge, obviously being very critical of these failings, said this towards the end of the judgment:-

  1. I understand the difficulties that the Local Authority faces and criticisms from the bench do little to repair the problems. Indeed criticism can simply add to the recruitment difficulties that Local Authorities face. From the time of my first speech as Designated Family Judge in this area I have stressed that there are four alliterative concepts that I wish to drive forward – i) a collaborative approach amongst the many professions and institutions involved in the family justice system; ii) Proper communication between those involved in that system; iii) a recognition of the need for changes in practice and iv) a commitment to the people who really matter – the children, family members and professionals who are obliged to turn to the family court system when there are family and personal difficulties that cannot be resolved consensually.
  2. But I would like to make these points:i) If a case is going off track it is imperative that the issue is brought to the attention of the court as soon as this occurs. It may then be possible to retrieve the position. Once the problem has occurred, as it has here, it is too late.ii) Cases do not involve just one professional. They involve a large array of people and it must be a collective responsibility on all to bring a case to the attention of the court once it is going off track in this way.iii) Where one party to a multi party case fails it brings down the others and also affects the efficient running of the court.iv) If a social worker is not performing as she should there are management and legal teams within a Local Authority that should pick up on what is happening.
  3. In this court area there has been a recent and considerable increase in the number of cases that are not meeting the 26 week statutory deadline. Of 181 public law cases there are 49 cases that are now ‘off track’. That means about 27% of our cases are exceeding the 26 week deadline. This has got to stop. Many people have worked extremely hard to improve upon the performance of this area and we are not prepared to see that slide away from us now. This type of poor case performance is unnecessary and is damaging to the system as a whole.
  4. There are reasons why some cases may need to exceed the 26 week deadline. For instance there are cases involving complex issues of fact (e.g. where there is an allegation of a serious offence having been committed), cases which involve large and complex family dynamics and cases involving complex medical issues. This is not such a case. There are far too many cases like this one where the issues are straightforward and where delay is manifestly harmful to the children concerned. The only reason why this case has been so delayed is inefficiency.
  5. If three days of court time are lost in this way it may well not be possible to fill those days with other work where this sort of thing happens so close to a final hearing. Not only are adjournments plainly contrary to the welfare of young children, they also cost a lot of public money and mean that very valuable court time is being lost. There is now immense pressure for every hour of court time to be used to its very fullest advantage and if one case is neglectfully prepared, as this one has been, it means that other cases and, other children and other parties suffer. It also means that public money is being used to fund the inefficiency of those people who do not engage in the system properly. It is perhaps commonplace but, nevertheless I do observe that the Local Authority that contends that the mother has not ‘co-operated with professionals’ has, itself shown a distinct and at least commensurate lack of co-operation with the court.
  6. I am therefore adjourning this case to an IRH before me in September and will list a final hearing, again before me, as soon as possible afterwards. I will also try to call the case in for review once the report of the independent social worker has been obtained. I will release this judgment on BAILII. I know that it will be picked up at least by the local press and I consider that people in South Gloucestershire need to know how their Local Authority is functioning.

 

I think that there’s a lot of powerful and impressive stuff in this judgment. The ‘four C’s’ approach of Collaborative, Communication, Change and Committment is a damn fine philosophy.

I had a long quibble about whether the passages in the judgment that say that there are ‘far too many’ expert assessments in Bristol Courts and that the Courts must ‘crack down on them’ were somewhat blurring the lines between the statutory requirements and judicial impartiality on applying the requirements to the facts in an individual case, and Judges in their role of being spanked for their poor performance on statistics.  But I think on re-reading that HH Judge Wildblood QC does (just ) enough to put this marker on the right side. (just)

 

So, instead,this (unconnected to HH J Wildblood QC who uses plain English where possible):-

 

Bearing in mind that coming across an impenetrable allusion in judgments is an occupational hazard  (“I thought I had seen a white leopard”  “As in the famous quotation by Lord Wellington  [quotation not supplied]”  “contumelious” and so forth),   I think that we do rather better than America.  As you may have heard, in the gay marriage case in the US Supreme Court, the words ‘apple-sauce’ ‘arrgle-bargle’ and ‘jiggery-pokery’ were used, but this Judge goes even further

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/02/04/the-linguistic-talents-of-judge-bruce-selya-2/

 

 

  • Defenestration. Don’t walk past an open window if Selya is inside writing an opinion: He is liable to defenestrate anything and everything. Items thrown out the window in Selya opinions include speedy trial claims, punitive damages awards, arbitral awards, claims of co-fiduciary liability and laws that unduly favor in-state interests. The latter, Selya has noted, “routinely will be defenestrated under the dormant commerce clause.” 
  • Philotheoparoptesism. Philotheoparoptesism refers to the practice of disposing of heretics by burning them or boiling them in oil. Another judge challenged Selya to include this word in a decision, which resulted in its sole reported usage (in secular courts, at least). For the record, Selya declined to consign a misguided prosecutor “to the juridical equivalent of philotheoparoptesism.”
  • Repastinate. To repastinate means to plow the same ground a second time. When considering appeals that raise previously decided issues, Selya and his colleagues have come down firmly and repeatedly on the side of “no repastination.”
  • Sockdolager. A sockdolager is a final, decisive blow. Selya’s published opinions deliver almost 60 sockdolagers, which is more “sock” than one finds in the decisions of the rest of the federal judiciary.
  • Thaumaturgical. The 1st Circuit takes a dim view of magical arguments, or what in one opinion Selya called “thaumaturgical feat[s] of rhetorical prestidigitation.”

 

 

Defenestration I knew, due to the ‘Defenestration of Prague’ and thaumaturgical I knew, because I love magic. The others, not a scooby.

Of these words, I found that only one of them appeared in Bailii law reports – three times in all.  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2009/649.html

 

In R v Johnson 2009, I think the Court of Appeal use it wrongly, when they describe a burglar leaving a building .As a matter of inference, he left the premises by means of defenestration .

I think that defenestration involves throwing something out of, or being thrown out of. I don’t think jumping or climbing out counts.

The second one Downing v NK Coating Limited 2010 http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIIT/2010/07397_09IT.html fails for the same reason, but it does bizarrely involve the Court having to think about a lab assistant who left his office by climbing out of a window, thus leaving a urine sample unattended and potentially able to be tampered with.

And Ormerod and Gunn  is more of an essay (an interesting one) and once again, is referring to cases of people jumping out of windows, albeit to escape a threat of assault. It also talks about our old friend, Wilkinson v Downton 1887 http://www.bailii.org/uk/other/journals/WebJCLI/1997/issue3/gunn3.html

 

So I haven’t found the term being used in its proper sense. The challenge is on.

 

It appears that the English Courts are fonder of throwing things out of windows then they are in magic, ploughing, boiling people in oil [glossing over the Middle Ages law reports], or whatever the heck sockdologing is…

 

 

[Ha! In an unwitting irony, it turns out that one meaning of sockdologer is to determine something in a decisive and final manner. Which is clearly something that the English Courts aren’t interested in doing.  I honestly didn’t know that when I wrote the previous sentence. ]

Shepherd’s pie

Long long time ago, when I was young and full of vinegar, and the other thing, I had a case. Private law proceedings. About twenty minutes into the mother’s evidence, the Judge carefully and deliberately closed his bundle, screwed back the cap on his fountain pen, looked at us and said “We are going to be in Court for five days on this. Is the whole case really going to be about shepherd’s pie?”

 

So I will reassure the reader now that this whole post is not going to be about shepherd’s pie. But I quite often use shepherd’s pie as an illustrative point when I talk to social workers about ‘good enough’ parenting.

mmmmm. (sorry to any vegetarian reader, but it really is delicious)

mmmmm. (sorry to any vegetarian reader, but it really is delicious)

We all have a pretty reasonable sense of what threshold criteria is – as a lawyer I have to look at a long chronology, or a semi-rambling email and find the bits that might actually amount to threshold.  Social workers understand threshold criteria and what it looks like. That’s what you need to get the child into care. That’s what decides whether the Court has the legal ability to make an order.

 

But what do you need to get the child back?  Well, firstly, there’s a misapprehension that once the child is in care, the onus is on the parent to show they’ve changed, to show that they don’t do heroin any more, to show that the ex-boyfriend really is an ex, to show that they can keep on top of the housework.  Remember that the burden is on the Local Authority, not the parent.  That’s not to say that if the concerns in the case are about heroin, that you are going to be fine if you keep taking heroin (because you’re not).

And then, the second misapprehension is about what is being looked for. Everyone hears and knows the expression – good enough.  We’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for ‘good enough’.

 

My question, is where are we putting that bar of ‘good enough’ to see if the parent is above it, or below it?  I’ve done this exercise before when training, and we can do it now.

Imagine that you’ve got 1000 children, selected at complete random. How many of them do you think will be receiving care that’s not ‘good enough’ or better ?  Do your answer firstly just on gut. Just what genuinely comes into your head.

If you are honest, it is probably somewhere between 100 and 500.  Because the expression “good enough” immediately makes you think about average, or below average.  The anchor is immediately making you think about ‘good’ parenting.

But ‘good enough’ care isn’t about the care being comparable to an average child’s experience, or even a below average.  It is about the level of care that would mean that the child was suffering significant harm that wasn’t harm that could be realistically managed.

Looking at the care demand by population statistics, the very highest area in the country, currently Torbay, would be in care proceedings for 2 of those 1000 children. There are a handful that would be nearly 2, but most of them would be 1 or less than 1.  Of a million random children, somewhere between 100 and 230 children would be receiving care that was below good enough.

If you said 1 or 2 out of 1000 as your gut answer, either congratulations, or you are a liar, or you have heard me do this routine before.

 

So, if you are looking at the care that a child would be likely to receive and thinking about whether it is ‘good enough’,  it doesn’t help to be anchoring your mental picture as being average, or even in the bottom 10%. You are really talking about lining all of the children up in terms of the quality of care that they get, and only the bottom 0.1% would be getting care that wasn’t “good enough”

 

I’ve worked in many authorities (my current one is not that fixated about it) where the parenting assessments used to feature prominently an attempt to teach the mother how to cook shepherd’s pie from scratch (see, we did get back to it). Go to the shops, buy the ingredients, cook a shepherd’s pie.  It can be quite a nice exercise – it gets the children a nice meal, home cooked and full of good stuff, teaches a parent about planning, budgeting, organising, making time to do something. I can see why people do it.

But line up those 1000 children again – how many of them didn’t get a homemade meal yesterday? Or over the last week?  It can’t be a barometer of ‘good enough’ care, whether someone can cook a shepherd’s pie from scratch.  It is nice, it probably improves the child’s life, but that’s not a test of ‘good enough’ – a parent’s case doesn’t become not ‘good enough’ because they give their kid oven chips and Crispy Pancakes rather than homemade shepherd’s pie.  And if you are wincing at the idea of a child eating that sort of food, ask yourself how you would feel about a child (or an adult) eating Marks and Spencer’s  Chicken Alfredo ready meal, or Tesco’s Finest Boeuf Bourguignon?  It isn’t better, just because it is middle-class. Neither of them are home cooked, both of them are made in ways that you wouldn’t really want to think about.

Of course we want children to eat well. Of course we want a balanced diet with all the food groups, and five a day, and lots of fibre. And of course children who eat crap aren’t going to have such a good quality of life as the ones that do eat well, with parents who make them food from scratch. It just isn’t that relevant in assessing good enough parenting, that’s all.

The other classic meal that we try to teach parents to make from scratch is spaghetti bolognaise.  We’re really into mince in a big way.

It’s quite reminiscent of a 70s childhood, or as Sean Locke puts it in this clip  (terrible quality on the clip, sorry)  – the Seventies were pretty much just a sea of plates of mince in various forms being put in front of him – and he didn’t drink water till he was 15, subsisting on squash  (usually squash that was full of Tartrazine)

 

The thing about ‘good enough’ care being the test is that it is massively subjective.  Someone – a lawyer, a social worker, a Guardian, a Judge, is thinking about ‘good enough’ care and what they are doing it is comparing the parents care, or how they think the parents care would be, against their own notional idea of what ‘good enough’ care would be like.  If those people don’t even agree on how many of those random 1000 children would be receiving care that wasn’t ‘good enough’ or better, then how do they do the next bit which is imagining what care that is not ‘good enough’ would be like?   And your anchoring of what ‘good enough’ care is like is probably comparing what this child’s home might be like with ones that you know – your home, your home as a child, the home of the friend that you had where you never wanted to stay for dinner…   If you are thinking that this child’s home won’t be as nice as those, even the bad ones, then you have a bar that is too high.

I prefer, to be honest, to use the term ‘barely adequate’ rather than ‘good enough’.  Of course, nobody wants to talk about the outcome for a child of care proceedings being that they go back home for a life that is’barely adequate’ – it feels like we’re letting the child down, like we should have fixed more of the problems, that things ought to be radically improved by the end of care proceedings, not just a smidge better than when we started.  I completely get that. And there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to do those things – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ending the case with a mum who DOES know how to cook Shepherd’s Pie from scratch. It is just that she doesn’t fail to be ‘good enough’ if she can’t do it.

If we put the bar of ‘good enough’ at home cooked meals from scratch, we’re asking parents to pole vault over that bar, when the reality is that the bar is a really low limbo bar that they just need to step over.  And if you want to know whether the parent is above or below the bar, it really does help to know where that bar is.

 

The President even distilled it in Re S and T today,

 

But it is fundamentally important that children are not to be adopted merely because their parenting is less than perfect, indeed, perhaps, only barely adequate. To repeat what was said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134, “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

 

not really, it is mince again! you know you want it

This is a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, to make it up to those poor veg loving readers

Tape recording paying off

Prepare to be very shocked. And then very angry.

At the Transparency Project Conference on Monday, a question was asked about whether parents should be allowed to tape record discussions and conversations. Both Lucy Reed (www.pinktape.co.uk) and myself gave the opinion that where a parent wants to do this, they should be able to.  Social work can involve an imbalance of power with a parent, and where a parent feels that they want their own record of what was said, or to be able to go back to it later to hear it again, they should be able to.  That’s my own opinion, I don’t speak (as always in this blog) for anyone other than myself. But I think that the mood and the ground has shifted on that.

It is easier and easier for a parent to record conversations, and I can absolutely see why they might want to do it. I’ve always said to social workers that they should never say or write anything that they wouldn’t be happy hearing being read out loud in Court. Good social workers have nothing to fear from a parent recording them. It is awkward, it feels uncomfortable, but if you put yourself in the parents shoes for a moment, that must be how they feel all of the time. If it levels the playing field a little, that may be a good thing.

This case, decided by Her Honour Judge Lazarus in Medway County Court is a good example of how that really paid off.  Without the recording, would the mother have been believed? Hard to know, but it certainly provided incontravertible evidence of the most appalling behaviour that she was subjected to by those who were supposed to be helping her.

The case involves a huge catalogue of errors and lessons that need to be learned, and I think I’ll tackle it in two posts rather than one.

This particular issue of recording (both written records and sound recording) is worthy of its own piece, I think

Medway Council v A and Others (Learning Disability: Foster Placement) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B66.html

 

The case involved a mother with a learning disability, and an IQ of 54, who was British but of Indian origin.  The case began very poorly with the Local Authority placing the child in care through a section 20 agreement.  It seems that the lessons about misuse of section 20 are still not being learned. She eventually went to a mother and baby foster placement. There were arguments about whether that placement was the right sort of placement for someone with the mother’s needs – it wasn’t a specialist placement or one experienced in teaching and supporting parents with learning difficulties or disabilities.

 

  1. I find, and the SW accepted, that this was not an appropriate placement. I accept that Ms McG is an experienced foster carer and has successfully cared for children including her current charges for many years. I also accept that in the first couple of weeks she described getting on very well with the parents. However, Ms McG was not a specialist foster carer with specific training and/or expertise in working in partnership with parents with learning disability, as is recommended in the DoH Guidance (at 2.2.15). This placed A and the Mother, and indeed Ms McG, at a disadvantage which it was Medway’s responsibility to avoid. Ms McG explained that she underwent two days training a year as a foster carer, and that this contained elements relevant to learning disability such as having to speak slowly and make sure that parents understood. It was absolutely clear from her oral evidence that any comprehension she had of Mother’s difficulties was extremely limited. She described her as ‘unwell’ or that ‘she wasn’t well’. And she also, at the strategy meeting described the Mother as trying to ‘turn the tables on me’. She repeated this in her oral evidence, saying that Mother was ‘devious’, and ‘building [a case] up so that she would be removed from the house’ and that her actions had been ‘calculated to provoke me’. This implies a degree of cleverness, cunning and forethought that it is clearly beyond the Mother’s abilities, and thoroughly demonstrates Ms McG’s lack of understanding of learning disability. It is clear to me that Ms Mc G’s lack of experience and understanding in this area, and the attitude to Mother’s learning disability that she betrayed in her evidence, must have meant that her interactions with Mother were unlikely to have been sympathetic to Mother’s needs and therefore unlikely to have been successful in supporting Mother.
  2. I also accept that it was not ideal to place Mother in a non-Muslim household. While Ms McG had a Muslim teenager placed with her, this is vastly different to living in a Muslim household and being in an environment geared to and familiar with the practices and expectations of a very different culture. Ms McG was asked about her accommodation of Mother’s needs as a Muslim and gave three practical examples in that she had provided a mat for prayer and had bought halal food and not cooked pork, and had provided separate eating utensils which were not used after the first occasion. These were appropriate steps and I do not criticise the foster carer for doing her best in this respect. Parents cannot always expect to be placed in culturally matched placements, and it should not necessarily have determined whether this placement should be used, but it was an additional difficulty for an already vulnerable mother to cope with in an otherwise ill-suited placement in terms of meeting her and A’s primary need for an environment skilled in supporting parents with a learning disability.
  3. The SW acknowledged that a specialist foster placement or a ‘specialist placement setting’ (as in her email of 10.9.14 to her managers) should have been provided. She asked for a specialist foster placement and was offered this placement. I appreciate that Mother and Baby placements are a scarce resource, but if it was not suitable it was not suitable and an alternative resource should have been pressed for. The success of Mother and Baby placements often relies heavily on the direct relationship forged between a mother and the foster carer. This will become all the more crucial and potentially fragile where the mother suffers from a difficulty such as a learning disability. I find that Medway fundamentally let down A, his Mother and indeed Ms McG, by placing them together in what should have been evident at the time was an unsuitable arrangement.

 

 

Additionally, there were differing accounts of a dispute between the mother and foster carer. Each said that the other had been aggressive and hostile during an incident towards the other.  I am sure that parents who read this will be imagining how that plays out – the foster carer has recordings and credibility, the parent won’t be believed.

What happened in this case was truly extraordinary.

 

Firstly, the foster carers notes:-

 

  1. The foster carer’s records and statements gave me great concern. Her initial recordings are in the form of brief and informal emails. These recordings progress in late August/early September to more formal notes using a set form. The first set of her records filed by Medway in these proceedings was missing all her notes from 8.8.14 to 3.9.14 and the note of 14.9.14 and the document entitled My Personal Statement dated 15.9.14. By day 3 of this hearing most of those missing documents had been provided, at my direction, but notes for 11, 12, 19, 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31 August, and 3 and 8 September were still missing.
  2. When the foster carer attended to give her evidence, I directed her to email and bring on the following day any of those remaining missing notes that had been emailed at the time in August and September. I stipulated that these should only be the original emails bearing the original notes to ISP, so that we could be quite clear that they had been sent at the time and what they had said at the time. I also clearly explained that they should not be newly written up, but that I was directing the provision of only the original recordings sent at the time in August and September. This was not done by Ms McG. Instead she chose to bring newly written notes of most of those dates, unconnected to any emails. She confirmed that they had not been sent at the time, but she had written them up that night before returning to court with them, and had done so from her handwritten notes that she had found for the purpose.
  3. This was concerning in a number of respects. Firstly, they had not been written up at the time and thus were not sent, but neither ISP nor the SW noticed that these dates were missing. This is indicative of poor management and supervision of this placement by ISP and Medway. Secondly, she had claimed the day before that she had shredded all the hand-written notes that she had made, but was now claiming that she had found some notes. She had also claimed that she used a ‘diary’ to record her observations. This then became a ‘notebook’, the pages of which she tore out and shredded, and so she said she was unable to bring any original notes to court. I have taken into account her submissions that this was all a misunderstanding, and that she meant that she had only shredded the notes she had written up and sent. This was not what she told me during her oral evidence, and I find that Ms McG was dishonest and actively misleading about her note-keeping practice. I find that I cannot rely on her assertion that none of her original notes could be inspected, as she clearly then found some in order to cover up her gaps in recording. I also find that she did not regularly write up her notes each evening as she claimed, or there would have been no such gaps.

 

 

[This would have been a good point to deploy the nice bit of case law which was excavated in the Mirror phone-hacking case –  Armory v Delamarie  1722 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/KB/1722/J94.html  a case in which a chimney sweep boy went to a jeweller to ask him to value a jewel. The jeweller pocketed the jewel and would not return it. Because the jeweller then concealed the jewel, how could one establish how much it was worth and what the chimney sweep was owed?

“. If the wrongdoer prevents the innocent party proving how much of his property has been taken, then the wrongdoer is liable to the greatest extent that is possible in the circumstances.”  

 

In short, if a foster carer shreds her notes, then the Court is entitled to take the dimmest view possible of what might have been contained within them.  ]

 

I have not before encountered a finding that a foster carer had been dishonest and misleading about their records. It gets worse

  1. The document My Personal Statement dated 15.9.14 (N45-46) differs from the placement recording note she completed bearing that date (N21-22). It appears to have been sent to Ms Down at ISP either late that night or the next morning as Ms Down attaches it to her email to the SW at 09:01 on 16.9.14. Ms McG claimed in her oral evidence that she thinks she wrote it several days later over the following weekend (20-21.9.14) and that is why it was not in her foster placement recording of that date. I do not believe that it was written so long afterward given Ms Down’s email. I note that My Personal Statement contains an inaccurate reference to the conversation in which Ms McG viciously shouts ‘piss off’ repeatedly at the Mother before slamming the door on her, characterising it instead in both the note recording and My Personal Statement as a rude attack by Mother to which Ms McG claims she mildly responded.
  2. We know however, having listened to the recording and read its transcript, that in fact the Mother was calmly and fairly meekly pointing out that the conversation was noisy for the baby and that Ms McG was ‘shouting so loud’ and that she did not ask who Ms McG was talking to as Ms McG claims. After a few exchanges of this nature Ms McG explodes against the Mother, shouting and using a remarkably vicious, loud and nasty tone:

    R….. piss off out I’m getting it on the phone piss off out R….. piss off out I’m on the phone when you on the phone chatting loud in your in your Pakistani language I don’t say anything I just grin and bear it yeah I don’t (indistinct) so piss off out and leave me on the phone piss off. Piss off when (indistinct) your Pakistani language I not saying anything I leave you (indistinct) but get with I don’t say anything to you right, so get lost”

    This is then followed by the sound of steps walking away and a door loudly slammed.

    Ms McG accepted that this is her voice and this was how she behaved to Mother on this occasion. She was unrepentant during her oral evidence, but in her submissions indicates she has now reflected on this and accepts that she behaved inappropriately, for which she now apologises and will be seeking support from her fostering agency. She claims that this inappropriate behaviour was as a result of repeated provocation and the breakdown of the placement. I shall return to that assertion later.

  3. I find it is significant that My Personal Document is written after this incident and is then sent to Ms Down, and contains an allegation against the Mother that she had slapped Ms McG that is not in the recording note covering that period; and that it also contains an inaccurately anodyne account of this wholly inappropriate loss of temper and swearing at Mother. I do not understand why its content about Mother slapping her was not included in the recording note of 15.9.14, unless it simply had not happened and so had not been written up into it earlier that evening.

 

So not only had the foster carer shouted at mother and racially abused her, but she lied about it in her notes and made up an allegation that it had been the mother who behaved badly towards her.  It isn’t easy to be sympathetic to a professional who has said the things set out above – and I’m afraid that I can’t manage it.  I do, however, place it in the context that this was a wholly unsuitable match from the outset and the blame for that doesn’t lie at the foster carers door.

 

I am afraid that it continues to get worse.

 

  1. Ms McG tried to claim in cross-examination that her tirade against the Mother on 15.9.14 that I have set out above did not use swearing, and that it was not ‘abuse’. This is obviously an absurd minimisation in the face of wholly inappropriate behaviour. She was thoroughly and vehemently unrepentant, claiming she would do ‘absolutely nothing’ differently. She also tried to claim that this was the only occasion she spoke this way to the Mother, and that the Mother had deliberately provoked her by coming down and asking her to be quiet. In her submissions she further claims that the parents began a campaign to complain about her and repeatedly provoke her in order to bring about the end of the placement so that they could live together and thereby preserve the Father’s immigration status. I do not accept these assertions. A good point well made by the Children’s Guardian’s advocate was how unlikely it was that on the occasion that Mother tries to record the foster carer it happens to be the only occasion the foster carer swears loudly and viciously at her. The Mother’s case is that she was recording her as she was not being believed about being treated abusively and that this was a regular occurrence. I find that it is highly unlikely that this was the only occasion, and that the Mother was indeed trying to record her following a series of such occasions of verbal abuse and mistreatment that she had tried to complain about. I also consider that it is highly unlikely that the parents could have planned such a campaign, hoping to get such a response from the foster carer, or could have predicted what outcome would arise from highlighting the problems they were experiencing.
  2. Ms McG also submits that her allegations against the Mother that the Mother was abusing and slapping her were not properly investigated and so she could not present her explanation fully. Ms McG attended a strategy meeting on 17.9.14 at which she repeated at least some of those claims, and was assisted by Medway’s legal department to prepare her first statement filed in these proceedings. Her agency ISP has supported her in making her statements and by attending court to support her attendance. Until a point in this hearing after Ms McG had completed her evidence, Medway itself was pursuing these findings against the parents. Ms McG was the source of these allegations and has been able to set them out in statements and repeat them to me and be questioned about them, and therefore I do not follow and reject this submission.
  3. There is no contemporaneous written note by the foster carer of her allegation that she saw Mother shaking the baby. It only appears via the recordings of professionals involved at the time and in the foster carer’s first statement dated 11.3.15 which provides little clarifying detail. The foster carer’s oral evidence was inconsistent with accounts recorded by those professionals. She said it took place soon after midnight and she demonstrated two slow shakes by Mother while saying ‘shush shush’ to A. The records suggest she claimed there were three shakes to the SW and paediatrician, and she subsequently accepted she may have said three shakes to them. ISP worker Ms Hannett’s account of what Ms McG told her was noted by the duty SW in the early hours of 17.9.14 and state that Ms McG told her she saw Mother holding A under the arms but with her hands behind his head. The call from a PC French also set out in the duty SW recording at 04:51 states that ‘the actual shaking incident did not involve the baby’s head moving separately from its body’. I conclude from these recordings made very soon after these professionals had spoken with the foster carer that they are recounting a description given by her of a limited kind of shake involving some protection of the head from moving, although it is difficult to imagine someone both holding a baby under the arms and holding their hands behind his head. This contrasts with the ‘vigorous shaking’ described by the foster carer to the paediatrician and repeated in the strategy meeting notes. Finally, Ms McG’s submissions refer to seeing Mother “jolt the baby whilst trying to shush him”, and this is a slightly different version again, and certainly not one shared at the time with the child protection and medical professionals. These descriptions were not greatly assisted by Ms McG’s oral evidence where she demonstrated two limited forward and backward movements. She was unclear when pressed about the position of Mother’s hands. She said she had not seen Mother’s face as Mother’s back was to her. She described Mother as holding A out in front of her, in which case I am not convinced that she could have had the clear view of what was happening in front of Mother’s body as she claims. For these reasons, and as outlined already in conjunction with the timing of her extremely abusive reaction to Mother on the night of 15.9.14 and the timing of Mother’s complaint against her on 16.9.14 of being pushed and hurt, I do not consider that this can be seen as a reliable account by the foster carer of having witnessed Mother shaking A. I was unsurprised when Medway chose not to pursue these allegations against Mother further.
  4. The second conversation, in which her adult son can be heard speaking, I also find to have been wholly inappropriate. The foster carer claims that some disrespectful comment by the Mother precedes the start of the recording and led to her son’s reaction challenging the Mother not to disrespect his mother. I acknowledge that her son does not raise his voice and I accept that on one level they do simply point out that she is not prevented from leaving but if she were to do so they would have to inform social services, but the foster carer does not intervene to control or limit the conversation which repeatedly challenges the Mother and in which she is accused of being attention-seeking. She joins in the conversation with a number of challenges and some sarcastic laughter. However, it is all conducted with a level of inconsideration bordering on scorn for her predicament and her learning disability. Ms McG claimed that there was nothing wrong with this conversation and that the Mother was attention-seeking. She should not have permitted or conducted such a conversation with the Mother, and (until receipt of her submissions) has clearly failed or refused to see why. As I have already discussed, this conversation is likely to have taken place some time on the morning of 16.9.14 before the situation escalated further.
  5. I am asked to consider whether the foster carer was racially abusive to the parents. She denies it, claiming that as she is black she is aware of how inappropriate it would be, and countering with her own accusations that the Mother called her a ‘black bitch’. In her oral evidence she added that the Mother had called her a ‘black bastard’ and said that she had never wanted to live in a black home. Being called a ‘black bastard’ has not featured previously in any account given by the foster carer. I am aware that the parents were indeed very unhappy at not being in a Muslim household, but given the manifest difficulties with the foster carer’s evidence and that Medway do not seek such a finding, I do not consider making such a finding against the parents.
  6. In her oral evidence the foster carer made some notable remarks. She repeated several times, and with almost as much venom and resentment as in the recording I have quoted above, that she had to ‘grin and bear it’ while the Mother was talking on the telephone ‘in her Pakistani language’. Mother speaks Urdu and is British of Indian origin. She never once in her recordings or her evidence correctly used A’s name, but dismissed this due to the name having been changed. She denied using the terms ‘Indian dog’ or ‘Pakistani dog’. She described the parents as ‘reeking’ of body odour that permeated her home, and in her emailed note of 15.8.14 wrote that they ‘absolutely stink’, a phrase she repeated more than once and with emphasis in her oral evidence. While I accept that she needed to draw attention to examples of poor hygiene, I find that the manner in which she did so was vindictive and pointed, and not simply a straightforward observation. Overall I find that there was an ongoing vigorous antipathy to the very physical presence of the parents in her home, that she resented listening to Mother speaking in Urdu, and I do find that she demonstrated in court gross racial insensitivity and a visceral dislike of the parents, nastily expressed. The evidence is however insufficiently clear to make any finding of racial abuse and I do not make such a finding against the foster carer.

 

 

Bear in mind that not only was the mother having to live in a home with this foster carer, but that this foster carer was (a) going to be a large part of the assessment of how mother was doing and whether she could parent AND (b) was supposed to be providing her with support and guidance, and one can see just how catastrophic a failure this placement was.  It must have been utterly unbearable.

 

The Council were rightly criticised for their failure to investigate the complaints made by mother about the placement and to take action

  1. It will be evident from what I have set out so far, that Medway did not adequately investigate these complaints by the parents. It is unclear whether Ms Down of ISP was requested to look into the earliest set of complaints, which included verbal abuse by the foster carer, or whether she was simply informed of these complaints and looked into them automatically as part of her role as supervising SW at ISP. It can immediately be seen that the SW of the agency being paid by Medway to provide this foster carer is in a compromised position with an obvious conflict of interest in doing so. The brief discussion of the complaints at the pre-proceedings meeting and LAC review meeting on 3 and 4.9.14 were not adequate: full details were never sought from the parents, nor their complaints properly noted in the social work records; the only forum for exploring the issues was at formal child protection meetings primarily concerned with other matters; no complaints process was offered or explained to the parents; and even the ‘agreement’ referred to at the end of the LAC review minutes was never pursued. This forms part of my concern that the parents’ complaints were never properly attended to or taken seriously by the professionals, but were dismissed as insignificant or unworthy of proper attention. This was a serious corporate failing by all concerned.
  2. It beggars belief that after the events of 16.9.14, when the foster carer was claiming that she had been slapped by Mother and Mother was claiming she had been pushed and hurt by the foster carer, that the SW encouraged Mother to return to the placement and her management sanctioned its continuation. Notwithstanding where the truth of those allegations lay, this was clearly not an appropriate environment for A, nor his vulnerable Mother. As I have already mentioned in considering the Children’s Guardian’s evidence, I find that this environment would undoubtedly have had an extremely negative effect on Mother, depriving her of the support of the Father, exposing her to unskilled and unsympathetic foster care, and in a hostile environment about which she complained but where her complaints were dismissed. It is unsurprising that she became anxious, upset and distressed and that the placement broke down.

 

 

This is the most dramatic of the failings of the case, but there were many many others, which I’ll deal with in part 2.  This case is a perfect illustration of the benefits of the President’s drive for transparency.  Her Honour Judge Lazarus is not (yet) in a position to make binding case law [though she does earn herself a Tag in ther blog], and so a case of this kind three years ago would not have been reported, I would never have seen it and the dreadful catalogue of poor practice and decisions would have been brushed under the carpet.  Never has the President’s motto of “sunlight is the best disenfectant” been truer.  We need to drag cases like this into the light, and hold them up to public exposure.

What happened here was dreadful and the only hope of stopping it happening again is to make sure that everyone sees just how bad it was.

If you want to know the outcome – the Local Authority were seeking a Placement Order – to place the child with adopters, and the Judge instead granted the application that mother and father should be placed with their child in a specialist assessment centre who could report fairly and accurately on whether they would be able to care for their child with the right support.

 

 

Flawed placement order application

 

When you call a case  RE EF (flawed Placement Order application) 2015, you are laying down a marker that this is going to be a judgment that makes criticisms. And so it does.

 

In fact when you read it, had the Judge designated this case as Re EF (Local Authority screw everything up, badly) 2015, that would not cause anyone in the Trades Description Act enforcement department to be concerned.

 

This is a judgment from a Circuit Judge, which means that it is not binding, but lessons can still be drawn from it. It was delivered by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC (who readers may recall fixed the tangle on banning a UKIP parliamentary candidate from allowing his younger children to participate in any political activity)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B21.html

 

If you are umming-and-ahing about whether to read on, let me give you this titbit.

For reasons that will be apparent, I cannot have any confidence at all that the authority would operate appropriately under a placement order in relation to this child; I have never said that before in a judgment about any authority. The guardian shares my lack of confidence.

 

Still with me? Yes, I thought so.

 

I can’t really better how the Judge opens the case, so I will just quote it.   [When a Judge is kicking your ass and being kind about it, that actually feels worse than being roasted by an angry Judge – just like when your parent tries the “I’m not cross with you, I’m disappointed” is astonishingly effective – at least the first time round]

 

1. Foreword – Of course many cases reveal a few points of bad practice. However it is very rare that so many such points should be gathered into one case. It has taken two years and five months for these proceedings to be resolved. The case was listed in front of me (even though I had had no previous dealings with it save for a short procedural directions hearing 18 months ago) because there were such difficulties with it that it was thought necessary for it to come before me as the Designated Family Judge. I can see why.

2. This is an application for a placement order in relation to a little girl who is 4½ years old and who is already subject to a care order. It is a case that reveals multiple failures. The principal failures have been those of the Local Authority but there have also been failures within the court led process and by those who represent the parties. The delay speaks for itself but, in this judgment, I will set out what has happened. Despite what is said in Re W [2014] EWFC 22 orders of the court have been ignored. In one instance the Local Authority chose to ignore an order of the court (i.e. it declined to carry out an assessment of the father despite having been ordered to do so). In another instance the Local Authority failed to do what it had agreed to do (i.e. issue a placement application within a timescale agreed on the face of an order – by 30th October 2013- choosing to leave it for another four months before the application was issued on 18th February 2014). There has been sequential presentation of applications, as to which there are now the authorities of Surrey County Council v S [2014] EWCA Civ and Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 1625 [para 20]; here a care order was made in October 2013 with a view to the child being placed for adoption and, seventeen months on, I am hearing the placement application. This is the fifth listed hearing of this application for a placement order with each adjournment being necessitated by the inadequacy of the evidence that the Local Authority has provided. The analysis of options is inadequate (and does not analysis to any sufficient degree the benefit to the child of maintaining contact with her natural family). The professional assessments do not weigh up adequately the pros and cons of the competing options for this child (and the experts both gave evidence about the negatives of the father’s position without being asked to consider the negatives of adoption, such as the loss of family contact). The social worker who is the social worker responsible for this case, carried out a viability assessment of the father, and wrote the Local Authority’s final evidence has never met the father (except at court). The authority has had permission to investigate available foster and adoptive carers since September 2013; it has not investigated long term fostering as an option at all (despite saying that it would on many occasions – see e.g. page 38 of the transcript of the evidence of the social worker Ms Morley) and despite its apparent searches has had one expression of interest from a couple who know nothing about the specific details of the child. There has been no judicial continuity.

3. I realise that the Local Authority management will be as deeply disappointed as I am that a case comes before a court in this area in this condition. Criticism is often far from helpful and I would much prefer to work with authorities to improve matters rather than deliver criticisms from the bench. However, if I make a placement order I cannot attach conditions to it; as examined in helpful closing speeches, the power to attach contact provisions to a placement order under section 26 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 bears a large number of practical difficulties (e.g. contact until when?). As Ms Rowsell said in her realistic and helpful closing speech – the Local Authority asks you to have confidence that it will operate appropriately under a placement order but accepts that the past means that there is little reason for it to do so. For reasons that will be apparent, I cannot have any confidence at all that the authority would operate appropriately under a placement order in relation to this child; I have never said that before in a judgment about any authority. The guardian shares my lack of confidence.

 

Although clearly the bulk of the faults here have been with the Local Authority, the Judge recognises that the lack of judicial continuity and control has been a factor as well.  It was wrong to have made the Care Order in the first place when the care plan was for adoption and there was no Placement Order application, it was wrong to have tolerated that drift, it was wrong to have allowed the timetable to get so out of hand.

 

Again, I will pick out one devastating line

 

The social worker who is the social worker responsible for this case, carried out a viability assessment of the father, and wrote the Local Authority’s final evidence has never met the father (except at court).

 

Can I resist the urge here to make a sarcastic aside about how that is standard practice for some (not all) Guardians?  No, it appears that like Oscar Wilde I can resist everything except temptation.

 

 

This next bit is music to my ears – it something that particularly vexes me and I am pleased to see a Judge dealing with it. It is the issue of getting to a final hearing without it being plain what orders each party invites the Court to make.  It is not that helpful to just know that X opposes Y, what you need to know is what order does X propose instead?

The only application before the court is that of the Local Authority for a placement order. There are no actual applications by either of the parents. On the scale of things involved in this case, I advance this point as one of mild criticism only and primarily for the purposes of clarifying what I am dealing with. But there should either have been applications setting out the orders sought or at least a record on the face of orders as to what applications are being pursued. The nearest that one gets is to look at the order at B128 that states that ‘the father wishes EF to be placed with him. The mother wishes for EF to be placed with her. The paternal grandmother wishes for EF to be placed with the father but if not with him then with herself’. On behalf the father I was told that he seeks a child arrangements order. I hope that it is not just legal pedantry to say that the nature of the orders sought should be identified not just for the purposes of clarity and definition but also because some applications involve different procedural requirements – for instance I had no idea whether the paternal grandmother might be seeking a special guardianship order in default of placement with the father. Of course no judge wants to see money and trees wasted in making unnecessary paper applications and it is often acceptable to record that parties are deemed to have applied for orders. But there must be some attempt at formality in establishing who is seeking what orders.

 

On a factual basis, the Gordian knot in this case seems to be that the Placement Order / adoption route was only the plan for this girl, who was 4 1/2 by the time of this hearing, and that her older siblings would be placed elsewhere. A plan of adoption would not only sever her relationship with her parents, but with those siblings. There might be circumstances in which that was still in the child’s best interests, but it is a very important aspect to be balanced in reaching that decision – the Court would need to know why an alternative option (like placing with father or long-term foster carer) which would not have the detriment of ending the sibling relationship would not be right for this particular child. And that never really got answered to the Court’s satisfaction.

 

For some reason the two experts instructed in the case weren’t asked to address this issue in their reports, and thus didn’t. And the social worker didn’t address the sibling relationship and merits of contact in  final evidence.

As it is the attempt to weigh up the competing options within the paperwork has to be taken from Mr Gray’s final statement. There are any number of difficulties with that document. Firstly, there has been no Local Authority assessment of the importance of contact between the siblings; the arrangements for this have largely been left to the three sets of foster carers. Secondly, the only assessment of the father (including three contact sessions) that Mr Gray wrote was the positive viability assessment; the quality of contact with the father and the importance of his role are not analysed when considering the options. Thirdly, the difficulties in finding adopters was not considered (the Local Authority has already had 17 months to do this). Fourthly, the fact that the Local Authority has not looked for foster carers at all is not mentioned

 

In a case like this, the search for foster carers would be a vital component. If you search and can’t find any, it is an important piece of evidence about the likelihood of being able to find one in the future. If you find some, then you have provided the Court with concrete options to choose between. You can’t really sidestep the issue by not even looking.

Especially when your care plan six months ago when the Care Order had been made was to triple track and look for adoptive placements, foster placements and assess dad.  Having done none of those things, it wasn’t really even a single track.  Having said they would in effect build a tricycle, the Local Authority turned up for this final hearing with a care plan where the wheels had come off completely.

The care plan states that the Local Authority would plan to search exclusively for an adoptive placement for six months following the making of a placement order. That amounts to a departure from what was being said in September and October 2013 where the case was to be twin tracked between fostering and adoption and permission was given for this to occur. Further, the Local Authority was again given permission to seek adoptive and long term fostering placements in September 2014 (i.e. six months ago) with the intention that it would pursue a triple track analysis – adoption, fostering and placement with father. It did not pursue fostering at all, failed to assess the father properly despite being ordered to do so and can offer one tentative enquiry about adoption from a couple who expressed interest ‘before Christmas’ and have not been investigated further.

 

And what of the future? And sibling contact? What were the Local Authorities proposals?

19. If an adoptive placement is not found in six months the Local Authority says that it would give further consideration to long-term foster care. In six months time EF will be five and in her second year of school education (she is just ‘rising five’ for this school year – C10). Thus her start at school in September 2014 took place from interim foster care 11 months after the care order was made and seven months after the placement application was made.

20. The care plan is non-specific about contact between the three siblings; at C179 the social worker says: ‘direct contact would be promoted [between the three siblings] if this was assessed as being in EF’s best interests and risks associated with their ongoing contacts with the wider birth family could be mitigated. Adopters open to promotion of direct contact would be recruited by the agency’. The guardian said this about inter sibling contact in her oral evidence: ‘The contact between EF and one of her brothers has included an overnight stay. There has been inter sibling contact three times a year with all three children together but there is also separate monthly contact between EF and one of the her brothers and less frequent contact between EF and her other brother. Ideally, if EF is placed for adoption, an adopter would have to accept inter sibling contact although this will not be easy because the parents will continue to have contact with the boys and adopters might find that difficult’. Having considered matters overnight, and after a period of adjournment for reflection, the guardian through her solicitor and in her presence said that one could not have any confidence that the Local Authority would deal with this issue of inter sibling contact appropriately and there was a very risk that it would not press for or find adopters who would tolerate inter sibling contact. Thus there was a very real risk that a placement order would result in this child losing all contact with all of her family members.

21. The care plan also proposes indirect (i.e. written) contact between the children twice a year (which is not easy to envisage given the ages of the children) as well as cards at birthdays and Christmas. As to the parents, maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents the care plan suggests that they should have indirect contact only, once a year and Mr Gray, the social worker suggests at C179 that ‘this enables the continued development of [EF]’s identity and comprehension of her birth family story within safe parameters’. When considering the proposals for contact nothing is said about the quality of the father’s contact to date. It was agreed in closing speeches (on my enquiry) that the contact between this father and this child has been ‘good and loving’. The contact notes are at enclosure F.

Remember that one of the wheels on the Local Authority’s care plan (on which the Court made a final Care Order) was an assessment of the father? What happened with that?

  There was also a preliminary parenting assessment of the father at C108 by the social worker, Mr Gray, dated 22nd October 2014. It suggested that further in depth assessment of the father was necessitated and that this would take two months to complete [C111]. The preliminary report was positive in its assessment of the father and suggested at C110 that a good attachment had been observed between the father and EF (a suggestion that Dr Edwards doubts to be correct – E37); however, at C111 Mr Gray said that there were a number of matters not covered by the assessment such as home life, providing EF with appropriate clothing, getting her to and from school, managing her behaviour and providing her with a stable environment. What is more, the person writing the assessment is Mr Gray, who has never met the father except when attending court hearings (again I say more about this later).

41. Notwithstanding the positive nature of Mr Gray’s initial report, there was then a statement filed on 6th November 2014 by Mr Tyrrell of the Local Authority child permanence team (C131); in it Mr Tyrrell stated that the Local Authority did not intend to assess the father because the ‘timescales for EF would not allow them to do so’ [C135]. The order of the Recorder of 3rd September 2014 states at paragraph 14: ‘The Local Authority shall carry out a parenting assessment of father and this shall be filed and served by 17th October 2014’. The Local Authority accepts on the face of Mr Tyrrell’s statement that it did not carry out a full assessment in accordance with that order [C135]. That is inexcusable. The order to carry out a parenting assessment means that the Local Authority should carry out a proper parenting assessment; on the very face of Mr Gray’s statement his work was not a parenting assessment, as he himself accepted in evidence.

42. The Local Authority’s decision not to assess the father properly was deliberate and considered; since that decision was in direct contravention of a court order I do not see how I can describe it other than as contemptuous. Nor do I accept that an assessment of the father would have taken two months; it would have taken as long as those involved chose.

 

So there was a positive viability assessment of father, the Court ordered a parenting assessment of him be filed and the Local Authority decided not to do it.

I have certain withering views of my own about how helpful it is for the President to cascade judgments suggesting that parties who are four hours later in filing a document should obtain a Court order in advance extending the deadline, but this is a kettle containing entirely different fish altogether.

We have all been late, we probably (despite our sincere desire for the contrary) will be late in the future. I HATE being late, it makes me feel sick and stops me sleeping. But it does happen.  But if you get ordered to file an assessment of a father, you file something, even if it is late. You don’t just decide not to do it. For a case where your plan is adoption.

 

In his oral evidence Mr Gray said this. When he carried out his parenting assessment he did not see any of the case papers from the care proceedings. He did not meet the father when preparing it (and has never met him even now despite having been the social worker for EF since the end of October 2014 and being called as the only witness for the Local Authority at this hearing). Is it acceptable for a social worker to prepare care plans and file Local Authority evidence, including evidence of options and services, without ever meeting the one member of the family who seeks to care for the child concerned? One can never say ‘never’ to that question but, on the facts of this case, it was obviously inappropriate for Mr Gray to come to give evidence without ever meeting this father.

44. Mr Gray said that, since his involvement, the Local Authority has discounted the parents and so it was not thought appropriate for him to meet with them. He was not aware that the court had adjourned a final hearing because of the inadequacy of the Local Authority evidence particularly in relation to the assessment of the father. He accepted that his assessment was not a complete parenting assessment and said that he told the legal department that there needed to be a full assessment of the father.

45. There is no analysis of the contact that has taken place between the father and this child save for the three contact visits that Mr Gray did not himself observe; Ms Griffiths, who did observe them, said this at C110: ‘in general, the nature of all three observations does suggest a good attachment between EF and her father. Indeed, there was one poignant moment shared by them both when they discussed how much they missed each other’.

Poor Mr Gray gets somewhat hung out to dry here – he picked up the case after the Care Order was made and believed that what he was inheriting was a completed piece of work where all that really needed to be done was the paperwork to do a Placement Order application. That was far from the case, and there appears to have been a serious breakdown in communication as to what the new social worker would need to do in this case – the triple track of exploring potential adopters, exploring foster care and assessing dad (all against the backdrop of what each of these options might mean for EF and her siblings)

Remember all of the recent judicial strictures about keeping the bundles to 350 pages? Bear this in mind

 None of the important documentation from the care proceedings was in the court bundle and so I called for the court file to be retrieved from the basement of the court office. It is from that file that I found the order of the District Judge of 1st October 2013. I also found the care plan that was made on 20th September 2013 which states that ‘a search to identify a suitable adoptive placement for her will be made; alongside this a long term foster placement will be sought as a fall back position’. No long term placements have been identified. The care plan states that the child ‘is due to be considered by the agency’s decision maker on 16/10/13’ (i.e. 15 days after the final care hearing – why? – the care plan proposed adoption).

 

There were even problems with the threshold – the basis on which the original Care Order had been made.

 

 

 

 

 51. There is no record within the bundle about the terms in which the threshold criteria were fulfilled for the purposes of the making of the care order. Indeed, on my exploration of the two large court files there was no copy of a threshold document on file. I had to ask for it to be produced and it came into being on the second day of this hearing.

52. Further, the District Judge said this in his October 2013 judgment: ‘I incorporate into this judgment by reference two important documents, firstly the agreed final threshold document that set out the agreed facts as at the time that the application was brought and, secondly, the findings of fact that I have already made on the previous occasion’. When I asked ‘what findings were made and on what previous occasion’, there was some confusion because, within the court file, there was a schedule of findings that the Local Authority was seeking with responses from the mother. I asked: ‘Had there been a fact finding hearing?’ It appears that there was not. The District Judge did deliver a judgment in September and stated that his October judgment was a continuation of that earlier judgment. I do not have a transcript of what he said in September.

53. It is very unfortunate that I do not have a transcript of what the District Judge said in September because it was in the September that the Judge reached the conclusions that I have already set out above. Plainly it is important for me to understand the welfare basis for that. I would have thought that the Local Authority would have wanted such a transcript also so that it could guide their work. Emphasising the importance of a judgment is not judicial pique or self importance. A judgment is given after everyone has had an opportunity to have their say and it represents the rule of law in practice. If judgments and orders are just ignored, as they have been here, what follows? Further, the judgment allows people to distinguish between what is established fact and what is no more than allegation. It also explains why people are being ordered to do things.

54. The threshold document relates to the time when proceedings were started – that is 2012. Therefore it does not record the issues that were contemporary at the time of the care order and led to the conclusion that only care with a view to adoption would do. Further the document suffered from many of the deficiencies identified recently by the President in Re A (a child) [2015] EWFC 11 (the Darlington case); for instance: ‘there are concerns as to the rough handling of the children ….there are concerns as to the general care of the children’. The threshold criteria were fulfilled on the basis of the violence between the parents, the neglect of the children, the parents lack of engagement with an assessment, the social hostility towards the parents, the parents misuse of drink and drugs and the parents’ failure to seek medical advice for the children after they suffered ‘unexplained injuries’.

If you are doing a quick head count – in this case the bundle didn’t have the right documents in it, the threshold was both wishy washy and hadn’t actually got put in the bundle, the social worker hadn’t met the father he was assessing, the experts hadn’t been asked to assess the most important thing, a triple track care plan turned into a ‘what’s a track?’ care plan, the Local Authority had been ordered to file an application for a Placement Order and filed it four months late, and the Court had granted a Care Order with a plan that looked like adoption without actually having a Placement Order application to consider (and, it turns out, without the Local Authority having Agency Decision Maker approval to actually do that)

In this case, the Local Authority were not just flirting with disaster, they had bought disaster dinner and had a toothbrush in their bag hoping that disaster would ask them to stay over.

The conclusion

135. Conclusion – I do not consider that it has been demonstrated to me that the welfare of EF requires that she be placed for adoption. I do not consider that it has been demonstrated to me that the less interventionist solution of fostering is inconsistent with her welfare. I think that the detriments of adoption outweigh the advantages as matters now appear. I think it highly unlikely that the Local Authority would twin track the case between fostering and adoption if a placement order were to be made. I think that such an order would be highly likely to result in all contact between this girl and her family ending. I do not consider such an order to necessary or proportionate and I do not consider that the making of such an order would place her welfare as the paramount consideration throughout out her life.

136. I therefore dismiss the application for a placement order. The effect is that EF will remain in care and will continue to have contact with her natural family. I will hear submissions if necessary on another occasion as to the arrangements for contact.

The only crumb of comfort for the LA is that in the face of a judgment like that, there wasn’t a paragraph 137 about an application for costs.

Committal for harassment

 

In the matter of an application by Gloucestershire County Council for the committal to prison of Matthew John Newman

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3136.html

 

This is a judgment given by the President. There are, I think, three interesting aspects to this judgment. Aside from him quoting the very famous remark about freedom of speech not extending to the freedom to shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre.   (which is my favourite joke in Rozencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead)

 

 

  1. The penal notice should be on the face of the order

 

 

So far as material for present purposes, rule 37.9(1) of the Family Procedure Rules provides that:

 

“a judgment or order to do or not do an act may not be enforced … unless there is prominently displayed, on the front of the copy of the judgment or order … , a warning to the person required to do or not do the act in question that disobedience to the order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.”

 

Neither the order of 16 May 2014 nor the order of 16 July 2014 complied with this requirement. In the order of 16 May 2014 the penal notice appeared at the end of the order on the second page. Although the order of 16 July 2014 contained, prominently displayed, the statement on the front of the order that “A Penal Notice shall be attached to paragraphs 1 and 2 of the injunctive consent order”, the penal notice itself was set out, just before the text of the injunctions, on the third page of the order.

 

Paragraph 13.2 of PD37A provides that “The court may waive any procedural defect in the commencement or conduct of a committal application if satisfied that no injustice has been caused to the respondent by the defect.” I was satisfied that no injustice would be caused to Mr Newman by waiving these defects. In the one case, the penal notice was prominently displayed at the end of a short, two page, order which also contained a recital that Mr and Mrs Newman had “previously received legal advice as to the implications of breaching the terms of this Order.” In the other case, the father was present and consented to the grant of the injunctions. He cannot by that stage in the proceedings have been in any doubt as to the consequences of breach.

 

Although in this case I was prepared to waive these procedural defects, I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for meticulous compliance with all the requirements of Part 37 and PD37A. I might add, for the benefit of the doubters, that this surely serves only to demonstrate the need for the family justice system to adopt, as I have been proposing, the use of standard forms of order available to all in readily accessible and user-friendly templates.

 

I would have two brief points in relation to this – the first is that the President is making use of the term ‘user-friendly’ in relation to the standardised court orders which bears no relation to any accepted definition of the phrase that I have ever seen used. If ten people in the country (outside the MOJ or designers of the form) can be found who say that these forms are a pleasure to use, then I will cheerfully withdraw my remark. I don’t expect to be taken up on that.

 

The second is that the reason the penal notice doesn’t appear on page one of the order is PRECISELY because the template form doesn’t put it there.

 

Be warned people – if you are drafting an order with a penal notice, screw where the stupid form wants you to put the penal notice and put it on the front page. Everything else can be moved down.

 

  1. Harassment of social workers (although the Judge says that harassment of members of the family was worse)

I turn to ground (ii), the allegation that Mr Newman has been guilty of “harassing” employees of the local authority. The allegation is based on the contents of fourteen emails sent to various of the local authority’s employees (who I will refer to respectively as R, J, K, L and V) between 17 July 2014 and 18 August 2014 inclusive and a message sent on 18 August via facebook to the mother of another of these employees. I set out in the Table annexed to this judgment the dates and recipients of each of these email messages and, in full, the text of each message exactly as sent. The facebook message was sent on 9 August 2014 to the mother of another social worker, Kimberley H. The message read “This is what Kimberley does.” Attached to the message were newspaper articles about social workers who boast about removing children.

 

Mr Newman admits the authorship of each of these messages, and does not dispute that each of the emails was sent to one or more of the class of persons referred to in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014. The only question is whether Mr Newman’s conduct amounted to “harassing” within the meaning of paragraph 5. Mr Jenkins submits that it did. Mr Newman says that what he did was neither intended to be nor did it in fact amount to harassing.

 

What the word “harassing” means in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014 is a matter of construction, and therefore a matter of law. Whether, in the light of that meaning, what Mr Newman did amounted to harassing is a matter of fact and degree. I adopt the same approach as commended itself to the Court of Appeal in Vaughan v Vaughan [1973] 1 WLR 1159 when considering, also in the context of committal, the meaning of the word “molesting” when used in an injunction. All three judges had recourse to the dictionary.

 

“Harassing”, like “molesting”, is an ordinary English word and there is nothing in the order of 16 May 2014 to suggest that it was being used in any special sense, let alone as a term of art. It is to the dictionary that I accordingly turn. The Oxford English Dictionary provides, in addition to a number of more antique meanings, an apt definition of harass which, in my judgment, reflects what the word harassing means when used in this order:

 

“To subject (an individual or group) to unwarranted (and now esp. unlawful) physical or psychological intimidation, usually persistently over a period; to persecute. Also more generally: to beleaguer, pester.”

Whether emails constitute harassment will, of course, depend upon the circumstances, in particular the number and frequency of the emails, their content and tone, the persons to whom and more generally the context in which they are sent. Here we have fourteen emails sent in a little over four weeks. On one day (9 August 2014) there were three. Initially, R seems to be singled out; then the emails are sent to a wider group of people. There is a pervading tone of menace: the personalised attacks (“How do you sleep at night?”, “If you have kids ask yourself what would you do to keep them”); the threats (“I have everything ready to completely ruin everyone who stands against us”, “people’s names … spread all over the world along with their pictures”, “set things right before they go terribly wrong”, “Soon your tyranny will end”, “Soon all your names will be appearing on a newspaper”, “someone, someday will be held accountable”, “unless you wish to put your career on the line”, “Hope you are looking forward to an early retirement”, “The revolution is coming are you ready”); the threatening count down; and the repeated unwarranted demands that X is returned.

 

In my judgment this was quite plainly harassment, not just pestering but psychological intimidation. It was deliberate. It was intended to achieve, by the making of unwarranted demands accompanied by menaces, the return of X to his parents notwithstanding the orders of the court. It is a bad case.

 

The facebook message sent to Kimberley H’s mother is, from one point of view, even worse. What aggravates the contempt is not so much the actual message, which in comparison with some of the others is comparatively innocuous; it is the fact that it was sent to Kimberley H’s mother. For someone in Mr Newman’s position to extend his campaign to a member of his primary victim’s family, whether partner, child or, as here, parent, is despicable. It is deliberately putting pressure on his victim by attacking their nearest and dearest.

 

 

Accordingly, I am in no doubt at all, I find as a fact, and to the criminal standard of proof, that Mr Newman is in breach of paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014 as alleged by the local authority.

 

 

  1. The President goes back to Re J, and reminds us that whilst he was permissive, even welcoming of people publishing their stories (if not identifying the child) and even been critical of Local Authorities and professionals, there was still a line that people should not cross

 

 

In Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam) [2014] 1 FLR 523, a case that attracted much attention at the time, I articulated, not for the first time, two points which in my judgment are and must remain of fundamental, indeed constitutional, importance.

 

The first (para 36), was the recognition of “the importance in a free society of parents who feel aggrieved at their experiences of the family justice system being able to express their views publicly about what they conceive to be failings on the part of individual judges or failings in the judicial system.” I added that the same goes, of course, for criticism of local authorities and others.

 

The second (para 38), was the acknowledgement that the “fear of … criticism, however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior restraint by injunction … even if the criticism is expressed in vigorous, trenchant or outspoken terms … or even in language which is crude, insulting and vulgar.” I added that a much more robust view must be taken today than previously of what ought rightly to be allowed to pass as permissible criticism, for “Society is more tolerant today of strong or even offensive language.” I summarised the point (para 80): “an injunction which cannot otherwise be justified is not to be granted because of the manner or style in which the material is being presented … nor to spare the blushes of those being attacked, however abusive and unjustified those attacks may be.”

 

I stand by every word of that. But there is a fundamental difference between ideas, views, opinions, comments or criticisms, however strongly or even offensively expressed, and harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces. The one is and must be jealously safeguarded; the other can legitimately be prevented.

 

The freedom of speech of those who criticise public officials or those exercising public functions, their right to criticise, is fundamental to any democratic society governed by the rule of law. Public officials and those exercising public functions must, in the public interest, endure criticism, however strongly expressed, unfair and unjustified that criticism may be. But there is no reason why public officials and those exercising public functions should have to endure harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces.

 

There is freedom of speech, a right to speak. But this does not mean that the use of words is always protected, whatever the context and whatever the purpose. As Holmes J famously observed in Schenck v United States (1919) 249 US 47, 52:

 

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.”

 

Freedom of speech no more embraces the right to use words to harass, intimidate or threaten, than it does to permit the uttering of words of menace by a blackmailer or extortionist. Harassment by words is harassment and is no more entitled to protection than harassment by actions, gestures or other non-verbal means. On the contrary, it is the victim of harassment, whether the harassment is by words, actions or gestures, who is entitled to demand, and to whom this court will whenever necessary extend, the protection of the law.

 

I do not wish there to be any room for doubts or misunderstanding. The family courts – the Family Court and the Family Division – will always protect freedom of speech, for all the reasons I explained in Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam) [2014] 1 FLR 523. But the family courts cannot and will not tolerate harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces, whether targeted at parties to the proceedings before the court, at witnesses or at professionals – judges, lawyers, social workers or others – involved in the proceedings. For such behaviour, whatever else it may constitute, is, at root, an attack on the rule of law.

 

I emphasise, therefore, that Judge Wildblood was perfectly justified in granting the injunction in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014. Such orders can, should, and no doubt will, be made in future by the family courts when the circumstances warrant. I should add, moreover, that the protection of the law is not confined to the grant in appropriate circumstances of such injunctions. Harassment is both a criminal offence and an actionable civil wrong under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. And, quite apart from any order of the court, it is a very serious contempt of court to take reprisals after the event against someone who has given evidence in court.

 

I do not want anyone to be left in any doubt as to the very serious view that the court takes of such behaviour. In appropriate cases immediate custodial sentences may be appropriate. And deterrent sentences may be justified. The court must do what it can to protect the proper administration of justice and to ensure that those taking part in the court process can do so without fear.

 

 

 

The Court have not sentenced Mr Newman yet, and it is worth noting that one of the alleged breaches – that he put a mobile phone in his son’s bag was dismissed.

 

I deal first with ground (i), the alleged breach of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014. This, it will be recalled, forbad Mr Newman from “taking any steps to ascertain the whereabouts of [X] and/or foster placement, including using [his] mobile phone or laptop GPS positioning systems.”

 

The evidence in support of the allegation of breach was two-fold. First, there was evidence from one of the social workers who had supervised contact between Mr Newman and his son on 5 August 2014 that, following this contact, a mobile phone of unknown ownership was found in the bottom of X’s changing bag. Second, there was evidence that, when a key on the phone was touched, it began intermittently sounding what was described as a siren alarm tone and the front screen of the phone displayed the following text:

 

“! Help ! I lost my device! Can you please help me get it back? You can reach me at 000000 newman1985@hotmail.co.uk Blow me fucker, give me my son back”.

 

That is the extent of the factual evidence, though in his affidavit the local authority’s team manager says that “This action could be considered as an attempt to locate X or to intimidate his prospective adopters, carers or involved Children’s Services staff.” Be that as it may, the relevant allegation in relation to this incident is not of intimidation, only of breach of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014.

 

There was a clear prima face case that Mr Newman had deliberately placed the mobile phone in X’s changing bag, but despite hearing what Mr Jenkins had to say, I remained unpersuaded that there was even a prima facie case against Mr Newman that his actions had, within the meaning of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014, involved him “taking steps to ascertain the whereabouts of” either X or the foster placement. It was hardly to be imagined that the only people likely to pick up the phone – either a social worker or foster carer – would be so obliging as to contact Mr Newman and volunteer the information. And if the concern, as indeed the order itself would suggest, was that Mr Newman was using the phone itself in such a way (eg as a tracking device) as to reveal the relevant location, then that is not something, in my judgment, that could properly be inferred in the absence of evidence – and there was none – demonstrating how the phone could be used in that way. Absent such evidence there was, in my judgment, not even a prima facie case against Mr Newman.

 

Little boxes and the ark of the covenant

As part of the continuing desire to standardise everything, and a belief that any problem can be solved if only there is enough written guidance, practice directions, policy frameworks and standard documents, there is a proposed model for the initial social work statement.

I am not sure why it is that there is a belief that one can collapse the diversity and detail of families into one standardised little-boxes pro-forma, as though all parents and children were Lego figures rather than individuals with hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, struggles and triumphs.  If you have read any of the cases in my blog over the last two years, you will see that the Family Courts deal with surprising and intricate things, that people can end up in situations or predicaments that no person could anticpate and cater for in a standard document.  Structure, yes, guidance to avoid jargon and verbosity and sloppy attention to the difference between evidence and assertion – all good things. But don’t try to make a pro-forma that fits every case. It just isn’t do-able.

[I’m not entirely neutral on this point, I have to confess]

This one has been put together by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/279212/Annexes_to_statutory_guidance.docx

I don’t want to be unkind.  (I should just end the blog there to be honest). Apologies if you, or your friend, or your cousin was one of those people. I’m afraid that I don’t like it. Others may differ from my opinion – I may just be one loud-mouthed jerk, after all. Don’t take it to heart.  Honestly, stop reading right now. There is a really nice you-tube thing of ducklings on a waterslide – go and find that, it will cheer your heart.

In a Solution-Focused-Therapy style, let’s try to say something nice  “What were you pleased with?”

Well, people have clearly worked very hard on it.

Not necessarily the right people, but people have obviously worked very hard on it.

This version is actually worse than the first version of it, which takes some doing. It is also worse than the standardised model laid out in the revised PLO. A sentence I never thought that I’d type – I prefer the version in the new PLO document.

It is packed full of everything that is worse about design by committee – it is little boxes galore, it is reductionist, it assumes that everyone who will be writing the document is a moron incapable of independent thought without being led by the nose to the next little box to complete. The process of reading it is offensive to your eyes. It doesn’t include a Welfare Checklist. (I mean, the Act gives everyone a specific tool for analysis, is it too much to ask that this tool would be a centrepiece of the evidence produced?) It makes the Core Assessment look gorgeous and inspirational (this is some feat)

My actual reaction to this, when I opened it up and read it was…. well, do you remember the bit at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the nazi’s open the ark and one of the chief bad guys has his face melt off whilst screaming? Sort of that.

It’s the sort of thing that when you read it, you wonder who it is supposed to help? The workers writing it? Clearly not. The parents reading it? No way. The Judges? I’d be amazed if any Judge would prefer this cumbersome little-box form (that at one point tries to encapsulate all of the issues and thought processes around contact into a six column table) to a considered narrative document.  So, other than the designers of whatever computer programme will standardise this onto every social work computer in England, who is it FOR?

I think, comparing it to Lucy Reed’s suggested pro-forma for social work assessment, which was intended to be a nasty satire – I think Lucy’s is more rigorous as a document.

http://pinktape.co.uk/courts/family-justice-modernisation-programme-update-no-nine-and-three-quarters/

 

This document, however, it at the moment still just a consultation (which means that it is inevitable unless people who will be writing them, reading them, trying to explain them to parents speak out and say how ghastly and unfit for purpose it is – OR of course if you disagree with me, you should tell them that too)

https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1949&external=no&menu=1

Consultation ends 26th March.

If you can’t manage a long and detailed response, just send them this link.

 

Violence against social workers

 

This is a curious little article in Community Care, based on a national survey done of social work/social care staff around the country. It covers an important topic of the violence that workers in social care encounter during their work.

It gives a useful colour coded map, in which one can use sliders to look at the number of the  incidents of violence against social work / social care staff over the last four years.

The grey areas show that none of those surveyed in that area reported any incidents of violence, and then the colours go from yellow, dark yellow, orange through to reds and dark reds. Each colour represents around 150 incidents, and you can click on any individual area to see the total number of reports.

 

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/violence-against-social-care-staff-2013/

 

Given what social care professionals have to do in their work, I am slightly surprised that it is not higher – not that I am condoning any of these incidents far from it, but there’s a context of having to make very challenging and emotionally charged decisions and interventions in people’s lives.  When you consider the number of people employed in social care and the number of interactions that each of them has with people very single day, even the high end is just a tiny tiny proportion of those interactions. That obviously doesn’t lessen the unpleasantness of any single one.

 In nearly 20 years of doing a pretty challenging job in legal, I’ve had one person take a bad swing at me and miss, one throw a table over in court, one massive steroid-assisted bloke with pecs like halved watermelons inform me that if I didn’t get out of his way he would “destroy me”, a delightful chap walk behind me in a corridor at Court and tell me that “If I had a knife in my pocket right now, I could stick it right in your kidneys”.  

I can understand the context of why all of those people felt that way about the horrible mess I was making of their lives, but it didn’t stop any of it being very very unpleasant to experience and I remember all of them pretty vividly. And I didn’t actually get struck in any of them.

So all of what follows is absolutely with the understanding that violence in the workplace is a really horrible and potentially traumatising event and that it can’t be acceptable.

Caveats over.

All of the gray areas are presumably no reported incidents at all, and that probably represents around a third of the map. The majority of what is left is somewhere between 1 and 300 incidents per year.

 But what I found rather intriguing was that there were bands or geographical pockets of the higher end, the orange and red areas that seem to be around 500-1000 reported incidents per year.  And some of these cropped up over and over. And they weren’t necessarily the ones that a lazy stereotype might pick out.

 

The ones for 2012 show  those hotspots as being :-

 

The very North of England – Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland (hold off on your stereotypes for a moment), Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham (leave those stereotypes) and the South East of England, particularly West Sussex.  People working around Worthing and Bognor were much more likely to experience violence than those around Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, inner-city London in 2012.

 

2011 shows North of England, Leeds, a teardrop shape around Sheffield and Nottingham, bits of London and again West Sussex.

 

2010 show North East of England, the Sheffield/Nottingham teardrop again, bits of London and again West Sussex.

 

2009 – no red or orange in north of England, or Sheffield/Nottingham, or London. Norfolk is bad, Dorset is bad, and yet again, West Sussex is bad.

 

Of course, the number of incidents doesn’t tell anything about the seriousness of them. Perhaps the red/orange authorities are more rigorous about reporting and logging incidents that some of the other areas brush off and don’t record.  

 

Maybe not, maybe West Sussex workers should be asking for some danger money.

 Another portion on the Community Care story on this shows an infographic illustrating the violence inflicted on such workers – the larger the word, the more frequently it came up in the survey

 http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-work-blog/files/2013/08/Violence-Wordle-1200×900.jpg

 The heading being “knife throwing” and the sub-heading being “workers tell us what they have been attacked with”

 Then you look at the visual image and wince.

 When you first look at this, just as I did, the words that leap out at you are Chair, Knife, Thrown, Knives, Hammer, Face, Head,  Needle, Glass, Hit, Heavy, Objects Threatened.  

 Again, without wanting to trivialise this – nobody ought to be physically threatened or harmed when they are doing their job, even in the context of the very emotive nature of the job; when you look a bit closer at the infographic, you see words like

 

Etc, various, manager, parent, ready , another, support, number

 

Albeit much smaller. So clearly the graphic is not showing “things that workers have been attacked with” and how frequently such objects were used, but rather the frequency with which certain WORDS were used in the description of events.

 Unless it is that social care staff in West Sussex are being hit by another manager for not being ready.

 It is an important and serious issue, and for any worker who has gone out to do a difficult job and in the course of a day was threatened or hit with a stick, or a snooker cue, or a knife, that’s absolutely unacceptable and dreadful. I just think one needs to be careful about juxtaposing information like 712 incidents of violence in 2012 in Northumberland with a graphic highlighting the very most serious of such events.

 Nonetheless, I think it is an important issue;  to look at why these things happen and how they can be reduced and why there are such regional disparities; and I applaud Community Care for highlighting the issue and bringing it to life.

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