RSS Feed

Emotional wrecks

Following the Supreme Court decision in Re B yesterday, which we hoped would tackle the four issues on which leave to appeal was granted :-

(i) the meaning of significant harm;

(ii) the relationship between the nature and gravity of the harm which is feared and the degree of likelihood of that harm being suffered in the future;

 (iii) the proportionality of a care order with a care plan for adoption in a case such as this; and

(iv) the proper approach of the Court of Appeal to a finding that the threshold has been crossed, and (although this was not expressly referred to) to the issue of proportionality.


And I shall leave it to others to debate whether or not they successfully clarified those points (save for (iv) which they undoubtedly did tackle, some might say at the expense of the 3 more important issues)


But it made me think about emotional harm post Re B, and some hypothetical examples to debate.  In each of these hypothetical examples :-


(i)                 The child is well fed, well cared for, their basic needs are met

(ii)               They are not hit, or sexually abused or neglected

(iii)             The parents are not drug addicts or alcohol abusers

(iv)              The parental behaviour complained of is just simply as is set out baldy and nothing else

(v)                All efforts to divert them from this behaviour has been unsuccessful to date


I make those caveats so that it is clear what we are debating is ‘pure emotional harm’, not the emotional harm that accompanies neglect, or physical or sexual abuse.


Have a look at the examples, if you would and consider whether you think (a) that it is appropriate for the State to intervene in this family’s life by issuing proceedings (b) whether the section 31 threshold is crossed and (c) whether the Court might consider it proportionate to make an order, if – as in Re B, all prospect of the parent being able to address that behaviour were not successful.



Example 1



The parent routinely tells the child that they are worthless, that they will never amount to anything, that the parent is ashamed of them, that they are fat and ugly and unloveable,  that even their parents don’t love them, that they will be a failure in life.


Example 2

The child wants more than anything to grow up to be a professional footballer, and the parent routinely tells the child that they are no good at football, that they aren’t getting any better at it, that they have no chance of becoming a footballer and that they are not going to be able to do it for a living.

 Example 3

The parent routinely tells the child that once you are an adult, “you shouldn’t knock it till you’ve tried it” and that they should try cocaine, heroin, amphetamines for themselves once they become an adult. The parent also makes it plain that once the child is an adult, if they want to try drugs, they do so with parental blessing and the parent will provide them with funds if they wish to do so.


Example 4

The parent has strong Marxist beliefs/no conscience about personal property, and regularly tells the child that “all property is theft” and that once the child reaches adulthood, it is perfectly legitimate, if they so wish, to steal things if they want them or need them. They make it clear that their view is that only a fool would work and save up for something when it is so easy to just take it from someone else.

 They themselves steal to supplement their lifestyle, and the home is full of luxury goods that they could not afford and they make no secret of how they obtained them. They do, however, not involve the child in any theft (either as witness or accomplice) and stress to the child that until they reach the age of 18, they should not steal anything.


Example 5

The parent routinely tells the child that the Holocaust never happened. They make it plain that Jewish people have lied about it, and that any small number of Jews who did die deserved it. They communicate to the child that books and television programmes or films that claim otherwise are lies and that the creators of such material cannot be trusted.



Example 6


The parents believe in reincarnation and karma, and routinely tell the child that people who die of terminal illnesses or have disabilities have these problems because they did bad things in a former life and are paying for them.



[I will stress that none of these are actual cases or even small features of actual cases, they are purely hypothetical examples of ways that a parent could behave which may lead the State to question whether the behaviour amounts to significant harm. I also stress that I am not attempting to claim that post Re B, all of these examples WOULD meet threshold or that a Local Authority would issue on them even if they did, rather to simply debate whether they are CAPABLE of meeting threshold and whether there is consensus about which that do or not, or whether there is uncertainty. ]



Do any of them, on their own, cross threshold?


About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

19 responses

  1. Oh well, some of this sounds familiar… Overall, there are many instances in life when the choice is not between the good option and the bad option but between two bad options.

    My choice: read the UK adopters message board (, look at all the problems that the beneficiaries of closed forced adoptions, and their adopted children, seem to have and opt for the lesser evil: non-intervention by the state.

  2. Philip Measures

    I think that you give too many scenarios to provide a corporate answer which covers them all!

    Human behaviour is not scientifically assessable / quantifiable / predictive in nay concrete sense – what one person experiences and reacts to in one way produces a completely different reaction in another person.

    The Nature v Nurture debate has never been resolved – the effects of what we inherit and the effects of what we experience.

    There is a serious lack of longitudinal studies into adoption – too much is anecdotal.

    The ‘bottom line’ though is that we operate within a legal system which we may agree with to varying degrees but one which we cannot ignore without experiencing consequences – ‘likely significant harm’ is clearly intended to be quantifiably different to just ‘harm’ – but as to how we predict its long-term effects in individual cases is altogether more problematic so, yes, some wrong decisions will be made but often for the right reasons.

    • Edna Fletcher

      It is not logically possible that wrong decisions may be made from the right reasons.

      If you have the right reasons it is highly improbable to make a wrong decision. It suggests you reasoning is flawed. All is dependant on interpretations of fact and information.

      In family cases hearsay and opinion are allowed so the reasons for getting it wrong are more based on guesswork and a very low threshold of probability rather than a guilty ‘without doubt’ approach. So you will get more wrong, but think you have made the right decision- until some time in the future Dr Dales predictions come true.

      If I were adopted under the circumstances many social workers use to tear children from families I would pursue a case against them and the local authority as an adult. The legal system does not stay static.

    • hi Philip, I think the distinction between ‘harm’ and ‘significant harm’ is important, and got a little bit weakened by Re B, hence my interest in seeing which of these cases my readers thought were harm, significant harm or neither. And your very good points are all echoed by the Hale judgment, which unfortunately is not law. It becomes much harder to predict the long-term effects of harm when the nature of that harm is more of a ‘drip drip’ than the stark and obvious fractured leg / sexual abuse type of case.

  3. My maternal/legal instincts are most concerned by (1), and I think threshold is likely to be crossed (almost certainly under the Re B dispensation – no?), but it would be a matter for social work/child mental health professionals to consider whether this could be worked with by assessing/increasing the child’s resilience to determine whether proceedings needed to be issued and whether any order would be proportionate.
    I’m not at all sure about the others reaching threshold (particularly (2)). I’m concerned with freedom of conscience and expression in (4) and (6) – however distasteful; and more generally the significant overlap with the other ways in which society tries to deal with those who hold damaging beliefs or behave in damaging ways: education, mental health resources, criminal sanction etc, and of course good old social work (short of care proceedings/removal of children under care orders).

  4. stella macleod aka toni macleod

    Hmm that is a rather intriguing way to formulate a emotional abuse example list given that emotional abuse as defined by the CA 1989 and other organisations as :-
    Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone’. (Department of Health et al, 1999, p.5-6)
    i would agree some of the above amount to emotional abuse although could be conveyed as putting a bit of reality into a child’s mind
    Example 1 is the only point that actually fits into the definition of emotional abuse but of course if you look at the other examples
    Given the recent government cuts in regards to benefits and support of ‘poor’ communities some of the points such as 2 & 4 could be seen as just bringing them back into reality
    5 & 6 could be defined as religious choices
    3 in my opinion is defective parenting but again is stating that it is for after the child is an adult however doesnt give many positive prospective’s in life
    but in fairness all can essentially be covered by:-
    Hedley J in Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria) (Family Division 26 October 2006) in which, dismissing the Local Authority’s application for a Care Order, the learned Judge said
    “Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. Children will inevitable have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, while others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the State to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting.”
    i was personally hoping that the re B case would set a standard that meant emotional abuse had to be accompanied by other more severe harm risks not solely emotional abuse or worse still future risk of emotional abuse when nothing had occurred so far unfortunately this wasnt the case
    i would say that the matter may be best served in the ECHR for final clarification and more sturdy lines of the invasive measures that can be used to invade a parents family life as if we use this as a standard what is to say like some countries at present we break out in civil war which in my opinion is close to happening then effectively every single person must loose their child !? the decision seems to go against many widely used case laws that are in place so does that now mean that these are ineffective ??
    if anything this case has served nothing more than to further blur the understanding of the threshold and emotional harm as a risk surely if common sense was applied why cant the child be placed at home under a ISO or in sheltered community facilities with the parents and be closely monitored as oppose to the no doubt now planned action of removing her from her FC’s and putting her up for adoption and ceasing contact with the parents whom she now has a strong bond with which will as many studies have shown time and time again along with many PLO proceedings and child psychologists and attachment specialists cause more actual harm in the long and short term of the childs life than any perceived harm could ever be responsible for many studies state that actual physical harm causes less damage to children in the long term than removal from parental figures and placement into local authority care begging the question are the state causing more harm than good by there interference into family life ???
    how many children from state care go on to have children removed to being damaged from child hood memories of being in care 11,000 child have disappeared off the radar never to be found or traced again in state care 56,000 abused in local authority placements who is the biggest danger the parents or the corporate parents to children
    correctly parents do sometimes struggle children certainly do not come with a handbook and when you are a first time parent it is hard however what is the corporate parents excuse they are far from first time parents and have a much higher child rate to care for because they made a mistake in one case does that mean they should be forgiven and allowed another child to effectively put at risk of harm or should they as the law so rightly states be treated equal in court equality of arms surely could be brought into these sorts of proceedings many a time in cases i have produced a threshold against the LA which totals much more abuse than the parents are accused of to a greater extent too but yet this is regularly disregarded because local authorities are rarely questioned on their mistakes perhaps what the court should have looked at in this case and many others is WHO is the greater risk of harm now that is the question i would have asked had it been a case i was dealing with
    but as always the emotional abuse issue is still left in limbo neither decided or undecided upon and now the water is more muddied than ever on the clarity of it who’s to say goth’s or working class parents should even have children after all civilization and evolution is about bringing the population to a higher standard !?
    (hmm looking back and i think i have raised more questions than actually addressed the points you made sorry o.O) xx

    • Hi Toni, raising more questions than answers is, for me, a good thing in a debate. Like you, I was anticipating the Supreme Court taking the Hale line, and reining in emotional harm, and making it plain that the hurdle for emotional harm as justification for removal ought to be a very high one (for all of the reasons that Hale sets out), but if anything, I think it has rather lowered the bar, since the Supreme Court accepted that the Judge was right in deeming threshold to be crossed here, although it falls to my mind on the Hedley side of the fence. If there WERE matters capable of meeting threshold (and a few bits did come to light on later reading) they don’t seem to have made their way into the formulation of threshold that the court accepted.

      I think the issue you raise that society has to be prepared to tolerate very very diverse styles of parenting and personality, so long as they don’t actually harm the child in a significant way, is a massively important one, and I don’t think the Supreme Court properly balanced this issue, getting bogged down far too much in the role of the appellant court when considering an appeal. For me, what is described in the judgment does not come close to the definition of emotional harm that you rightly cite from the Department of Health. Where was the peristent ill-treatment of the child? Where were the severe and persistent adverse effects on the child?

      • stella macleod aka toni macleod

        In my opinion it is all getting far to close for my liking to Hitler’s perfect race fit one standard and belief or simply suffer the consequences, perhaps an extreme way of looking of it but one that most people would understand. PTSD from care proceedings effect the whole family from these situations child parents and extended family which is becoming more and more evident across the country surely creating more animosity for the LA i can and do regularly question publicly peoples opinion on LA’s involvement unfortunately its becoming a rarer occurrence that the responses are positive. They are leaving children at a greater risk of harm due to fear of asking for help leading to removal of their children or fear of mentioning a concern regarding another parent due to the chance of ruining that family professionals are also getting over zealous regarding referrals for fear of ruining their careers from missing a possibly abused child to the extent and many will laugh at this next piece but i swear on my life it is totally true i was sat having discussions with two social workers and a few contact staff i requested an abortion a few weeks ago after discovering severe health issues with my own personal unborn pregnancy baring in mind i was 12 wks pregnant at the time i had received a phone call and discussed this during this informal tea break from an initial response team stating they had received a child protection referral for the unborn from the midwife (that i had requested an abortion from) i am personally pro life but the poor baby was to be born brain damaged its organs outside its body and other conditions as well as effecting my own health i believe it was the right decision we all stood astounded at what had earlier taken place and collectively agreed it was a ridiculous position to take given unborn’s aren’t viable for a great many weeks after 12 wks this is the what professionals are left to deal with in the wake of uncertainty regarding what exactly is a protection issue.
        what was the midwife thinking would happen that i would be taken to court for child murder of a fetus ??
        Personally i believe and my views are rather more extreme than other parents who have faced care proceedings as long as a child is fed watered loved cared for clothed lives in a reasonably clean home given access to education its parents do not drink or take drugs when in the presence of the child or when responsible for the child and do not involve them in criminal activities such as having them present which includes domestic violence in my mind then they should keep their child although at times support should be put in if needed but support should be exactly that the parent that struggles with house keeping should be helped it takes nothing for a social worker to pick up a tea towel and say hey you wash il dry or the parent that cant cook get pushed into a simple cooking class or the parent that struggles with getting to school on time should be helped with transport or perhaps the extreme of a wake up call social work used to be work in the social environment not them versus us no help just dive in and take?!
        however on the other hand i believe drug addicts and alcoholics should have their children removed until they pass rehab or AA criminals that do it from home or commit crime such as shoplifters that use the pram to hide their crime should have their children removed until they stop offending for 6 months at least domestic violent couples should separate or face the loss of their child and if you have physically abused your child and i mean exactly that not you have smacked your childs behind which i may add is legal ! you should have your child removed however on the other side of the coin i seen today a distraught young couple who had lost their newborn at 4 weeks old due to a scratch mitt coming off and her scratching just below her eye and it was an unexplained ‘non accidental injury’ this type of thing is a bit of a over the top reaction i do think physical sexual and neglect are pretty much clear cut however neglect does also cover missing some schooling which although not ideal i wouldnt say was abuse unless it is an extreme case of absence so in a nut shell i think some of the lord justices should perhaps take up my offer which i may add Sir Martin Narey is deciding upon attending at present given recent discussions with me of a meeting with the parents professionals and hopefully some of the judges to actually come back into reality and attempting to implement some common sense back into the court arenas xx

    • Philip Measures

      With all respect Toni it is really difficult to read and understand your Posts without full stops and paragraphs. You seem to be making some good points but I am struggling, sorry.

      • stella macleod aka toni macleod

        Sorry lol grammar isn’t my specialty, but i was told and taught that you must use full stops and comma’s when taking a breath during discussions all that have met me know i rarely take a breath in a full hour during a conversation let alone one 2 second point making exercise the joy of being northern born and bred but i will especially for you attempt to do so in future xx

      • Philip Measures

        Love your response Toni – it’s called passion!

  5. Would have to evidence what the impact on the child has been. So in example 1 if the child continues to do well in the face of such comments then threshold not met? If the child takes on the belief that they are worthless and in turn say begins self harming and overdosing, is isolated, not achieving etc then there is evidence of harm attributable to parents care…..?

    • Philip Measures

      Example 1 is clearly emotional abuse – so do we just leave the child in the hope that it develops OK – or wait until the damage is done?

      Example 2 – the parent may be correct at that point in time but there is nothing wrong in still enabling the child to pursue their interest – reality will dawn on the young person as they get older if they do not make the grade.

      • For what it is worth, I felt example 1 was the only one pre Re B that would come close to threshold, but even then, I think it would be an absolute last resort for the Court to make orders. Example 2 I think is a tactless insensitive parent, but some way short of emotional harm for me (Although to the child, those words might end up being far more painful and hurtful than the stuff in examples 3-5, so it is difficult to see where the line is drawn)

    • I would completely and utterly agree with you, although that’s not what the Supreme Court decided in Re B, hence the post.

      • Okay let me help you all understand the removal of a… Firstly the biggest mistake I did was ask for help la said I never told then the whole truth (I did) I asked for help the day I attended with the midwife and the scars was shown and she suggested she get in touch with barnet la and advise that I need help …they phoned told them everything regarding my oldest child arrangements was made for myself to meet .. On that day I was in pain as baby was pushing against the scars on my body called and explained told go straight to hospital … I did where I was knocked out and baby removed … Then ask solicitor to pass all info to barnet regarding oldest child she did next get a call I was in court nothing from barnet at all in court they say a barrage of bullshit all based after they had spoken to the person I was fleeing that I was involved in inappropriate pic of children and that I abused and left my oldest daughter ( I did not ) at that hearing this was the threshold they said was going to look into it and baby return to parents .i then complained as to why they took diva … I obtained the files to see that already a meeting had taken place for adoption … The illness never was another document was found from my prior criminal hearing which doctor wrote and stated he had made a mistake … New doctors comes along from the la says the same rubbish and it would take four years after final hearing goes down to a year and that I can care for diva … Had a another assessment from summers she telling me that the abuse in my life never happened I am saying it did she then says she can’t work with me as I won’t say it never happened ( I am not prepared to lie ) so we fail that I the judgment they say I say about my own father this is the truth what I say and have always maintained this … They say lack of cooperation but when I asked and documents prove this what they the la want from us they say nothing u done everything we asked for … Now for just over 3 years of diva life we have never missed a day she has been christened she has meet her sisters we even ended up taking the other girls on holiday to be faced with the FC and diva there what did we do I speak to the FC and ask her to try and avoid us as do not wish to confuse diva or her sisters … The la still gained the the care order based upon issues the judge found false in the fact finding of the oldest child the la never attended but this is what gets me the judge the same judge for both girls in my oldest praises me profoundly in my youngest I am a bad mum … Make sence of that

  6. Philip Measures

    I am pleased to read your response in which you make some powerful points – not least that you had the same Judge rather than a fresh pair of eyes.

    There is often some benefit of having the same Judge but, equally, there can also be disadvantages.

    Above all what concerns me is the likely impact on your daughter if significant Contact ceases after such a long period of time – I would be interested to know what weight of consideration was given to that.

    Although not used in this country as Lie Detector Test would help in proving your own abuse – what is described would have been horrific to you and caused serious difficulties in your life but not necessarily ones that would make you a bad mother – indeed, it could make you over-protective and more aware than many parents.

    The limitations in this Supreme Court Judgement seem more around the fact that it was not re-visiting all of the evidence but ascertaining if the original Judge acted legally correctly.

    I don’t know if you have any further avenues open of Appeal – if so, I hope that you pursue them as this Case is vitally important on a much wider issue than just your own daughter.

    Once again, thank you for your latest comments.

    • Philip Measures

      In response to ‘Suesspiciousminds’ original posting I would say that the first 3 issues were most certainly not adequately addressed in this judgement:

      (i) the meaning of significant harm;

      (ii) the relationship between the nature and gravity of the harm which is feared and the degree of likelihood of that harm being suffered in the future;

      (iii) the proportionality of a care order with a care plan for adoption in a case such as this;

      – does that give any rise for further Appeal legally?

      • Would have to be to Europe, which I think was what Celtic Knot was hinting at in his blog. I don’t know whether that would help these individual parents, since by the time it got to Europe it would be too late. there are definite hints in the European decisions that Celtic Knot refers to that the English Courts have to be clear about proportionality when making such a drastic order as permanent separation of a child from family, and rightly so. Did we not get this one right? On what is reported (which is never the same as reading the whole case and hearing the evidence of course) I would suggest we didn’t get it right.

%d bloggers like this: