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Over-egging the pudding

I seem to be jumping the gun on the Christmassy theme, it still (just) being November and having done a Santa Claus is coming to town post yesterday and a pudding one today.

 

[Quick tangent – I am myself surprised to learn that in the phrase ‘over-egging the pudding’ one is not talking about the sort of eggs that have yolks and whites. It seemed immediately obvious that it was about putting too many eggs in the pudding, but no – it means in this sense the ancient Anglo-Saxon use of ‘egg’ as in excite. So it means not whipping something up too much. Also ‘pudding’ here means sausage, not a dessert. So literally “don’t over-excite the sausage”   – apologies to anyone who typed “over-excite the sausage” into Google – this really isn’t the sort of site you were after. Just move on.   The metaphor works much better as ‘don’t put too many eggs into your pudding mixture’ than ‘don’t over-excite the sausage’  *]

 

Anyway, this case is about social workers over-egging the pudding when giving their evidence and presenting their arguments.

 

This is a County Court case (feel free to read that as being “Family Court sitting in a building which is called a County Court” if you are in the Ministry of Justice ) so it is not precedent, but it contains some important lessons and it is well worth a read.

 

Sanchia Berg of the BBC has written a good piece on it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-30227974

 

 

The case is North East Lincolnshire v G and L 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B77.html

 

It was a case involving a three year old child called J. His mother had been unable to care for him due to substance misuse problems and she sadly died within the course of the proceedings. The two options that came before the Court were placement with grandparents, or adoption.

 

The Local Authority and the Guardian were recommending adoption and considered that the grandparents could not meet the child’s needs. It was said that the grandparents had had a history of alcohol misuse and domestic violence.

 

The Judge disagreed, but more than that, criticised the Local Authority witnesses for taking a biased approach and not being fair.

 

 

I heard evidence over two days. I heard in particular from Neil Swaby who had been the social worker for a substantial period, and also from Rachel Olley. During the course of that evidence the local authority’s case was severely undermined. Neil Swaby seemed very reluctant to accept that anything positive could be said about either set of grandparents. When he was referred to positive things said in the papers about them, he would say things like, “Well, I suppose you could say that”. He was very begrudging indeed in his evidence and I had the clear impression that he was, for whatever reason, whether it was his own inclination or instructions from above, that he was intent on saying only things which supported the local authority’s case and was very reluctant to make any concessions which would undermine that case.

 

           I then heard evidence from Rachel Olley whose evidence was totally discredited in my view. She sought to make it a substantial plank of her evidence that J was a child who had real behavioural problems, and had had them throughout his placement with foster carers. That, unfortunately, conflicted very strongly with not only what she had said in her own statement but what was said in the adoption social worker’s statement. Again I had the very strong impression that the local authority witnesses were intent on playing up any factors which were unfavourable to the grandparents and playing down any factors which might be favourable. In those circumstances I found it very difficult to give any weight at all to their evidence.

 

 

From time to time, I provide social workers with training, and a key part of that training is letting them know that a major thing that the Court is looking for is fairness. The power of the State is substantial and it is essential that when the State is making decisions and recommendations that can have such a devastating effect on people that they are being fair. That means giving credit for things that parents do well, seeing the positives, looking for the positives – it means saying sorry when the State have made a mistake or got something wrong, and it means not cherry picking in your evidence so that you focus entirely on the bad points and ignore the good points.

 

Things like this :-

 

When he was referred to positive things said in the papers about them, he would say things like, “Well, I suppose you could say that”

 

Can only persuade a Court that the worker is not fair and reasonable.

 

{I don’t mean in this piece to have a go at the individual workers concerned – firstly, anyone can have a bad day or a bad case, and secondly, I think the mistakes that these workers made are sadly not unique to them and are symptomatic of a culture of defensive practice and a preoccupation with ‘winning’ and ‘child rescue’. What these two workers did is not unique – it is rare for a Judge to nail someone for it so vividly and name them, but it does happen. Yes, a social worker has to present their professional opinion, yes they have to make a decision, yes sometimes that decision will be very painful for the family – but within all of that, the social worker should still be alive to the other side of the argument – to see how else it could be looked at, to acknowledge the real positives that the family have to offer}.

 

The Judge did say that he had rarely encountered this sort of behaviour in evidence from social workers, but that it made it very difficult if not impossible to rely on their evidence

 

Having heard the evidence of Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley I took the view, as I have already indicated, that the local authority’s case was wholly undermined. Their concerns appeared to be grossly overstated in order to try and achieve their ends. I have never, in over ten years of hearing care cases taken the view, as I did in this case, that the local authority’s witnesses were visibly biased in their attempts to support the local authority’s case. It is very unfortunate and I hope I shall never see that again.

 

 

 

The Judge looked at the particular criticisms of the grandparents, and set those into context. (The Judge doesn’t quote Hedley J’s masterful analysis in Re L, but the spirit of it is clear to see)

 

So far as Mr. and Mrs. C are concerned, may I say, I deplore any form of domestic violence and I deplore parents who care for children when they are significantly under the influence of drink. But so far as Mr. and Mrs. C are concerned there is no evidence that I am aware of that any domestic violence between them or any drinking has had an adverse effect on any children who were in their care at the time when it took place. The reality is that in this country there must be tens of thousands of children who are cared for in homes where there is a degree of domestic violence (now very widely defined) and where parents on occasion drink more than they should, I am not condoning that for a moment, but the Courts are not in the business of social engineering. The courts are not in the business of providing children with perfect homes. If we took into care and placed for adoption every child whose parents had had a domestic spat and every child whose parents on occasion had drunk too much then the care system would be overwhelmed and there would not be enough adoptive parents. So we have to have a degree of realism about prospective carers who come before the Courts

 

 

There was a new social worker brought into the case, a Mr Nelson. The Judge was critical of one portion of Mr Nelson’s evidence – and this will no doubt strike a chord with anyone who does children cases regularly – it is a hint that things are probably untoward but that we simply don’t know yet to what extent – a technique that is really easy to assert but because it is so nebulous and flimsy really difficult to analyse.

 

Dealing with Mr. Nelson’s report I find it is significant that Mr. Nelson seems to try to revive at least one aspect of the local authority’s case which had been discredited. For example, in relation to I who from the papers I had read, appears, despite his problems, to be a nice lad, Mr. Nelson sets out the history of the problems that I has had and concludes in paragraph 3.5 by saying, “At the time of writing this report I’s problematic behaviour is not known”. There is the clear implication in that sentence that there must be some problematic behaviour from I but Mr. Nelson does not know what it is. That smacks to me of the same bias that I regrettably have to say I saw from Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley

 

 

Another criticism of the grandparents was that if J were placed with them, he would not have his own bedroom and would need to share a room – what the Judge says here is telling

 

 

Mr. Nelson also raises issues which it seems to me are not serious issues. For example he raises an issue about the sleeping arrangements. Now, I accept, of course, that in an ideal world each child would have his own – his or her own bedroom and certainly you would not have children of different sexes sharing at least beyond a certain age. But we live in fact in a world where probably the majority of families all sleep in the same bedroom and so it cannot be said that the fact that a child may have to share a room is a significant problem

 

 

The case is not decisive of anything other than the result for the individual family and individual child, but it does raise some wider issues about the importance of being fair, the importance of not setting the bar too high for family members and the importance of being realistic about your expectations and seeing things in the round.

 

 

Have a good weekend everyone and don’t over-excite any sausages.

 

 

*[As with any Etymology, you have to take these explanations with a pinch of salt.  And oh God, looking at the eytomological explanation of “take it with a pinch of salt” opens up a whole new can of worms… and so the long day wears on]

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About suesspiciousminds

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

30 responses

  1. The judge said that such negative bias on the part of the social workers involved was unique in his experience. Sadly, it is not. As you note, the ‘child rescue’ and ‘rush to adoption’ mindset promotes and reinforces such behaviour. The view that “social workers only record the bad things” is one of the most common findings from the large body of parental perceptions (of child protection practice) research. Good luck with your training, it is much needed!

    • “social workers only record the bad things” as well as fabricate them too.

      • I want to reflect constructively on what went wrong in N E Lincs because lessons must be learned.

        I now realise that managers were biased towards adoption because it gets a case off their books and social workers were happy to go along with this because they had not been trained to understand children’s developmental/attachment needs nor to make sound risk assessments.

        The heated debate about adoption should not distract us from the very complex issues around improving social work practice. I am concerned that there is a large hole where a comprehensive and coherent model of good social work practice in child protection should be and, as a consequence, some social workers bring their own personal feelings into professional judgement. Drawing on my own practice experience, I have written an article about the social work role in care proceedings for students here: http://radical.org.uk/barefoot/careproceedings.htm

        There is now a public perception that much social work decision-making in child protection matters is of a ‘hit and miss’ nature and it is not surprising that campaigning groups are demanding justice for parents. Much more could be done by preparing social workers better for their role in child protection work and enabling them to reach balanced judgements. Training is important – but so is the need for local authorities to provide an organisational structure that supports them in working safely and creatively.

    • This judge’s attack on social workers is a serious setback for the profession. Details of the case are missing but enough has emerged to show serious weaknesses in writing court reports.

      In this case the social workers seemed to lack basic skills in obtaining evidence directly, using professional judgement, and presenting conclusions based on a robust analysis. There were only two realistic options – the reasons for the preferred option of adoption should have been presented clearly but instead their reasoning was shown to be inconsistent and muddled. They may have been under pressure to argue the case for adoption but they could have done this in a more professional way.

      I’m waiting to hear what the Chief Social Worker has to say about this.

      • I doubt the chief social worker will say anything. Like she didn’t when I emailed her about whether she was aware of or investigating the tidal wave of false accusations against parents, particularly parents of children with invisible disabilities.

      • “There is now a public perception that much social work decision-making in child protection matters is of a ‘hit and miss’ nature”

        There is more of a public perception that social-work decision-making in child protection matters is of a deliberately corrupt nature. It’s often a lot more than social workers merely being happy to go along with it. There are many accounts out there of fabricated evidence, distorted evidence, negative bias evidence and open lying by social workers. I have witnessed it first-hand myself.

        There is a lot of ignorance about invisible disabilities from social workers, misinterpreting as well as misrepresenting traits, behaviours and symptoms as abuse, very wrongly. But their arrogance means they will not see it that way, they tar everyone with the same brush and treat parents with contempt. They cause the very harm to children that they are falsely accusing parents of.

  2. Jonathan Ritchie

    Childen and their families are not puddings, eggs or sausages. Nor is any user of social work services a “file” as I have heard senior social workers talk as if they were the administrators of Auschwitz with God like powers of life and death. I hope this case will indeed be decisive in showing the public the delusions of grandeur the social work profession suffers from. You work for us, but that has been long forgotten.

  3. Neither your good self, nor Sanchia Berg, nor Judge Jack, having found that the social workers in the case were biased, attempts to explore WHY they were. There must be some reason why they were prepared to ‘over-egg the pudding’ and misrepresent the evidence (some might simply say they lied) in order to secure an adoption. Many parents in many cases can attest to this bias, which seems to be widespread, so the reason for it must also extend beyond the LA in this case. We are assured that the government rewards for meeting adoption targets have ended, so there must be another incentive. There still seems to be a great deal of money tied up in adoption, but it isn’t immediately obvious how social workers might benefit from this, nor why they clearly think it is worth risking this sort of negative exposure.

    • Money isn’t always the cause. Maybe the grandparents simply held and expressed views which the social workers in question found objectionable (think the ukip case).

      Most social workers I’ve had contact with have been trying to do a good job, but bias and desire to exercise power exist in every walk of life.

      I’ve also found behaviour varies greatly from department to department, with” like recruiting like” meaning you can get real concentration of bias and prejudice.

      Finally there is the “never admit you’re wrong, never change your mind” problem. Again far too common in the general population, with social work being no exception.

    • Exactly. If the judge has not come across this in ten years prior, then he has either been oblivious to it or pretending it isn’t going on. This is a tiny tip of the iceberg of the problem. The very fact that social workers deem it OK to behave like this shows this is a widespread cultural problem in child protection, when you bear in mind the many tales out there of people who have suffered this too. Too much power, no accountability. What else can we expect, along with professional bias and professional defensivism, you have a recipe for massive injustices. My heart bleeds for all the children wrongly removed from their families and the pain their parents have been through and are going through.

    • Yes…let’s not leave out the corruption within social work, plenty of lies told.

  4. At last a judge has recognized a practice we have seen many times before. This has been going on under the eyes of the judiciary for a very long time. In one case we know, a SW insisted she had “assessed” and found unsuitable a grandparent she had never visited. Moreover the grandparent was in hospital having surgery on the date the visit was supposed to have taken place. What has been going on is the “redistributive eugenics” identified by one of our Jewish clients, and which I suspect was the original intention of the Blair government which started the adoption drive continued by the present one.
    And what do we know of the fate of adoptees? One of our clients (adopted) was brought up in a family which was part of an extensive paedophile ring, all of whom had adopted children….
    Jean Robinson, President, Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services

    • Jonathan Ritchie

      A vast experiment in eugenic social engineering is exactly what us happening targeted at those the establishment consider “the underclass”. A crime against Humanity.

  5. Its very encouraging that Judge Jack picked up on this. I have a tiny question as to why it has just been published now 5 months later?

  6. So far as Mr. and Mrs. C are concerned, may I say, I deplore any form of domestic violence and I deplore parents who care for children when they are significantly under the influence of drink. But so far as Mr. and Mrs. C are concerned there is no evidence that I am aware of that any domestic violence between them or any drinking has had an adverse effect on any children who were in their care at the time when it took place.

    Just another little point. Humberside Police have been criticised yet again in the last week by HMIC for seriously failing domestic violence victims. A couple of months ago it was non recording of rape. If there had been any domestic violence, though I feel the term itself is outdated and prefer the more graphic inter -personal violence, there would be very unlikely to be any records.
    Yorkshire chauvinism ?

  7. Great result! Be assured that it’s quite tempting for us social workers to slip into the ‘God delusion’, as is reported here. In mental health work where we can also wield great power, there are independent outsiders, Mental Health Commissioners, keeping an eye on professional practice. For looked after children and those subject to Protection Plans there are ‘Independent’ Reviewing Officers, but they are actually colleagues of the responsible social workers. Problem is particularly acute in rural areas. There should be some genuinely independent outside audit from other walks of life to make up for inevitable secrecy of the court process.

    • The whole process is against the parents from the outset. Expert witnesses will be happy to write a report agreeing with their paymaster. Parents don’t have a fraction of the resources that the states has and I have read of many cases where they were not informed of their rights and therefore had the process go over them like a steamroller. When you consider the “Minority Report” (Tom Cruise film about people being arrested and punished for crimes foreseen by psychics) -style reasons for removing children in addition (e.g. “potential for future emotional abuse”), you know the whole system has gone horribly wrong. When a social worker is allowed to record (often unqualified) opinions as fact, not matter how erroneous they are, and these are allowed to remain on record for posterity, with ripple-like effects, you know things need to change. What is also extremely wrong, is that once adoption has taken place, it is legally, as it stands, irreversible. The system that claims to put children first, is frequently putting them and their families last. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcRZo1vO53c

  8. Sorry this is my own opinion and it’s going to be unpopular with some. As a PARENT who has gone through the digs from the social worker just as I was going into court to the outright lies in court I have more than enough reason to go on a” witch hunt”. HOWEVER I am really uncomfortable as a fellow human being of the naming and shaming of social workers in judgements. By all means call the managers into court and name them , or the councillors who fail to fund Children’s Services properly.

    The system is broken and to some extent social workers are also victimised by it. They work ridiculous hours and absolutely no one is going to make sound judgements over a period of time under that kind of pressure. There are also going to be some very awful practitioners, who enjoy their power.

    Again my own opinion, how about a focus group, could even be on skype from all sides, not just professionals or carefully chosen parents/children, actually looking at the problem rather than the lobbing of missiles with the children stuck in the middle.

    I have my own ideas, serious amendment of the 1989 Children Act , having Family Services not Children’s Services, maximum hours for social workers , prosecution for perjury etc. Others will disagree and that’s fine.
    It is possible , even with the very high emotions just look at the work of the truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
    I believe , maybe naively stakes are too high to keep on doing nothing.

    I have before, but I would once again like to thank all who run family law blogs of what ever flavour. It has started the different sides talking

    • Jonathan Ritchie

      Social Workers bear responsibility for the orders of their superiors because they behave like the guards at Auschwitz and rarely refuse to obey orders.

    • Why on earth do you think malpractice deserves anonymity? I can’t think of any other profession where you are afforded that anonymity. I’m just disappointed we haven’t got photos of them 🙂

      • Jonathan Ritchie

        I would like to see a photo of the new messiah too. However, its true that the management hierachy is almost never held accountable. If they are sacked its usually with handsome compensation at public expense, then they turn up working elsewhere not infrequently at a “regulatory body”.

  9. Nothing wrong with naming and shaming if they have told lies and misrepresented the parents. You cannot rely on regulatory bodies in any way in this country, so there is pretty much zero recourse if social workers lie about parents, unless you are lucky enough to get a sensible and honest judge who sees through it like this one. Sometimes these sorts of repercussions are needed to dissuade dishonest social workers from behaving this way. Overworked and stressed professionals could be forgiven for some errors (within reason), but lying is a whole other matter. And the stakes are too high when children are being wrongly removed. I am all for naming and shaming them. They have no qualms in lying about parents in court – which is basically naming and shaming those parents, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Social workers who behave in an inhuman manner, or who commit inhuman acts, should not expect ‘fellow human’ rights. The wrong type of social worker needs to be drummed out of the system.

  10. I have every respect ( and I don’t mean that in the legal sense )for your point of view. All I am saying is if you fight fire with fire you just end up with an inferno. You have three social workers named in this case , on Monday others will be back in court lying about parents for what ever reason. Are they suddenly going to stop, if there is management pressure to push a case through?
    I had a particularly vile trick played on me by social workers to distress me and I am no angel , I have got just as upset as anyone would.
    I go back to the system is not working, both in human and money terms. It has not worked for years. When people put down their weapons, such as in Northern Ireland or South Africa miracles can happen. It may sound far fetched but my opinion again I feel the care system is the a human tragedy as it affects families for generations.
    Change normally starts with two or three people saying enough is enough, for example the trade union movement.
    If we could talk, and I once again emphasis all sides so that means the forced adoption lobby as well I would like to think we could move forward together perhaps the outcome may be the end of non consensual adoption or it may not.
    This may all be pie in the sky, but I for one are willing to try.
    Is anyone else?

  11. I love your optimism, but there are so many rotten applies in the social care system I can’t see how it would ever work. There is all too frequently a particular type of person that chooses to be a social worker in some cases (I know there are decent ones out there too, I’m not saying this is all of them) who relish the power in a nasty way, who may have personality disorders or questionable mental health, who may have a chip on their shoulders or were Johnny-no-mates and who want payback on those fellow humans you mention. You cannot bring people like that to any table, they enjoy behaving this way and getting away with it. Can you imagine them letting go of their power trip? And that’s not to mention the paedophiles who hide in social care. You can’t expect liars and paedophiles to want to make things better. You are unfortunately labouring under the misapprehension that child protection in this country is actually about putting the best interests of the child first.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2003/may/29/childrensservices.uknews

    http://www.lincolnshireecho.co.uk/Social-worker-struck-faking-case-records/story-20659941-detail/story.html

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2266966/Social-worker-sexually-abused-sisters-aged-working-live-nanny.html

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/tony-blairs-minister-accused-helping-3822224#ixzz36t6Xi1Z5

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2623155/Groomed-social-worker-Chilling-memoir-childs-betrayal-hands-man-supposed-taking-care-her.html

    http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/update/2014-04-24/two-former-social-workers-sentenced-for-abusing-13-boys/

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2651980/Britains-missing-babies-How-Thousands-children-disappeared-council-care-two-years-one-infant-found.html#ixzz345mtucTG

    • Jonathan Ritchie

      Besides the serious problem of the prevalence of personality disorders in the so-called caring professions which you mention; I would also add the corporatist political objectives of the profession itself which sees itself as an agent of social change rather than protecting the vulnerable.

  12. Haven’t read all the comments so I may be doubling up.

    There isn’t a full judgment because it seems that the LA re-jigged the care plan after an “indication”, which is interesting because sometimes that back-fires later for reasons.

    Not sure, but I think the CG got off a bit lightly?

    And I’m surprised that the court and respondents were ok to leave unspecified the “support” that the family would require: have I read that right? Many judges would want that sewn up sharpish, in view of the history of the case. Often the CG does too.

  13. Of course social workers are biased in court.They want to win their case not suffer the humiliation of a defeat ;That is a good enough motive for their sometimes outrageous behaviour.
    What can be done to stop the injustices? Simple really; just stop punishment without crime !
    No parents should have their children taken from them unless they have been charged with a crime against children and if found not guilty the children should be restored to them.
    Criminal court guidelines ruling family courts allowing second opinions from experts,testimony from children,and little if any hearsay evidence would ensure that injustice in family courts would be rare instead of the norm.

  14. stella aka toni macleod

    Im seriously going to bite my tongue on this one i could say SOOOOOO much grrr

    but i shall for once in my life reserve myself (i know there is a first for everything!) and limit to saying the following …..

    when a mother or father for that matter walks into court seeking custody access what ever do they want to get that request refused and the other party to win ???

    NOOOO !!

    quite simply because you go in to win your case/cause of course the LA social worker goes in with an agenda and will be openly bias to get that win for their cause

    fair play for this judge speaking out what us the normal common sense folk have known for years !?

    but i put this point to all in parent V parent cases it would be called parental alienation so why the hell when the local authority are standing as the alleged corporate parent arent they done for the same bloody thing and it seen for what it is ???

    and as for perjury and perverting the course of justice id love a judge to actually bother getting a social worker done for this because try as i might with solid black and white evidence even in open criminal court you cant do it for love nor money

    Stella xx

    • Jonathan Ritchie

      The problem with the different standards of justice which you highlight, concerns in my opinion the idea that the unaccountable professions are in fact outside the law and allowed to regulate themselves and seek to protect each other against the public interest.

  15. FORCED ADOPTION

    1:- Forced adoption is the removal of a child from its parents without their consent and usually against their will.Systematic forced adoption pursued as a government priority is unique to the UK. EU countries manage without it therefore it is not as claimed a “last resort”

    2:-The result is that the parents lose all contact with the child usually for the rest of its life and never know if it is alive or dead.

    3:- This can happen to parents who have never been convicted of any crime because they are thought to pose a risk to a child in the future

    4:-Mothers frequently have their babies removed at birth for “risk of emotional abuse” .A prediction difficult for anyone to disprove.

    5:- This also happens to citizens of the EU when visiting the UK so that their children are forcibly adopted by persons speaking a different language and living a completely different culture and a different religion even when these parents have committed no criminal offence.

    6:- This also happens to UK citizens visiting other EU countries where they give birth but are subsequently pursued by the British authorities who make care orders after the departure and persuade the foreign court to allow them to take the baby to the UK for forced adoption .

    7:- Forced adoption violates the human rights act article 8 to a private family life undisturbed by public authority and also threatens the basic EU principle of “freedom of movement “ If EU visitors to UK who have committed no crimes risk having their children forcibly adopted.

    8:- The solution to this problem would be for the EU authorities to ban on human rights grounds the adoption of children in EU States without the consent of parents( especially foreign visitors) who have not committed any crime that could compromise the interests of their children .

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