RSS Feed

Is the system failing parents?

Unlike most newspaper headlines that pose a question, to which the answer turns out to be “no”, this particular article from the Guardian ends up with the answer “yes”, and I would agree with it.


I do complain often about how the mainstream press report on care proceedings, but this piece is a good example of how it can be done properly.

Firstly, when reporting on a particular judgment, the piece provides a link to the judgment itself, so that the readers can if they wish read the source material.

Second, the account of the judgment holds up as being accurate even after you’ve read the judgment itself.

And third, rather than a single source story (which is specifically against the code that journalists have signed up to), this particular journalist, Louise Tickle, has taken the trouble to go and speak to a variety of sources to inform the story.  And she has picked smart people (like Cathy Ashley of Family Rights Group, Karen Broadhurst and the Pause project) to speak to.

The really sad thing about this case is that it is not a unique and unusual outlier – it isn’t the story of a dreadful miscarriage of justice, or the truth coming out following dogged cross-examination, or a Local Authority being put to the sword for mistreatment.

It is an example of a case that people working within the system will see week in and week out – a mother who is very damaged by her own experiences and upbringing, who needs proper therapeutic help to address those difficulties and who didn’t get that therapeutic help in time to make a difference for her care of her child, with the effect that the child can’t  be with her.  This sort of thing happens all the time, up and down the country. The fact that it happens all the time shouldn’t immunise us to the pain involved and the sense that it must be wrong.


Whilst the Judge, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, carefully pointed out that this was a mother who had a need to change substantially and was not going to change within the time that the baby needed her to, he went over and above the usual expression of sadness and into not only a critique of the system but an exhortation that the system must do better.


This case is another example of how important it is that, if therapy is needed, it is obtained at an early stage. Time and time again I see a process whereby the following occurs: a) a Local Authority intervenes and begins making assessment of a family; b) months later proceedings are issued; c) an order is made for some form of expert evidence to be produced (often a psychological report); d) months later the psychological report is obtained which says, invariably and utterly foreseeably, that someone within the family needs therapy and e) it is stated that, by then, the beneficial effect of therapy would be ‘outwith the timescales for the child’. In this case, for instance, it would have been perfectly obvious to all that, when the mother was referred before birth, she was a prime candidate for therapy. If therapy were to be obtained at an early stage such as that there is at least a prospect that outcomes in some cases might be different. I have therefore already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how we facilitate and access therapy in this area, with a view to doing my utmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. I ask for as much help as possible with that endeavour.


The Judge is completely right here. I’ve been saying for many years that the system was geared up to get and pay for a Harley Street diagnosis but left the business of obtaining  treatment to a model of  stand outside Superdrug looking sad and hoping the staff take pity on you.  {It’s even worse now, since we don’t even have the Harley Street diagnosis money any more to redirect where it always should have been going}

It’s really easy to wring our hands and say that the system is the system and what can you do. It is even easier to say that when the pragmatic reality is that Local Authority budgets were cut massively in the current Parliament and are set to be cut still further in the next one, whoever is in charge.  Social Services isn’t education and it isn’t health, so there’s no budgetary ringfencing – it will have to take its share of the cuts and some of health and education’s share into the bargain.

I like that His Honour Judge Wildblood QC isn’t satisfied with hand-wringing and wants to do something about it. I very much hope that his scheme works, and I hope that it works so well that versions of it are rolled out nationally.

As Louise’s article touches on, there’s precedent for that. District Judge Crichton saw so many care cases with drugs and alcohol being a feature that he took it upon himself to devise and champion a specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Court, and that model is now being rolled out to other areas in the country.

As George Bernard Shaw said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

I have no idea at all whether His Honour Judge Wildblood QC is an unreasonable man – I’m sure he is instead a deeply reasonable one. But if he is choosing to be unreasonable about a system that can see when a parent is crying out for therapeutic intervention but doing nothing about him, then all power to him.

I’d love to see some legislation that insists that where a Local Authority issues care proceedings, they must arrange and provide funding for therapy for the parents; it must be more economically sensible and morally sensible and less costly in terms of pain and trauma to try to fix what is wrong with a parent rather than simply waiting around for them to have the next child and starting the whole process off again.  (I’d love also to see that legislation backed with some government funding to pay for it, but although I am an unreasonable man, I’m not an unrealistic one)

Yes, there’s far more to tackle in family justice than this one issue of providing therapy for those who need it (rather than them trailing off to see their GP who at best puts them on a two year waiting list), but it would be a starting point, a base camp – and a message that there’s more to do to make a family justice system really be about both families and justice – rather than at the moment, where it is all simply about “system”


[I feel like I ought to put a You-Tube clip of “My name’s Ben Elton, good night” here, as I got a bit student ranty there]

Let’s watch out for Louise Tickle – this is damn good journalism, and it would be nice for mainstream writing on family justice to have this blend of outrage and factual accuracy.

About suesspiciousminds

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

11 responses

  1. Jerry Lonsdale

    It is a thought provoking article, as you know we have both tackled some cases where its not rocket science the parent or child needs “Therapy” then once assessed what the therapy is the L.A’s run for the hills or spend an extortionate amount of resources trying to avoid paying for therapy,

    I dealt with a matter very recently where the “Two Years worth” was an end result from an assessment, unbeknownst to us the actual therapy did not exist, NHS or even private, I do tend to become somewhat irate when these matters are to be determined, what hope does the parent have if the conclusion to an Experts report cannot possibly be obtained

    I am pleased to say that Louise is coming to our conference in June 🙂

    • I listened to what a EW said in court,this therapy is not available in 2005. moving on to 2015 .If this is the case, why has nobody asked the relevant questions.Just how many parents are being set up by being giving this advice?
      I personally would not play, or pay private,an my GP said there was no money,an if he found the money would I go ?
      I told the GP he would have to take part,an every consultant, an doctor who ever treated me.He looked astounded.
      lets talk facts.

      1)j The mother just needs a domestic cleaner,to come in an clean whitest she is going through a rough patch,costs less than a court case……
      2) Look at the word “study,”then take a closer look dig deeper ,an see the actual costs of studying trauma,an who is interested in studying trauma. on the CV of most of my EW’s it says trauma experts, an, I even found a solicitor asking another solicitor ,when are you going to be finished with this EW,as I want her on this case. So the solicitors go get these specialist experts to direct these cases,an have trials concerning enough trauma from the get go

      3)also look at where these court experts work.From my personal experience ,i have found that they work in NHS an PO Box numbers an some are on more money than the PM.I pooled cases, a profiled EWs from similar cases mostly London
      4)the address that my solicitor sent me to is rented out by the hour in Marylebone
      5)This particular EW has a warning on the GMC website for writing reports without seeing a parent ,the EW also has a private clinic in Windsor (conflict of interest)
      6) this experts talks to himself although court ,whilst is annoyed to be kept waiting to give evidence,clearly something note right here.Finally he’s giving evidence,an he comes out with,what you have said.
      Only this, I have contacts,only I would be able to find this therapy,an nobody else will be able to find it.It will have to be paid privately,an it takes 2 years.
      7) I am so glad that I used my common sense,an I never went for 2 years therapy.
      I met Paul Storey QC went for a conference with my solicitor, an barrister, who set me up,he asked who was who? As I had taken the barristers advice ,under duress,an bei g traumatised ,I had no right of appeal.He said it was a pleasure to meet me,as I was bright.He said,I don’t blame you,not wanting to see another expert witness.
      I had 3 experts,no names,or this won’t get printed.

      I guess 10 credit cards,an some common sense an an air ticket to NY was all the therapy I needed,an yes, I survived,many dont survive the outcome, but then some people are just plain stupid to work with these experts.I wonder why,as it won’t get you your children back,they are just going to send you mad trying .

  2. safeguardingsurvivor

    Excellent article! I am under no illusions of how lucky I was to be able to access the Therapy quickly and free-of-charge – had I have lived in another postcode I doubt this option would have been available to me, and I would have lost my child.

    • Unfortunately completing therapy does not guarantee the return of children, quite the opposite, it’s usually an exercise set up to fail the parents, giving the LA another excuse as to why they should foster/adopt them

  3. stella aka toni macleod

    Having read this i have to agree the system isnt fit for purpose however despite what President Munby said about HHJ Taylor in Re A 2015 one thing i can personally say about HHJ Taylor is he did attempt in my own case to rectify this same situation

    In a nut shell the LA as is usual demanded a shrink report they got one however what they didnt expect to get was that the therapist stated ‘mother has PTSD from the LA’s past and present actions this doesnt effect her ability to parent however it effects her ability to work with the LA’

    HHJ Taylor took that bull by the horns and stated quite bluntly ….. either you pay for therapy or we will be back next year with another child in the same situation with nothing changed

    The LA paid the £150 per week for a hours session (yes irony at its best they had to pay for me to rant to a shrink about how much i hate the LA lmao !!)

    this should happen more often if the LA seeks to state MH and rely upon it they should fund therapy

    Stella xx

  4. Yup – it’s (ie the therapy you describe) is preventative (or prophylactic) care; and the health system tries to do it all the time. Why not for parents and children at an approporiately early stage where care proceedings are in prospect (as you say)?

    (PS I assume you meant the Guardian saw intelligent not well-dressed (‘smart’) people to check their story?)

  5. That’s about right … The system didn’t work for you, so we’ll put your child through the same system, while solemnly stating to the media that ‘lessons will be learned’

  6. Surely we all know that most therapy is crap ? Simply a way for social workers to get evidence against the parent from the therapist since there is no confidentiality whatever for these sessions.
    What a racket ! Providing evidence if parents do take therapy and an excuse to take the baby for forced adoption if they don’t !
    It’s a cruel world……………

  7. safeguardingsurvivor

    Well, that makes my 16 months of Therapy all worthwhile, thanks. And – actually – my Therapist didn’t disclose a single thing about the content of our sessions during my newborn’s Proceedings, save to say I was engaging very well and making progress. My baby was returned to me.

%d bloggers like this: