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Smokey and the Bandit – “boy adopted due to smoky house”

 

This story appeared in the Guardian yesterday.  Two year old boy from smoky house to be placed for adoption.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/01/two-year-old-boy-adoption-cigarette-smoke

 

It relates to a case decided by a Circuit Judge (in Hull)- so the case is not binding authority for later cases*, but it is still of public interest.  (* the reason it is not binding is because it was decided by a Circuit Judge, not because it was decided in Hull)

Re AB 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B58.html

 

The author of the Guardian story had clearly read the judgment, and read it carefully, because it draws out all of the many, many references to the smoky atmostphere in the house being a concern. This is a continuing theme throughout the judgment.

  the most graphic testimony came from health visitor Julie Allen, who told the judge that the family’s living room was “so smoke entrenched that I had difficulty breathing”.

“On entering the living room Allen described being able to see a visible cloud of smoke surrounding the father and [the boy],” said the judge. “[The boy] was asleep on the sofa and had been unwell for some time by this point.

“Ms Allen described the room as ‘so smoke-entrenched that I had difficulty breathing’. She immediately expressed concern to the parents as to the impact of such smoke on [the boy], who had already been prescribed an inhaler within the previous month to help his breathing.

 

That’s obviously the public interest debate, because it raises a spectre that a parent doing something lawful (smoking) can find themselves in care proceedings, and could ultimately find the child being adopted. If that was right, it would obviously worry people, and be thin end of the wedge material.

Remember that in establishing threshold, one has to not only show that X event happened and that the child suffered significant harm as a result (or is likely to) but that X is a type of behaviour that one wouldn’t expect from a reasonable parent or care that it would not be reasonable to expect a parent to provide for him.

 

Of course, reasonable is always a difficult concept. It ties into the Illusory Superiority concept – just as everyone considers that they are above average (in terms of intelligence, sense of humour, looks, driving ability), everyone considers that THEY are reasonable, and they assess other people’s behaviour as reasonable or unreasonable based on their own standards.

A non-smoker, or anti-smoker might hold that no reasonable parent would smoke within the same building as their child. Someone who smokes twenty a day might hold that a reasonable parent would smoke, but try not to blow smoke into the child’s face.  Someone else might think that a reasonable parent would try to smoke in a different room to the child, and so on.  What consitutes reasonable parenting is a really subjective issue.  (And it may well be part of the problem of care proceedings, since a social worker assessing reasonable parenting does so from the mindset of  (a) someone who was concerned enough about children to go into a profession aimed at safeguarding their welfare (b) has a degree and (c) is working in a culture where protection of children is the paramount concern)

I personally would prefer that a parent smoked outside, but I wouldn’t consider it unreasonable if they decided to smoke in their own home, or to give up entirely and insist that no visitors to their home smoked whilst there. I have a pretty broad spectrum of what is reasonable in terms of smoking near children. I know others who would have a much narrower band of what’s okay and what is unreasonable.

 

{My experience may be coloured by the fact that (a) I was able as a child to go to my ice cream van and buy cigarettes for my grandmother, something you can’t imagine today and that (b) when I was about twelve, our sweet shop sold a product called Skoal Bandits – sachets of tobacco that you would put in your mouth and suck, till they were banned  – I see that you can still buy them in America and other places and I suppose (c) that I began my childhood smoking on cigars, so I never ended up becoming a regular smoker}

 

"Smokey and the Bandit Two - Smokey IS the Bandit!"

“Smokey and the Bandit Two – Smokey IS the Bandit!”

When looking at smoking, and a smoky atmosphere, I would argue that it would need to be a very very high level of smoking to amount to threshold – since smoking, even heavy smoking in your own home is a type of behaviour that some parents would think was abhorrent and some would think was normal. It would be hard, I think,  to categorise even a sixty-a-day habit as behaviour that would amount to threshold.   (There might be exceptions – for example, if your child has a lung disease and has to breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank, or suffers with life-threatening asthma attacks then a reasonable parent would take steps to prevent him being exposed to smoke)

 

So if the smoky house was the sole, or main reason for the decision, the decision would be very questionable and probably wrong.  We need to see if that WAS the sole, or main reason.

 

The Guardian piece does say several times that smoking was one of a number of concerns, and touches on some of the others during the article.

To provide some of that context, the Judge sets them all out as bullet points

  • potential drug paraphernalia observed at the parents property on 2 occasions
  • Mother failing to engage with DVAP and the freedom programme
  • the lack of involvement of the father in AB’s care
  • outstanding therapy for the father
  • concerns re the father’s mental health
  • parents responding aggressively/defensively to challenge
  • a decline in the parents engagement with agencies whose role was to support them in their care of AB
  • the amount of smoke in the home of the parents and AB
  • risks within the household including objects left in AB’s reach and electric wires being within his reach
  • dirty, smelly and unhygienic home conditions
  • the parents and AB presenting as dirty and with an unpleasant odour
  • father testing positive for cocaine in October 2014 and subsequently failing to fully engage with hair strand testing

 

So it is certainly true that the smoky atmosphere was part of the Local Authority case, but there were other matters – probably the most serious one being the use of drugs.

 

The Guardian piece doesn’t cover this much, but actually the electrical wires were put as a high concern by the Health Visitor

A further risk that Ms Allen documents is the issue of trailing wires which she described as being a strangulations risk, running across the room directly over AB’s toybox. It was put to her in cross-examination that she was perhaps exaggerating in describing this as a strangulation risk but she was very clear on this point. She showed clear frustration and exasperation as to why the parents did not address and rectify this issue, describing that it took them some 8 weeks to remove this risk. She described how they were clearly capable of addressing risks when they were identified as they had dealt with a similar concern in their previous home. She described that all it would have taken to make the wires safe was to buy some inexpensive tacks to secure the wires to the wall.

 

That’s one of those common bugbears. Yes, wires running over  over a child’s toybox have a strangulation risk, but what effort is made to quantify that risk?  Risk isn’t binary – something is either completely safe, or there’s a risk that X could happen which is not worth taking.  Human beings take risks every day. Every time they cross a road, or put food in their mouths, there’s a risk that this activity could lead to serious injury or death. But we weigh up that the risks are very very small, and the consequences of trying to lead a risk free life (by avoiding say, the risk of choking on some food, by not eating, or liquidising all your meals in a blender) are more problematic than taking a slight risk.

I’ve no doubt that seeing electrical wires dangling over a toybox doesn’t feel nice, that you’d feel much more comfortable if it was fixed and it seems a small thing to ask, but when you describe it as a strangulation risk without quantifying that the risk there is very very small, for me, it is over-stated.  For example, if I let a pet python sleep in a baby’s cot, that is a strangulation risk, and one that most people would think was more risky than overhead wires.  You lose sense of risk and risk management if you describe both the wires and the python scenarios as ‘risk of strangulation’

[It is a not unreasonable point to respond by saying ‘it would be very easy and relatively painless to remove that small risk entirely, so why not do it in this case?’ ]

 

A lot of the evidence about home conditions was contested and challenged, so the Judge had to reach conclusions.

 

  1. I find that I prefer the evidence of the health visitor, Julie Allen and the support workers, Emma green and Janine Potts in terms of their observations of the home conditions and I find that the recordings of Laura Gill provide further corroboration of these matters. I find that the home conditions were sometimes extremely dirty, unhygienic, and placed AB at risk of exposure to germs and contracting illness. I further find that he was at risk of sustaining serious injury or possible strangulation through clutter in the home and the failure to deal with unsecured wires. AB himself was exposed to these conditions and his personal care was sometimes inadequate with him being dirty and on occasions smelling of smoke. I find that there were numerous occasion when AB was exposed to excessive levels of smoke in the home that will have had an impact on his health and wellbeing.
  2. I find that his weight plateaued when he returned to the care of his parents and that he dropped by one centile on the growth charts. I find that his diarrhoea and general unwellness is likely to have been impacted on by the lack of cleanliness and unhygienic home conditions. When a child is suffering as AB was and there are simultaneous concerns about his lack of weight gain, the advice of the health visitor to maintain hygienic and clean home conditions should have been prioritised.
  3. As a general observation, I find that the parents do not accept or follow advice if they do not agree with the advice (both parents disputing the strangulation risk identified by Julie Allen and the risk from cigarette smoke identified by several professionals).
  4. I also find that the parents failed to engage fully with the support services that were available and provided for them, in particular the family links programme, the safety workshops, the children’s play sessions and freedom programme for the mother. I am afraid that whilst I accept that these parents had a lot going on, these courses and programmes were important and needed to be prioritised, if the mother was to attend, the father had a responsibility to ensure that she was supported and encouraged by him in attending. Even if he was working long hours, he needed to be staying on top of the housework when he returned if the mother had been unable to attend to it during the day. This plan for AB to be cared for by his parents needed these parents to work together and support each other to ensure that AB’s needs were fully met.
  5. I find that the father struggles in managing his levels of anxiety and that sometimes this can manifest itself in him presenting as aggressive or confrontational, as recorded by the health visitor and the social worker. Whilst I am pleased that the father is now receiving some appropriative assistance with this, it is clear that this is at an early stage of what will be a long therapeutic process. I also find that as a way of managing stress the father has reverted to illicit drug use on at least one occasion and I find that this is an ongoing risk for the future. I find that the communication between the parents was extremely poor with the mother not knowing about the father’s heightened stress levels and the fact that he reports he was reducing his anti anxiety medication (I cannot understand why he would be doing that just after AB had been removed from his care) and the father not knowing that the mother was failing to attend the courses and groups that were expected of her.
  6. When considering the evidence in relation to the care that AB has received and is likely to receive, I have found it helpful to consider in some detail the documents from the care proceedings and in particular the assessments. I also find that is of real significance that the parents, having achieved their aim of a plan for AB to be placed in their care, were then unable to motivate themselves sufficiently to ensure that the home conditions were suitable for him to be placed. The standard that was needed was simply good enough, I would have thought it would not have been too much of a sacrifice for the parents to stop smoking (or at least to stop smoking in the home) and to ensure that the home was clean and tidy. In addition, I accept that the parents delay in seeking the courses that had been recommended and were to some extent part of the plan for AB to be placed in their care, demonstrates a lack of organisational skills and lack of commitment. Following the court approving a plan for AB to be cared for by his parents, I would have expected the parents’ commitment and motivation to be at its very highest.

 

The Judge had to analyse both harm, and whether the parents were able to meet the child’s needs to a ‘good enough’ standard, and if not whether they could be supported to do so.

  1. Has he suffered harm? I am afraid that I find that he has. Those changes in placement will themselves have been harmful and I think it will have been harmful to him that his return to his parents care was delayed by 4 months, a significant contributory factor to that delay was the parents’ lack of action and motivation. In addition he has been placed at real risk of injury to his health and wellbeing by his exposure to hazards in the home, lack of appropriate supervision and unsuitable and dirty living conditions. The impact on a child’s self esteem as they get older of being dirty and smelly should not be underestimated. They can be isolated from their peers and struggle to form friendships.
  2. The father still has some issues with managing his moods and with a risk of reverting to illicit drug use when he is under stress. The mother on her own, without significant support from the father cannot consistently meet AB’s needs. Dr Parsons found that and there is no evidence that this has changed since his assessment. Therefore the father’s difficulties are all the more significant. He has not been able to compensate for the mother’s own limitations and indeed some of the recent issues in relation to his mental health and anger issues and drug use actually heighten the risks. I do not accept that the issue is as simple as him now being available as he in no longer working.
  3. Are the parents capable of meeting his needs? Yes they are. At times it is clear that they are able to recognise and prioritise his needs. They have shown that they can maintain a clean and suitable home; they can show commitment to AB by attendance at contact and consistent care within contact. However, I must consider the evidence in relation to their actual care of AB when he was living with them and was due to be living with them. Sadly, I find that this fell well below the level that I would say is good enough. I really don’t know why this was.
  4. The parents are entitled to support in their parenting. Having considered the evidence of all parties I consider that the level of support offered to the parents was extremely high (indeed the mother reported the support worker visiting “every day”). Not all of the support that was available was taken up. Given the significant concerns that then arose, it is apparent that support from the LA or other services unable to redress the parents’ difficulties in meeting AB’s needs. It is hard to see what other or further services could have been offered. The level of support offered through Janine Potts visiting all day and every day is simply unsustainable in the longer term and ceases to be “support” and instead becomes substituted parenting.
  5. I think that the mother is right when she recognises that some of the problems that the couple experienced were due to immaturity. This couple needs to be able to care for themselves and maintain an appropriate home, manage their finances and address the issues in their relationship in respect of communication and The father needs to be much further on with this therapeutic work before they would be in a position to take on the care of a dependant child. In my view they still have some way to go with this.
  6. I am afraid that all of these matters lead me to an unavoidable and difficult conclusion that the risks to AB in being placed once again with his parents are far too high. The parents have given me no confidence in their written or oral evidence that they have sufficient understanding and awareness in relation to the processionals concerns to ensure that such concerns would not arise again in the future. Adoption really is the only option now available to AB, in my view, nothing else will do. I therefore refuse the parents application for discharge of the care order and make a placement order authorities n the LA to place AB for adoption.
  7. I want AB to know that in my judgement his parents loved him very much and tried very hard but due to their own difficulties and difficult backgrounds, they were simply not able to meet his needs.

 

 

This is a difficult one – it isn’t the most overwhelming case for adoption that I’ve seen, but the Judge does do what the Court of Appeal have commanded – to grapple with the issues and weigh up both sides of the argument, and the Judge makes conclusions. I don’t think that it is a judgment that is vulnerable to appeal (which is not to say that the Court of Appeal might view that differently if asked) but there are no obvious flaws in the decision making.

If the case had been solely on the basis of the smoking and smokey atmosphere, then I don’t think it would have had this result, and if it had, it would have been successfully appealed.  As part of the large number of issues, its evidential importance becomes less significant.

 

I think that there’s an argument or debate about whether too much emphasis appears in the judgment on the smoking, but looking at the analytical portion of the judgment (as opposed to the passages where the Judge is quoting what the witnesses said), I don’t think that the Judge puts particular emphasis on the smoking – it is mentioned, but not disproportionately so.

Does this bit of the findings go too far?

I find that there were numerous occasion when AB was exposed to excessive levels of smoke in the home that will have had an impact on his health and wellbeing.

 

He probably was exposed to excessive levels of smoke on the evidence. It is whether there was evidence that this exposure caused him harm, that might be more problematic. There is the evidence that the child had been prescribed an inhaler to help with his breathing a month earlier, so if the evidence before the Court was that the child had breathing difficulties, which would be causing him harm or discomfort, there could be a caustive link that the cigarette smoke, if excessive, was impacting adversely on his well being.  (In light of the President’s comments on Re A, I think that if there is to be a finding that the parents smoking caused him significant harm, the link needs to be very explicit)

Nor do I think that the report in the Guardian was misleading or distorted – its a very good summary of the case and certainly when you read the judgment, it is possible to see it being largely about smoking, too much so on first reading.  It was only when I read the analytical sections with close inspection that the case became more balanced than first appeared.

 

It is also worth noting that the Judge was critical of the Local Authority – when this case was first listed for final hearing,  it was only really in the mother’s evidence, that it became apparent that there were pfoessionals who had been frequently visiting the home for whom the Court had no records and no statements.The records were produced the next day. .  The parents wanted time to prepare their case and also wanted these witnesses to be called. In the event, those witnesses turned out to be key witnesses. The adjournment had to be granted. The Judge criticised the Local Authority for not having addressed their mind to the case that they were trying to prove and that these witnesses should have had statements prepared and served much earlier.

It was a shame that the Guardian (and the other advocates) had not grasped the significance that there was valuable evidence in the knowledge of potential witnesses who had not been called.  This case highlights that Guardians now very rarely read the primary evidence – the social work files and records, and are urged by CAFCASS not to do so – on the basis of ‘proportionate working’   (I’d sarcastically comment that where the order sought or contemplated is one that leads to adoption, that it would be proportionate for the independent representative of the child to look at the files, but that would be beneath me)

 

25. I queried whether the Guardian had considered the LA records and seen the significant involvement of these other workers. I was told that the guidance from Cafcass, in line with proportionate working, is that LA files will only be inspected if it is necessary. Sadly, in this case I think it was. I also made it clear to the LA that in my view the Presidents guidance, whilst helpfully sending out a clear message, is not new law. It is always for the LA to prove its case and it must do so on the best evidence available. It is unfortunate that no-one within the LA took a step back to assess what case it was trying to prove and what evidence there was to support such a case and then what witnesses could give that evidence. For example, a large plank of the LA case is that the home conditions were frequently dirty and cluttered and that the home was very smoky and smelly. Ms Tomblin had only visited on one occasion prior to AB’s removal and what she observed on that date whilst raising some issues, was not the picture that had been recorded by others of a home situation that was unsafe and unsuitable. Thought should have been given to what evidence she would actually be able to assist the court with and whether there were others who were able to give more direct evidence of the matters that the LA was seeking to prove.

  1. This became even more stark when I was told at the resumed hearing of this matter that the LA had actually obtained a statement from Emma Green who was heavily involved with the family at the relevant time and who’s evidence was highly relevant, but for some inexplicable reason this had not formed part of the bundle, nor had it been served on the other parties.
  2. I reminded all of the representatives, that I saw a collective responsibility between them to consider the evidence that it was proposed the court would be asked to consider and whether further evidence was needed, whether to support a party’s case or to enable an effective challenge and to alert the Judge to the fact that there may be evidential difficulties. Applications can be made on short notice and consideration could have been given to whether further witness evidence was necessary. It is disappointing that the parties have held a number of advocates meeting and as I have already said, the case has been listed for final hearing previously, yet these matters have never been raised. Nevertheless, the parents’ right to a fair trial undoubtedly required them to have the opportunity to see direct evidence and to have the ability to challenge such evidence. Inevitably therefore a further adjournment was necessary. I was also concerned that there should be no abuse of process and that the matter needed to be heard as soon as possible and therefore directed that the final hearing would be adjourned to commence afresh. I directed that the LA file evidence from those professionals who had been involved with the family during the rehabilitation period, specifically the Family Support workers and the Health Visitor. These documents have now been filed and all parties have had the chance to consider and respond to them. The parents have filed a further statement in which they perhaps go a little further in acknowledging some of the concerns.

 

 

 

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About suesspiciousminds

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

34 responses

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    Nevertheless, the parents’ right to a fair trial undoubtedly required them to have the opportunity to see direct evidence and to have the ability to challenge such evidence.

  2. Dirty smelly parents, whatever next – remove the child!! (Think coal miners, what terrible parents they must have been)

    Seems to me they were looking for any old reason … Soo all the parents have to do is have a bath, clean the house, sign an undertaking to smoke outside and there they have enough change of circumstance to get their child home, bingo

    • I was thinking about the children of coal miners the other day – I was reading Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier – no bath, not much heat, bread and butter for tea, no toys, parents often not able to read – and it did strike me that standards of neglect aren’t fixed and static – they are relative and fluctuating. All of the children who grew up in homes like that in the 1920s and 1930s and then probably went through hell in the War. Would we really be able to say that the child in this case (or many others) had a more deprived childhood than those thousands of children in the 20s and 30s?

      • My point exactly, I mean where does this end? Are we to remove the children of a sewer worker who enjoys a cheeky pint and a smoke in the way home?
        Although we don’t smoke round the grandchildren and find it reprehensible that anyone should, it’s not for us to comment on others.
        The country’s gone mad, the removal of children has become the first resort not the last, i wonder who will die because there is no space due to fc’s taking care of the smokers lot

      • @Ashamedtobebritish My main information source was the Second Serious Case Review in 2010 by Alan Jones.

        Why do social workers refuse to learn lessons from this case? Because their leaders are more interested in promoting their latest book, Re-imagining child protection by White, Morris and Featherstone (that teaches students the Holy Grail of social work as supportive and empowering) than in helping social workers understand the extent and limits of their legal powers and making sure they act lawfully. It is ironic that the more support the book gets the more widespread scepticism about social work expertise becomes.

  3. It so should have been because the case was decided in Hull. Enough said. Pity she didn’t name the local authority , I take it I can’t?

  4. I have put my dummy back in and will now contribute in an adult manner!
    My Dad’s early years were as described ,lack of food, lack of clothes, lack of educational opportunity. However everyone else was in the same boat, there was not an outside world brought in via the telly or the internet so he did not feel deprived. It was rare even to travel outside of the village. He did not turn into a dysfunctional adult.
    Is neglect a matter of perception?

    • Yes, yes it is, we had no money, often no heating, food and baths were shared between us on a Sunday, I’m alive and well, with a good education behind me

    • When I was reading the Orwell book, it struck me that it absolutely must be. It has to also be relative to what the lives of other children in a similar socio-economic group are like. And that can be problematic, when the people who are measuring and assessing neglect don’t always have practical experience of living within that socio-economic group – I think it is really important to recruit, train and retain social workers who have had diverse life experiences and backgrounds. (Of course, the opposite direction of travel is what is happening with Frontline, where people from the best universities and the best degrees are being fast-tracked into social work – I’m sure they are academically very gifted, but how many of them have that concept of Brid Featherstone’s of understanding the community that they work in and being embedded as part of it?)

      • I know i always say it and make no apology this time … Your comment surely includes 22 year old, childless sw’s who steam into parents lives telling them how to raise their children, or else!
        They are only just out if childhood themselves, yet are given the power (oh how they love that power) to dramatise, lie and manipulate the removal of children, they really haven’t got a clue on real life yet

      • Not sure about that. I am sure about Frontline, hate the very notion of it, too philanthropy like for my taste to take the crème de la crème! Much more effective to improve working conditions (case loads mainly) & salaries for SW, especially in child protection. Completely understand that standards of care/home environment fluctuate but they do in society and social workers don’t need to have had diverse experiences so much as have an understanding of the community they are working with. it doesn’t take long to acquire that if you are in a locality based team and bright enough. It would be the same if a white British worker is based in a locality populated by those of another ethnicity to their own. You listen, learn and adapt. In this case mum not being able to meet the child’s needs without her partner and the vulnerability of that does create risk. One available parent who is able to meet the child’s needs is fine in a substance using family, I am sure that goes on the households of many, even the middle classes. One of my first visits was to a family who I had expected not to welcome me because they had been a series of on-going issues which were veering towards risk. Much to my surprise I was announced to the street as the new social worker and only on return to the office realises the whole street had a social worker virtually, we had become part of a support network or culture of dependency, I didn’t know which really. Either way some needs got met, others didn’t, and outcomes were fine. It was a world where SW could be much more realistic about family life and I think that is what Brigid and Laura were focussed on as much as being embedded.

      • Good points, Helen, thank you very much. Realism about family life is a really good way of putting it.

      • You don’t think sw’s earn enough? Compare that wage to nurses, firemen, policemen, those who save lives

      • Ashamedtobebritish | June 3, 2015 at 11:08 am

        SWs should wear their power lightly, there is a power imbalance when working with families, but you know they have no real power. The state has checks and balances in place to ensure they are scrutinised.

        Not that I think all SW are great, some are not just as other professionals vary. Young and childless is an irrelevance. If you think you need to experience something to know about it there are numerous things that would be a bit of a challenge. Parenting would be one of them, if you would only be able to do it well if you had done it before, nobody could do it.

        The SW role is clearly to promote welfare and safeguard. Working with families whose parenting has raised issues should be a combination of identifying strengths, support to effect change, and being very clear about what the concerns are. It is often very clear that children’s needs are not being met, and nobody wants children removed from home unless they have to be, they just want parents to meet those needs.

        SW would be delighted if parents whose children are not thriving and who are at risk would do everything they need to in order to ensure they are safe. Good enough means what it says on the tin. SW are far more realistic about variations in family cultures than most people in the community. They also all know the state makes a lousy parent, as much as is done to improve outcomes for children in care, they remain overrepresented in the societal cohorts we would all prefer they weren’t.

      • I really cannot agree, a mother gets to know and bonds with her baby for 9 months, nurturing is a natural process during pregnancy. A 30 year old mother to be is not going to appreciate a 22 know nothing telling them how to be a parent, the grandparents even less so when their children are older than this 22 yr old! Then all that needs to be written down is that the family are hostile or uncooperative – well yes they would be to be honest!

      • Ashamedtobebritish I can’t reply to your comments below but we disagree obviously. A twenty something doctor who has never had cancer can still treat someone with it etc. If only parenting were as simple as bonding in utero.

        & yes, I don’t think SW are paid enough and in real terms they have seen pay freeze. All the other professionals involved in family cases are paid more and as much is expected of SW. If you want good experienced frontline social workers they should be paid comparatively. I don’t do it for the £ and I won’t leave because of my salary but most professionals are paid more including the ones with blue flashing lights.

        I would also argue (& you would presumably disagree) that sometimes we are really good at putting lives back together and saving them Many are the families I have helped or seen helped. It is a privilege to be a SW because you inhabit people’s lives at their most vulnerable, most of the time until they don’t need us any more, and you bear witness to some things that others can’t tolerate – including friends and family.

        Those cases won’t ever reach a court or headline.

        It is a shame that you are prepared to dismiss an entire profession. What do you do?

      • Fight ppl like you.

        I will agree on certain things, sw’s are a necessary evil, if only someone had removed babyp for example and I do know of some lives that have been held together through ss intervention, unfortunately once the la leave they do not see the destruction they’ve left behind, ocd, ptsd, depression, feelings of worthlessness … Sw’s can do it right, however they need to treat ppl with respect and dignity, you are after all telling parents that they are crap at their job, so what’s your problem with me telling you you’re crap at yours?
        Be nice to service users, don’t tell them I will take your baby if you don’t do what I want!! Be honest, say, you need to do this to help your baby, I don’t want this to end up in court, here’s the process, it will happen and we need to stop that from happening.
        Don’t lie in reports, it’s not big or clever. Be HONEST, if your line manager doesn’t like you writing an honest report, report her!
        You ask parents to change, take your own advice, really this is not a dig at you personally, but you know, I know and so does the rest of the world know, a sw on the loose us a liability at times, let’s work this out for the good and put the adoption agencies out of work

      • @AshamedtobeBritish so let’s pretend you are a GP and I had a terrible experience with a GP once who made me feel terrible (I did) so I write off all GPs? I don’t, I go to see another one and I find someone who understands what I need and is kind.

        Baby P – a SW would have removed the child if a DOCTOR had told them he was drastically injured and needed to stay in hospital. He should never have left Great Ormand Street. He may not have been at home if the POLICE had investigated properly, they kind of forgot to, and found mum had a boyfriend who presented a risk. Oh and if a LAWYER had advised thresholds had been met so they could go to court.

      • Ashamed to be British

        Oh please.

        The ‘mother’ Connelly stated in a video interview with a sw that she had a new bloke – not checked, the child was in a pram not moving, due to his broken back – not checked, he had chocolate all over his head, to cover injuries, which as a sw you should know damn well that is one of the biggest signs to look for – not checked, his fingertips were missing – not checked, his nails were pulled out – not checked.

        Nevres Kemal first raised concerns in 2004 which were ignored, they then threatened her own child with care! Is this how the system should work? Are you happy that your colleagues would stab you in the back without a second thought? No, well nor are these parents.

        It did not take a doctor to tell any normal person that the child was injured. As stated above, a sw did that, there is no excusing it, typical sw, pass the blame to anyone but the person who should shoulder responsibility, Peter Connelly was failed by social services, how dare you undervalue the miserable life and even poorer death of this poor child! You have no shame

      • @HelenSparkles @Ashamedtobebritish Your arguments about baby Peter Connolly are based on only a small part of the story. You may be interested in reading my article about the facts of this case http://radical.org.uk/barefoot/babyp.htm

      • A devastating read, that poor baby let down over and over, who is the information source?

        There was a video interview (with a sw) with Connelly where she stated she had a new man in her life, so she did not hide the fact

        No lessons have been learnt, this continues with Haringey, who, like Helen, accept zero responsibility for their failings, all that has come out of this is hundreds of children being removed on crystal ball predictions from innocent families. This is no way to protect children, it is a way to be ‘seen to be doing something’ with devastating consequences for the innocent (rickets etc)

        And behold! Children who are not removed where there is blatantly obvious abuse, are still dying at the hands of relatives due to slapdash and lazy practise!

      • @Ashamedtobebritish My main information source was the Second Serious Case Review in 2010 by Alan Jones.

        Why do social workers refuse to learn lessons from this case? Because their leaders are more interested in promoting their latest book, Re-imagining child protection by White, Morris and Featherstone (that teaches students the Holy Grail of social work as supportive and empowering) than in helping social workers understand the extent and limits of their legal powers and making sure they act lawfully. It is ironic that the more support the book gets the more widespread scepticism about social work expertise becomes.

  5. Pingback: Smokey and the Bandit – “boy adopte...

  6. I think this is way the role of family support workers come in, or whatever you want to call them. I understand they use them in Germany and have a far lower number of children in care. They are not going to educated to degree level, but they would be likely to be drawn from the same communities as parents so can understand at first hand the dynamics of the situation rather than have a head full of theories. I am not knocking the newly qualified social workers, everyone has to start somewhere but wisdom undoubtedly comes with age.
    When I had my first child I had a health visitor very near retirement and she was the best thing since sliced bread. Basically she put me at ease and made me confident that I was doing OK. Not by theories , but by demanding I put the kettle on and got the biscuits out whilst she cuddled the baby. She of course did her checks. We really built a relationship, I kept breastfeeding and the baby thrived. Would there not be a role for been there and got the tshirt parents and grandparents at say a reasonable cost of say something around the living wage.

    • We have family support workers here but the support they can offer is limited by cuts to LAs. There are no family support teams who work the way they did when I first qualified and there are no services to refer families to for support.

      Interesting comment about age, some young social workers are brilliant, but qualifying later in life is a bit of an advantage. We still have a head full of theories, but you would probably want us to understand them, as long as we could still talk to you straightforwardly. You probably wouldn’t want any professional not to understand their theory base.

      Your experience of the health visitor is great, I have had some who have contacted me on duty to say children are living in neglectful environments when they really weren’t, we were almost blue lights flashing going out, not quite because we knew the family so expected a slight deterioration in circs but there wasn’t even that.

      Relational social work is key, as you reflect in your comment about the health visitor. Being able to achieve that is a challenge that leads many of us to leave LAs.

  7. I am appalled at the way this case has been reported in the media. And the title of your article is a little misleading because, as you say, it is not just about smoking. Even the Guardian leaves out important facts and seems to be biased against social workers. It should not be forgotten that these parents have had other children removed in the past.

    In this case the parents should have been in no doubt about the consequences if they failed to engage constructively with the services trying to help them. It is unclear whether a pre-birth assessment was carried out – but parental hostility may have been a factor preventing this. The baby was removed at birth, a Care Order was obtained, an assessment completed and the outcome was that social workers made a plan to place the child with his parents, with the Care Order still in place. This plan was approved by the judge and arrangements made for child to be moved to his parents, although it was recognised that this was not without risks. Later on the judge seemed critical of the way children’s services used their powers under the Care Order to remove the child – even though she had given them these legal powers.

    I have read the judgment carefully and I believe the judge weighed up all the facts in a fair and balanced way. She summarised the numerous concerns about the health and development of the child following his placement with parents. We know that a 2 year old child is vulnerable. Why did he need to use an inhaler at such a young age? What did the mother do all day? Why was she unable to keep the home clean, hygienic and tidy? Although the smoking was a focus of concern there were many other concerns, and although some might be regarded as trivial, when put together they provided plenty of evidence against the parents i.e that they were not meeting his basic needs for physical care and safety in a consistently reliable way and failed to act on advice given to them by the Health Visitor. While everyone involved in this case had been prepared to give the parents the benefit of the doubt, in the end they must have realised they had put too much trust in them.

    The judge accepted that the parents had loving feelings for the child but I think their behaviour showed immaturity and difficulty in putting the child’s needs before their own. Adoption may have been a difficult decision for the judge to make but, in my opinion, it was the right decision.

    • The bit in quotes in my title is a direct pull from The Guardian story – and to be fair to the writer of that story, it is not unusual for a sub-editor to put a more ‘sexy’ title on it than the one that the writer originally used. Yes, the case is about a lot more than smoking, and I think like you that the judgment as a whole is about right.

  8. Well, need to wait for the appeal and see what that throws up.

  9. I couldn’t find any evidence in Judgment to sever relationship of mother and child forever by forcible adoption. A blister becomes a ‘possible’ burn when the State workers took toddler to GP. If you are looking for a problem, you might perceive one. Where are all the medical reports to back up the judge’s decision? It’s horrific.

    http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B58.html

    • Ashamed to be British

      You can look forever for a justification, you haven’t found one, because there isn’t one

    • I think there was plenty of evidence from the Health Visitor that the parents were irresponsible and failing to meet the child’s basic needs and his health and development was becoming impaired. The court process tends to put more emphasis on hard facts, such as the damage caused by the smokey atmosphere, because this is easier to prove. However, this does not mean that all the ‘softer’ evidence (mother’s lack of openness and honesty and rigid attitudes of both parents) should be overlooked. In my opinion the judge correctly weighed up all the facts and recognised serious limitations in parenting capacity, which did not bode well for the child’s future.

      • On the contrary, the social workers agreed that the mother (22 years old) was making positive improvements. There was no hard evidence against the mother to justify forcible adoption. The judge’s decision was baseless. It went against the human rights of the mother in severing forever her relationship with Baby AB.

      • @Maya Your ‘human rights’ view ignores the background to this case. A pre-birth assessment had concluded that the parents would not be able to care for the child but the LA later agreed to a rehabilitation plan. After his placement with parents the initial feedback from the Family Support Worker (NOT a social worker) was that there was a more open and co-operative working relationship with them. However, subsequent events showed that this was short-lived and standards of care soon deteriorated. There was plenty of evidence that progress had not been made and it was very unlikely the parents would be able to meet the child’s needs throughout his childhood. The paramount consideration has to be the welfare of the child.

      • Ashamed to be British

        You’re kind of missing the point here.

        Not only does one have to bend over backwards to the local authority, or engage, cooperate etc etc to be able to parent, but also it is a well researched fact that children thrive better in the care of their parents no matter how dysfunctional than they do in care or adoption.

        Read – Mental health of the adopted child, it makes so much sense.

        Who are these people who decide what is too dirty, too smelly, too smoky, not co-operative enough? What qualifications do they have to say that child would not cope if left at home? They don’t know that, no one does, crystal ball predictions just do not and should not cut it. There are hundreds of thousands of kids out there who live in much worse conditions, who grow to be normal, well rounded, productive members of society.
        Adopted/care children nearly always end up with mental health issues.

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