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Can we fix it? Do we really remove children for playing in a Bob the Builder car?



You may have seen the Daily Mail shrieking about a child who was removed from a nurse because she let him sit in a Bob the Builder toy car that was too old for him.


A qualified nurse has had a one-year-old boy taken from her care after a social worker raised concern about the way she let him sit in a Bob The Builder toy car, which was ‘inappropriate’ for his age.


As ever with these tabloid stories, there’s a bit more too it than that.  I read this judgment earlier in the week and the Bob the Builder bit was just some superfluous detail of no significance (it’s in there, but it is not the triggering incident for proceedings or the reason why the child can’t be with mum. It is a detail, not the case)


The bit that leapt off the page at me was this

Extremely unusually this concluded that, although EO had qualified as a nurse and there had been no reports of her having significant deficits in social and adaptive functioning, her apparent functioning was in the extremely low range of adult intellectual ability (E18). As a result, Dr Parsons concluded that “she may well have difficulty understanding complex information and processing such information quickly and, in my opinion, she has probably developed very comprehensive strategies in order to mask her apparent cognitive abilities” (E19).



Whilst it is not uncommon for people with learning difficulties to have learned strategies and techniques for getting along in the world and not showing their limitations, I’ve never seen it to this extent.  (That’s not just people with learning difficulties, by the way – people do this all the time. If you don’t believe me, think of anyone nodding in a meeting when they don’t understand the jargon, of saying ‘oh yeah, it’s great’ when people talk about a show on Netflix you haven’t seen or a book you haven’t read which is suddenly this year’s hot thing, or moving a menu back and forth in order to read it rather than accepting you need stronger glasses. We all do it .


Anyway, here is the judgment, Re SCST v O, A and U V 2018


In terms of the judicial conclusions about the evidence as to mother’s parenting capacity, here they are (Bob is in there)


The ISW highlighted some of the concerns around EO’s ability to meet the needs of the children during supervised contact, both in her report and in her oral evidence to me. She noted that the quality of contact which she observed was “poor” (E66). She also identified specific instances during the contacts that she observed where there were concerns about EO’s basic parenting skills. These include failure to ensure that M and U were playing safely resulting in M accidentally kicking U on his lip causing a cut (E68), not feeding J in an appropriate position (E74), not changing J’s nappy appropriately (E76), and placing J’s nappy changing mat very close to a metal table leg when J was moving around on the mat (E80). That latter incident and one where she observed EO to “spend about an hour holding J who was sitting in the Bob the Builder car. She maintained limited eye contact and communication…Bob the Builder toy car was inappropriate for J’s age. There was a potential risk of J falling if EO lost control of him. EO was prompted to considers (sic) alternative suitable age appropriate play area” (E77) both raise significant physical safety concerns. The ISW did record some positives in relation to EO’s interaction with the children during contact and notes that “During the second contact session there were some good qualities of EO’s parenting as well as areas of development. However, it was positive that EO was receptive and responded well to advice although initially she found it difficult to accept feedback, she would challenge and sought justification. Overall EO took advice on board and made an effort to improve” (E78).

The evidence of the Guardian was different to the ISW in terms of his observation of contact between EO and J. He observed one contact on 12th April 2018 as he noted in his report (E103). During that contact, as he confirmed in evidence to me, he had no concerns about EO’s ensuring J’s safety, about her feeding of him or changing his nappy. He also observed good interaction between J and his mother and noted nothing that raised a concern about attachment in the way that the ISW had. However, it seems that the ISW observed EO with U and J and with all three children and this was a month earlier than the Guardian (E50). The fact that the ISW observed concerns about EO’s ability to meet the children’s needs and the Guardian did not may therefore be at least partly explained by the fact that the ISW saw her trying to meet the needs of more than one child and the Guardian saw EO with J alone.

As I clarified with the Guardian, there are a raft of concerns around EO’s inability to meet the children’s needs which the ISW PAMS assessment identified. I find that these in turn mean that EO does pose a risk of both physical and emotional harm to the children during contact as she is not currently capable of meeting their needs and this includes ensuring safety. It seems that at times EO can respond positively to advice and support to enable her to meet the needs of the children from the evidence of both the ISW and Guardian. However, this is at best only small signs of improvement against a background of very significant deficits in her parenting ability. She has not yet begun the necessary parenting work which she requires to improve her parenting capability to a good enough standard. The successful outcome of that work is also in question as I have noted earlier. This is also coupled with the valid concern raised by professionals in this case about her lack of acceptance of the findings which I made about her failure to protect J. I therefore find that her contact with M and U does need to be at the frequency proposed and to be supervised at present until she is able to improve her basic parenting capability so as to lessen the risk of harm to the children during contact. For the same reasons, her contact with J also needs to be supervised until the risk of harm is reduced. The proposed mediation and SPIP type work should also assist with finding a way to handle contact handovers in a way that does not expose the children to any further conflict between the adults, I find.



The good people at the Transparency Project have also written about this case and the inaccuracies in the reporting here


In general, if you read a press story that is raging about a judgment and something awful happening, assume that they constructed that story by reading a judgment. If they don’t give you a link to the judgment, something more is going on.


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