April 13, 2010

Judge shocked by social workers who split families

Judge shocked by social workers who split families

New head of family courts warns against ‘arrogance’ as care applications soar in wake of Baby P case
Patrick Butler
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 April 2010
Article history
Lord Justice Wall: ‘The aim of social workers should be to unite families rather than to separate them.’ Photograph: Sarah Lee
Social workers have been criticised over attempts to permanently remove young children from their mothers by the new head of the family courts, who said their legal duty should be to “unite families rather than separate them”.
Lord Justice Wall – who will be sworn in today as the president of the high court’s family division – described as “shocking” the failure of social workers in the London borough of Greenwich to support a mother trying to make changes to her life and get back her two children, who are in care.
The judge said the case would do little to dispel the perception of many that social workers were “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system – trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process”.
The judge said: “I am very conscious of the criticism that social workers are damned if they do and damned if they do not.” But he added that at the same time their duties in care proceedings under the Children Act were plain and their aim “should be to unite families rather than to separate them”.
Sir Nicholas Wall’s appointment as the president of the family court division was initially rejected by Jack Straw before finally being confirmed last month. In December he made waves after he told a legal conference that the judiciary had to “come off the bench” to “speak up about the parlous state of family law”.
His comments on safeguarding practice come as social workers face increasing pressure to intervene to protect children at risk of abuse. Since the Baby Peter case in November 2008, when social workers were criticised for failing to prevent the killing of 17-month-old Peter Connelly at the hands of his mother, her lover and her lodger, there have been record numbers of applications to take children into care.
Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said he was “a little astonished” by Lord Justice Wall’s remarks. He said it was incorrect of the judge to say the aim of the Children Act was to keep families together – it was to look after the interests of children.
He said: “I do not know about these cases in particular, but generalised remarks about ‘authoritarian’ social workers are just plain wrong.”
The Greenwich case involved a five-year-old boy and his sister aged three, who were taken into care in January 2008 after the girl was taken to hospital where her left arm was found to be broken in three places. Doctors said the injury was not an accident and both children were removed the same day.
At a hearing in November 2008 a judge said the girl’s father, who had a history of violence, was probably responsible for the injury, and confirmed the care order after concluding that Greenwich council was right to suspect the mother was still in contact with the father.
But Mrs Justice Baron, sitting with Lord Justice Wall, overturned the “draconian” order, saying that the mother was “warm and loving” and had tried unsuccessfully to get help from the council to help her escape her abusive relationship.
Lord Justice Wall called this a “very poor social work practice” and added: “She both needed and sought help and was quite improperly rebuffed by a local authority which had plainly prejudged the issue.”
A spokesperson for Greenwich council said: “Our priority was, and always will be, to protect children from being violently abused. In this case there was overwhelming evidence that a baby had been physically abused and we developed a care plan to provide safety and security for the baby and another young sibling.”
He said the council accepted the court’s concerns about the lack of support provided to the mother and said it was arranging for an independent review of the case “so we have the best plan to ensure the welfare of these very young children”.
In a second case, also heard last Friday, Lord Justice Wall criticised an attempt by Devon county council to overturn an court judgement that a teenage mother, known as S, should be given a last chance to prove herself fit to keep her baby boy.
Devon’s lawyers argued S had a propensity to form relationships with potentially dangerous individuals, putting herself and her baby, known as H, at risk, and the baby should be put into foster care as a further period of assessment was unnecessary.
Lord Justice Wall described the council’s argument as “pretty unattractive” and said: “Local authorities don’t seem to understand that the public perceive them as prejudging cases of this nature.”
Another judge, Lord Justice Aikens, who was sitting with Lord Justice Wall on the Devon case, said there was no evidence that the mother had maltreated her baby in any way, or that the violent father of her first child, whom she had agreed should be adopted, would have anything to do with S’s baby.
He said the “outside perception” might be of social workers who were effectively saying to the mother: “Whatever you may do doesn’t make any difference – we are going to take your child away.”
He added: “That is more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the west of England – that is the impression you give.”


Judge in charge of family courts criticises ‘arrogant social workers’

Baby Peter

Social workers have been criticised as “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents” by the judge who takes charge of the family courts today.

Lord Justice Wall said that the determination of some social workers to place children in an “unsatisfactory care system” away from their families was “quite shocking”.

In a separate case, on which Sir Nicholas Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens described the actions of social workers in Devon as “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the West of England”.

The criticism of social workers from two of the most senior family court judges came as the number of children placed in care has reached a record high after the Baby Peter tragedy.

Social workers say that they are not prepared to take any chances after the death of the 17-month-old toddler at the hands of his mother, her lover and their lodger in Hackney, East London. He was being monitored by social workers at the time of his death.

The remarks are likely to be seen as a warning to social workers not to take children into care before all other avenues have been exhausted. They may also be seen as a signal to the family courts to challenge more robustly legal orders to take children into care.

Lord Justice Wall made his comments in a highly critical ruling against Greenwich Council, where social workers had taken two children into care and begun adoption proceedings despite their natural mother’s best efforts to change her life.

The Greenwich case involved a mother known as “EH”, who is seeking the return of her son “R”, aged 5, and daughter “RA”, aged 2, from care.

The children were taken into care in 2008 after the parents had taken RA, then a baby, to hospital, where her left upper arm was found to be broken. Doctors considered that the injuries were not accidental, social services were informed and both children were removed from their parents that day.

Initially they went to live with their maternal grandmother but were moved into foster care after a dispute between the grandmother and their father. Since June last year the father ceased to have any contact with the children and the mother has attempted to separate from him, alleging domestic violence.

Social workers refused to believe that the relationship was over, while rebuffing the mother’s request for help in ending the relationship. Lord Justice Wall described the conduct of the social workers as “hard to credit”.

“Here was a mother who needed and was asking for help to break free from an abusive relationship. She was denied that help abruptly and without explanation. That, in my judgment, is very poor social work practice,” he said.

“What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that.”

The adoption order has now been set aside after the ruling made last Friday.

In the Devon case, on which Lord Justice Wall also sat, Lord Justice Aikens criticised the actions of social workers in pursuing plans to have a baby adopted without giving his mother a last chance to show that she could look after him. The Devon legal team was given time to read the Greenwich judgment and withdrew their case.

Lord Justice Wall will be sworn in today as the president of the High Court’s Family Division. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, originally challenged his appointment. Lord Justice Wall has been an outspoken critic of some government policies, including the funding of family courts.

Social workers were ‘enthusiastic removers of children’

By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

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A leading judge accused social workers of behaving like “Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China” for the way they went about permanently removing children from their mothers.

Lord Justice Wall, who will be sworn in today as president of the Family Division of the High Court in London, was referring to two specific cases. One involved Devon County Council, which did not give a mother a last chance to prove her baby was safe with her. The other was in the London borough of Greenwich, whose social workers did not support a woman in her fight to regain custody of her two children, who were in care.

Lord Justice Wall said the way Devon County Council acted was “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the west of England”. And he said the Greenwich case would do little to correct the perception that social workers were “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children into an unsatisfactory care system – trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process”.

However, he accepted that social workers were “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” following the case of baby Peter Connelly, in which staff at Haringey Council in north London were condemned for failing to act on signs that the 17-month-old was being abused. Peter, who was on the child protection register, died in 2007 from injuries including a broken back.

Lord Justice Wall said the legal duty of social workers involved in care proceedings was plain and “their aim should be to unite families rather than separate them”. He said that when he heard the Devon and Greenwich cases at the appeal court, he granted each mother more time to show they could parent their children safely. In the Devon case, the council said the mother had a propensity to form relationships with potentially dangerous individuals extremely quickly, putting herself and her baby at risk – an argument that the judge called “pretty unattractive”.

The Greenwich woman’s son, aged five, and daughter, two, were taken into care after the girl’s arm was broken in three places. Lord Justice Wall noted that the mother had since separated from her partner despite being denied help from the authority “to break free from an abusive relationship”.

Judge says social workers are like ‘Stalin’s Russia’

Social workers have been called ‘arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children’ by judges.

Lord Justice WallLord Justice Wall: branded social workers ‘arrogant’

Their practices were more like those in ‘Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China’ than what would be expected here, said one senior judge.

The comments came in two cases before the Court of Appeal involving bids to permanently remove young children from their mothers.

In both cases – in Greenwich, south-east London, and in Devon – judges granted the mothers more time to show they could look after their youngsters.

Ruling on the Greenwich case, Lord Justice Wall said of social workers: ‘They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process.’

In the case, a mother was seeking the return of her five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. Three judges set aside a decision to grant a full care order to Greenwich Council, which wanted the children adopted.

On Friday, they concluded the ‘warm and loving’ mother, who had left the girl’s violent father, had not been supported by social workers.

In the second case, Devon County Council was to appeal against a ruling that a teenage mother should be assessed to see if she is fit to keep her baby boy.

After reading the Greenwich judgment, the application was withdrawn. Lord Justice Aikens said of the bid: ‘It is more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China… that is the impression you give.’

Greenwich Council accepted the concerns about lack of support for the mother. Devon County Council said it felt a care order was in the child’s best interests.



  1. It is about time someone put social worker in their place, 3 cheers for Justice Wall.

    The Child Act is there not only to protect the child, but also to ensure a child sees both parents, which is the child’s right and equally the right of the parents to see the child. I have not read anywhere that says the Child Act is purly there to protect.

    social workers and LA should get their fact straight before making such a comment as they have in this article.

    Comment by libertyrights — April 13, 2010 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  2. Bloody two faced hypocrite. Does he think we are all goldfish with 5 second memories?

    Judge orders mother to hand over son to father he despises
    By Michael Seamark and Luke Salkeld
    Last updated at 7:59 AM on 20th November 2009
    • Comments (179)
    • Add to My Stories

    Controversial: Lord Justice Wall
    A judge ordered a mother to hand over her distraught young son to her ex-husband despite admitting it would be ‘almost cataclysmic’ for the child.
    The boy is happy living with his mother, is doing well at school and fiercely resists the move, a court heard.
    The 11-year-old child, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, warned that his father had ‘ruined my life’ and said he would ‘punch and kick’ rather than leave his mother’s home.
    But Lord Justice Wall, a leading family judge, gave the woman less than a week to kiss her son goodbye before he is uprooted. She now faces being without her only child at Christmas.
    Last night a family friend said: ‘It is horrific. He has good friends, he is bright and he loves his school, and now he is going to be taken to live two hours away.’
    Another friend said: ‘I don’t know how his mother is coping.
    ‘How can it be right to take a boy away from the mother he loves to live with a father who he doesn’t even know?’
    It is understood that the child does not yet know what lies ahead for him.
    The child is expected to be taken to his father early next week and it is unclear when his mother will next see him.
    Last night the boy’s father, who lives in an £800,000 detached stone cottage on the edge of a West Country village, declined to comment.
    A family member on the father’s side said: ‘The mother just wouldn’t let go of her son and wouldn’t let him let go.

    • Sadistic mother-of-eight found guilty of abusing her children with belt, meat mallet, hot screwdriver and even a garlic crusher
    • Schoolgirl, 13, ‘gang-raped by boys who filmed ordeal on mobile phone’
    ‘It’s a very sad situation. You could say she was possessive. They broke up soon after he was born and there had been problems for a long time. She yes’d and no’d an
    awful lot and sadly broke promises.
    ‘It’s been an extremely distressing time for everyone.
    ‘The father is an excellent man who cares deeply for his son so it has been especially hard for him.
    ‘But in a horrible situation like this we recognise that it is also very difficult for the mother so it has been no good for anyone really.’
    Under the 1989 Children Act, courts must consider the child’s interests above all else.
    The mother’s barrister told the Court of Appeal in London this week that the boy is adamant he wants nothing more to do with his father – with whom he only lived for a few months after his birth before his parents separated.

    Jane Hoyal told Lord Justice Wall: ‘A move from the happy, settled and stable home he has with his mother would be momentous for this young man.
    ‘There is no dispute that he will be very upset, angry and defiant when this hugely disruptive move is implemented.’
    But a child psychiatrist and the boy’s own court-appointed guardian were unanimous that he is ‘suffering emotional harm’ due to his alienation from his father, who lives a two-hour drive away.
    The boy’s move to live with his father, who has remarried, was originally ordered by Judge Bond at Bournemouth Family Court earlier this month.
    That ruling was ‘stayed’ pending the mother’s bid to overturn the decision at the Appeal Court.
    But Lord Justice Wall refused permission to appeal. He said the higher court could only intervene if Judge Bond’s decision was ‘plainly wrong’.
    Despite the mother’s ‘ostensible willingness’ for the father to have contact with the son, the boy’s ‘long-term psychological welfare’ demanded he live with his father, he added.
    The father, said Lord Justice Wall, claimed he had found it impossible to build any sort of relationship with his son while he lived with his mother.
    Miss Hoyal said the mother had co-operated with all contact arrangements – and gave her ‘unconditional support’ to her son having a relationship with his father.
    She told the court the couple had been engaged in ‘almost continuous litigation’ throughout the boy’s life.
    She said the importance of the boy’s relationship with his father had been elevated above all other factors, including the child’s own wishes.
    She said the boy’s father and stepmother would often be away working, leaving the boy to be cared for by a nanny.
    But Lord Justice Wall said Judge Bond had made a ‘ sensible, careful, well thought-out and balanced judgment’.
    He added: ‘I appreciate this will be hard for the mother and will be very hard for the boy.’

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    Comments (179)
    Here’s what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below, or debate this issue live on our message boards.
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    How can the court consultants be frank when they dont even admit they have a problem. We dont need to know identities in this case to picture this poor little boy.
    – Tracey Sadler, Wales, 20/11/2009 12:04
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    Would it not have been better if the court had ordered that the boy be returned to his mother every time the father was away?
    – pete, herne bay, 20/11/2009 12:02
    Click to rate Rating 27
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    So in this case LJ Wall has acknowledged Parental Alienation exists.

    High time, after all the previous damage he and his kind have done.
    – Steve M, Burton, UK, 20/11/2009 11:59
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    I hope there is more to this than has been reported.

    I cannot believe that a Child would be taken from his Mother and “given” to a Father he does not know!
    Plus being looked after by a Nanny? surely not?

    My Children prefer not to see their Father but this is their choice not mine. I would have preferred them to have a good relationship with him but his behaviour has had the opposite effect.

    My Children are lucky it would seem. They were far to old to be told by anyone where they should live.

    This Boy will soon be of an age when HE can decide where he wishes to live.
    I stupidly thought it was around 11yrs old, but clearly not.

    I just hope that there is more to this.
    – Carrie, London, 20/11/2009 11:58
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    What the hell?! The boy barely knows his father. Unless his mother’s neglecting and abusing him (and it says nothing of the sort in the article) then he should stay with his mother. The father could move closer if he wanted more contact. The boy is old enough to decide for himself and this should never have gone to court. This is absolutely barbaric.
    – Lexie, UK, 20/11/2009 11:58
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    Having worked in this field, there are aspects of this case that puzzle me. People have asked why the boy’s wishes are not being taken in to account – at 11, this is puzzling.
    m collins, Leeds, quotes the 1989 Children Act – “courts must consider the child’s interests above all else” Also, a “court shall have regard in particular to the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned in the light of his age and understanding” This child is 11 – certainly an age at which a child’s wishes are usually taken into account. Again, as m collins says, there are many examples of courts accepting the preferences of children aged 11, especially when so firmly stated.
    It is also true that you cannot impose a decision like this on an 11 year old – he will make up his own mind, by running away if he feels so driven. The anger and resentment against his father is then likely to increase. He is, after all losing all he knows, not only his mother. Sadly I see real tragedy ahead
    – Carol, London UK, 20/11/2009 11:57

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    Comment by Zoompad — April 13, 2010 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

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