You are here

Lord Justice Wall attacks "arrogant, enthusiastic removers of children"

20 April 2010

Lord Justice Wall, who replaced Sir Mark Potter as president of the Family Division last week, has launched an outspoken attack on social workers in care proceedings.

His remarks came in a damning Court of Appeal judgment on the handling of a case involving two young children by Greenwich Council, which has launched an independent review.

“What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one,” Wall LJ said.

“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.”

The Court of Appeal was giving judgment in EH v London Borough of Greenwich and others [2010] EWCA Civ 344.

The case concerned two young children who were taken away from their parents by the council and looked after first by their maternal grandmother and then by foster parents.

Action was taken in January 2008, when one of the children, a baby girl, arrived at hospital with an arm broken in three places.

Mrs Justice Baron said that although the parents could not explain the injury, the mother (EH) had previously been “steadfast” in her commitment to the children.

The father, however, ceased to have any contact with them since June 2009 and failed to appear at the last three court hearings.

Mrs Justice Baron said the mother was given the “clear impression” by Greenwich that, whatever she did, the children would be removed permanently from her care.

Lord Justice Wall went further, describing the treatment of the mother by the local authority as “quite shocking”.

He went on: “Indeed, I find it difficult to believe that in 2010, more than 18 years after the implementation of the Children Act, a local authority can behave in such a manner.

“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.

“If we have learned anything in the past few years it is quite how difficult some women find it to break away from abusive relationships, however rational such a breach would appear to a disinterested outsider.”

Wall LJ said he was conscious of the criticism that social workers are “damned if they do and damned if they do not”, but their duties under the Children Act were plain.

The Court of Appeal allowed the mother’s appeal, set aside the care orders and referred the case back to the judge for a fresh hearing.

A spokesman 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.

“We accept the court’s concerns about the lack of support provided to the mother.” The spokesman said the council was arranging for an independent review of the case.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said: “At a time when the profession was under huge media pressure to protect children from abuse, comments like these are inappropriate – they have a direct and significant impact on social work morale, recruitment, retention and therefore on the people that social work serves.”

Mr Dawson added that BASW was writing to Lord Justice Wall to seek an urgent meeting.

Categorised in:

Financial services & Tax Children Charities Local government