Human rights lawyer urges staff to heed ‘lessons’ of Strasbourg ruling

Social workers taking pre-emptive action to
remove children from families suspected of putting them at risk
must have enough evidence to support their decisions, a solicitor
has warned.

warning came after a court ruling against a local authority that
had taken a child into care because another child had previously
been harmed by the same parent.

Prominent human rights solicitor
Bernadette Livesey said social workers and other agencies must
communicate their concerns to each other about a child at risk and
collect appropriate evidence before the case reached the courts.
“If social services don’t believe a child should be with its
parents because of the risk, it is up to court to evaluate the
evidence and make a finding on the risks presented.”

warning follows a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights last
week that Rochdale social services department had violated the
rights of an American woman with Munchausen syndrome by proxy when
it took away her baby at birth.

Rochdale Council removed the
woman’s baby in May 1998 after discovering she had been found
guilty of a misdemeanour and put on probation in America for
inappropriately giving her first child laxatives.

The UK
government was ordered to pay the woman and her British husband
£7,700 each for breaching their rights to a family life and to
a fair court hearing. The government now has three months to decide
whether to appeal.

Livesey said the case should
cause social workers, the lawyers who advise them, and the courts
to look more objectively at the evidence of risk in child
protection cases.

However, Association of Directors
of Social Services children and families committee co-chairperson
Jane Held said local authorities should not immediately act on the
ruling because the implications of the case might be very

said: “I would caution anyone against taking precipitate action
because it is too early to evaluate the case and what the long-term
implications may be for other similar cases.”

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