Anyone who works in children’s services has probably heard local authority social workers questioning the value of children’s guardians, writes Patrick Ayre. After all, the local authority is committed to the principle that the child’s welfare should be its paramount consideration, so appointing a separate worker to look after the child’s interests in the court process adds unnecessary layers of cost and complexity.
This case provides ample evidence of how wrong such an argument can be. The guardian’s role allows him or her to concentrate exclusively and in depth on the individual needs of each child. The notion that it would be in Esmee’s best interests to cut off all contact with her sisters and her grandmother was clearly ill-founded. The idea of a “clean slate” for a five year old with evidently strong and positive links with her immediate family is unhelpful. Esmee had not seen her sisters for eight months because the social worker had not made the arrangements, not because this contact was felt to be harmful.
The only meaningful argument in favour of terminating family contact might have been that her chances of adoption would otherwise be damaged. But this risk would need to be weighed carefully against the consequences of losing three sisters and a grandmother who wished to play a part in her future.
Patrick Ayre is an independent child care consultant and senior social work lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire