Family judge criticises NQSW for “unacceptable delays” in complex fostering case

Court blames inadequate care proceedings on a "chronic lack of effective supervision" by Surrey County Council

Photo: REX/F1 Online

A newly qualified social worker assigned a complex fostering case has been criticised by a family judge for causing “unacceptable delays”.

Mrs Justice Theis published her judgement in the care proceedings case brought by Surrey County Council to highlight the local authority’s inadequacies.

She found that there was “a chronic lack of effective supervision of the allocated social worker, who was inexperienced and dealing with a complex case” and that this caused delays in the assessment that resulted in the parents being placed at a “significant disadvantage” in putting themselves forward to care for their child.

The child concerned, known as child X, has “complex health needs” including visual impairment and significant motor delay. His mother has cerebral palsy and a mild learning difficulty whilst his father has ADHD and displays Asperger-like symptoms, which led to an assessment of the parents’ capacity to care for the child.

But the core assessment did not record the child or parents’ disabilities.

The judge found that the assessment of the parents’ ability to care for the two-year-old was beset with delays and missed opportunities.

Whilst the couple were against their son being placed on a child protection plan, they were “keen to work with all agencies so that they will be able to care for their son”.

Despite this, no further action was taken to enable this in what was deemed by Mrs Justice Theis as “one of the first lost opportunities to support the parents in their wish to care for X”.

When the parents agreed to be assessed in February last year, the referral to the adult services team was not actioned for seven months due to repeated confusion over forms.

In line with these delays, the NQSW placed the child in foster care ten months before formal care proceedings were issued. The court felt the social worker failed to explore any options that might have allowed him to stay in the care of his wider birth family.

The judgement said that these many and extreme delays led to “an unfair process resulting in a catalogue of missed opportunities and inadequate assessments”, which the parents of child X felt put them at a disadvantage in their efforts to care for their child.

However, the judge said: “The mother recognised that X’s 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week care was better carried out by the foster carers. She acknowledged she found it hard to say that and ideally she would like to care for X for shorter periods.

“Whilst it will never be known if the correct assessments of the parents had been undertaken earlier whether the parents would have been in a position to care for X, the comprehensive assessments undertaken since are united in their conclusions that the parents would not be able to care full time for X.”

In an oral statement the social worker acknowledged that the case had been a steep learning curve for her and agreed it was “not fair the parents were at the bottom of this learning curve”.

Responding to the judgement, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said: “The local authority’s own checks and balances should have addressed those issues and then things would never have got this far. This raises questions about the appropriateness of the case being allocated to such an inexperienced social worker without proper supervision.”

Mansuri added that the Department for Education, which last week published a blueprint for what newly qualified social workers should know, should think about the other side of the coin: “What should they be protected from?”

Chief executive of The College of Social Work, Annie Hudson said: “Employers have an unequivocal responsibility to ensure that social workers have regular and high quality supervision, that is supportive and encourages critical reflection and analysis.  This is vital to the work that social workers do when responding to the very complex needs of children, adults and families.”

A Surrey County Council spokesman said: “Our main concern, as always, was for the welfare of this very vulnerable little boy, but we accept we should have done more in this case to work in the best interests of the family.”

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8 Responses to Family judge criticises NQSW for “unacceptable delays” in complex fostering case

  1. Lorna Fitzpatrick August 12, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    The NQSW should not be vilified – where was the support and supervision?

    • Jazz August 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      You can only know things by experience and newly qualified social workers should be protected. Shame on the LA and the managers/senior managers concerned.

  2. Nanbar August 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Why did the judge not ask the Team Manager, who was the worker’s supervisor to give evidence at court and explain why the supervision was so inadequate? Also the Judge should question the General Manager/Service Manager as to why the Team Manager wasn’t given the time or competent- fill in the gap. The social worker has responsibilities as a professional to ensure that work is of a sufficient standard. However the employer through post qualifying training, initially protected caseloads and regular, adequate , reflective supervision ensure that the worker is supported , not overwhelmed and understands the task/service outcome in hand. How did we come to the point where a NQSW, carries the can for the inadequate way an organisation operates.

  3. Ian Gregg August 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    The finger is being pointed in the wrong direction here. The managers need to look at their role and question why the NQSW was given substandard supervision whilst looking after this very complex case.

    The judge has missed the point and the lions continue to be led by donkeys.

  4. Tara August 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    critisism! critisism!! critisism!!! Analyse the whole situation before reaching critical conclusions. Family judges seem to be more and more detached from what is actually going on in social care. There is clearly NO concept of what the job entails. Maybe its time somebody started to look at why there are delays, why rash and hurried decisions are made, why there has been a steep vacancy rate recently and why NQSW’s are starting their careers in childrens social care with an exit plan.
    So much critisism is not supporting identifying solutions.

  5. Roselyn Thompson August 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    The action of the Judge on the Newly qualified Social Worker is not equally sound as newly qualified social worker should be supervisor in producing core assessment and to assure that children parents and close relative assessed appropriately and all finding is recorded in reported to the court. The newly qualified social worker Team Manager and supervisor is responsible for not reading her assessment before she presented it to the court. Again this is a case where some social workers still working in isolation and they don’t liaising with other professionals and agencies that working with children and their families and hold vital information regarding the families. Let us all as professionals remember Victoria Climbia, Baby Peter Connely, the Brimingham girl and many other children who loose their life due to lack of communication and working effectively together.

  6. Helen August 15, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    She has been set up to fail! I blame the supervisor, manager , service manager! Utter disgrace! No wonder Social Workers leave in droves! A thankless job!

  7. Marge August 17, 2014 at 12:03 am #

    Unfortunately, in today’s climate where local authorities are hard pressed to cut costs, they employ NQSW,s expecting them to ‘hit the ground running’ and some team managers do not read properly, thereports before they go to court. Why does this not happen? Because managers themselves are working over and above capacity and everyone works long hours, including week ends, without getting paid for it and eventually some has to carry the can. It is mostly always the case social worker who gets the rap for otjers’ failings. Working at levels above their experience can only lead newly qualified social workers down the path to ruin, they need a protected case load (which is practically non existent ) and good quality regular supervision but, the managers too, need to have the time to give it, which they rarely do and supervisions get cancelled so many times because of workloads.