Judge criticises social workers for ‘grossly overstated’ adoption evidence

Judge Simon Jack criticises council's witnesses for being "visibly biased" in their attempts to support the local authority's case

Photo: REX/F1 Online

A County Court judge has criticised three North East Lincolnshire social workers for having evidence which was “grossly overstated” in order to achieve adoption for a child.

Judge Simon Jack said the council’s witnesses were “visibly biased” in their attempts to support the local authority’s case. He added that this was the first time he had ever taken such a view in 10 years of hearing care cases.

Guidance on Re B-S

You can read about the full impact of the Re B-S case on CC Inform Children.

He said of a social worker: “I had the clear impression that he was, for whatever reason, whether it was his own inclination or instructions from above, that he was intent on saying only things which supported the local authority’s case and was very reluctant to make any concessions which would undermine that case.”

The judge heard from three social workers about a young boy they were trying to get an adoption placement for.

The case was not judging whether the boy should remain in the care of his parents, but whether he could be placed with either of his two sets of grandparents. The local authority had ruled out both sets of grandparents because of, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. C, domestic violence and drink problems, and in the case of Mr. and Mrs. G because they had too much on their plate caring for older children who had difficulties of their own.

However, the judge felt some evidence from social workers was “totally discredited” after things they said in court conflicted with their own statement. “I had the very strong impression that the local authority witnesses were intent on playing up any factors which were unfavourable to the grandparents and playing down any factors which might be favourable,” the judge said.

One example of this was when one social worker said “you could say that” to positive evidence about the grandparents found in the paper.

“A degree of realism”

Reacting to the claims that one set of grandparents had problems with domestic violence, the judge said that the courts “are not in the business of social engineering”.

“The courts are not in the business of providing children with perfect homes. If we took into care and placed for adoption every child whose parents had a domestic spat and every  child whose parents on occasion had drunk too much then the care system would be overwhelmed and there would not be enough adoptive parents,” he said, adding that courts and social services need to have “a degree of realism” about prospective carers.

After using a balancing exercise undertaken in accordance with the Re B-S case, the judge said that the positives for the child remaining within his own family “far outweighed” the negatives which would follow from adoption.

The judge decided that the boy be placed with Mr. and Mrs. G and said that he expects North East Lincolnshire Council to provide as much support is needed to help ensure the placement works.

A spokesman  for North East Lincolnshire Council has said the case illustrated “the complexities and difficult decisions” that have to be made in these circumstances.

He added:  “The Council does not regard this decision as a criticism of its Child Protection procedures as the safety of the child concerned was protected at all times by the authority’s actions.”

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5 Responses to Judge criticises social workers for ‘grossly overstated’ adoption evidence

  1. chokwadi November 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    I was a child protection social worker but I feel better now.

  2. Graham Luetchford December 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Although I agree that social workers must try to be unbiased in court and let their evidence speak for itself, rather than trying to engineer an outcome by the way they present it, I do hope this judge knows the difference between a few drinks and an argument on the one hand, and domestic violence and drink problems on the other, otherwise this poor boy is in for a hard ride.

  3. Lynne Brosnan December 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    This happened to a friend of mine. they stated that the one grandparent was to old although he was very active. They said the other had to much on her plate she had her grand daughter sleeping over one night a week and that her husband would need more help from her as the years progressed!! The grand daughter was adopted. The family were devastated all they can do is hope she grows being loved and cared for with her new family.

  4. Everrrett Reid December 8, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    This is a very interesting case, with the learned Judge advising social workers and the local authority to apply a “degree of realism” into their care plans. Of course social workers and local authorities should aim to be realistic, but it is also their responsibility to make and argue for what they consider to be the best care plan for each particular child.

    Some of the Judge’s reported comments could open up the debate about to what extent social workers, local authorities and the government have unrealistic expectations about some of what they want to achieve for children who are subjected to care proceedings.

    At the sametime, it could have undesired outcomes, if it were to lead to children’s services lowering their expectations of the standard of care they expect of alternative carers, in whose trust vulnerable children are placed.

    Irrespective of what the Judge said about social engineering, childrens services and the court system is about just that; among other things.

  5. Amy December 9, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    If the Judge had concerns about the conduct of the social workers, could he not have informed the HCPC or Ofsted? It seems unfair that Judges, because of their status, are able to publically name and shame anyone when it is difficult to know who they are accountable to when they make poor decisions. I imagine the Judge had some valid points and I do see the tension between what social workers deem ‘good enough’ in family placements compared to adoption but I don’t think that naming and shaming has highlighted that issue, it has purely led to more vitriol against social workers in general.