Social worker criticised for flawed Re B-S assessment in care proceedings

A judge said the social worker put too much emphasis on the report of a psychologist who did not know all of the evidence, rather than making her own assessment

The social worker failed to balance the pros and cons. Photo: REX/ Ikon Images

A social worker has been criticised in court for relying too heavily on the report of a psychologist when seeking a care order for a nine-year-old boy, rather than making her own independent assessment.

This led her to make a flawed balance-sheet assessment, an approach that was reaffirmed in the Re B-S case.

All realistic options

The boy, AN, has been living with his father since January this year, after his mother’s mental health difficulties and substance misuse meant she was no longer able to care for him and his siblings.

The father, referred to as F, was a heroin addict for most of his adult life but had been clean for the last two years.

Since AN came into his care, the boy’s school noted improvements in his school work, appearance and behaviour.

Judge Ralton told the court the social worker had failed to robustly assess all the realistic options for the child.

He said it was clear from her oral evidence the social worker was planning for AN to remain with his father, and only changed her mind after reading the psychologist’s report.

But this report was written before all the evidence subsequently known to the council came out, including reports from the school that AN was fitting in well and receiving reward certificates.

The social worker, however, decided AN would be better off in a therapeutic foster placement, and sought a care order

Psychologist’s report

On reading the psychologist’s report, the social worker closed her mind to the possibility of the boy remaining with his father, according to the judge.

He said as a result the social worker made a “serious error” in how she used the balance-sheet approach to evidencing decisions in care proceedings. This approach is used to analyse each of the realistic options for a child, and weigh up their pros and cons.

The social worker decided the child should not be rehabilitated to the care of either parent but the judge made clear:  “The balance sheet exercise for rehabilitation cannot be identical to the balance sheet for removal and it is removal which the council seeks.”

Although the judge agreed it would not be appropriate for the child to live with his mother, he said it was notable the social worker had failed to consider this as an option.

Therapeutic foster placement

The judge found her assessment of F’s parenting was not balanced or reliable because it did not properly acknowledge his successes as well as his shortcomings.

Not enough credit had been given to F’s self-awareness and willingness to engage with services, according to the judge.

The social worker said there was evidence the boy was suffering significant emotional abuse in the care of his father. She added if he remained in his father’s care, any opportunity for therapeutic work would be lost.

But the judge said he did not accept this as F was “plainly open to AN receiving therapeutic work”, and had in fact arranged to receive support for parenting strategies from a pastoral lead at AN’s school.

While AN might do well in a therapeutic placement, the judge said he could not consent to it as this would be “social engineering”.

He also felt that being separated from his extended family, school friends and current child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) support would be detrimental.

The judge concluded the child should remain with his father but be made subject to a supervision order so the council could support the continued placement.

Judge Ralton also outlined a litany of other failings in Swindon Council’s decision-making in the case.

Litany of failings

Despite being involved with the family since 2000, during which time the council recorded incidences of domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and neglect, the children were not placed on child protection plans until December 2014.

The judge described this as a “quite extraordinary” delay for which there was “no satisfactory explanation”.

The council was also criticised for the way it presented evidence in court. The bundle of relevant documents presented to the court was prepared with “no care or thought and no effort was made to put the papers in a sensible order,” according to the judge.

The judge said any future bundles presented in this way may be rejected and the council might be made to cover the costs of time wasted.

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5 Responses to Social worker criticised for flawed Re B-S assessment in care proceedings

  1. Caroline Skinner November 16, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    As s trainer & practice educator involved with ASYE Programmes I will use this case example to show NQSWs how important it is that they carry out their own assessments using information from other professionals. An important requirement and indicator of progression under PCF is that social workers develop skills and capability to work confidently within professional hierarchies.

  2. Adam Birchall November 16, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    Great idea Caroline. I’ll do that too.

  3. Paul Smith November 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    I found this article to be an interesting read and one that clearly identifies the need for practitioners to remain accountable in their decision making. As social workers, we rely on information gathered from our own enquiries, the family, professionals and where possible; the child.

    The comment regarding the bundle structure and the inconsistencies therein is rather surprising considering the way in which care proceedings follow a chronological pathway, and as such should have fluency.

    For me, I take away an emphasis to see one self as a professional. This means analysing the information gathered and to make a decision from ones findings and to ensure they are in the best interests of the child. As HCPC make clear; the social worker is accountable for the decision making processes and information gathering for a child on their case load.

    Considering the case above has a long history of CSC involvement; it is likely this provided doubt to the social worker (as it would any) and as a result, decisions were rushed and lacked clear exploration.

    To finish, where was the managerial guidance in the process? All documents are to be reviewed and signed off by a manager. As this oversight appeared absent, it is no wonder the social worker entered the court arena ill prepared.

  4. Christival Marais ( UWC PH.D Student) November 18, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    The article highlights flaws in the practice of both the front line social worker and line manager. The case study will afford a learning opportunity to both new qualified social workers and line managers alike to achieve better practices. The concerns raised about the poor construction or presentation of the court bundle is something that I have not encountered in my eleven year as social worker practitioner in the UK. Hence, I do not view this as common practice.
    A registered HSPC Social worker has the responsibility to ensure that they are familiar with all relevant historical and current information using a systemic approach and evidence based practice. The common assessment framework, competency framework and sIgns of safety are commonly used as a tools to ensure that interventions, care plans are in the best interest of the child(ren). What the article highlights is that the social worker put too much weight on the psychologist’s report instead of relying on the evidence obtained via the social work assessment, thereby providing a sound social work professional judgement. All referrals, and escalating child protection cases to care proceedings, should have joint management by the allocated case manager and the line manger overseeing the caseload of the social worker. However, that synchronisation does not appear to have been practiced. The article highlights that there were limited management oversight. Whilst this is one case study, and in my view not common practice, one should use it as a learning opportunity to become better and confident progressive social work practitioners who are using their knowledge and skills and obtained information to provide a sound professional judgement.

  5. Andrew Smith November 19, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    This is clearly about social work defensive practice, using others as a justification for their views. This process is endemic within the profession. We don’t just need the knowledge that we should take responsibility, but we should develop processes whereby social workers are afforded the opportunity of reflecting on their thinking, their histories, and being supported in developing an adult, measured approach to their work, where they are confident in owning their views. This will never happen if we continue allocating 30-50 cases. And anyway, where was the legal team in constructing the bundle? I have NEVER pulled a Court bundle together, this has always been legal.