Judge criticises independent social worker for ‘face value’ assessment of abusive father

The independent social worker's evidence was in direct conflict with that of two other social workers assessing the man

Photo: PhotoAlto/REX Shutterstock
Photo: PhotoAlto/REX Shutterstock

A judge has criticised an independent social worker for failing to properly fulfil the role of expert witness in a care proceedings case.

Judge Greene took the unusual step of instructing an independent social worker to give evidence, during a hearing concerning the care of five children, all from the same mother (referred to as D), but fathered by two men, known as G and E.

While D was not actively pursuing care of her children, both of the fathers had put themselves forward to care for their respective children.

Children at risk

In an earlier hearing with a different judge, the children remained in D’s care only on the condition that an injunction was made to keep G away, so great was the risk he was deemed to pose to the children and their mother. However, E, was allowed contact with the children.

This was later changed to supervised contact following concerns E was failing to manage the children’s behaviour, as well as physically chastising them.

‘Horrifying’ contact

Both the local authority social worker and the children’s guardian witnessed the contact sessions. The social worker said the contact had been “chaotic” while the children’s guardian, Judge Greene said, described what she had witnessed as “horrifying”.

“She said that it was appalling and some of the worst contact she has ever seen. That is a very extreme thing for a guardian to say and she is a very experienced guardian,” Judge Greene told the court.

Conflicting reports

However the independent social worker, in clear conflict with these reports, said the contact he observed was “positive and enjoyable”.

While the judge conceded children do not always behave the same and some allowance must be made for good days and bad days, he said it became clear when considering the independent social worker’s answers to questions in cross-examination that his report had been based very much on E’s own self-reporting.

Face value

“There seemed to be no attempt to go behind that. What E said to him seemed to be taken at face value and the observations were not analysed or put into the context of the very concerning background.

“It was concerning that he was not even sure which of the documents he had read,” Judge Greene said.

“I sadly conclude that the report and evidence from [the independent social worker] did not properly fulfil the role of an expert witness.”

The judge ordered all five children to be taken into foster care following G breaching his injunction and becoming involved in several violent altercations with D, one of which resulted in her fracturing her eye socket.

He recommended the younger two should be placed for adoption and the older three cared for in longer term foster care without contact with their father.

3 Responses to Judge criticises independent social worker for ‘face value’ assessment of abusive father

  1. mrm February 15, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    A case of conflicting opinions based on very little evidence and no critical reflective analysis. We need to raise standards in social work, increase professionalism, and reduce dishonesty…..

  2. LongtimeSW February 16, 2016 at 11:11 am #

    To whom is mrm referring?

    My reading of the judgement was that the LA SW (& Guardian)’s assessments and views were fully accepted by the Judge – which would not have been the case had they not been evidence based, reflective and analytical.

    In fact the Judge commented that he found them both to have been open minded and fair.

    mrm, without wishing to enter into an argument with you, please consider how your generalised comments will be received by both the Guardian and LA SW in this tragic case – Regards

  3. SS February 21, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    It does often seem the case that LA social workers who know the family best are forced to agree to ISW assessments where very little time is spent with the family and the evidence base is self reported. I can see the need for specialist ISW assessments in some cases such a NAIs but a parenting or comprehensive assessment is best completed by those that have more than a few hours insight with the family ….