A social worker has been praised for her role in identifying failings in police interviewing in a case where a girl suffered “significant emotional harm”.
Sitting in Manchester Family Court, Recorder Henley praised the observations of the child’s guardian, who identified the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interviews carried out by police with the child as “the worst” she’d seen in 12 years of social work.
Henley said she agreed with the social worker’s view that the ABE interviews were not child focused and that it was “abusive” to subject the girl to three interviews in 24 hours.
The six-year-old girl, known as A, was made subject to an interim care order after the court heard that her father and step mother caused her emotional harm by manipulating false allegations of sexual abuse against her mother.
The allegations surfaced after the step mother, referred to as SM, claimed the girl “touched her vagina and disclosed that she had been sexually abused by M [her mother]”.
However, Recorder Henley found that the father and step mother had “manufactured” the case of abuse by asking the child “oppressive and leading questions” following an “innocent” tickling game.
Henley said: “They have deprived A of a relationship with any member of her maternal family for nine months, thereby causing her significant emotional harm. They have taken her to attend therapy on the basis that she has been sexually abused and is an abuser. The way that A has been treated by SM in particular…is emotionally abusive.”
Henley ordered the girl should be placed into the care of her grandmother.
Treated as a perpetrator
The girl was the subject of care proceedings at birth when her mother experienced mental health problems. She went on to live with her father, but the mother had unsupervised contact with her regularly.
Henley said the father had caused “very significant emotional harm” by failing to protect the girl from her step mother’s “false and distorted beliefs” about the abuse.
“I am satisfied that the treatment of A, a young child, who is being brought up to believe, and is treated as though she is, a perpetrator of sexual abuse, falsely, within her own home represents significant ill treatment,” she said.
The police ABE interviews involved “several leading questions” and were poorly conducted. The guardian agreed that it was surprising how “no intermediary was used and that there was no use of visual aids, dolls or other props made available”.
“[The guardian] told me that in her view these were not child focused interviews, there being limited opportunity for the child to talk and that in her view it was abusive to carry out three ABE interviews in respect of a five year old child in what was effectively little more than a 24 hour period,” Henley said.
“I am extremely grateful to the guardian for her oral evidence in this matter…I found myself agreeing with each aspect of the evidence that she gave,” Henley added.
A report published last year by the Children’s Commissioner England identified how ABE interviews were “frequently policed-led” and that social workers had almost “lost their role” in them.