A council has been criticised for ending “intensive” social care support for a mother months before bringing care proceedings in relation to her daughter.
Judge Greene, said Cambridgeshire council’s decision to withdraw the support had played a “large part” in events that led the local authority to argue the woman’s 13-month old daughter, referred to as ‘T’, should be taken into care and given a placement order.
The council put the support in place last October after a previous set of care proceedings were rejected by the judge on the grounds he believed the mother was capable of making changes with help. The council “radically cut” the help on offer in February after a child protection review conference found no concerns about the basic care provided, the home environment, or T’s development.
The judge found the mother had made progress under the “very intense amount of support” offered and the help had been removed “too soon”.
He said: “It seems to me hardly credible that from a position of saying in October that the position was so hopeless and the inability to be honest so profound that adoption was the only course, and yet barely three months later it was felt that the support could be safely reduced as radically as it was.”
He added: “It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that with such a drastic reduction it must have been, or should have been, foreseeable that problems would result”.
T was the fifth child of the mother who had a long history of involvement with violent men who abused alcohol and drugs. The four older children had been placed with their father under a residence order. T’s father was not involved in the proceedings.
Failure to disclose ‘relationship’
Cambridgeshire had concerns following the end of support over the mother’s apparent failure to disclose a friendship – and potential sexual relationship (which the mother denied) – with a man who did not have stable accommodation, and who had his dog and child stay in the house.
The council said this broke the conditions of the child protection plan, and the man’s presence at the house placed T at risk of harm. It also said she had been involved in two arguments in front of T.
The judge said it would be “wrong” for him to feel the threshold for significant harm had been met when he felt the local authority had contributed to it by withdrawing support.
‘Concerns and suspicions’
Greene was “impressed” by the social work evidence submitted, but concluded “there is a difference between what might justifiably arouse the concerns and suspicions of an experienced consultant social worker and that which can properly be accepted by a court as a sufficient basis for findings on evidence”.
While he conceded there had been breaches of the written agreement and supervision plan, those breaches themselves did not meet the threshold, and concluded “the local authority’s premature withdrawal of support contributed significantly to the situation”.
He also did not agree the authority had submitted evidence to support its claims, finding the mother’s relationship with the man was not romantic or sexual. Greene found in the mother’s favour that the relationship was based upon her providing occasional child care for his daughter.
Greene believed there were good grounds for thinking that if the support hadn’t been withdrawn, and the local authority had continued to visit the home, the mother would have disclosed details about the man the local authority felt she was hiding.
‘A step too far’
On the loud arguments which happened while T was present, the judge said while it could be seen as unpleasant, allowing that to meet the threshold for significant harm “would be a step too far and lowers the threshold to such a level that a very high percentage of children would be at risk of removal from a very high percentage of families”.
He rejected the application for care and placement orders for T. He invited Cambridgeshire to submit an application for extending the existing supervision order for three years, which the local authority agreed to.