Council cut mother’s support months before seeking care order

Judge finds Cambridgeshire council’s withdrawal of support played ‘large part’ in events that led to it arguing her child should be taken into care

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

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.

‘Forseeable problems’

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.

8 Responses to Council cut mother’s support months before seeking care order

  1. David Steare June 15, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    Page 11 of the relevant guidance states: “The Children Act 1989 is based on the principle that, where consistent with children’s welfare, local authorities should promote the upbringing of the child by their families. 14 Where concerns do arise and are identified by a local authority, the local authority is under a duty to act. 15 The guidance in this chapter highlights the requirement that local authorities work closely with families to ensure that key steps are taken to help parents address problems in a timely way.”
    IMO the judge has made an important decision that reinforces the council’s “duty to act…work closely with families to ensure that key steps are taken to help parents…” It might be argued that the council’s withdrawal of support could constitute “administrative abuse” if her daughter actually suffered significant harm.
    Reading this Community Care report reminded me of Salvador Minuchin’s 1984 chapter title “Family Dismemberment: A Day in Court”.

  2. Andrew June 16, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    No indication that the judge suggested how long such “very intensive support” should continue: 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, until the child is 18?

    Maybe the judge might like to get in the real world and explain who will foot the bill for this support. Then again maybe I’m being unfair and like most judges he probably voted for a radical, anti-austerity party at last year’s election.

    • Philip June 20, 2016 at 8:13 am #

      The child seems lost in your argument. Being unable or unwilling to pay for support is not a reason to separate a child from a parent. Children Social Care / Services exist for those in need not to balance budget sheets. To blame Government is a copout. It would appear from the judgement cost savings linked with poor decision making consequences too..

  3. Tom J June 16, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    I think that this is a welcome ruling. There are many parents who will need help and support in meeting their child’s needs for years to come and it should not automatically follow that their children should be removed. Unfortunately, long-term support does not fit with modern social work where every need has to be resolved in a time focused ‘SMART’ way.

    I hear things like ‘we don’t offer support for longer than twelve months’. Says who? What piece of legislation supports this? If you have a mother with mental health issues who can cope better with a visit once a week from a family support worker, why should you stop this?

    The usual answer is cost or not wanting the parent to become ‘dependent on support’. But we wouldn’t remove a child if a parent was dependent upon the grandparent.

    Moreover, I would argue that the care system is hugely costly and we have limited evidence of success. I read recently that Michael Gove said that he was evidence that adoption works, but this is purely anecdotal. We certainly need better research in this area before we speak of adoption being the ‘lived happily ever after solution’ that it is presented as.

  4. Hels June 16, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    Interesting that the local authority legal department it child’s guardian is not referred to!!!! Solicitors mustvhavevdeemed threshold met to enter into proceedings! Social workers do not make the application to the court solicitors do !!!

  5. Sharon June 18, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Link to the judgement would be helpful please. Have completed a search but can’t find one?

  6. Maria June 18, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    Got to agree with the Judge I’m afraid. The LA is so concerned they issue proceedings fail in their attempt to get care & placement orders. They’re told this Mum needs support and then they withdraw it after 12 weeks! Got to be honest with you though I’ve just become a CP chair/IRO & these are the kind of terrible decisions by social workers I see on a weekly basis. I dispair at times at the very simplistic thinking I’m presented with by social workers around deregistration.