A council has been criticised for giving “undue” weight to a psychologist’s assessment in a case where it changed its recommendation from a special guardianship order to an adoption placement.
The unnamed local authority and its social workers changed their minds largely on the basis of the psychologist report, which gauged the emotional impact of moving a 10-month-old girl, L, from a foster placement and observed a contact session with her grandmother.
The psychologist was “very critical” of the grandmother’s interactions with the girl. However, Judge Harris found the contact session observed was “atypical” and the psychologist’s report was “wholly at odds” with evidence from 14 other contacts.
She queried the council’s change of stance on the suitability of the special guardianship arrangement and said social workers had given “undue significance to relatively minor pieces of evidence”.
“The local authority case for adoption, in my judgment, is based on insufficiently sound foundations. I cannot find by some distance that nothing else will do in this case,” she said.
Harris also criticised the lack of a Re B-S balance sheet analysis from a social work manager and guardian in the case, but praised the special guardianship assessment carried out by a social worker who spent five days in Poland with the child’s grandparents.
Background to the case
The case considered whether L should have a placement order with a view towards being adopted by her foster carers, or whether she should move to the care of her grandparents in Poland, where her two older siblings were also being cared for.
L had been born in a “known crack den” and her parents were not involved in proceedings.
The psychologist report suggested the grandmother “would not be able to provide the sensitive attuned care” needed, the acting manager of the allocated social worker argued. However, the judge said the manager had failed to include Re B-S compliant analysis in the form of pros and cons and this was a “fundamental flaw”.
The social worker who carried out the special guardian assessment also changed her view, and this seemed to be “almost entirely focused on short term considerations”, the judge said.
“Whilst I am satisfied [she] was not under any pressure to change her recommendation, I considered that there was a degree of reluctance and ambivalence in expressing it. It seemed to me, too, as I have said, that her conclusion was at odds with the body of her report which maintained her views about the grandmother’s care but did raise some short term concerns,” the judge added.
Failure to carry out Re B-S analysis
The guardian was also criticised for having “attached too much weight” to the psychologist’s evidence.
“I do not consider that the guardian has carried out the analysis required by B-S and has not placed sufficiently in the balance the positives identified by [the social worker] in an assessment acknowledged as being robust nor the great advantage to L of being brought up with her two full siblings within a family placement,” Harris said.
The psychologist criticised the grandmother for “failing to set boundaries” for L in the contact session. Examples of this were not moving L’s hands when she was pulling the grandmother’s blouse and exposing her chest, and playing with a buckle on the social worker’s shoe.
“I must say I do not consider that either example represents any real failure to set boundaries. In any event, one does not really set boundaries to any great extent with a child of ten months other than ensuring that they are safe,” Harris said.
She said the psychologist had “overstated the negatives” in contact.
“I consider that the evidence of the grandmother’s proven track record with the two older girls as being more significant by some distance than the limited observations made.”
She ruled that L should be placed with his grandmother under a special guardianship order, with a supervision order attached. This would give her the benefit of L growing up with two full siblings and within her family.