A judge has lamented the turnover of social workers and “wholly unacceptable” delays in a care case that saw adoption orders made for three children of learning disabled parents.
In a judgment, judge Cleary said it was “hardly satisfactory” that four social workers had been allocated to the case. Care proceedings took 52 weeks to complete, twice the length recommended by the public law outline, and the children had been on child protection plans for two years before proceedings started.
“While it is clear that the local authority invested significant resources into the functioning of this family, when it became plain that proceedings were on the horizon, the pre-proceedings work should have included the parenting assessments. It did not. Instead, the case has lasted as I have said, for exactly a year,” the judge said.
Cleary said he would expect some explanation of the “intolerable” delay, but there was none.
He added he was disappointed in the council that “no, or inadequate attention had been paid to directions of the court which had endeavoured to provide a composite threshold to enable the judge, the parties and the guardian to concentrate on the welfare outcome”.
“No application appears to have been made at any stage during the proceedings to exceed 350 pages, which reveals yet another disappointing aspect of the management of this case,” he added.
The case concerned three children who had suffered significant harm through the neglect of their needs. It was not deliberate neglect, as both parents struggled with learning disabilities and health needs.
The father could not read or write, had a speech impediment and was reliant on his mother to meet his basic day-to-day needs. The mother was in residential accommodation as a result of poor health, and had limited ability to read and spell. Both parents had capacity.
The judge criticised how a second or interim parenting assessment did not happen until “well after” the case began.
“The family was on the local authority radar before August 2013, when child protection plans were initiated. I am puzzled why, in the months leading up to the presentation of the local authority case, this assessment was not undertaken.”
‘Plainly love their children’
In supporting the evidence that the parents were not able to look after the children, the judge singled out a social worker who had “not simply confined herself to fleeting visits to the family home”.
“In unchallenged evidence, she revealed that she has spent significant periods in the house observing the parents and their interaction with the children,” Cleary said.
He said the parents “plainly love their children” and with the support of the local authority had been cooperative and seen improvements in their parenting of the children made.
However, the two eldest children, aged five and four, both experienced severe developmental delay, the former could only speak a few words, while the latter could not speak at all, and improvements made in parenting did not go “to the heart of the matter”.
“Each of the children, and more particularly the two eldest, have suffered significant harm through neglect of their needs. They have been exposed to emotional harm and a lack of stimulation, exhibiting significant developmental delay which requires a range of multiagency support.
“The oldest child in particular shows no stronger awareness and exhibits behaviour which may be indicative of not only emotional harm but sexual harm,” the judge said.
The parents both rejected the local authority’s plan, which was to make the children subject to a placement order and seek adopters. Both said they could act as primary carers, but the judge could not see a way this would work in the best interests of the children.
He concluded, “with the greatest sympathy for mother and father”, that the children had to be removed and be made subject to care orders, and later agreed with the local authority plan they should be given a placement order, and have adopters sought for them.