A judge has criticised a council for failing to follow proper procedures in its handling of a “difficult” case where social workers were verbally abused by a mother.
Judge Hudson said it was “unacceptable” that the council had failed to send the mother minutes from a looked after children review concerning her 14-year-old daughter after she had been stopped from attending the sessions due to her previous behaviour towards the authority.
“This situation is unacceptable and the explanation, that of pressure of work, is not sufficient where a parent or representative is not at such meetings,” Hudson said.
The mother and local authority had a “difficult” relationship, the judge said. A contact recording alleged she called a social worker a “f*cking retard”, although the mother couldn’t remember the term she used.
During proceedings, the mother said she would prosecute “personally” a social worker who told her not to speak to her daughter about court proceedings. She also posted criticism of the council and the family court system online, including a YouTube video which featured photographs of her daughter overlaid with derogatory comments about professionals, the council and the courts.
The mother later removed the video, and similar postings, after the girl’s guardian expressed concern about how they might affect the girl in the future.
The court also heard that the mother had threatened to kill social workers and a judge, but a psychologist said these threats were “hollow”.
The girl was placed into foster care in 2014 and her younger sister made subject to a special guardianship order after the pair were exposed to an abusive relationship between the mother and her partner at the time. The relationship had ended by the time the care orders were made but the judge ruled the girl had suffered “significant emotional harm” and “continued to be exposed to her mother’s extreme behaviours since her accommodation”.
The judge was asked to consider an application made by the girl to have her care order to be removed as she wanted to live with her mother. The local authority contested the application, claiming it had been “driven” by the mother.
In support of her application, the daughter told the court: “I was never in any physical or emotional harm in my mother’s care. She looked after me so well, so I don’t understand why social services think she is bad for me.”
The judge agreed that the mother had never failed to meet her daughter’s physical and educational needs. It had been noted in an earlier judgment that the girl “undoubtedly” loved her mother and they had a close relationship.
The council claimed the mother had been the instigator behind her daughter’s application, and pointed to her behaviour in contact sessions to support its contentions. In her evidence to court, the mother said: “Maybe I thought the court would consider an application more favourably by [the girl] than me. I put her up to it. Why not?”
The judge accepted the argument the application was driven by the mother, not the girl, and said it was “telling that [the girl] has resisted opportunities to speak to her mother in recent weeks” to avoid discussing the court case.
Hudson eventually decided to reject the application to remove the care order, and said “the risk is too great”.
She believed the girl living with her mother “would not succeed over time”, and further placement breakdown could mean she wouldn’t be able to return to her current foster carers, who were meeting her needs well.
The judge criticised the local authority’s contact arrangement, which she said carried an “unrealistic and unhelpful” provision that prevented indirect contact. The mother and daughter were in touch regularly through their phones and social media, which the local authority recognised and expected to continue.
Hudson did not make a contact order, but argued the local authority had to be able to respond to circumstances as they develop.
“A balance needs to be struck between [the girl’s] wish for more normal contact and ensuring the arrangements provide for safe contact for [the girl] and the local authority staff,” she said.