Council to investigate social worker criticised by judge in care proceedings

A judge said a social worker appeared to be 'gunning for adoption' to parents who complained and asked for the social worker to be named

emotional distress
Photo: Cultura/Rex/Shutterstock

A judge has told a council to hold an investigation into a social worker who appeared to be “gunning for adoption” when weighing up care options for a one-year-old boy.

Judge Scaratt told Kent council to launch an internal enquiry and apologise to the boy’s parents. Evidence during care proceedings revealed the social worker advised the parents not to christen their son as it would discourage potential adopters. She also failed to visit the couple for months before a final hearing, which the judge said was “inexcusable”.

“I am not remotely surprised that the parents felt, when the care plan was one of adoption outside of the birth family that the social worker was gunning for adoption, if I might put it so crudely, rather than taking a more balanced view with parents who want their child returned to their care,” he said.

Scaratt said the council should share the findings of its investigation with the parents and the court. But he rejected a call from the parents to name the social worker after concluding there were no “compelling reasons” to do so.

The council said it had fully complied with the judge’s ruling.

Unable to cope

The child was brought to the attention of social services in January 2016, a week before his birth.

Police had arrested the father after an incident at the family’s home where he set fire to clothes and self-harmed with a Stanley Knife. The man had previously served time in prison for violent rape and had a history of drug use.

After the house incident, the mother made a series of disclosures about the father’s past behaviour, including domestic abuse.

The council initially pursued adoption for the boy but changed its care plan to special guardianship after an independent social worker made a positive assessment of an aunt as a potential carer.

The judge made the guardianship order after concluding the parents had made some progress but were unable to cope with caring for the boy. The order gave the parents contact twice a year, which the judge hoped would increase as their situation improved.

Recordings of the social worker

After the ruling, the parents complained about the council and asked for the judgment to be published with the local authority and social worker named.

During the proceedings, the parents used secret recordings they had made of the social worker to dispute her evidence.

A claim that the father had been aggressive at a contact meeting was “not borne out” by one of the recordings, the judge found. In a second recording the social worker told the parents christening their son would reduce the pool of potential adopters.

The social worker denied that she was focused on adoption rather than the standard of the mother and father’s parenting. She told the court she was very concerned that neither parent appeared to accept the father’s conviction for the serious rape.

The judge said he accepted the social worker’s concern about the risks posed by the father and her view that the therapies medical experts said the parents needed would be “outside” the child’s timescales. He said she had also “begrudgingly” given the parents credit for the steps they had taken to improve their situation.

However, he said he agreed with the parents that the social worker “was not candid with the court” and was not going to be until she was “put on the spot” in the witness box.

“I have made criticisms of her and I intend to leave it at that and leave it to an internal enquiry,” he said.

Neutral or independent

The judge also raised concerns over emails between the social work team and an adoption decision-maker (ADM). The messages were not “wholly neutral or independent” and appeared “to influence the ADM in favour of adoption”.

“Certainly there does not appear to have been what has been described by the local authority in submissions as a ‘separation of powers’”, he said.

But the judge said the ADM’s final decision had not been “unduly influenced” by the emails . He said he would treat the incident as a “one off” as he worked with the council frequently and hadn’t come across these concerns before.

“I hope that the local authority will take to heart the criticisms of its practice that have arisen in this case. I am confident that it will and, as I have indicated, I, myself, will take them up further in my regular meetings with the local authority,” he said.

42 Responses to Council to investigate social worker criticised by judge in care proceedings

  1. Tom J April 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    Interestingly- Confirmation Bias is usually spoken about as deciding that all is well then only acknowledging the positives and ignoring the negatives. However, I feel that it is just as likely that you may only see the negatives to the detriment of the positives.

    That said, social workers can be criticised if they go into court with a weak ‘sit on the fence approach’ of; ‘well X happened which was bad, but then Y is there which is good’.

  2. Lynda B April 6, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    I find it interesting that a judge allowed parents to produce in evidence recordings taken covertly.
    It may be that the social worker after assessment felt that adoption was in his best interest, no social worker makes a decision like this in isolation and they would have had to produce evidence both to the court and adoption panel that adoption was in the best interest of the child.
    When reporting situations such as this without all the evidence it is difficult to get the full picture, what is clear is that even Judge Scarrett the scorn of many a social worker concluded that the parents were unable to meet the needs of their child
    Was the viability assessment of the person who took out the SGO positive?

    • Anonymous April 7, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      Due to not identifying my boy.
      I’ll reply to your question.
      No, when the social worker took the viability of several members she failed them all. We had to fight for a independent social worker to carry out a report on only one relative due to funding this found a positive result. They still wasn’t happy with the positive report and requested another on the same person. This again was positive. They only agreed with SGO on day three of the final hearing due to the judge saying he wasn’t supporting adoption in this case.
      Why shouldn’t he allow us to use our recordings? Who’s going to believe a family in court proceedings over a trusted social worker? They’re not.
      This isn’t even half of there failings. So please, take respect of our family into account when passing comment. Thank you

      • John April 9, 2017 at 11:42 pm #

        Fair Comment .

      • Anton Ferri April 12, 2017 at 9:40 am #

        All aspects of public life include a recording of conversations and this has become the norm when dealing with corporations and organisations. I see no reason why parents or anybody involved in any aspects of child or adult safeguarding issues should not record matters and social workers or other professionals and have no fear because if they’re acting with integrity and undertake their duties and responsibilities in an appropriate manner then recording of their actions should be no reason for concern in fact it should be seen as a positive . Far from objecting to the use of recordings they should be incouraged by the professional organisations and individuals and families should be enabled to have such recordings available to them and to be used in due process should that be required. Anyone who has chaired safeguarding conferences or managed court processes will be only too aware that there is far too much hearsay and objectivity is reduced by the lack of contemporaneous statements which have a basis in evidenced situations or corroborated evidence .

  3. Spidernose April 6, 2017 at 6:01 pm #

    A judge critising a social worker….. Wow! That’s a first!

    And he condoned the use of secret recording……unbelievable!

    • Pip April 6, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

      My first time in court I was praised by the judge for my clear assessment of a highly complex case.
      I would have no problems with parents recording my interactions with them. I work from a position of open caseworking. Any court report will reflect my working with the family and clear assessment of positives and risks.
      Seeking the removal of a child from parental care is a monumental decision and in my view should be undertaken with a great deal of compassion towards parents who have often experienced massively damaging experiences in their lives. I’ve observed social workers become vindictive because parents have been angry and hostile, not a good working professional stance to adopt.

      • Anonymous April 7, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

        This was my care case.
        I wish there was open minded and level headed social workers like yourself.
        Thank you for taking a open and honest view on this.
        It would be so much better if all meetings was duty bound to be recorded.

      • jdamjdam April 10, 2017 at 10:44 am #

        Pip, vindictive social workers? Did you report that?!!??

      • Anton Ferri April 12, 2017 at 9:41 am #

        Excellent

    • w shaw April 6, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

      No proffesional acting with integrity should be concerned about recording, of course it would be better if all meetings and assesments by social workers were officially recorded . Recording offers protection for both proffesionals and service users . Particularly in the case of vurnerable childeren it is vital that facts of the case are acurate . Removal into the care system and adoption are life changing and traumatic for a child it is simply unacceptable for proffesionals to make false or misleading statements in care proceedings. Thank goodness the parents did record or a miscarrige of justice could have potentialy taken place a child cut off from a bio family forever .

    • Challenging MH Patient April 6, 2017 at 11:40 pm #

      He ‘condoned’ an activity that was lawful. Why shouldn’t he?

      • Tom J April 7, 2017 at 10:30 am #

        Yes I think that social workers should work on the basis that all interactions could potentially be recorded.

        That said- social workers should have the right to ensure that comments are not taken out of context. There is always the challenge that they could be viewed in isolation.

        I had one experience of covertly recorded comments I said being played. I did cringe a bit, partly because its an odd experience hearing your own voice but I also did think ‘well if I knew it was going to be played for all these people to hear at a later date, I may have added a few clarifications and referred back to the past issues (which the service user and I were fully abreast of)’, but I did stand by what I had said.

        The biggest challenge of the case I refer to above, was that on all subsequent visits, I was much less candid as I was working on the basis that every subsequent comment I made may later be put under the microscope.

    • Laura April 7, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      I would always prefer to know I was being recorded, but I would not be particularly bothered by a secret recording. Why would I, unless I was afraid that being recorded would expose poor practice on my part?

    • Stuart April 8, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Covert recording is very ‘iffy’, mainly in my view because of the danger of sections being quoted out of context & thus grossly misinterpreted but we social workers should be able to trust the courts to know that and not misinterpret – and we should alway (like when emailing!) be aware of the possibility of being quoted & keep it clean (in every sense of the word).

      Telling people not to have a child Christened due to negative impact on adoption prospects though is a plain up top and down right untruth. Aka. Lie, and it’s a good thing the comment was exposed. I’ve been employed as an adoption homefinding worker for over 5 years and have never heard such nonsense.

      I am a reformed/enlightened ex-Christian and totally repudiate organised and disorganised religion and other such fantasies (except belief in fairies of course, they are totally real) but if parents are still in the grip of such beliefs it wouldn’t have hurt the child and would have been a great benefit to them to go through this kind of harmless ceremony.

  4. Maria S April 6, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    The team that I work in have recently had 3 different commendations from judges, in 3 different care proceedings cases. We have been praised for our knowledge, our dedication, our commitment etc. I had the parents in my case specially ask the Judge to thank me for all I had done. I know that this is not unusual I know that Kent council has also had social workers praised. Interesting that our own trade press never reports the commendations. How are we to engender confidence from the public if our own press cannot be balanced?

  5. Rosaline April 6, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    This is an interesting read, time and effort should be made to see that there were practice concerns and subjective behaviour. As social workers we are not trained to sit on the fence, but to make balanced decisions, following analytical assessments. The behaviour of the social worker is not where we would want it to be and it is appropriate to address this to ensure good practice is promoted and delivered. The social worker has not been named but will be going through an internal enquiry to reflect on practice and recognise the need for professionalism in all interactions.

    Social workers must expect to be challenged where practice falls below the standard we would ordinarily expect.

  6. John smith April 6, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

    I note the criticism over lack of home visits. I’m wondering if this social worker was meant to be conducting like home visits. It seems that social work is the only profession where personal risk is overlooked.

  7. John smith April 6, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

    Apologies, my comment should read ‘lone home visits’. The risk that social workers are meant to accept is routinely higher than that of other health professionals.

  8. Charlotte Smith April 7, 2017 at 12:30 am #

    Having been up against Judge Scaratt several times this doesn’t surprise me, he’s notorious for being cantankerous and difficult and generally has made up his mind about the conclusions of proceedings before they have been finalised!

  9. Margaret April 7, 2017 at 9:22 am #

    This case has opened a door that can never be closed. The Judge was completely irresponsible to allow covert taping as there is no guarantee that what has been recorded is the full version of the facts. It does not meet either criminal merit nor civil merit to be included as evidence. There are too many factors that could have been manipulated.

    The outcome? Every Social Worker must assume they are being covertly recorded because this case will now be used as proof that the practice is acceptable in a court of law.

    How can Social Workers protect themselves?

    Assume everything you say is being recorded.

    write everything down date and time stamp get the client to sign that the written account is the true account of the meeting that took place between client and Social Worker.

    Or

    Social Workers tape every conversation with clients – bit like interview under caution.

    None of these options will help the relationship between Social Worker and clients, adding only more distrust and dislike. None of which will help children deemed at risk of significant harm. Just more wasted time energy and resources.

    Damned if you do damned if you don’t

    • Majla April 7, 2017 at 11:07 am #

      I do agree with Margaret. covert recording are impractical, dangerous, and impact the professional-client relationship. how we supposed to build relationship, trust and support with client when all the time we “must behave” as there is a recording going on or the suspicion of it? that is non sense, where this world is going????????????

    • Lisa b April 9, 2017 at 7:32 am #

      All conversations SHOULD be recorded in my opinion. It avoids either party claiming false allegations, or back tracking. It also gives good reference to look back over. Having attended many meetings with various social workers on behalf of a family member, I’m sick to my back teeth being told ‘we cannot comment on what a predecessor may or may not have said’ not to mention the current social worker being a pathological liar who twists everything we say to make us look like incompetent parents. Unfortunately not all social workers are honest and fair. And taping all conversations would wrestle out those that give the profession a bad name. If they have nothing to worry about ethically then they shouldn’t be concerned regarding recording.

      • Caroline April 22, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

        Well said. Complete truth. Good to read honest decent families speaking the truth.

  10. londonboy April 7, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    Here is the comment that seems to have disappeared.

    Well I cannot see what the problem is? We hear so much about the difficulties of Agencies working together I think it is good to see agencies working together to achieve Government objectives. Those pesky judges who do not understand the issues must be very irritating?
    I cannot see why there would be a problem with telling parents with PR who want to have their child baptised that they cannot either. The Children Society might disagree but what do they know?
    It is good to see that that the DfE has such a good grasp of the issues. See https://holesinthewall.co.uk/
    Nice touch..during Word Autism Awareness Week too.

    • Andrea April 9, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

      what ??

  11. Paul April 7, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    Good supervision in this case should have challenged the Social Worker and helped to identify bias / professional dangerousness. There would also have been opportunities to challenge decisions from the adoption service who I would expect to have oversight of each child with a plan for adoption. what is also not clear is how performance targets influence social workers and managers alike. In other words this is a failure of the local authority as a whole and not just the social worker; albeit they need to be accountable.

  12. Jonathan Ritchie April 7, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    The Police manage fine with body cameras and taped interviews. Since when are social work assessments and reports “full versions of the facts” which aren’t manipulated by unelected, unaccountable and politically biased self appointed “agents of social change”?

  13. Maharg April 7, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    Having been recorded, and that recording being used inappropriately, e.g. client using my statement to justify their argument on an unrelated matter, see even my social worker agrees with me.

    covert recording is definitely dodgy.

    Normality of our job role
    Like the social worker hung for taking a child away from my family, or is it social worker hung for leaving a child with a family.

  14. Cyrnix April 8, 2017 at 9:05 am #

    The fact that if the SW had relied on covert recordings and then utilised them within their report, would be frowned upon to say the least. Social Work is the only profession that I am aware that clients are found to have more ‘rights’ than an employee. I have the experience of a contested case where the barrister for the parents cross examined the social worker of why they had changed the recording sheet ink from black to blue and who was present in their office when making recordings. It seems that until we as a profession as the expert witness within the case become more assertive in these type of circumstances, we will remain legitimate targets and cannon fodder within these situations. No doubt the employer will comply with the judge’s ‘direction’ and no doubt the SW will be found guilty before a confirmation hearing and admonishment from the regulatory body.
    Surely identifying the SW could unfairly prejudice any investigation?

  15. Kent social worker April 8, 2017 at 9:49 am #

    As a professional, I believe that acting with integrity is paramount and I do not personally fear being recorded. However as always we seek consent from families during our involvement and this is correct and standard practice. Therefore I would expect that any family member I work with to show the same respect afforded to me, so if they wished to record me, please at least tell me or ask beforehand.
    I do sadly now agree that this well known Judge in Kent, and probably afar, has now set a very dangerous precedent for covert recordings to be acceptable in social work and presented as evidence in court seemingly without the social worker’s consent, and this is what I find wholly unacceptable, Judge Scarrett has therefore potentially placed good social work values like respect, honesty and integrity, that the majority of social workers practice, in jeopardy. Perhaps Kent County Council should consider this failing for all good social workers nationally, during their internal enquiry?

  16. techno_turtle April 10, 2017 at 11:03 am #

    One thing strikes me when reading the comments- they are predominately about the use of covert recording (which I agree are indeed ‘iffy’), and which the judge apparently condons. The judge critics the attitude of the SW for ‘gunning for adoption’

    Now, I have never worked in CYPS, and have never wanted to (I’ve always worked with adults). But if the father has a record for violent rape, and a history of drug abuse and domestic violence, why wouldn’t the SW want the child adopted and brought up in a safer, more condusive environment? Or am I missing something?

  17. Hels April 10, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    Hold on here, the social worker would not have simply decided on a care plan put to the court. Team managers, legal department, Iro , ADM, would have been involved! It’s the local authority’s care plan not.
    Personally I see no issue in full transparency, being accountable etc, we are involved in the lives of vulnerable individuals, and need to be accountable

    • Anonymous April 13, 2017 at 9:46 am #

      The IRO supported both adoption and SGO.
      There was issues with the ADM independent role when she was the area manager under the same department.
      So yes it was multipeople in this case unfortunately they have all allowed her to take the fall consequences.
      I couldn’t agree more with you being accountable for your own actions and attitudes.

    • J April 14, 2017 at 8:03 am #

      It depends on what SW present to her/his team, the legal team and other professionals. Remember SW ‘Assessment is what is taken into account. My team manager will advise me according to my report and would discuss my options because trust in your evaluation of the situation .
      As you said transparency /
      accountability is paramount in social work. Before I became a SW , I have met SW who have abuse their powers by intimating or Threatening family because the family dare to challenge them

  18. Hels April 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

    Full transparency is not covert recording I must add

  19. Char b April 12, 2017 at 10:53 pm #

    My brother had to attend court 24hrs after his girlfriend Kirsty olive,committed suicide due to the bullying and harassment from the same social workers. They told her on the Wednesday afternoon that they were going to court on the Friday morning to seek adoption of their 5 month old baby. Kirsty killed herself on the Thursday morning. The social worker strolled in to court and her only words to the grieving family were “it’s a small waiting room isn’t it”.
    We are now struggling to plan a funeral for Kirsty and having to try and plan a future for her children

    http://www.kentonline.co.uk/folkestone/news/tributes-to-beautiful-fun-loving-123047/#comments

  20. Caroline April 15, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

    My comment seems to have vanished from earlier this week. I agree that with both the social workers and parents knowledge they should be recorded. As I’ve learned what is said and what they write are 2 different outcomes.then you have them writing something different in the court papers. As I’ve heard in court several times its all hear say. So many times the social worker changes, whilst in care proceedings and the statements written are just copied down the line. Yes these children are the most crucial and vulnerable of all and their whole lives are gonna change forever whether for the good or bad so maybe they need to start recording crucial assessments and meetings and as I am for the best interests of the child/ren and assume child services was of the same belief then wouldn’t it be a positive thing to do? Parents and SW are backed up by voice recordings, and so will shorten the time scale of court and prevent lengthy days in court arguing about who said what.