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.