Two social workers convicted of contempt of court for ceasing weekly contact between a family have had the verdicts overturned by Scotland’s Court of Session.
The pair, who work for Edinburgh council and were named in court papers as AB and CD, were found guilty in December 2013 after they stopped weekly contact between a mother and her two sons, fearing it was causing the children emotional harm.
No penalty was imposed on the social workers, but they were both found jointly liable for the expenses of the original proceedings.
This ruling has now been overturned by Scotland’s supreme civil court after it was found the sheriff (judge) who ruled them guilty had “not made any findings which justify her conclusion that the social workers’ conduct was a contemptuous affront to the dignity and authority of the court”.
AB halted contact between the mother and two sons because she felt the meetings were causing the boys to become “distressed, distraught and at times traumatised”.
The meetings were triggering memories of past violent conduct, and their foster carers were struggling with “seeing the trauma inflicted upon the children”, AB said.
She decided to halt the court-ordered weekly contact and advise monthly contact instead, a move approved by her direct manager CD, to protect the children’s well-being.
It was after this decision that the mother made a contempt of court complaint, which the original judge upheld.
Best interests of the children
But Lord Malcolm, one of the judges who overturned the verdict, said the original findings did not show any conduct that could be categorised as contempt of court.
“The findings indicate two social workers who, with the best interests of the children in mind, did what they considered was right and proper in that regard…They were under a professional duty to respond to the position as it developed and as it was reported to them shortly after the resumption of weekly contact,” he said.
He remarked that the original judge had “formed an unfavourable impression” of AB, and the concerns she held were “at best secondary to the primary issue of an alleged contempt of court”.
Trisha Hall, manager at the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW), said the association was pleased that the ruling places the welfare of children as the primary consideration.
“Furthermore, individual workers act as agents of the local authority and this, despite their professional autonomy, should be respected as such,” Hall added.
Community Care Inform Children subscribers can benefit from our guides to using A trauma model for planning, assessing and reviewing contact for looked-after children and Understanding a child’s neurobiology to assess the impact of contact with birth parents by Norma Howes, social worker, child forensic psychologist and sensorimotor psychotherapist.