Social workers have been heavily criticised by a High Court judge for “unprofessional” and “reprehensible” case building against a father whose child was up for adoption.
In a judgement, published last week, Justice Russell launched a scathing attack on the actions and practice of children’s social workers at Brighton and Hove Council, accusing them of making claims they “weren’t qualified to make”.
She said the authority adopted a “seemingly belligerent behaviour and an oppositional stance” towards the father and, by extension, his children.
The High Court was deciding whether a two-year-old girl, referred to as W, should be returned to her father and three siblings or be adopted by the couple she had lived with for the previous 16 months after a placement order was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The placement order was made in 2013 after concern arose about W’s father’s ability to cope with raising four children. Their mother, who has suffered from mental health problems, was not considered to have the capacity to be a full-time carer. There had been concerns around potential harm to the children, and the father’s ability to deal with his past abuse.
Judge Russell dismissed these concerns, criticising social workers for referencing a, “clearly out of date”, parenting assessment from 2012. She also dismissed the social worker’s concerns about the effect of the father’s past abuse on his ability to parent as “psychobabble”.
She said: “Not only is this evidence entirely at odds with the evidence of the qualified clinical psychologist, it is not supported by any evidence from the school or the observations of independent observers; both in the care proceedings and in the adoption application the local authority has given insufficient weight to the observations of professionals working with the family apparently where that evidence does not accord with its case.”
The social workers were also criticised for having an apparently “cavalier” attitude that cost the father his job at a local school.
They were also described as “grudging” when discussing the care the father had given his three other children, while the court guardian was criticised for not making the siblings’ voices heard in proceedings.
“Their view of the father seemed to remain unaltered despite the fact that he had remained separated from the mother, had been to counselling and was successfully parenting three children on his own,” Justice Russell said.
The judge ruled that child W should be returned to her father’s care, and said she was pleased to see the local authority would fund an independent social worker to liaise with the family and ensure they receive the support they need.
“In the light of their unprofessional behaviour and their negative view of him both as a father and as an individual, as expressed in their evidence, there can be little wonder if the father finds it hard to trust the local authority and work with them from time to time,” the judge said.
Brighton and Hove council has been contacted for comment.
Tom Bewick Brighton & Hove City Council Children, Young People and Skills Committee chair, said: “In any case involving child protection, a very difficult balance has to be struck about the need to keep children safe and the desire to keep families together.”
He added: “Social workers have to make these difficult decisions and recommendations every day, trying in all circumstances to do what they feel is the best thing for the children that they are responsible for keeping safe.”