A social worker has been strongly criticised for ‘opaque’ language in a court report which the family involved would struggle to understand, the judge said.
The assessment of a grandmother as a special guardian for two children “might just as well have been written in a foreign language,” according to Judge Jeremy Lea, sitting at Nottingham Family Court.
Judge Lea said the social worker’s written evidence raised doubts over whether she was able to speak with the family on their “wavelength” while conducting the assessment.
A significant portion of his judgement in the appeal case – 17 of 64 paragraphs – discussed the presentation of evidence and analysis by the independent social worker who was appointed by the court to prepare the report, and by other social workers involved in the case. All the social workers were named in the judgement.
The independent social worker had been asked to assess the woman who appealed adoption orders in order to put herself forward to care for two girls aged two and four. She was not their biological grandmother (she was the mother of the partner their mother had at the time of the older girl’s birth) but was treated as a grandmother by the courts.
The judge described her as “a simple soul” who had found the court proceedings difficult and struggled to understand what had been written about her.
He identified phrases such as “imbued with ambivalence” and “commonalities” in the social worker’s assessment as difficult to comprehend.
The judge quoted paragraphs of the assessment where, he said, the language obscured the meaning:
“I do not intend to address the couple’s relationship suffice it to say it is imbued with ambivalence : both having many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection or alternative relationship that are a reflection of this. Such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement.”
“Due to [the grandmother’s] apparent difficulties identifying the concerns , I asked her to convey a narrative about her observations in respect of [the mother and father’s] relationship.”
Quoting the second paragraph, the judge asked: “What would be wrong in saying ‘I asked her to tell me’?”
He also questioned multiple uses of the word “interplay”, for example: “[the grandmother] clearly believes that paternity issues had a significant interplay on [the father’s] ability to say no to the mother.” He said the word ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ would be more understandable.
Social worker’s use of jargon in assessments was also identified by Ofsted as an area for improvement in a thematic report released yesterday.
The report said: “In some assessments inspectors found that workers tried to ‘over professionalise’ their written work and consequently did not communicate their thoughts and findings well.”
The judge in this case stressed that he was not only concerned about the report itself being comprehensible, but also whether the social worker had been able to discuss issues with the grandmother so the woman could understand and feel able to express herself.
Judge Lea was critical of social work practice throughout the proceedings more widely – identifying frequent references to ‘risk’ with no analysis of what that meant “in practical terms”.
The judge also referred to the lack of independent analysis by the local authority social worker involved who, he said, had not carried out a proper assessment. Instead she had based her conclusions on discussions during contact visits when the grandmother’s attention was on the children. Her case notes had been written up after cross-examination during an earlier hearing, the court heard.