A judge has criticised a newly qualified social worker, and her employer, for submitting evidence on a child’s welfare that was so poor quality it was deemed unusable.
Delivering his judgement on the private law case, Justice MacDonald found the social worker lacked “a basic understanding” of what was required of her when producing reports under section 7 of the Children Act 1989. He also criticised Newham council for leaving her “poorly equipped” to carry out this “complex piece of work”.
Responding to the judgment, Newham council said section 7 training will be “regularly” rolled out for staff and said the social worker’s supervisor – an agency social worker – had now left the council.
The case concerned whether an 11-year-old boy, C, should continue living with his aunt in London under a special guardianship order, or live in Manchester with his father, or move to live with his mother in Mozambique.
C had moderate ADHD and global development delay. He was receiving weekly counselling sessions and had been recommended to undertake comprehensive educational intervention four days a week. The court ordered a section 7 report, and two addendum reports, from the social worker in order to ensure C’s wishes and feelings were taken into consideration by an independent person.
Poor quality of reports
The judge said the social worker’s section 7 report “contained a significant number of factual errors, contradictions and omissions”. It contained no analysis of C’s best interests and was “simply a list of facts and statements with a bald conclusion”, he found.
The addendum reports had similar flaws and it was “concerning” that all three of the social worker’s reports were signed off by her practice manager, the judge said. This “amplified” the social worker’s assumption that she was doing what was required of her, he added.
The social worker was also found to be “entirely unable” to back-up her reports’ recommendations in oral evidence. This meant the judge felt “unable to attach any weight” to her evidence and had to rely on his own analysis of C’s welfare in reaching a decision on the case.
Lack of training and support
In evidence it emerged the social worker was newly qualified and had never completed a section 7 report. She told the judge her degree course had not covered the preparation of these reports and the only training she’d been given by Newham before undertaking the work was a “90 minute discussion with her supervisor”.
She had also been left with too little time to complete the reports due to a “substantial delay” in Newham’s legal department passing on the section 7 order to social services, the judge found.
The judge said his criticisms of the social worker must be seen in the context of her lack of experience, the failings identified in her academic training and the poor quality support she’d received from her employer. However, taking this into account, he concluded the social worker’s reports “nonetheless fall well below the standard expected by the court”.
After conducting his own welfare analysis the judge ruled that C should live with his aunt under a child arrangements order, rather than a special guardianship order.
He said the aunt had the best understanding of his physical, emotional and educational needs. He decided against the special guardianship order because he saw it as limiting the father’s parental responsibility, and he hoped a history of cooperation meant this wasn’t necessary.
The judge said he would have considered ordering the local authority to pay non-party costs if the deficiencies in the social worker’s reports had forced him to adjourn the case.
A Newham Council spokesperson said:”Prior to this judgement, the council rolled out Section 7 training and this will be regularly rolled out throughout the year to all staff.
“It is unfortunate that an agency member of staff failed to provide the adequate support and guidance to this social worker in this instance. This member of staff has now left the council.
“The council has now gone through a robust recruitment process to ensure that we have permanent staff in place who are able to provide high quality guidance to our staff.”