Parent threatened to kill social worker in ‘difficult and sad’ care proceedings case

The judge eventually made placement orders for three children, and a child arrangements order for a fourth

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

A mother threatened to kill a social worker in an adoption case a judge called “difficult and sad”.

In care proceedings involving four children, Judge Keehan made placement orders for the three youngest, and a child arrangements order for the eldest who was living with her father.

The mother, who had a long history of mental health problems, had a “variable” relationship with social workers, which “seriously deteriorated” after the children were removed from her care and placed in foster care following long-term neglect.

Multiple threats

The mother had made “multiple serious threats” against social workers following their removal.

Shortly before the first attempted final hearing “the mother was arrested for threatening to kill the current social worker. Ultimately the police did not proceed to charge her with any offence. At the hearing on 13 January the mother was extremely volatile and making threats of harm to the extent that the social workers and the advocates felt very vulnerable”.

Following this, the case was moved from the district judge to Justice Keehan.

Injunctive orders were taken out against the mother, who later accepted that she had threatened to kill the social worker, but claimed she didn’t mean it. In the same conversation, she did say “I am going to get her” about the social worker.

Removed sooner

The children’s physical and emotional state was “truly shocking” when they entered foster care, and the judge said on the evidence they should have been removed much sooner. The judge decided on balance of evidence that the best option for the three youngest children, aged five, four and one-years-old, was for them to be adopted.

This was despite the wishes of the mother that they placed with her brother and his partner, or in long-term foster care. While there were positive findings with regards to their commitment to the children, there were concerns over their lack of experience in caring for children and how they had failed to impact the neglect the children suffered at home with the mother, whom they lived with.

“In a misguided attempt to distance themselves from the neglect suffered by the children, they changed their account of the time they had spent living with the mother in order to improve their prospects of securing the care of the three younger children,” Keehan said.


“The change was not only misguided but it was also disingenuous because (i) on the first version they were living in the home, they made little or no difference to the care the children received or (ii) on the second version, they came and went from the mother’s home even though they knew the mother was neglecting the children. Both versions are equally a cause for serious concern.”

He concluded: “The neglect and suffering of the children was not significantly ameliorated by their presence in the home.”

The report on the relatives had to be re-done by an independent social worker after the original was found to be “fundamentally flawed” after it did not discuss any of the identified criticisms with the potential carers.

A social work assessment said there would likely be interference with the couple from the mother “interfering and/or seeking to control their care of the children”.

Keehan preferred adoption over long-term fostering because the children would become an integral part of the family unit, and there was less chance of breakdown.

Judge Keehan said he “sincerely” regretted not being able to come to a conclusion other than adoption, but he was “completely satisfied that nothing else will do”.

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18 Responses to Parent threatened to kill social worker in ‘difficult and sad’ care proceedings case

  1. LongtimeSW June 7, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    ‘Threatened to kill social worker’

    . . . . . . won’t make the headlines then – any bets that ‘should have been removed earlier’ does make news? Any takers? . . . . . . .thought not

  2. Mary June 7, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    I agree LongtermSW. I have been slapped push down stone stairs seriously assaulted . Why? Because the families involved were not noted on the system by Managers that they had made threats to kill. One manager even laughed it off as ‘part of what we do’ yet she had not taken an active part in front line work ever. Needles to say I left, but was made to feel it was shameful to talk about what these families had done to me.
    These families felt that as they had issued warnings to my Manager it would be acceptable to assault me and put it up on face book to get ‘likes’
    I should never have been forced to visit these families alone but no one chose to inform me of the risks.
    Support – not a chance

  3. Specs June 7, 2016 at 8:40 pm #

    I have a meeting with parents to advise of the plan for a placement order and adoption for their children, I’ve just spent the last hour looking for my spare glasses in case the next punch I am expecting actually lands.

  4. Florence June 7, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

    Had similar experience to worker told she to expect it!
    Who would “expect” this as part of working life? Who else does this?

  5. Mike Cox June 8, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    Adoption is morally wrong; the practice is based on financial considerations, rather than the “best interests of the child(ren) – if someone proposed to remove my children permanently then I would resist them by all means available to me. The only reason that there has not been widespread, effective resistance is because of the vulnerabilities of the targeted parents which led to them being targeted in the first place.

    • Debbie June 8, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      Unbelievable! Every child has the right to belong and be part of a family. If their own family is not capable then thankfully there are people out there willing to give Children a loving home with parents that will give them the life they deserve.

    • LongtimeSW June 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      You’re not obviously a frontline social worker then Mike Cox . From what you say, you’re the one that’s wrong – Child abuse is morally (and legally) wrong – or do you believe that children are parent’s property to use and abuse as they like?

      You obviously did not read the Judgement in full (hint – click on the link in the article!) – the older child did go to and remain with her birth father – the younger children’s father for his own reasons took no part in any of the case either before or after they were removed including the Court proceedings – if you are arguing that he should have been considered where was he when the children were being neglected and harmed?

      Very easy for you to criticise when you don’t seem to have walked the walk.

      Finally, it is a Court that makes an order allowing children to be removed from their home, permanently or otherwise, not social workers – as in this judgement it was clear that for the younger children ‘nothing else will do’

    • Planet Autism June 8, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      I agree with you Mike Cox. From the judgement:

      “T does not like disruption to routine and remains fussy about what she eats. She is shy and wary of strangers but clingy to those she knows at times of anxiety. She lacks the social confidence of a child of comparable age but will usually talk about those things troubling her. There is about a 2 year delay in learning linked to lack of stimulation and language delay because of the neglect at home.”

      This sounds like a child who is potentially on the autistic spectrum. She also clearly loves and misses her mother:

      “She will talk about contact with her mother on return to the foster home and is subdued for a while if it does not take place.”

      “She becomes more enthused about the contact with her mother”

      So clearly she loves her mother and there is a bond.

      “W has had traits of destructive and harmful behaviour from an early age; including spitting, hitting out, head-butting and punching walls and furniture. This aggression was often directed at his mother, siblings and peers without warning or remorse afterwards.

      W continues to struggle to cope in social interaction. He is boisterous and tends to tantrum when refused his own way. The biting has stopped but he once drew blood from another child in nursery through this. Vigilance and consistent boundaries are making a difference and he is gradually learning the difference between right and wrong.

      W’s speech and language delay is being corrected. He is a quick learner and it is hoped that lost ground can be made up within the next 6 to 12 months. W has an ability to focus on task.

      W’s propensity not to cry, or seek comfort at times of physical injury or emotional distress is an expression of his ambivalence over seeking it out. In other words, it has gone unnoticed, to no effect, as a strategy for gaining adult attention.”

      Lo and behold – another child that sounds extremely likely to be on the autistic spectrum (with signs of hyposensitivity), potentially also with ADHD or PDA autism subtype.

      Regarding the mother:

      “She concedes she cannot care for the children”

      Clearly a lady in need of the very support social services are supposed to provide. I wonder why that could be – oh yes, autism is frequently hereditary and highly heritable, she is likely to be on the autistic spectrum too. Further evidence of this is that she is cited to have a history of mental health problems, autistic people (most especially females) are often misdiagnosed as having mental health problems or personality disorders. The fact that she struggled in caring for the children was further evidence, executive dysfunction and the need for parenting classes that some autistic people might have, to enable her to become a good parent has clearly not been evaluated or provided. Furthermore, she suffered domestic violence from her first partner, this can happen to autistic women who may struggle with peoples’ motives and naivety, things that need support NOT penalising by ripping families apart.

      Did she abuse the children? No she did not. She just needed a bit of support with getting it right, which evidently was completely and utterly denied her.

      “The local authority have been closely involved with the mother and the children for many years. The theme of neglect has been virtually constant. The school attendance of the older three children was very poor, medical appointments were regularly missed, the children were seen in dirty ill fitting clothes, they were often dirty and hungry and the home conditions were invariably exceedingly poor.”

      She was not intentionally neglecting her children and need support in getting it right, learning some boundaries and getting into a routine for mealtimes and bathing etc.

      To destroy a family that could have been kept together is unconscionable.

      As to the threats to kill the social worker, most people say “I’ll kill you” metaphorically speaking in anger at some point. Someone on the autistic spectrum might be inclined to go into meltdown mode and say things, that doesn’t mean they are true or that anybody was under threat from the mother. The fact that humans live to protect their children and her children were being stolen is more than enough justification for her verbally lashing out!

      • LongtimeSW June 8, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

        What world do you live in?

        What does Parental Responsibility mean? (It is Responsibility not Rights by the way – the rights of the child should be above those of the parent in circumstances such as these.)

        At no point has anyone suggested that the children did not love their mother or that mother did not love their children – and actually yes mother did neglect and therefore abuse the children albeit unintentionally – When this was before the Court if there was a question of anyone, adult or child, being on the Autistic Spectrum that would have been considered and expertly assessed as is the duty of the Court. It is without doubt an extremely sad case and there is a strong argument to look at the resources available that may have helped in the early years – but what is to be expected if there is a resistance to engagement with any support service (as appears to have been the case here) and the family members who were in a position to support at best fell short of what was needed, (which is no criticism of them), but at worst were themselves part of the problem in not taking the children themselves and alerting the authorities – what would you have done if it was your family? Stepped in and demanded help? Or expect the ‘Social Services’ (by the way ‘Social Services’ have been Children Services for many, many years now) to ‘do something’, ‘don’t know what, but do something’ – even then rubbished if they do act protectively, rubbished if they don’t and a child dies because of neglect.

        No Planet Autism, your criticisms are selective of the facts in the judgement – re read it with a more open mind . . . . . if you can.

    • Ellie June 11, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

      Oh, dear! How sadly misguided you are!

      If, as you say, “adoption is morally wrong”, then what do YOU, the fount of all knowledge, propose that people do to safeguard children who are living in dangerous and dysfunctional families? Would you prefer, say, that a child who is regularly shouted at, slapped, locked out of the house, told they are stupid and useless… is left with the very parents who do this to them? Is it not equally, if not more, morally wrong to force a child to remain within an abusive, neglectful or dysfunctional family?

      Yes, some parents may be vulnerable, but so, by default, are their kids. Indeed, vulnerable parents make for vulnerable kids. However, there IS one difference – parents are ADULTS whilst kids are, well, kids. A vulnerable or dysfunctional adult can do things that may change, or reduce, their levels of vulnerability or dysfunctionality. For example, an adult in a one-sided relationship with a partner who cheats can choose to end said relationship, and leave. An adult who is mentally unwell, or has substance misuse issues may, with the right support and treatment, be able to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities associated with such problems… Adults have an element of CHOICE that kids DO NOT.

      A child who is legally under the age of majority MUST live with their parents or caregivers. Children under the age of 16-18 years cannot simply up sticks and move home if they are unhappy where they are living. Thus, abused and neglected kids are often at the mercy of their parents/caregivers unless somebody steps in. Generally, this “somebody”, will be a Social Worker, or perhaps a Community Matron or Health Visitor. Less commonly, this person may be a Doctor (e.g. the family G.P.), a member of a religious community in which the family engages (e.g. a Vicar at the local Church), or perhaps a teacher from the child’s school. Other people who may step in to intervene and to protect the child(ren) could be members of the extended family, neighbours or family friends. Still, the vulnerable child is very much reliant upon the ability of such people to spot abuse, neglect or family dysfunction; and to know how to deal with it.

      THIS is why the 1989 “Children Act” legislation argued that “the welfare of the child is paramount”. THIS is why, sometimes, children who are vulnerable and seriously at risk are fostered, or even formally and permanently adopted. As others here say, children deserve a loving home with parents who will give them a decent start in life.

  6. Pearlene Webb June 8, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    I have 25 years experience and I have been threatened with being shot in the head, verbally abused and once I was a client locked me in their home and refused to to let me leave during a duty visit.

  7. Yuri June 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    No mention of the biological father and why was he not asked to take care of his children?

    • LongtimeSW June 8, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

      The older child went to live with the birth father – the younger children’s birth father was nowhere to be seen seemingly by choice (read the judgement by clicking the link!) – see my reply to Mike Cox

      • Yuri June 9, 2016 at 12:54 am #

        Thank you for the clarification.

  8. Carol June 8, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Throughout my twenty-five year career in child protection, I had five families who threatened to kill me. One was take to court by the Police but was found not guilty by the District Judge as the accused stated he was an ignorant man and used threatening language without meaning what he said. He had a long history of violent crime and drug dealing/using, he had been sentenced for using firearms and knives. However, the Police were not allowed to inform the Judge of his criminal record before the Judge had made his decision.
    Another case was when I had to remove two children from the care of their paternal grandmother as her son had returned from prison to live with her. He had been jailed for gun crimes. I telephoned the local Police to assist me in the removal due to the possibility of the father having firearms in the household. The Police carried out a risk assessment in respect of their personnel and refused to attend. I went into the house on my own and removed the children.
    The most recent one was when I was threatened by an Eastern European gypsy family with a history of child abuse. Whereas previous Local Authorities had taken steps to secure my safety, the most recent organisation refused to allow me to park my car in the car park in front of the office building, they knew I had a fifteen minute walk to my car along poorly lit side streets – the incident happened in winter when it was dark by four in the afternoon. The man had threatened to slit my throat or to shoot me. The interpreter insisted that I take the threats seriously as she believed they were not idle threats.
    There is very little done to secure the safety of staff in such cases and the Police and courts appear to agree with many Local Authorities that death threats are just part of the hazards of the job. I had no support from the courts in connection with these incidents.

  9. LongtimeSW June 8, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    By the way – Shame on anyone who thinks it is acceptable to assault, kill or injure anyone or threaten to. You have no dignity, no class or any right to comment on this or anything else and are ignorant if you do.

  10. Jeden June 8, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    Planetautism, I don’t think you can make a diagnosis of autism based on that information. Those characteristics can also be as a result of chronic neglect and abuse, which both have a significant impact on brain development in the early years.

  11. Ellie June 12, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    This is a very good demonstration of why I feel it might be useful to have Social Workers from different backgrounds put together within a team.

    We are talking, here, about a family in which the parents were evidently struggling to rear their kids in appropriate circumstances. It is noted that the mother had a history of mental health problems, which likely contributed to her paranoia and volatility. Furthermore, the kids were by two different fathers, one who clearly took more interest than the other. I understand this is why the eldest child went to live with their father, but the younger kids (whose father was different) were adopted. It is a huge pity that their father had taken so little interest in them.

    Evidently, the family had been having contact with Social Services for a protracted period of time, during which there had been a series of problems. It is clear from what is written that Children’s Services were involved. However, there is no mention in the article (or in the copy of the court proceedings provided as a link) of whether mental Health Services had any longtime involvement, or whether they co-worked with Children’s Services. This seriously disturbs me.

    I cannot help but feel that in cases such as this, JOINT WORKING is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. And I do not mean sporadic joint working. I feel that it wold be better for ALL Social Work teams to contain a mix of Social Workers from different backgrounds. In this case, it would then have been possible for the family in question to have been monitored and visited regularly – and jointly – by both Children’s and Mental Health Social Workers. Sadly, a Children’s Social Worker alone does not have adequate understanding of mental illness, to appreciate the full impact of its symptoms and behaviours upon a parent’s ability t care for their kids. Furthermore, it might be argued that a Children’s Social Worker is not best suited to assessing the risk that a mentally ill parent may pose – to their kids, to themselves, to other family members, or to any health and Social Services staff visiting the family home. I see there is NO mention whatsoever of the mother’s formal diagnosis (if indeed she had one), or whether she was receiving treatment.

    If Social Workers from different backgrounds comprised a team, this case might have been easier to work. The Children’s Social Worker could have focussed upon the child care aspects of the case, relating these to relevant legislation such as “The Children Act”. Meanwhile, a Mental Health Social Worker could have risk assessed the mother, and also co-assessed her parenting abilities with the Children’s Social Worker. This would have allowed for a much fuller perspective in terms of the nature of the family dysfunction. Questions could have been answered, such as… Does the mother accept and acknowledge that she is unwell? Does she accept and adhere to treatment? If and when she adheres to treatment, does this lead to any improvement in her mood, behaviour and parenting ability?

    It is clear, to me, that family members may have been more acutely aware of the background history to the case than was disclosed. To read what the mother’s brother had said about her “having the brain of a child” is telling. Clearly he was aware that something was amiss, and that this impacted upon his sister’s behavioural presentation. I do feel, too, that had staff worked in a more “forensic” manner – or had Social Workers from a forensic background been appended to the team – then information about family background could perhaps have been more effectively and accurately collected, collated and sifted. One or two Children’s Social Workers on a case such as this are not nearly enough people to handle both the amount of information that such a case may generate, nor the amount of contact and family visits it may require. I can imagine the staff working this case may have been rushed off their feet. Such families can be both extremely demanding of workers’ time, yet simultaneously extremely secretive and defensive.

    I have noted the comments, above, many of which are very sensitive to the nature of the case. It is admittedly very sad when kids have to be fostered or adopted – but surely we ought to remember that such solutions are a pitiful admission of the dreadful circumstances in which such children are forced to live by the very people who ought to care from them.

    “PlanetAutism”… Your comment is an interesting one, and does raise a valid debate (although somewhat out of context). Whilst it is true that Autism and Mental Illness can sometimes be confused, it is equally true that people can experience co-morbidity of Mental Illness and Autism. That is, they can have BOTH at the same time. Highly competent staff should be able, in the main, to tell the difference (which is why I asked whether Mental Health Services had been involved). Autism differs from Mental Illness in that it can show symptoms in a person from a much younger age. Furthermore, Mental Illness (unless it is Personality Disorder) may be responsive to medication. True, some Autistic people may be medicated – but this is often more a case of toning down symptoms such as outbursts of temper. Autism comes under the heading of “Learning Disability”, which is defined by charities such as “Mencap” as “reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities, that affects a person for the whole of their life”. It is believed that such disabilities may be caused by damage to the brain, or incomplete development of the brain, prior to, during, or just after birth. So, a Learning Disability may arise as the result of a child’s mother having been severely overweight prior to giving birth, which lead to pre-eclampsia and severe odema, and thus lead to a complicated and protracted delivery of the child, starving the child of oxygen. By contrast, a Mental Illness can affect ANY PERSON at ANY STAGE IN LIFE, through symptoms often show themselves far later in life than Learning Disability. Additionally, Mental Illness does NOT generally affect intellectual ability (IQ) – Stephen Fry being a good example (he has Bi Polar but is a genius).

    The point that you raise about parents who are Learning Disabled (which, indeed, applies equally to parents who are mentally ill) benefiting from support to help them with their parenting role is perfectly valid. Very prudent indeed. Where it is identified quickly that such a parent is struggling, then support ought to be given to facilitate the person’s coping better. However, it is to be noted that some parents actively refuse support – and can get aggressive, secretive or defensive. Some parents will even go so far as to try to deny that they are mentally ill, or learning disabled. In such cases, there is little that workers can do to help, because to provide help, they must be able to work alongside the parent – the parent must accept help. In cases such as these, it is possible that any kids may end up being fostered or adopted, simply because it would be inappropriate and irresponsible of staff to knowingly leave any child at risk.

    I would further add that, again, the question you raise as to whether the kids in this case showed signs of Autism is an interesting one. However, once more, I would advise that it is prudent not to jump to conclusions. Sadly, symptoms shown by a genuinely Autistic child can be similar in some cases to symptoms show by a child who is the victim of abuse or neglect. In both instances, development – particularly that of an intellectual nature – may be affected. In the case of Autism, because of some damage or dysfunction in the brain. In the case of a child who has been abused or neglected, because lack of mental stimulation, lack of positive role-models, lack of appropriate guidance, and possibly also verbal abuse disrupts the child’s development. Put simply, a brain that is not stimulated in the right way becomes a brain that has responded to the wrong stimulation! As a result, in BOTH cases, we may see timid, shy or withdrawn behaviour; attachment problems; temper tantrums; outbursts of other emotions such as crying… However, whilst in the one child these may be the signs of Autism… In the other child they are the result of disruption to attachments, lack of stimulation and guidance, fear of threats and abuse.

    THIS is why, in suspected abuse cases, staff ought to forensically go about the process of collecting information and evidence. The more relevant information there is available, the more accurately workers can diagnose the family’s problems, and start to find solutions. IF a parent does turn out to be mentally ill, or learning disabled, and is willing to work with Social Workers and/or other health care professionals, then it is perfectly prudent and appropriate to put in place support that will allow the person to grow and develop, and to learn more appropriate parenting techniques. Where this works out, there should be no need whatsoever to remove the kid(s).

    However, we should always be aware of the fact that abusers can be devious. Some DO NOT want to work with Social Workers, or indeed any other health care staff. Instead, they want to pretend that everything is fine, and they may lie to staff, hide evidence, make up excuses, or change their story. Others may simply outright refuse to see staff, and become threatening or abusive. In such cases, it is likely that when the abuse continues, kids may be removed from the family because of the family’s lack of co-operation. The law states that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance (Children Act 1989), meaning that in cases where abuse or neglect is suspected, and where a family are un-cooperative with offers of support, the needs of the children come first. Sadly, this CAN sometimes mean fostering or adoption.