A high court judge has praised a social worker’s “unstinting commitment” to helping a family whose 16-year-old daughter was placed in local authority care after attempting to fly to Syria.
In a judgement published earlier this month, Justice Hayden said of the social worker: “She has been tireless in her determination to help them, she has unhesitatingly sacrificed her own personal time and has displayed an impressive mix of intellectual rigour and compassion.”
The case ended with the girl, known as B, being returned to her family.
B was placed in the care of Tower Hamlets council in August 2015, after Justice Hayden ruled she had been “fully radicalised” and there was “no way her psychological, emotional, and intellectual integrity could be protected” by remaining at home.
She had attempted to fly to Syria to join ISIS in December 2014, but was removed from the flight by the metropolitan police minutes before take-off. A search of the family home in June 2015 by counterterrorism officers found videos of actual executions, beheadings and photos of corpses on electronic equipment belonging to B, some of her siblings, and her parents.
The local authority social worker became involved after “deficiencies” in the report of an independent social worker assigned to the case came to light. The independent social worker had been appointed to undertake an intensive and thorough assessment of B’s family in August 2015, after the judge rejected the council’s application to take B’s siblings into care.
Justice Hayden criticised the independent social worker’s report as “strikingly superficial”.
The local authority social worker agreed to undertake an assessment addressing the ‘risk matrix’ of radicalisation, which is referenced in the judgement. This involves assessing how personal, environmental, static and dynamic factors can interact to cause radicalisation.
Justice Hayden praised the social worker for “working the case in the sense that she has not merely recorded the attitudes or behaviours of the adults, rather she has actively intervened to try to change them where, in her assessment, they are contrary to interests of the child”.
He added: “It is an unfortunate fact that judges have, from time to time, to be critical of social workers. Too often good social work goes without comment or commendation. This case provides some opportunity to remedy that.”
The focus of the most recent judgement was to determine whether B should remain in the care of the local authority. When Justice Hayden authorised her removal, he had “intended that she would have an opportunity to meet a wider range of people, to be stimulated by new ideas, activities and philosophies”. The Court’s objective was not to “de-radicalise” the girl, he said.
However, Tower Hamlets council had encountered resistance from schools when trying to secure a placement for B and the opportunities for foster care were “non-existent”, said Hayden, which meant she had lived for nine months in “very isolated circumstances”.
Justice Hayden said the fact that B remained radicalised and had sustained emotional damage “as a direct consequence of seemingly unlimited access to and viewing of the images discussed” was a key issue in planning for the future. Her “underlying and striking lack of empathy for ordinary human suffering” meant she was still a risk, he added.
He concluded that the plan most likely to meet B’s needs was to return her home. He said that she was more likely to “rediscover her own intellectual autonomy in a home environment where she is happy and loved” and her siblings, who do not share her extremist beliefs, are “likely to be resistant to them and will challenge them, even without intending to do so”.
He added: “The family has a proactive social worker who has demonstrated that she will not be naïve and will not be deflected by controlling or manipulative behaviour”.
Justice Hayden made a final care order requiring Tower Hamlets to put together the detail of a care plan that reflected this decision.