Mother verbally abused social worker she claimed tried to ‘drive her to insanity’

Family Court judge finds aspects of the mother's behaviour had put her children in "stressful and upsetting situations"

Photo: WoGi/Fotolia

A mother secretly recorded and verbally abused a social worker she accused of having an agenda to remove her children during care proceedings.

A Family Court judgment on the case also revealed the social worker was left with bruises on her face following an incident with the children’s grandmother. The judge found the social worker had been struck by the strap of the grandmother’s handbag, but did not rule on whether it was deliberate or not after witnesses’ accounts differed.

The mother said the social worker had “lied and misrepresented situations” to achieve her “goal” of removing the children. She accused the social worker of waging “a vindictive campaign against her to try and drive her to insanity”. She also secretly recorded the social worker and accused her of “assaulting” one of the children, an allegation the judge rejected.

Upsetting situations

Judge Hudson rejected the mother’s bid to have her two children, aged eight and nine, returned to her care after finding aspects of her behaviour had put the children in “stressful and upsetting situations”. The judge instead ordered the children to be placed with their father, with care orders attached so the local authority remained involved.

The case originated in private law, where the judge found no evidence to support the mother’s allegations that the children had been sexually abused by their father or anyone else and concluded that statements by the children had been “influenced or prompted” by the mother. The case was moved into public law as the local authority got more involved and the parents’ “volatile” relationship deteriorated.

The children had been subjected to an “extremely distressing episode” when the mother, and the children’s maternal grandmother, refused the social worker entry to their home until police were present, the judge said. The social worker had to visit to explain that the children would move in temporarily with an aunt and uncle on their father’s side of the family, after the court had issued an interim care order.

Distressing episode

The behaviour of the mother and grandmother after a contact session had “played a significant part in creating and prolonging” another “distressing episode” that culminated in the handbag incident, the judge found.

At a separate meeting the social worker said the mother had been “loud and abusive” and referred to the aunt and uncle of the children as “working class” and living in a “grotty council estate” while the children were in the next room. The judge concluded the children had been “exposed to their mother’s behaviour and her derogatory statements about the paternal family and local authority”.

The mother had also forwarded the social worker and the local authority a copy of a newspaper article about the death of Ellie Butler, a girl who was murdered by her father. The judge agreed with evidence from the children’s guardian that the mother’s decision to do so was “at the very least inferring that placing the children with their father could place them at risk of harm”.

The judge was asked to weigh up placements with the mother, the father and the maternal grandparents.

Fundamental change

She found that the mother had undertaken therapy and a parenting course and there were many recordings of warm and appropriate interaction with her children at contact meetings. However, the judge agreed with evidence that her behaviour during the care proceedings showed that she was not taking responsibility “which is the fundamental change that is required”.

“The risk is that the children are exposed to emotional harm in [mother’s] care by reason of her attitude to [father] and aspects of her behaviour which, as I have found, have continued to put the children in stressful and upsetting situations,” Hudson said.

The judge ruled out a placement with the maternal grandparents after concluding they did not “accept and understand” the harm the children had been exposed to and their daughter’s involvement in it.

She supported the local authority’s plan to place the children with their father, but with care orders attached, as she felt the local authority “must share parental responsibility in respect of these children at this stage to ensure their wellbeing is secured”.

The father was a “less experienced parent” than the mother and there were concerns over “physical chastisement” he had used with one of his sons in the past. However, it was said he had addressed this in his work with professionals.

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9 Responses to Mother verbally abused social worker she claimed tried to ‘drive her to insanity’

  1. Ruth Cartwright September 9, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    This is the second case recently where a parent/carer’s lack of co-operation with and abuse of a Social Worker has been taken into account by a judge. Long may the judiciary continue to recognise Social Workers should not be treated like this, that they remain professional in often very difficult situations and that the yare trying to do the best for families and for children.

  2. Dave September 12, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    I agree with the above, largely. However, it remains the case that decisions should be taken on the basis of the best interests of the child, not how well the parent co-operates with social workers and other professionals.

  3. Emily Abbott September 14, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    This is frightening. There doesn’t seem to be any clear evidence of these children being at significant harm from the mother or that any offence had been committed.

    Was any consideration to the Mothers presenting behaviour attributed to the extreme stress and anxiety that she may have been experiencing from the breakdown of her marriage?

    Were her suggestions that the children were being sexually abused taken seriously, effectively investigated? Was she believed? Offered any emotional support?

    It appears that the wheels and cogs of family court came into motion and when they did, the fundementals of good practice were left behind.

    This woman hasn’t been deemed a significant risk to her children yet has been placed in a position where she is powerless.

    What happened to social works understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, anti oppressive practice and power and discrimination?

    What happened to Vedic empathy for the extremely distressing circumstances of a woman who is trying to protect a child from a man she believed is abusive.

    This situation reads as a modern day witch hunt.
    It is also hugely concerning to read that practicing social workers deem this an appropriate response.

    Yes she may have needed intervention, yes she may have acted inappropriately and distressed her children, however, was the court and social work response the correct one? Was is protective or punishing? Was is oppressive?

  4. Katie September 14, 2016 at 2:08 am #

    Why is there little reported about the father’s ‘chastisement’ (this is used when a parent hits a child and not lightly) How do we not know this worker was not trying to pay back an uncooperative parent? If the mother was abused then being chaotic and not cooperative are the norm. That the father despite being not a good parent has worked perfectly with workers also sends red flags about abuser tactics. The fact the mother says about the child murder makes one wonder if domestic abuse was a factor. I have met a few (sadly) social workers through my work. One openly admitted she liked having control over a family to do what she wants or she removes children. Another was caught with so many lies in official reports and another was in a relationship with an abusive parent who was trying to rid the mother from his child’s life. Yes many many workers try their best. Many are so overworked they don’t even know the case they are writing about. (again I’ve seen where 2 families reports had mixed events) The system also needs to have immediate independent review after complaints not internal. Sadly so many of us working with families are picking up the pieces. I understand that are cases where there are mothers who are violent abusive and not a good parent.

  5. LongtimeSW September 14, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    Katie and Emily – Children are not property of their parents or anyone else – they have rights too – it is the Courts (and the local authority’s Duty in Law to present it to a court) statutory responsibility to make decisions about and for children’s future where it is asked to – what you either don’t know or are not taking into account is that there is a strict threshold concerning whether the Court needs to intervene in respect of the child’s current or future welfare – that threshold has to be met before a Court will even hear a case – in lay terms it will be ‘thrown out’ if that test isn’t passed.

    You may not like the system but contrary to general opinion the system safeguards to the best of its abilities the majority of children and vulnerable adults, more than those that tragically come to significant harm. (Though even one is one too many)

    As for the slur, (because that is what it is) without any evidence, that any social care professional would be intent on ‘pay back’ to a parent/carer beggars belief – by the way whilst it is a fact that it is, to society’s shame, girls, women and minority communities that are mainly oppressed, oppression does not distinguish who it oppresses.

    Children have rights.

    • Jonathan Ritchie September 16, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      Social work managers admit that overworked staff, who encounter aggression and abuse every day, can become vindictive without careful supervision and support. Even Kim Bromley-Derry, the chairman of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, confesses that the phenomenon is “obviously not uncommon”.
      “Ultimately, if there is a difference of opinion between a family and a social worker, who are all the other professionals going to believe? Inevitably, the family are in a much weaker position, and we have to prevent all abuses of that power imbalance,” he says.

  6. Sharon Sidders September 14, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Thank you Longtime SW.
    Additionally, it is not the SW alone who identifies issues within families. SW (hopefully) have regular reflective supervision, does joint visits to the family and has high and frequent contact with the other professionals involved in the case. If a SW were to have weak areas as you suggest, those behaviour would not be confined to just one family. They would show up in the SW’s other work and views.
    I would suggest you read the recent articles written by Sophie Ayers regarding the type and amount of abuse SW’s are truly subjected to. She is an outstanding SW with good experience and skills.

  7. TB September 14, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

    Let’s not forget that sw makes a ‘recommendation’ or ‘application’ to a court or children’s hearing. This recommendation / application is based on a comprehensive assessment of a child’s needs, circumstances and is informed by a multi agency approach to information gathering. Courts or hearings make the final decisions.
    Sw’s have difficult decisions to make and these are not taken lightly. Decisions are always what is in the child’s best interests and what is required to safeguard them. The actions described above by the adults in this family, regardless of the reasons, are damaging, frightening and harmful to their children. We are only being afforded a snipet of what has taken place. There will be far more to it. Courts do not make children subject to orders without good reason!

  8. Emily Abbott September 15, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    But where is the evidence of significant risk? I’m not clear.

    I understand rights and safety of children are paramount, I understand that these children needed safeguarding.

    I do not understand why long term descisions to place children with a father who concerns around were apparent and who’s parenting involvement had been significantly less. Rehabilitation and support for mum would seem the better option – at face value.

    Oppressive practice is more than just the societal dynamics of oppression. It is the power imbalance that exists between service user and practitioner. How the tools of intervention are used (tools: assessments, proceedings, legislation, personal reflection, relationship building skills, empathic listening working in partnership with service user) are entirely in the hands of those writing assessments.

    Have you considered the mothers experience and capacity and the children’s wishes and feelings in your judgement?

    There is a lot of professional speak in your responses, a lot of knowledge of systems.
    I respect that, however I respect a response that brings the service user story into the discussion.

    I don’t hear that.