A judge has ordered two children be returned to their mother’s care after evidence emerged during proceedings that left an independent social work assessment of care options “wholly inadequate”.
Judge Moradifar said the assessment, which was submitted by Slough children’s services as the best evidence in support of the children remaining in the care of their father’s partner, was undertaken on the basis that the mother had deliberately injured one of the children.
“That has proven to be entirely inaccurate,” the judge said, referring to a report disclosed on the first day of a fact-finding hearing that showed experts supported an account that the injury had been accidental.
“I am also told that [the social worker] spent an inadequate amount of time undertaking that assessment. I do not take that into my consideration in having come to my decision, because that is a matter that has not been put to the assessor, but it is fundamentally obvious to me from her assessment that the principle premise of her assessment is now proved to be wrong.”
Slough children’s trust, which runs children’s services on behalf of the local authority, became involved in the case after a cigarette burn mark was found on the hand of the eldest child. The trust’s application for an interim care order failed but the children were later placed in the care of their father’s partner under a child arrangements order.
It was when believing the mother had deliberately caused the burn that the independent social worker’s assessment had been carried out. The assessment concluded it would be best for the children to stay with the father’s partner, something the judge did not agree with.
When the evidence emerged that the burn was accidental, the children’s trust requested to withdraw from the proceedings on the grounds the case would no longer meet the child protection threshold.
The children’s guardian urged the judge not to allow the trust to withdraw, arguing that the situation was one of “the very few exceptional cases” and warranted further investigations of the mother’s circumstances before the children were returned to her care.
The judge allowed the trust to withdraw from proceedings and said “wider issues”, outside of the case, had to be considered.
“The local authorities are stretched and under-resourced. In circumstance where there is no prospect of a local authority establishing the conditions under S.31 (2) of The Children Act (1989), it seems to me wholly unreasonable to insist on a local authority’s continuing [involvement].”
Following evidence that the burn mark had been an accident, the judge ordered the immediate return of the children to their mother’s care, despite the partner having applied for care and special guardianship orders.
“It is a significant factor in cases such as this that any parent must be able to rely upon and give consideration to any interim arrangements without the threat or worry that those interim arrangements may, but for any other reason other than the passage of time, become full time arrangements.
“In my judgment, to approach a case otherwise would be a wholly contrary approach to the welfare interests of a child or children.
“In circumstances where the foundation for a child’s interim removal has been proven to be wrong and in the absence of any other evidence that would justify the continuing separation of a child and his/her parents, that child must return to the care of the parents.”