A High Court judge has told a council to review its social work response to a case where a series of concerns about the welfare of a seven-year-old boy who was living life “entirely as a girl” were “disregarded”.
The boy was removed from his mother’s care after Mr Justice Hayden ruled the woman had caused her son “significant emotional harm” in her determination that he should be a girl. He said whether the boy chose to present as a girl or not, ought to be his choice.
The judge said the boy was now living with his father, who is separated from his mother. He lived life as a boy and asserted “his own masculine gender”. He still saw his mother.
Hayden said some young children may identify strongly with their opposite gender. However, he found the child had been deprived of the space for his gender identity to develop and instead was “pressed into a gender identification that had far more to do with his mother’s needs and little, if anything, to do with his own”.
Transgender equality had received much attention in recent times and the sensitivity of the matters raised by the mother had “blinded” some professionals from applying their training, skills and common sense to the case, the judge said.
The judge said the woman was “absolutely convinced” her son should be “regarded as a girl” and she claimed he had been diagnosed as gender dysphoric. Hayden found professionals failed to properly investigate the mother’s assertions, partly “because they did not wish to appear to be challenging an emerging orthodoxy in such a high profile issue.”
He was also highly critical of social services’ investigations in the case. He said that the local authority, which he ruled could not be named, had received concerns from a wide variety of sources, including staff at the child’s school who were “alert” to the child’s presentation and the mother’s “confrontational and inappropriate behaviour”.
“I am bound to say that had their concerns been given the weight that they plainly should have, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that [the child] could have been spared a great deal of emotional harm,” he said.
Further concerns were sent by doctors, the police, the NSPCC and the council’s housing department, adding to what the judge described as “a clamour of concern” around the child.
The local authority’s section 37 report said that the child and family assessment concluded there were “no evident concerns” suggesting the boy was at immediate risk of harm. It concluded that the case “did not meet thresholds for further intervention”.
The judge said the conclusions of the section 37 report were “entirely lacking in any logical, coherent analysis” and it was “striking” that the council had moved into “wholesale acceptance” that the boy should be regarded as a girl. He said it was impossible to draw any inference from the report other than that the council failed to collectively evaluate the various concerns raised about the child.
Giving evidence, the senior social worker who had since taken over responsibility for the case said it was “difficult to justify some of the decision-making that took place”.
Hayden, who praised the social worker for her “powerful and effective contribution” to the case since taking it on, said a review of the social services’ response was required.
“This local authority has consistently failed to take appropriate intervention where there were strong grounds for believing that a child was at risk of serious emotional harm.
“I propose to invite the director of children’s services to undertake a thorough review of the social work response to this case. Professional deficiencies to this extent cannot go unchecked, if confidence in this local authority’s safeguarding structures is to be maintained.”