Judge calls for review of social work response to boy who lived as a girl

Justice Hayden said professional deficiencies in the case "cannot go unchecked" if confidence in safeguarding services are to be maintained

Photo: tashatuvango/Fotolia

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.”

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11 Responses to Judge calls for review of social work response to boy who lived as a girl

  1. Lydia October 27, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    ”Professional deficiencies to this extent cannot go unchecked, if confidence in this local authority’s safeguarding structures is to be maintained.”

    Then I think the local authority ought to be named.

    • Stuart October 27, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

      Because until then the rest of us are also ‘in the dock’…

  2. Tom J October 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    This is a good case to use in terms of reflecting on when the state should move in and decide that a parent is not capable of exercising their PR appropriately.

    I’ve known of many borderline cases relating to parents constantly changing their child’s name, joining highly suspicious American evangelical religions, regularly changing schools and refusing medical advice.

    Interestingly in each of the above cases I found that the LA legal team did not wish to touch it with a bargepole.

  3. Anita Singh October 27, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    I had a similar case (in a different area to this Northern LA) where colleagues similarly ignored issues of significant emotional harm arising from issues of the gender identity of the child. At the time I suspected this was due to social workers’ fears of being accused of discrimination towards the mother in relation to her decision to become a trans man. The mother’s assertions that it was the child’s choice to dress up as a girl, wear hair slides and play with girls’ toys were never really investigated further and very superficially addressed. This was contrary to the reports that were very easily obtained from other professionals such as the child’s nursery about the choices and preferences of the child in play and generally dressing up, (regardless of the views of wider family members, which supported the nursery professionals).

    However, social work fears of accusations of discrimination is not anything new and can be more commonly seen in cases where a child is from an ethnic minority background. In the most serious cases such as Victoria Climbie there was the possibility of an over identification with the experiences of black families of racism and this, (as well as the shared racial identity and religious beliefs of the social worker and perpetrators who abused Victoria), acted as an effective smokescreen to the safeguarding issues concerning her.

    Thankfully, in this case, the father intervened and sought a resolution through the Courts. Otherwise, this child would most probably have been left subject to much longer standing significant harm whilst social workers continued to do very little about the repeated referrals, possibly seeing professional concerns as unnecessary referrals (see other CC articles in this respect). Even if the child showed signs of emotional harm, it is highly likely that it would have been attributed to gender dysphoria as opposed to the mother’s own issues, given she was capable of providing convincing accounts of her son’s alleged gender dysphoria based upon regurgitating social work jargon and analyses!

  4. Chris October 27, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    If a child believed they were animal would it be a denial of their human rights, to give them treatment to correct their thinking? Would we think something was wrong with them? If this child had thought or wished to be treated as a girl, would we treat them in the same manner as a child that believed they were an animal? At what age can children determine what sex they are or should be? Would like to hear considered views please.

    • Karaoke Dave October 27, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

      children are primed from a young age to become part of their constructed gender. Rightly or wrong how we speak about, dress and interact with babies and children is determined by their sex and thus becomes their gender. It is unlikely that this child was unaware until they developed the conciousness to realise this isn’t how society and others expects my sex to look, interact and think. This is were the difficutiy lies. If the child finds this distressing to conform to their gender or expectations from either society or their parent. If this child presented as distressed and the parent continued to construct them in this way then it is emotional abuse. If the child feels distressed because they do not wish to be seen as the gender associated with their sex, this is a gender identity issue. It maybe that as child hood is becoming more gendered, children are noticing the difference’s and distress is being explored. However, there is also concern that children cannot explore gender in play. how many boys have put their mums lip stick on – does this make them have gender issues? Probably not. If this causes extreme distress and low mood to a 14 year old – probably is.

    • Disbelief October 28, 2016 at 12:40 am #

      Comparing gender dysphorya to believing oneself an animal… wow. I truly hope you don’t work with vulnerable people

  5. Right to reply October 28, 2016 at 12:55 am #

    Without reading or Indeed hearing the whole case then it is difficult to judge from the reports thus far, that said justice Hayden has always struck me as a sound and sensible judge and his assertion that this needs a review is I think right however, it is important to learn from this review and understand why social workers acted why they did..,we cannot learn if by definition the LA is not to be revealed.

  6. Aradia October 28, 2016 at 3:30 am #

    I’m a trans person and this disgusts me, if a child expresses gender identity issues it’s important to seek help and let the child express their gender openly and freely. To push a trans gender identity on a child that is not is just as emotionally harmful as imposing typical gender norms on a trans child. This sort of thing should never be taken lightly and parents should not push in ether direction.

  7. Sophie October 28, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    I do not think the comparison of a child believing they are an animal is at all similar. When a baby is born they are assigned a classification at birth – Assigned Male at birth or Assigned Female at birth. This is based on the presentation of their genitalia and is not based on hormones, DNA, brain or any other factors that are believed to make up someone’s sex. Your comparison appears to minimise or dispute the experience of trans or non-binary genderqueer children and can be damaging for those children who are.

    I know of cases where the child identifies as trans however their family do not accept this and they are made homeless as a result. Similar case where the professionals also misgender the child and do not even view their views on their own gender identity as real. I think this case and the example I am thinking of both show that actually the issue itself is not what social workers should be focussed on and rather the basics of social work need to be done, assessment skills, not applying one’s own judgements, getting information from lots of sources, listening the the person’s own narrative.

    I think more acknowledgment of the nature of sex and gender in general would help social work and society – the process of ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ When a child is born sets in motion a whole array of stereotypes and gender conforming roles that I think need to be deconstructed. Lego never used to have girls Lego for example.

    This case is very saddening and it’s a shame that the LA did not have greater and more robust training in place around trans identities as I’m sure that would have helped the professionals feel more confident in working with the mother and being able to challenge her assertions when their exploration of the child’s wider network showed a less obvious trans identity of the child.

    There’s some fabulous work being done around this – Gendered Intelligence for example can offer training to staff as well as youth groups and activities for Trans kids. Brighton have written good policies in working with trans kids in schools.

    We have to start being more open in discussions around gender more broadly as the rate of attempted suicide in people identifying as trans is ridiculous – something like 47% so to not know what we are doing is a huge safeguarding issue for children.

  8. Postedreply November 8, 2016 at 4:23 am #

    Comparing being (an animal) in a possibly delusional sense (or indeed just playful) to being gender dysphoric, is alarming..I sincerely hope you do not work in social care. But suspect after reading this sorry reality, you probably do.

    In response to righttoreply I have researched Justice Hayden. He seems to be a fairly new judge. With some already unorthodox judgements under his belt. Forced c-sections, several cases whereby he has agreed to lives being encouraged to cease, against the wishes of the family. It seems Hayden hardly places children with women where possible.

    He has even extended his judgement to Syria. Hayden was also one of the highest paid (top ten in uk) Barristers in 2013 from legal aid fees. So we can thank him personally for draining the last and necessary drops of legal aid beautifully dry. I suspect his cloud of cash mists his judgements. I think he is out of touch very plainly in this case.

    We do not define gender by spongebob or superheroes and Lego. Where is the child’s voice here? I see nothing in the evidence by way of direct quotes from the child. Other than “j wants to go home” to mother. To an abuser? Surely not. It is very common for courts to accidentally or intentionally colude with abusers. Maybe the father is actually the abuser, forcing masculinity.

    Hayden has gone to excessive lengths (infringing on the mothers basic human right to freedom of speech) to protect his judgement. Which is only encouraging the concept of secrecy in the family courts. The local authority has been protected too. Why? If the decision is correct and clearly in the public interest.

    For any social workers reading this, it is important to keep an open mind. I sense this could be a transphobic ruling and should be evaluated by the UN. The UN are currently investigating the UK for crimes against disabled people. Following benefit cuts. I hope this case can be evaluated in the same way.

    There is a petition which is on http://www.change.org which is affiliated with mermaids, the only national charity for young people who do not fit neatly into male or female boxes. Mermaids endorse the mothers case and were banned from giving evidence or helping the child. The tavistocks expertise was also dismissed quite extensively it seems.

    Gender is self identified.

    For anyone working in care it is important to keep an open mind to gender. And the self identification of such. We need to evolve our cognition on this. Gendered intelligence and GIRES offer evidence based information and training and I can recommend their expertise in this area.

    There was an interesting article in the new scientist about how our water is becoming oestrogenised due to all the women on the pill and the associated hormones not breaking down effectively in our water cleaning systems. Apparently fish are becoming middle sexed.

    I don’t see enough evidence to convince me that this mother should have had her child taken. Felt tip on legs is not a cause for concern. It’s quite the opposite. The child has been drawing. That’s good.

    Maybe the dysforia part comes here for this poor child,


    My final words!