A social worker showed “alarming ineptitude” when handling a case where two children were unnecessarily medicated and kept in wheelchairs after their mother fabricated illnesses, a judge has found.
Her Honour Judge Mayer said Barnet council had “neglected” the case and missed opportunities to intervene after the social worker failed to act properly on concerns raised about the nine-year-old boy and his seven-year-old sister.
She made the criticisms in two rulings made public this week after the case had been heard in private.
The judge found the social worker was “inactive” despite medics and teachers all “clearly asking social services” to review concerns over the discrepancy between the mother’s description of her children and the experience of nursery and school staff.
Concerns about the mother’s fixation on the children’s health issues were first raised with the council in 2011, the judge said. When the children started in nursery in 2012, staff made “very early referrals” to the social worker. A year later a special educational needs officer made a referral to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, but this was not pursued.
The judge said the social worker “continued being inactive” and intended closing the case in February 2015. Two months later the boy made allegations against his mother that led to the case being reviewed and care proceedings being sought.
The judge said: “The local authority neglected this case and this family, and the social worker, who was allocated for six years, demonstrated alarming ineptitude in the face of clear and obvious concerns expressed by many over a long period.
“A number of opportunities to intervene and spare the children unnecessary medical intervention have been missed.”
The mother fabricated and exaggerated symptoms for the children throughout their lives, giving “untruthful information” to professionals, the judge said.
“Consequently, the children were subjected to a great number of unnecessary medical appointments, unnecessary attendances at A&E, unnecessary journeys in ambulances and, at times, to unnecessary admissions to hospital.
“Both children were unnecessarily medicated. They were both unnecessarily immobilised by spending time in wheelchairs.”
The judge said the mother had a history of complex, longstanding and entrenched issues. She said evidence from a psychiatrist suggested the mother met the criteria for somatic symptom disorder and factitious disorder.
The judge concluded that the children could no longer be cared for by the parents and should instead be placed in foster care.
She said there were “no safeguards that could be put in place” to keep the children at home, “certainly not before the mother has been assessed to have successfully completed her therapy and the father has done some additional safeguarding work.”