A judge has heavily criticised a local authority and said that attachment theory is not admissible as expert evidence in a case regarding the discharge of a care order.
Judge Mostyn, said Carmarthenshire council and foster carers for an eight-year-old boy who had been in care for two years had opposed a birth mother’s application in a “trenchant manner” and made “generalised criticism” of her parenting.
“Indeed, it was very hard to pin down within the swathes of text what exactly was being said against the mother,” Mostyn said.
He criticised the attempted use of attachment theory, submitted in a report by an independent social worker, to justify the child remaining with his foster carers because of the strength of the child’s bond with them rather than returning home, which the mother wanted.
The local authority relied on the strength of the attachment and no track record of hands on parenting by the mother and her partner as evidence why the application to dismiss the order should not succeed.
Mostyn said for expert evidence to be admissible in civil proceedings it must be:
- Contained within a recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct relevant to the question which the Court has to decide; and
- Of such a nature that a person without instruction or experience in the area of knowledge or human experience would not be able to form a sound judgment on the matter without the assistance of a witness possessing special knowledge or experience in the area.
He therefore ruled that evidence on attachment theory could not be admitted as expert evidence, and seemed to the judge to be “no more than a standard welfare officer recommendation” being made by the authority.
He added the recommendation did not “place any weight at all on the principle of proportionality, or on the right to respect for family life, as explained by me above, let alone on the positive duty of the local authority to take measures to achieve a reunification of the blood family”.
He concluded that he did not think that evidence was admissible, and added it provided “no assistance”.
“It seems to approach the question from the entirely wrong end, namely by asking whether there is any good reason why the stable placement with the foster parents should be disturbed. The law is clear, however. The relevant question is instead: is there any good reason why the mother cannot resume the care of her child,” Mostyn said.
He concluded: “In any future case where it is proposed that expert evidence of this nature is adduced I would expect the court to determine the application with the utmost rigour, and with the terms of this judgment at the forefront of its mind.”
In a piece for Community Care, attachment theory expert Professor David Shemmings said the use of attachment is not “irrelevant” but, used properly, “contemporary attachment theory and research can offer powerful insights into parent-child interactions”.
He said attachment theory and research is best used “when aimed at helping family members understand some of the complexities of what’s going on; but too often, it seems, attachment theory is used as a stick with which to beat them”.
At a previous review hearing for the care order, the judge had ordered a six-month period of contact between the mother and the child, however the foster parents responded “very uncooperatively and antipathetically” to it.
He added that the local authority’s evidence against the mother was “extremely long” and included “generalised criticism”. It lacked “any concrete examples of where and how the mother’s parenting had been deficient”.
“The objections to the success of the application are inconsequential, trivial and insubstantial and have been, in my judgment, advanced to give effect to a predetermined end.”
He concluded that the care order should be dismissed, and replaced it with a one-year supervision order to ensure the child’s return to his mother’s care is successful.