Adoption – How far will Local Authorities go?
North East Lincolnshire social workers severely criticised by judge.
Three North East Lincolnshire social workers have been the subject of severe criticism in a judgment by His Honour Judge Jack which has just been published on BAILII.
In June 2014, North East Lincolnshire were seeking a care order with a plan for the child to be adopted. The judge threw out the application. The judge stated that he had, “Never in over 10 years of hearing care cases, taken the view as I did in this case, that the local authority witnesses were visibly biased in their attempts to support the local authority’s case”. He went on to say “It is very unfortunate. I hope I never see that again.”
The comments were made in an approved judgment from Judge Jack in an application for a final care order with a view to placement for adoption of a little boy, J, who was approaching three years old.
His mother had died and the father was not in a position to care for J.
The maternal grandparents, Mr and Mrs G, had put themselves forward as carers for J. They had had extensive involvement with him since his birth. On numerous occasions, the local authority had placed J in their care. They regarded them as a safe pair of hands.
Mr and Mrs G had previously had J’s elder brother, R, placed with them by the same local authority. They had obtained a residence order for R in 2008.
Mr and Mrs G were assessed as potential carers by four social workers including Neil Swaby, Rachel Olley and Peter Nelson. All the social workers were employed by North East Lincolnshire Council. All the social workers decided that the grandparents could not be trusted to care for J despite their involvement with the child from birth.
The social workers were cross examined by Nigel Priestley, solicitor for the grandparents, on their reports and the judge formed a negative view of what he had heard.
In his judgment on the evidence of Neil Swaby, His Honour Judge Jack stated:-
“He was very begrudging indeed in his evidence and I have a clear impression that he was, for whatever reason, whether it was his own inclination or instructions from above, intent on saying only things which supported the local authority’s case and was very reluctant to make any concessions which would undermine that case”.
With regard to Rachel Olley, the judge stated that, “Her evidence was totally discredited in my view.”
He went on; “I had the very strong impression that the local authority witnesses were intent on playing up any factors which were unfavourable to the grandparents and playing down any factors which might be favourable. In these circumstances, I found it very difficult to give any weight at all to their evidence.”
Commenting on the evidence of Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley, he said,“I took the view, as I have already indicated, that the local authority’s case was wholly undermined. Their concerns appear to be grossly overstated in order to try and achieve their ends. I have never, in over 10 yeas of hearing cases, taken the view as I did in this case, that the local authority’s witnesses were visibly biased in their attempts to support the local authority’s case. It is very unfortunate and I hope I will never see that again”.
Having reached this decision, His Honour Judge Jack sought a further statement from Social Services about their future plans. A further North East Lincolnshire social worker, Peter Nelson, was asked to prepare a report. The judge concluded his report “smacks to me of the same bias that I regrettably have to say I saw from Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley”.
The judge determined that J’s best interests lay in placing him in the care of Mr and Mrs G under a child arrangements order.
Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors who represented Mr and Mrs G in the proceedings said:-
“I have been a child care lawyer since 1985. I have never, in almost 30 years of child care practice, heard a Judge make comments of this nature.
“My clients were assessed by a total of four separate social workers. Each of the assessments was negative. It is appalling that the local authority social workers could have behaved in this way.
“It was obvious to me that the assessments were seriously flawed. One social worker appeared to have cut and pasted a section of his report from the previous social worker’s report.
“In addition to these negative assessments, the children’s guardian, supported the local authority’s application for a final care order with a care plan for placement for adoption.
“It is quite clear to me that, without the decision in Re: B-S which highlighted the need for every realistic option to be considered before a placement order is made, the grandparents would have been in an impossible position. They were determined to show that it was in J’s best interests to have their grandson placed in their care.
“His Honour Judge Jack is a very experienced judge. In his judgment he made it quite clear that he “took the view that on the balancing exercise that I would have to undertake in accordance with the care of Re B-S then the positives for J in remaining within his own family far outweigh the negatives that would follow from adoption, and far outweighed any negatives which would be brought about by him remaining within this family.”
“I am delighted to say that J is thriving in his grandparents’ care!”
Recently Sir Martin Narey and the Adoption Leadership Board issued a “myth-buster” guide with regard to adoption. This guide is designed to encourage local authorities to once again promote adoption.
The message from this case is that North East Lincolnshire required no prompting. It would seem that they were determined to proceed down the route of adoption, whatever the cost to the child or his grandparents.
Ridley & Hall are one of England and Wales leading firms supporting ‘family and friends’ carers (kinship carers) and in challenging local authorities.
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