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BASW condemns comments about “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children”

14th April 2010

BASW has expressed astonishment at comments from the new president of the high court’s family division, Lord Justice Wall, after he described the perception of many social workers as “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents”, and who are misunderstanding their duties under the Children Act.

Lord Justice Wall made the comments in the wake of a care order which he described as “draconian”. Greenwich was seeking to retain a care order in respect of a three-year-old girl who had suffered a broken arm, which a previous court hearing had determined was likely to have been caused by her father.

The judge said the case would do little to dispel the perception of many that social workers were “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system – trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process”.

The judge said he was “conscious of the criticism that social workers are damned if they do and damned if they do not” but insisted that their duties in care proceedings under the Children Act “should be to unite families rather than to separate them”.

Responding to the comments BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson refused to be drawn on the details of one particular case but said that “generalising comments about ‘authoritarian’ social workers are just plain wrong”. He added: “At a time when the profession is under huge media pressure to protect children from abuse, comments like these are inappropriate – they have a direct and significant impact on social work morale, recruitment, retention and therefore on the people that social work serves.”

Mr Dawson added: “Social workers and other professionals make considered recommendations about the care of children at risk based on the very best interests and safety of those children. Without social work we would not live in a successful society. Social work is a complex and highly skilled job and these professionals save and improve lives every single day – it’s about time that we started recognising that.”

BASW is to write to Lord Justice Wall to seek an urgent meeting with him in which the Association hopes to discuss his comments in more detail as he starts what the Association described as “a critically important job”.

The Greenwich case centred on a the three-year old girl and her five-year-old brother who were taken into care in January 2008 after the girl sustained three breaks to her left arm and was admitted to hospital for treatment. Doctors said the injury was not an accident and both children were removed, leading to a hearing in November 2008 where a judge said the girl’s father, who had a history of violence, was probably responsible for the injury. The judge confirmed the care order after concluding that Greenwich council was right to suspect the mother was still in contact with the father.

Yet an appeal hearing, presided over by Lord Justice Wall and Mrs Justice Baron, overturned the order. Justice Wall said that the mother was “warm and loving” and had tried unsuccessfully to get help from the council to help her escape her abusive relationship. Greenwich Council accepted concerns about the lack of support but insisted there was “overwhelming evidence that a baby had been physically abused” and that it acted accordingly.

The judge also criticised a separate case heard last week where Devon County Council attempted to overturn a court judgement that a teenage mother should be given a last chance to prove herself fit to keep her baby boy. The council argued that the mother had a propensity to form relationships with potentially dangerous individuals, putting herself and her baby at risk. This prompted Lord Justice Wall to state: “Local authorities don’t seem to understand that the public perceive them as prejudging cases of this nature.”

The judge suggested that social workers seeking to remove a child in circumstances where there is no evidence that the mother had maltreated her baby or that the violent father of her previous child would have any involvement in the second child’s life was “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the west of England – that is the impression you give.”