Social Workers Wield Great Power – But the Courts Are Watchful

Social workers have tough jobs but can exercise great power over families’ lives. However, they are under tight supervision by the courts, as was revealed by one case in which a local authority was criticised by a judge for its ‘very poor practice’ in relation to a five-year-old boy who was taken from his mother.

The boy had been removed from his mother’s care by police after social workers said that he had suffered neglectful parenting and pointed to the mother’s mental health problems and the dirty and unhygienic condition of her home. She denied that her son’s removal was justified and had launched a damages claim against the council, alleging violations of her human rights.

He had since lived for 16 months with what should have been short-term foster carers and it had taken the council a year to launch care proceedings. Despite the mother’s obvious mental health difficulties, the council had also delayed for 19 months before deciding that she needed therapy.

The council had persisted in pressing for the boy’s adoption outside his natural family and had failed to identify or assess other realistic options, including his possible return to his mother’s home or his remaining with his current foster carers, with whom he had formed a powerful bond.

The judge was deeply critical of the inexplicable delays which had blighted the case and the procedures employed by the council. Those failings had nothing at all to do with resources, but were simply a result of bad practice. In adjourning the matter, the judge directed the council to put in proper evidence before bringing the case back before him as a matter of urgency.