Social workers were 'enthusiastic removers of children'

A leading judge accused social workers of appearing 'arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children' for the way they went about permanently removing children from their mothers.

Lord Justice Wall, who will be sworn in today as president of the Family Division of the High Court in London, was referring to two specific cases. One involved Devon County Council, which did not give a mother a last chance to prove her baby was safe with her. The other was in the London borough of Greenwich, whose social workers did not support a woman in her fight to regain custody of her two children, who were in care.

Sitting with him in the Devon case, Lord Justice Aikens said the way Devon County Council acted gave an impression "more like Stalin's Russia or Mao's China than the west of England". And Lord Justice Hall said the Greenwich case would do little to correct the perception that social workers were "arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children into an unsatisfactory care system – trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process".

However, he accepted that social workers were "damned if they do and damned if they don't" following the case of baby Peter Connelly, in which staff at Haringey Council in north London were condemned for failing to act on signs that the 17-month-old was being abused. Peter, who was on the child protection register, died in 2007 from injuries including a broken back.

Lord Justice Wall said the legal duty of social workers involved in care proceedings was plain and "their aim should be to unite families rather than separate them". He said that when he heard the Devon and Greenwich cases at the appeal court, he granted each mother more time to show they could parent their children safely. In the Devon case, the council said the mother had a propensity to form relationships with potentially dangerous individuals extremely quickly, putting herself and her baby at risk – an argument that the judge called "pretty unattractive".

The Greenwich woman's son, aged five, and daughter, two, were taken into care after the girl's arm was broken in three places. Lord Justice Wall noted that the mother had since separated from her partner despite being denied help from the authority "to break free from an abusive relationship".

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