How to deal with every parent’s nightmare

Family Law|August 16th 2012

Today I appeared on ITV’s early morning show, Lorraine. The subject was children in care, and on the sofa with me was the really lovely Nevin family, with mum Julie, dad David and gorgeous little boy Reilly.
The family had been through a truly horrendous situation. To explain briefly, their baby son Reilly had woken up in his cot with a nasty bruise on his face. The parents immediately took him to the GP and then to the hospital. A consultant at the hospital was concerned by the bruise, fearing Shaken Baby Syndrome, and so admitted Reilly and also alerted social services. The nightmare had begun and an Emergency Protection Order was obtained by the Local Authority. Reilly was then made the subject of an Interim Care Order and only at the fourth and final hearing did the judge decide that the necessary threshold to make a final care order had not been crossed, and Reilly was returned to his parents. In the meantime he had been living with his grandparents and visited daily by his parents.
Seeing and playing with little Reilly before the show took me back to when my own son was that age. What on earth would I have done had the nightmare happened to me? I hope I would have done what Reilly’s parents did (more on this later) – but who knows?
The numbers of care cases are rising. Last year there were 30,000 cases
before the courts, involving 156,000 children. There were far more cases in deprived inner city areas than wealthier rural areas. The Nevins live in Swansea. All accusations have to be fully investigated and the procedures take their course and, of course, the time of the court. There are significant pressures on everyone connected with a care application and the courts too.
The complex procedure designed to sift through and elicit the facts worked correctly for this case, as I will explain, but it clearly took far too long to be resolved. This cannot be good for the child or the parents. Mr Justice Ryder’s modernisation programme for the courts aims for care cases to be resolved within 26 weeks instead of the current average of 51 weeks.
The local authority has a duty to investigate a child’s circumstances and if it decides to apply for an interim care order, it must demonstrate that it reasonably believes that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm if the child remains with its parents. It does not at that stage have to prove the case. That is for the final hearing.
Once the process gets underway, however, it tends to feel like a runaway train that is very difficult to stop. That is how Mr Nevin told me he felt. A case will go through at least four court hearings: a first appointment, a case management conference, an issues resolution hearing and the final hearing.
This is all designed to ensure that the court keeps tight control and regularly reviews the process, which will involve the parents and their solicitors, the child and his/her Guardian (who will be a member of Cafcass) and the solicitor representing the child, along with the local authority and their solicitors.
The interim care order must be kept under constant review, and the child’s welfare must be paramount at all times. That is why the local authority must place a child in interim care, if at all possible, with a family member or close friend. Only if there is no one suitable will a child be placed elsewhere. Similarly arrangements must be made for contact between the parents and child, if this is considered to be in the best interests of the child. Sometimes it isn’t. At least the Nevins saw Reilly every day, even if they missed being there for his first steps.
The judge in their case saw that the threshold had not been crossed. A medical expert may not always be correct, or may simply act on an abundance of caution. Understandably no one wants a Baby P scenario on their watch.
The Nevins acted impeccably, fully cooperating with the process despite their ordeal. They instructed good solicitors (who are free of charge) from the Law Society children panel and did what they were asked to do, and showed not a trace of bitterness. They understood the need to investigate the doctor’s concerns, even if they were wholly unfounded.
However, not every parent understands that they need to cooperate, act calmly, sensibly and consider what is truly in the best interest of the child. The Nevin case is unusual. Most care cases involve long periods of alcohol or drug-fuelled abuse, neglect, emotional inability to care for a child and/or violence in the home. Sometimes the parents will be in an unhealthy relationship with each other that is profoundly affecting a child. They will be deaf to suggestions that the relationship should end for the good of the child and will cling to an abusive partner then complain when the child is removed (See for example Re C2011 EWCA civ 918).
The court must balance the right to a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights with the welfare of the child. The fact that a mother refuses to do anything at all about an abusive relationship which impacts on the child is not a breach of her human rights (See YC v UK 2012 2 FLR 332).
So what should you do if it happens to you?
Arrange for a safe place for the child to live in the meantime. Don’t panic, shout, swear or abuse social services. Read as much as you can. Visit, for example, the Cafcass website, Direct Gov, the Public Law Outline. Get a good solicitor and take the advice you are given. Keep on top of your case. Ask to see a barrister. Satisfy yourself that everything that can be done is being done, as quickly as possible. Arrange for suitable contact between yourself and your child in conjunction with your solicitor and barrister. Try and be patient. Expect the case to last up to 12-months. It may be dealt with faster.
Ask yourself above all, what you need to put right to help your child. Cooperate – there is no time for emotional outbursts or anger at what you see as high handed attitudes by social workers, even if you are absolutely right and they are making mistakes.
Above all, don’t ever lose control in court and yell at the judge. It will very much go against you. Always bite your lip. Do exactly what you are asked to do. Make hard choices. Get out of a bad relationship. You can do it.
You don’t need me to remind you that care is not a good place for a child to be. But sadly, there are many desperately unhappy children in care because their parents put themselves before their children. Sometimes children are even adopted away, but even then the adoption may still fail (as the recent case of Re K (A Child: Post Adoption Placement Breakdown) illustrates). The damage has been done long before a care order has been made.
Please, don’t be one of those parents.

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  1. DT says:

    What a heart-wrenching story.
    Not just because an innocent couple were facing loosing their son, but because they conducted themselves with such dignity and altruism.
    How they did it, I just don’t know. Thank goodness the judge got it right.
    I know that Local Authorities get a lot of stick, particularly relating to care cases and sometimes it’s justified; but they do have a job to do – an important one – and nobody wants another Baby P or Victoria Climbié.
    I would say to any parent that to work with the authorities is always going to be your best bet. It’s easy to say, I know, but many don’t. In fact some behave atrociously making a bad situation a whole lot worse.
    The Nevins seem to be role models for how to conduct one’s self in a dreadful
    Xx to the Nevins

  2. That Guy says:

    Marilyn :- Like a lot of people, especially “the professionals”, you slightly, but very significantly, misquote the Children Act 1989. You say words to the effect “there is reason to believe the child is AT RISK of suffering significant harm”. According to sections 38 and 32 that should be words to the effect “there is reason to believe the child is LIKELY to suffer significant harm”. The difference is VERY IMPORTANT, because eg in the case you report it appears the child was VERY UNLIKELY to suffer significant harm, ie the parents having no history of child neglect or harm. Bottom line is the case should have been thrown out by the judge on day one. Somewhat unusual bruise on the child’s face. So what. Bleep off “professionals”, ie medics and social workers. And, ditto to judges who let them get away with it.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      That Guy.
      Thanks for that.I paraphrased it and will now change the wording. The statute actually says “is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm”.
      I think in the case of the Nevin family there may have been a view expressed by the consultant about ‘shaken baby syndrome’ and that’s why I think the interim order was made.

  3. Legal Expert says:

    Marilyn, don’t you think something else is going on when you have 30000 cases a year? In other words, who stands to profit from such activity?

  4. That Guy says:

    Well the consultant was clearly an idiot, because shaking a baby doesn’t create finger-like bruises on a baby’s face. In my opinion, there are quite a few wacko “professionals” around, who should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

  5. DT says:

    Excellent post Marilyn
    Please feature more posts on care / public law childrens’ matters.

  6. DT says:

    Legal Expert
    Who do you think benefits and how?

  7. Marilyn Stowe says:

    You are right. I need to look more at public law. I think it will do some good.
    As always

  8. Tracy says:

    Obviously Marilyn you havent Ever had to endure such an ordeal. Why should falsely accused parents have to be nice to these legalized kidnappers. Many doctors are using parents as scapegoats and covering up vaccine damage. Vaccine induced encephalitis simulates shaken baby syndrome which they NEVER accurately investigate. SIDS, autism and many other problems / deaths are also being covered up.

  9. That Guy says:

    DT :- Re who benefits from high levels of child care activity. (1) Social workers who keep their jobs while their local authority colleagues lose their jobs in cut-backs. (2) In private practice medical “experts” who are regularly “employed” to provide the medical opinions the social workers need to “justify” their actions. (3) Foster carers who earn £200 to £400 per week per looked after child. (4) Barristers who represent local authorities or children or parents in court. (5) Solicitors who represent children or parents in child care cases, the LAs having their own in-house solicitors, who keep their jobs by kicking-off plenty of such cases. Possibly some others?

  10. That Guy says:

    Tracy :- You are right that there is no need to be nice to the professionals. However, one thing Marilyn may be saying is, from a strategic point of view, it is sensible to be (relatively) polite to the professionals. If I may say so, if Marilyn becomes more involved in “public law” child care cases, she should vigorously oppose the issuing of the first “interim care order”. Once that happens the process tends to roll on. Maybe consent to an “interim supervision order”, depending on the circumstances?

  11. That Guy says:

    Possibly unexpectedly, reducing the target time period, for a court to decide whether or not to issue a care order re a child, could be of benefit to parents potentially on the receiving end of a care order application by a local authority. It will mean that the LA has to have its case better prepared before the proceedings commence. So, the LA will be less able to make its story up as it goes along, eg by recruiting in private practice medics during the proceedings. Why not make the target time one month, instead of the proposed six months. Come on LAs, let’s see your cards on the table at the start of the proceedings!

  12. Observer says:

    I have to confess I know very little about public law. But what I do know is that this country is currently engaging in class warfare at an unprecedented level, and I suspect that this is bound up with the social engineering that results from what might euphemistically be called state-sponsored kidnapping.
    Most parents are far from perfect, and most make mistakes, just as their parents did in turn. Yes, some parents are abusive, sadly. But if we had not developed such an inhumane industry around the whole question, we might have realized (in a better world) that it is by far the better solution to help those struggling parents rather than to add to the child abuse by robbing children of their biological parents, and setting them on a clear path to the self-harm, teenage pregnancy, mental illness, etc. that repeats the sorry process all over again.
    It surprises me that there is not more questioning about the ethics of public law. Everyone just goes about the business of it like automata.

  13. DT says:

    It is only evident at the end if, or indeed, if not, parents are innocent in such cases as these. In the meantime, what is in the best interests of the children is what counts.
    Nobody is suggesting you have to be ‘nice’ to the authorities, and of course, you don’t have to; however, when it comes to care proceedings, it’s not about the best interest of the parent but what is best for the child.
    The process will march on, with or without you – so, tactically, you can make life harder or easier on yourself. Some parents act like children, some realise it’s all about the children and those who fall into the latter category tend to come out best.

  14. DT says:

    That Guy:
    The purpose of public childrens’ law / proceedings is to safeguard children and nothing else – let’s be clear about that.
    What’s more, safeguarding triggers will have been set off long before the LAs become involved, and not because LAs have become involved. LAs just deal with what is put to them to investigate, they don’t go ‘touting for business’.
    LAs have to deal with some horrific cases, but sadly, only a fraction of the tragic cases which are out there.
    I’m all for a good conspiracy theory, but your theory stretches even my capacious willingness to accept a good yarn!

  15. DT says:

    There is a huge amount of pressure on LAs as they are under constant pressure and scrutiny, and quite rightly so; but please don’t think that they are not questioned / held to account. They have whole departments set up JUST to deal with freedom of information requests – and they are kept incredibly busy! The press ring on a regular basis and want to know whether what an ‘undisclosed source’ is saying is true and there are whistle-blowers just waiting to blow!
    Lots of parents are offered help. There is lots and lots of help and support out there, but trying to get some parents to engage is virtually impossible. They may not want to, but wouldn’t you co-operate and put your pride to one-side if it resulted in getting the most important thing in your life back – i.e. you child?!
    One criticism I do have of public law matters (RE: children) is that I believe the middle-classes are let down. Children belonging to these families often remain under the radar. Sometimes, social workers are not as confident to challenge a well-educated middle class parent as they are a working class parent who they perceive to be less educated and less well-informed than themselves and that’s wrong. Abuse goes on in all walks of life.

  16. Marilyn Stowe says:

    I like this blog and here is a post same date on the same subject.

  17. That Guy says:

    DT :- Which part(s) of what I said do you think is a conspiracy theory or theories?

  18. DT says:

    That Guy:
    The fact that you think people who work for LAs “benefit”.
    The fact that you really believe that LAs make it up as they go along.
    One month?! Come on! That will help nobody.

  19. That Guy says:

    If I was in charge of English law, solicitors who represent parents in child care proceedings wouldn’t be allowed to represent children, on behalf of the state, on any other occasion. Local authorities, possibly unsurprisingly, have their own in-house solicitors. And, barristers who represent parents in court wouldn’t be allowed to represent children or local authorities on any other occasions. It’s a (financial) conflict of interests thing.

  20. DT says:

    That Guy:
    I understand what you are saying (in theory), and in theory, there is validity in your point. However, what you must remember is that advocates aren’t emotionally involved; they just represent and present a case, whoever that may be for, and do so dispassionately.
    Guardian solicitors/advocates/barristers tend to just do that role. It’s very specialised.

  21. That Guy says:

    DT :- Child care social workers can make work for themselves by chasing up as many cases referred to them as they wish, thereby guaranteeing their own employment. When I said LAs make it up as they go along I meant they “flesh-out” the case as they go along, often having started with the barest of bones of a case. One month should be OK for doing a case. On day one the judge asks the LA to present their evidence and give a written copy to the parents. Then says the parents can appoint, at the public expense, an expert or experts to provide a second opinion on each expert report included in the LA’s evidence. Come back in three weeks. One day hearing. Judge decides whether or not to issue a care order.

  22. That Guy says:

    DT :- The point about child care solicitors and barristers conflict of interest is that, at present, they represent a particular pair of parents once in a lifetime. But, various children and various LAs, on behalf of the state, umpteen times per year. The bottom line being, it makes financial sense for them to win when representing children or LAs, on behalf of the state, and lose when representing parents. Thereby keeping their “best” customer, the state, happy.

  23. DT says:

    That Guy:
    I don’t know if you have experience of one case or many cases. I can’t gauge your level of experience or involvement in cases.
    Social workers have MORE than enough work; they don’t need to generate more. There are a huge amount of safeguarding problems to contend with; they don’t need to ‘flesh’ matters out. Child protection / safeguarding problems are MASSIVE and growing.
    LAs don’t start with ‘bare-bones’; they are given very specific information, which is sufficient enough to warrant an investigation. These are not ‘willy-nilly’ undertakings; they are serious enquiries and investigations, which must be made.
    One month is WHOLLY insufficient and inadequate.
    Do you have any idea as to what needs to be accomplished and what is at stake?!
    Do you have any idea as to how many injustices would occur (to parents and children) if one month were to be so? The timetabling of advocates, guardians, court time, experts, SW etc., just wouldn’t allow for such an ill thought-out time scale, let alone report writing.
    Many of these children have come to the attention of the services because of mal-treatment / abuse / neglect; let’s not let them down further with inadequate timetables and investigation.

  24. DT says:

    That Guy:
    I would be interested to hear your views on Marilyn’s post : In their best interest, part two: C (A Child) posted 15.08.12.
    Have a read – it’s very good.

  25. That Guy says:

    DT :- Via the Children Act 1989, a judge is obliged to consider the wishes of a child, where it is appropriate to do so. I think judges consider it appropriate to consider the wishes of a 10 year old. On the one hand he had the father and the daughter in favour of baptism. On the other hand, the mother opposed to it. In the circumstances, I think he was more or less obliged to accept the wishes of the father and the daughter.

  26. DT says:

    That Guy:
    I shall respond to the above on the post

  27. That Guy says:

    Submitted to the suesspiciousminds blog :- Awaiting moderation :- suesspiciousminds and or any other child care lawyers contributing to this blog :- What goes in Annexe B of the court file in child care cases? It’s submitted to the court by the Local Authority and is seen by the judge and the child’s solicitor and guardian. BUT, isn’t shown to the parents. Whether or not it is shown to the parents’ solicitor, who doesn’t show it to the parents, I don’t know. And if you want to know how I know Annexe B exists, a little bird told me. Presumably there is also an Annexe A. If so, what does that contain? And, is it shown to the parents?

  28. That Guy says:

    What should you do if social services steal your children?….Ask if you can see Annexe B?

  29. That Guy says:

    It looks like my Annexe(s) questions didn’t pass the moderation test(s) on Sue’s suspicious minds blog. My best guess as to what goes in the Annexe(s) of the court file, which aren’t shown to parents involved in child care cases, is :- “evidence” (including lies) provided by persons who have said they don’t want to be identified as having provided the “evidence”. That will include GPs who have provided (rational and irrational) opinions about the parents.

  30. That Guy says:

    My Annexes questions, and Sue’s response etc, have now appeared on :-

  31. DT says:

    That Guy –
    That’s a really good response from Sue.

  32. That Guy says:

    DT :- Sue’s responses are OK. I’ve been out and about. Have just posted my latest comments on Sue’s blog :-

  33. Anon says:

    THAT GUY –
    Annex B is a child’s permanence report for a placement order application. It’s when the LA is making an application under s21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. It tells the court about the child who is up for adoption.
    Annex B is done by the social worker. Leave has to be applied for to disclose to the parties, however, the SW should have gone through this with the parent. It is not a secret as such, it just may contain delicate data.
    Annex A is an approval of potential adopters assessment. It is a documents of the court. This has to be logged with the court when an application is made for an adoption order.
    Parts of Annex A may be very sensitive and therefore must be redacted / anonymised. This could contain details of a future location, placement etc. which must not be compromised.
    So, Annex B is where the LA are applying for a placement order and Annex A is where the child’s careers are applying for adoption.
    Hope this helps.

  34. That Guy says:

    Anon :- Thank you for the info, it’s similar to what Sue syas on her blog, linked to above. In the case I assisted a mother, as her McKenzie friend, the LA applied for a placement order using an A50 Form. The box in item 8 “Grounds for the application” headed “Please state below why you consider that the conditions in section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 are met (continue on a separate sheet if necessay)” contained zero words. Why? To disadvantage the parent? Probably. How can a parent challenge grounds he or she hasn’t been informed about? Did her legal team complain? Not as far as I am aware.

  35. That Guy says:

    I think Marilyn’s advice is, broadly speaking, co-operate with the state workin’ “professionals”. Fair enough, before they initiate any applications for this or that court order. Where some, possibly most, child care law lawyers appear to get confused is they appear to think they should continue to co-operate with the state workers AFTER they have applied for eg a care order. When that happens it is game over. And, an adoption order, without the consent of the parents, is likely to rapidly follow the care order. The fact that the state workers are the child care lawyers “best” customers is, apparently, irrelevant.

  36. That Guy says:

    That Guy asks Sue a question(s) :- “Does Sue reckon it would be a good idea for Cafcass and LAs to have their own in-house solicitors and barristers? And, for the solicitors and barristers available to parents to be banned from representing either children via Cafcass guardians or LAs?” :-

  37. That Guy says:

    In the case of the Nevins the judge could have issued an interim supervision order via s35 of the CA 1989 :- The Local Authority supervisor could have said it was OK for the child to remain living at home and be taken for regular medical checks. See Schedule 3 of the CA 1989 :-
    The judge can’t issue a supervision order if the parents’ legal team doesn’t ask for one. Or did “the professionals” think they had a Baby P scenario on their hands?

  38. That Guy says:

    One can’t help wondering how hard the Nevins’ lawyers were trying.

  39. 7rin says:

    Shame that all these so-called “experts” keep shipping kids off into adoption, which is INHERENTLY HARMFUL, to “protect” them from *potential* (i.e. not actual) harm.

  40. cam says:

    my little sister is 18 and has a three month old son. she was reported to social services on the second day of his life because she was caught “co-sleeping” for a moment. after signing a section 20 in the hospital, she’s was forced to go back to a previous foster placement that broke down a few years prior to this.
    three months on she’s still there and has been informed that ss will be filing for an interim care order because she has been caught drifting on three occasions since being there.
    There are no other concerns that have been raised. she has a curfew of three hours a day to go out with her son but any later and it’s a breech of the written agreement..
    My nephew hasn’t even spent a night with hos father.
    were devastated.

  41. Friend says:

    cam – have you made your application to the European Court of Human Rights yet? The UK has violated the rights of countless children, and needs to be held accountable.

  42. Virginia O'Brien says:

    The Parliamentary Select committee have highlighted the fact that many of these children who have been adopted are now seeking answers through social networking sites.
    I believe that their will be a ”Backlash” to forced adoption.
    Children as young as twelve are now finding their parents.
    If the revelation is that the children were loved and wanted and forcibly adopted against the parents wishes this will b where the real problems will begin. Social engineering rarely works , you only have to look at the statistics for adoption failures.

  43. muslim anarchist says:

    safe guard the children
    to put children in care or foster parents where there is a predominance of abuse, and neglect
    un root them from their ancestoral line, put them in a place where they don’t feel they belong
    parental abuse, violence, drug fueled relationships
    the idea the former should take precedence is very very very wrong, and smacks of a history of govt kidnapping children whether it was 130k kids from uk to australia, or children of nomadic reindeer hearders in norway, lapland, or children of mixed race from aboriginal families
    the state should not have such power

  44. Tj says:

    This is a very interesting site and i must say here in the uk.
    LA do take children away from loving homes they will start with previous history of domestic violence . You send your child for therapy you think ok i have done what has been asked then the goal posts get moved continiously. If you happen to home educate one child then they say the child might be suffering emotional abuse due to limited access to peer group, which you actually have to show your child attends many groups as part of the process and you can have the educations authority to home educate and that is not good enough. Before you know it they fabricate information and you find yourself , in a rather horrid situation to say the least. There seem to be so many hoops to jump through. Ahhh another favourite, the parents mental health even if qualified professionals disagree there is a problem what ever the LA and CYPS say is correct at all times and that faviourite phrase the possibility of significant harm….

  45. abi says:

    My 2 sons were taken by LA due to many falae allegatios from my ex partner, i was a victim of dv which is y they oringinally ended up on the child protectionn register due to me calling the police due toþhim addaulting me/attackingþme with our 2 Wk old baby in my arms, the children remained on the list due to issues with my ex such as turning up a my house, stalking me harrassing me etc, i called the police on several occasiin and nothing was done, i finally got rid of him out of my life 2and half yrs ago with alot of support, and now have an injuction contues to make false allegations about me

  46. Tracy says:

    To all with previous bad experiences, I hope things have progressed in your life since the last post 🙂
    There are sooo many groups out here now, helping fight injustices, and a very powerful voice is
    There is a protest in Sydney on 27th and 28th August against Docs/Dhs . Their website has all the details.
    Good luck with your fight, our voices are starting to be heard:)

  47. Name Witheld says:

    My daughter was taken from me using this kind of wording” is likely to suffer significant harm”. In spite of the fact that Social Work should have been involved for over three years, they never moved to provide any “support, help and care in that time. My daughter was initially taken into foster care when I was assessed as being at a chronic risk of suicide, her custody was granted to my husband the following day. This order was ratified by the Judge four days later. Within five days, she had left the country, I have not seen her since. Returning to the diagnosis of being considered at a chronic risk of suicide, I was left totally on my own on that in spite of the risk rising to acute. I am alive thanks only to the fact that I returned to the country where I lived before, where they immediately took me into rehab. So very different from the UK. Social Work was absolutely ruthless. Making up for lost time, because of previous negligence and I do not think it too far fetched for them to have trusted in my suicide and, thus, buried their mistakes. But, I’m still here, getting better and stronger and my mission is to return and overturn this misjudgement and shame those people who have led to nothing but suffering for my family and I.

  48. josh says:

    Social services bunch of twats takon kids for no reason. Who do they think they are gods gift. One reason paper chasing makes me feel sick this world needs to change fast.

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