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New Family Division President criticises "arrogant" social workers

Date:13 APR 2010

Lord Justice Wall has begun his term as the President of the Family Division today following his criticism of local authorities in two judgments handed down last week.

In the first case involving Greenwich council, the judge criticised the "shocking" failure of social workers to support a mother trying to make changes to her life to secure the return of her two children. In a separate case he criticised Devon county council's attempt to overturn a ruling that a teenage mother should be given a final opportunity to prove she is able look after her child.

Lord Justice Wall said the Greenwich 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".

He continued: "I am very conscious of the criticism that social workers are damned if they do and damned if they do not." However he added that at the same time their duties under the Children Act were plain and their aim "should be to unite families rather than to separate them".

The Court of Appeal judge found that the local authority had closed its mind to the possibility of the children returning to the mother and had not provided any support to help deal with her separation with the violent father.

In the Devon case, a teenage mother who previously had formed relationships with violent individuals, had her child removed and put into foster care pending an assessment of the mother's ability to care for the child.

Lord Justice Wall said: "Local authorities don't seem to understand that the public perceive them as prejudging cases of this nature."

Lord Justice Aikens, sitting with Lord Justice Wall, said there was no evidence that the mother had maltreated her baby in any way, or that the violent father of her first child, whom she had agreed should be adopted, would have anything to do with her second child.

The "outside perception" might be of social workers who were effectively saying to the mother: "Whatever you may do doesn't make any difference - we are going to take your child away," Lord Justice Aikens said.

He added: "That is more like Stalin's Russia or Mao's China than the west of England - that is the impression you give."