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Posts Tagged ‘care’

I’m a bit slow off the mark this week but I do want to report this: Lord Justice Wall has been widely reported as criticising social workers for being “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents”. It doesn’t look as if he will be a wallflower of a President, does it?

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In another Times piece about social work ‘gone wrong’, it is reported that social workers tried to remove a child from his parents because of their vegan diet. I can’t really make sense of this report, because it appears to suggest that the parents had their public funding withdrawn on merits grounds, but public funding in care proceedings is not merits tested. I think that the answer is that the parents were pursuing some kind of Judicial Review against the Local Authority, which would be merits tested but they would have been entitled to legal representation as of right in relation to the main proceedings where the removal of their children was in issue.

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Lilo & Stitch

I have just taken time out in between briefs to watch Lilo & Stitch whilst feeding the boy his tea. I confess that I had one eye on the tv and one on the tuna sandwiches that were being liberally smeared all over the high chair and his face, and that were threatening to come in my direction, so I may have missed some of the detail. But it still made me cry – just a little bit. But then I am a sap.

Lilo is a Hawaiin orphan being raised by a struggling older sister. She is bullied at school and displaying alarming behavioural problems including violence against her contemporaries. She is odd and sad (she explains to the other girls at school that her home made green doll’s head is oversized because it is full of insects – she is shunned). She is at risk of removal by the oddest ex-CIA social worker / man in black I have ever seen and apparently the sisters are left to fend for themselves with no help or support at all. And then they adopt an odd looking ‘dog’ Stitch, in fact an alien experiment programmed to exhibit destructive tendencies but who longs for a family to belong to. I don’t really understand how the squalid living environment, near death through negligence and demonstrably poor behaviour management techniques are miraculously overcome by the simple concept of ‘family’ (the Hawaiin word is ‘Ohana’ meaning family, and the concept that nobody gets left behind) nor how the house that was blown up by aliens is rebuilt in a mere blink of an eye (although I think that may have been down to some kind of alien wizardry). But somehow it turns out ok and the family lives happily ever after with Lilo and Stitch, big sis and random male friend who is good at surfing who appears towards the end I think just to make it more of a conventional sort of unit. But it was a touching movie with a refreshing glimpse of the sadness and oddness of children who live with fractured families and loss. But at the end of the day although Lilo is a wierd kid, she is still a cartoon and as cute as a button. Not all survivors of difficult home scenarios are quite so appealing. And sometimes someone is left behind.

Gee I should really lighten up….[Sighs….and gets back to work]…

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No, you are absolutely right. We have spent years acquiring expertise, passed up the opportunity to earn three times as much money in any other area of law you care to choose, regularly work into the night reading graphic details about head injuries and abuse and neglect, and spend 50% of our time telling our feckless clients a few home truths and putting up with tears and swearing and storm outs, all because we don’t give a **** about the children. I’m sorry if I sound a little facetious but really! I can’t THINK of a more stupid job to do if you hated children. If I really hated children I’d go and be a teacher or something.

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I do despair sometimes when a children’s guardian can say such a thing to the lawyers in a case. I understand why these things are said, but still. It’s a little insulting and a little upsetting.

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But there is a serious point here. Simply because counsel acting on instructions of their client, say the mother or father in care proceedings, pursues an appeal on fairness grounds which will cause delay in a case where the Guardian is clear in her own mind what the outcome should be – does not demonstrate the callousness to the best interests of the child that the quote might suggest.

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Just happened upon an interesting new blog ‘corbysays’ which is tackling the difficult topic of young care leavers. Its only a fledgling blog at the moment but already has some thought provoking material on it. (h/t to @waugaman)

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The Guardian reports that 7% of CAFCASS Guardian appointments in care cases are unallocated. That is 653 of a total of 9060 cases. The only surprise there is that the figure for unallocated cases is so low. You can’t get a Guardian for love nor money round these here parts, and Judges have all but given up trying to appoint them in private law cases, along with s7 reports from either social services or CAFCASS, opining ‘but what’s the point Ms Reed, they won’t do it?’. Although I have heard of some other creative judicial attempts at plugging the gap it is truly a sorry state of affairs when a justice system that is founded on the paramountcy principle is unable to secure a Guardian to guide the court how to achieve it’s ultimate goal by making orders that are in the best interests of the children.

 

But what I want to know having read this article is – what portion of the 739 applications issued in March 09 (79% up on the same month in 2008) have a Guardian appointed? And in how many of those cases issued in March have the children been removed without a Guardian being appointed or at court? The new duty CAFCASS Officer system doesn’t do justice to the seriousness of urgent removals and I have done at least one ICO hearing where the application was for removal where there was no duty Guardian at court, and another where the duty Guardian had not read any of the papers.

 

On one level 7% unallocated doesn’t sound too bad, but I would hazard a guess that of new applications the proportion is much much higher, and of the 6090 total cases the majority of ‘old’ cases have a Guardian. Crucial – and sometimes irreversible – decisions are made at early hearings in care cases and it is vital that the children’s needs are properly protected. And of course the 7% figure does not include Guardian appointments in private law cases under r9.5 FPR 1991, or the dire situation with respect to s7 reports.

 

Whilst it is right to prioritise cases in circumstances where CAFCASS are simply unable to meet demand, this really does an injustice for the families which fall in the ‘serious but not that urgent’ category, particularly in private law cases where what might previously have been a short interruption in contact remedied by a swift and robust s7 report can turn into a protracted interruption in the parent-child relationship, which is a massive disadvantage to the parent seeking a contact order, and of course a failure for the children involved. 

 

I wonder when CAFCASS leadership will stop telling us all ‘we can manage’ and admit that the system is in crisis and needs an urgent increase in its staffing levels? I don’t know what Anthony Douglass means by suggesting CAFCASS is providing a ‘proportionate’ children’s guardian service: either a child needs a Guardian or they don’t and when they do CAFCASS are ordered to appoint one – there is not then a discretion on CAFCASS as to whether or not to comply. As a matter of public policy a child is deemed ALWAYS to need a Guardian in care cases, as set out in the Public Law Outline. Under the PLO CAFCASS are ordered by the court, to appoint a Guardian before the first hearing in every care case. There is a good reason why a Guardian is required to be active before first hearing – a hasty removal in those feverish early days can have a ripple effect that can affect the direction and outcome of a case and can have a long lasting effect on a child’s life.

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Interesting article in the Guardian today about the care system and in particular residential care homes, drawing out some of the issues raised in the House of Commons Children Schools & Families Committee Report which I have linked to in a brief post on the FLW Blog. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to fully digest them myself but here is the link.

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Sharon Shoesmith has commenced not one but two legal actions in connection with her dismissal from Haringey over the Baby P case – judicial review and employment tribunal, the Guardian reports.

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