Tag Archives: childrens services

Sometimes it`s a pain being an advocate.

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I go to court a lot in my capacity as an advocate.  Most commonly the hearing will be related to child protection proceedings and my job is to support parents who are trying their best to understand what is happening.

Imagine yourself sitting in a court room surrounded by at least thirty people in suits, most of whom you don`t know and you certainly don`t understand what their role is.  You believe you are in trouble of some kind and worry about the judge and what they will think of you.  Your learning disability means that it is really hard to follow the proceedings, the barristers are talking too fast and they are using big words like `redacted` and `Residence Order` and `interim` and `Special Guardianship` and you are thinking, “What on earth does that mean – I haven`t got a clue.”

It is a really scary time for any parent and particularly so for those who have a learning disability.  It is why advocates are so important because they play such a vital role in assisting parents to understand what is going on and why and the changes they need to make in order to be the best parents they can possibly be.

Time and again in court, I have been personally thanked by judges for my contribution to the proceedings.  Removing children in to care is one of the most serious decisions a judge can possibly make, with far reaching consequences for the child and their birth parents.  Judges are extremely careful to ensure that anyone with a learning difficulty has received appropriate support and more often than not, too late in the proceedings the judge will be made aware that they haven`t.   Child Protection proceedings can often be delayed for months while judges ensure that parents have had appropriate assessments so that paperwork and court hearings are especially geared for parents` particular levels of understanding.  These delays hurt the children.

Why is it then that social workers and other professionals do not always make the same efforts on behalf of their clients?  It makes me so cross!  Here at Solihull Advocacy it is not unheard of to receive referrals for advocacy a few days before the baby is due to be born, or the day of the final hearing.  It is much too late for us to work effectively with those parents and so the whole episode becomes a tragic, hand holding exercise as we sit with parents while babies are removed into foster placements.  It saddens and disappoints me because many of those mums and dads would be doing so much better if only children`s services had introduced an advocate to the case much earlier.

This week, I went to a Residential Review at an assessment centre where parents live with their children for up to 12 weeks, sometimes longer.  I commented that I hadn`t had sight of the report prior to the meeting which is pretty poor show and I was handed a 30 page report at the start.  I was given little opportunity (e.g. would you like to spend five minutes with Helen before we start?) to properly go through the report with my client and the result was that she became upset, angry and defensive, none of which would help her case. It is just so thoughtless.

It is also common for social workers not to get back to our e-mails and telephone calls which is not only rude and unprofessional but also frustrating for advocates and very unhelpful and disrespectful to the people we support. Not to put too fine a point on it – it is BAD PRACTICE.  Hey you there – social worker – we all have busy schedules you know!  If I didn`t return calls or e mails then my manager would be asking me why?

If you are a social worker or any other professional working with parents who have a learning disability, do me a favour would you, keep me in the loop, the earlier the better!

🙂

 

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Nothing Else Will Do……

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In 2004, Brenda Hale became the first woman to sit in Britain’s Supreme Court and the first family lawyer to have ever been appointed to such heights.

She began her career as a professor of law at Manchester University and was appointed to the Law Commission in 1984 where she spent ten years working in the arena of family law. She was made a Queen`s Counsel in 1989 and a High Court judge in 1994.

Baroness Hale has made herself unpopular in some quarters by criticising judicial appointments`panels.  Her issue is that the panels often appoint mostly white men from similar economic and academic backgrounds, into positions of judiciary power.   The Baroness believes that diversity is not only fair, it is also essential in order to ethically reflect the UK`s diverse communities.

In 2013 while Baroness Hale was overseeing a complicated family law case, she made the following comments which the Court of Appeal has summarised thus:

“The language used by Baroness Hale is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – are  “a very extreme thing, a last resort”,  where  “no other course is possible in the child’s interests”,  they are “the most extreme option”,  a  ” when all else fails”,  to be made,  “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”

Because of her “nothing else will do” comment Baroness Hale has forever changed the way family law is reviewed and reflected upon in the courts and has facilitated much debate amongst lawyers and other practitioners, including children`s social workers involved in family law cases.  Her comments influence the courts massively because now whenever family proceedings go as far as children being placed for (non-consensual or forced) adoption in the UK, professionals must reflect on the good judge`s comments.

Andrew Pack is a care lawyer at Brighton and Hove City Council and their in-house advocate. He has also represented parents in care proceedings. He is the creator and author of the Suesspicious Minds child law blog, which deals with public law, private law, social work, serious case reviews and Court of Protection cases.    In a recent blog he wrote about the “nothing else will do” comment and ponders how it may be interpreted in many ways.  Here are some of his thoughts…..

Nothing else will do if…..

There is genuinely, literally, no other option that could be conceived of.

The other options available are appreciably worse for the child than adoption would be.

There are other options, but they require a degree of intervention by the local authority (LA)  that would in effect be unworkable.

There are other options, but they require a degree of intervention by the LA that the LA says is disproportionate 

There are other options, but in order to make use of them, the court would not be able to make a final decision within the 26-week court timetable.

There are other options, but in order to make use of them, the court would be extending the decision-making process to a point where the delay would be harmful for the child and the harm cannot be justified.

Any of the other options would cause harm to the child or carry with it a significant risk of harm to the child, and weighing up the options, adoption is the least harmful of all of the options available.

I work in the West Midlands borough of Solihull.  This is all very interesting for me in my position as Parents` Advocate to parents who have a learning difficulty.  I am currently working with three families where the LA plan for the children is to put them forward for adoption.  It is also important to note that local authorities have adoption targets to meet each year which places undue pressure on childrens` services to get children adopted quickly, within the fourteen month period designated as time enough by our government.

The well-known Lib-Dem MP John Hemming, who vehemently opposes forced adoption stated in a recent newspaper article,

“The government target is to increase adoptions of children in care. Children who go back to their parents or to loving grandparents do not meet the target. Thus in 1995 the number of children under five adopted in England was a mere 560, while children under five whose care ceased (a term that includes those who go back to live with their families) was double this.

By 2012, the number whose care ceased was much the same, while adoptions had more than quadrupled: of these a staggering 1,100 were ominously described as ‘consent dispensed with’.  The obsession with adoption is splitting up many families merely because of government diktat.”  (John Hemming is chairman of Families for Justice which fights for those who suffer at the courts’ hands.)

Many of my colleagues, including some who work for social services, are concerned about this alarming increase in children being placed for adoption when we already know how damaging to a child both in the near and the long term, adoption can be.  In a recent poll, 69% of social workers did not agree with the government targets.

On 24 December 2013,  the government announced:

£50 million for councils as they prepare to implement reforms and work with voluntary adoption agencies and each other to recruit more adopters for the 6,000 children waiting for a loving home.  This provides a financial incentive for placing children for adoption.

A new Adoption Leadership Board supporting local authorities to drive through the reforms in the Children and Families Bill, and help adoption agencies stay on track recruiting more adoptive parents.

John Hemmings has said,  “I expect in years to come the government will apologise to the children for what is being done to them today. In particular, the system ignores grandparents.  For children to be taken into care is often a traumatic step.  Staying with grandparents can mean a normal life for children who can then remain in touch with their birth parents.  This is a far better option than foster care however, grandparents, uncles and aunts have no right to be heard by the court.”

In my opinion, our children have become a commodity, to satisfy the wants and needs of successive governments who do not wish to put in place services to support parents with life challenges and learning disabilities.  They cost too much however, our precious children are expendable aren`t they?

(The author e mailed Andrew Pack to obtain permission to quote him here but he didn`t get back to me.  Andrew should you read this and if you have any objections, please let me know and I will take down the blog immediately.)