Here at Researching Reform, we make no secret of the fact that we have double standards – when it comes to the relative responsibilities of professionals versus parents inside the family justice system. Professionals have a duty to carry out their work with competence, and parents and children going through the system rely on their expertise to navigate the process. That is why Sir James Munby’s latest statement on shoddy social work makes him our hero this week.
In a recent case, which Sir Munby, the President of the Family Division, presided, two social workers from Bristol failed to tell parents whose children were being adopted , why their children were being taken from them, despite a court order specifying this needed to be done (and what an indictment on the system that we even need such a court order in instances like these).
To make matters worse, the parents did not find out the reasons for the removal of their children until 45 minutes before the adoption order, we presume, was due to be finalised, giving the parents no chance at all of mounting a challenge. For those of us who work inside the system on a daily basis, this scenario will not seem unusual – we cannot count the myriad times this sort of thing has happened to parents and children we assist as they go through the process. And it’s all part of the game that’s played in court – merely viewed as “strategy” most of the time, the culture inside the system has become so sick, that our very own President had to issue a court order, clearly, to enforce the correct procedures for the adoption process – social workers are required to tell parents why their children are being removed from them, in a timely fashion.
Sir Munby goes on to criticise the Bristol social workers in a searing attack, referring to their actions as, ‘deplorable’ and ‘symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in family courts’.
The President then went on to say that such action in future could lead to consequences for social workers, which has been interpreted by some to mean the possibility of imprisonment.
For his continuous courage as he faces an uphill struggle to battle the inadequacies of the system, for his insight and understanding, and his willingness to understand the impact that poor practice has on families and parents, and for being resolute in eradicating incompetence and lethargy inside the family justice system,we make Sir James Munby, our Judge of the Week.