A new case involving Hertfordshire council confirms that social workers at the local authority manipulated evidence in order to place children into care without any proof of harm. With an ever growing number of family cases involving councils producing incorrect or fabricated evidence, questions around commercial interests inside the sector must now be asked.

The judge overseeing the case thought that the lead social worker allocated to the family had good intentions, and that evidence based anomalies were just down to poor practice, however facts emerging after the judgment was made public, offer a different view.

The case centers around allegations involving a family with four children. The council tried to place the children in foster care or within adoptive placements after injuries were catalogued, and a threat by the mother to stab one of the children with a knife was revealed. The council also noted that the family home was untidy, and that the mother had a history of losing her temper, and refused to discuss issues around sexual abuse with her children.

The mother admitted making the threat, and her partner admitted tapping the children on the head, but both disputed other claims made by the council. The mother also felt it would be inappropriate and unnecessary to talk about child sexual abuse with her children.

The judgment offers some deeply troubling insights into the council’s handling of the case. It reveals a strategy used by social workers to piece together the evidence with a view to creating a narrative which painted the family in the worst possible light. One way in which the social workers did this, was by lumping the children’s injuries together without acknowledging the origins of those injuries. Judge Wilding found, for example, that most of the injuries noted by the social workers had happened at school, and that all of the injuries observed were accidental. Of significant importance is what happens next.

The council then lies about findings made within a medical report.

While a child protection medical undertaken never once references any injury as being non-accidental, the council claimed otherwise. Here’s the section from the judgment:

“In 2010 a number of referrals to children services were made regarding emotional sexual and physical abuse”. In addition, the ADM [Agency Decision Maker] recorded that “following D’s six-week check where he was found to have a considerable graze on his foot “;”M was unable to give an explanation and the medical confirmed it was a non-accidental injury “. It is plain when one reads the child protection medical that Dr Moore, whilst concerned mother was not aware that D had sustained an injury which was regarded as a “significant abrasion”, it was still nevertheless described as a “relatively minor injury “. At no time was it said that it was a non-accidental injury.”

The council then tries to use this lie to push its application for removing the children from their parents.

Another important piece of information revealed not in the judgment, but by the BBC when it covered the story on 27th October, tells us that it was social services bosses who had wanted to place the children for adoption or with foster carers. Judge Wilding makes an important observation in his judgment which links in with the BBC’s claim. After noting that the local authority eventually accepted that none of the injuries on the children had been deliberately inflicted, and that there was no risk of sexual abuse, he says this:

“There was, in my judgement, throughout the local authority’s evidence a pervasive failure to accurately state the correct position by reference to the primary evidence, there was also, in my judgement, a tendency to only look at the negatives in respect of this family and not the positives and to wrongly infer from the evidence that something was a “concern “or to put it another way a risk when it was not. In addition, there was a tendency for inaccuracy in stating what other professionals had said.”

Let’s go back to the social services bosses at Hertfordshire council for a moment. Why would council bosses have a vested interest in placing four children up for adoption or foster placements? The answer isn’t that hard to find. Adoption in the UK is financially incentivised, which means that as long as councils are hitting targets and placing children with adoptive families, the money keeps coming in. The fostering sector also offers the promise of lucrative payouts, so as councils feel the impact of austerity and pre Brexit fallout, they are pressing on services which continue to generate revenue. In 2018, removing children from their parents is big business. 

Judge Wilding returned the children in the case to their parents, but not before they had to experience the strange and ugly world of child protection. That ordeal may well leave scars they will have to carry for the rest of their lives.

It would be right to mention that errors do feature in many of the injustices that play out inside the child protection sector, but there is a competing malice which sometimes goes hand in hand with its lesser companion, poor practice. Judge Wilding may not have had the courage to call out the dishonesty in this case for the breach in law that it represents, but the increasing number of judgments highlighting negligence and wilful wrongdoing in family cases has caught the attention of the public, and they’re not letting go.

Removing children from their parents to put them up for adoption can be done forcibly in the UK. This means that the government can take children away from their parents without their consent, making it much easier to remove children without proper consideration. We already know that non consensual adoption, or forced adoption as it is sometimes called, is bad for birth families and children. Most countries around the world today use consensual adoption practices, which are much more humane. If you believe the UK should end its forced adoption policy, please consider signing our petition.