February 19, 2014 by hotminnie
Judge slams ‘social engineering’ by council that took baby away from his father over ties to racist EDL and teenage sex caution
Boy was placed in care at birth when council branded his father ‘immoral’
Raised concerns over ties to EDL and police caution he received aged 17
But social services failed to show boy would be at risk of harm in his care
Sir James Munby said council shouldn’t be seen as ‘guardians of morality’
Said father ‘may not be best of parents’ but that isn’t enough to justify care
The top judge added ‘we must guard against the risk of social engineering’
Social workers were accused by a senior judge of ‘social engineering’ after trying to take a child for adoption because his father was involved with the English Defence League.
They decided that the far-Right political group was ‘barbaric’ and the 25-year-old man’s views were ‘immoral’.
He should not be allowed to bring up his child because the boy needed ‘an environment that supports difference, equality and independence’, they said.
But Sir James Munby, the country’s most senior family judge, blocked the adoption, ruling that the father’s failure to be a good role model did not justify taking his child away.
The toddler was placed in foster care at birth when Darlington Borough Council raised concerns over his father’s ties to the English Defence League and a sex caution he received as a teenager. Social services staff said they found the man to be ‘immoral’ and should therefore not be given custody of his child.
But the judge yesterday criticised the council, saying it should not see itself as ‘guardians of morality’. In a written ruling, he stated the father could be ‘immature’ and ‘irresponsible’ but said there was a risk of ‘social engineering’ if the toddler was to be permanently removed from his care.
He said: ‘I can accept that the father may not be the best of parents, he may be a less than suitable role model, but that is not enough to justify a care order let alone adoption. We must guard against the risk of social engineering, and that, in my judgment is what, in truth, I would be doing if I was to remove [the toddler] permanently from his father’s care.’
He ruled the council had failed to show the child, now 13 months old, would be at risk of harm in the care of his father and said he should be returned to his care.
Sir James, president of the Family Division of the High Court, made his complaints after analysing the case at a family court hearing in Middlesbrough.
He said the approach taken by the council had been almost a textbook example of how not to pursue a care case and was ‘very critical’ of its analysis and conduct of the litigation. The toddler’s father, who has not been named, had wanted to care for him, said Sir James. The toddler’s mother had not put herself forward as a carer – and had supported the father’s application. But social services staff said the youngster should be adopted and had raised concerns about his father’s morality.
The charges laid by Darlington social workers against the father were that he lied about being present at a railway accident as a child, that when he was 17 he had sex with a 13-year-old and this was immoral, that he drank too much and used cannabis, and that he had briefly been an activist with the EDL. They said he had ‘numerous’ criminal convictions when, in fact, he had two police cautions.
The child was born in January last year while his mother was in prison and immediately taken into council care.
She accepted she could not bring up her boy. Social workers produced the string of allegations against the father as they prepared an adoption case.
One social worker recorded: ‘The distorted thinking of those within the EDL is barbaric and their actions inappropriate. Therefore the mentality of those involved has to be brought into question.’ The social worker also pointed out ‘the immoral nature of the values and beliefs’ of EDL members and the violence of their protests. The father had ‘some involvement’ with the English Defence League during 2013, Sir James’s judgment published yesterday said.
Sir James said the the council had ‘conspicuously’ failed to show that the toddler would be at risk of harm or neglect in the care of his father.
He said it was ‘extraordinary’ that social workers should describe his politics and a teenage encounter with an under-age girl as immoral. He added that many 17-year-olds have had sex with under-age girls, but that does not mean they should lose their children. ‘The city fathers of Darlington and Darlington’s director of social services are not guardians of morality,’ said Sir James. ‘Nor is this court.’ He added: ‘The justification for state intervention is harm to children, not parental immorality.’
Sir James, who did not identify the family involved, made a series of criticisms of the council. ‘I am very critical of the local authority’s analysis, its handling of the case and its conduct of the litigation,’ he said. ‘There are lessons here to be learned, not just by this local authority and its staff but also by practitioners more generally.’
Sir James said the allocated social worker had been ‘plainly both inexperienced and too inexperienced for a case of this complexity’. He said her work had been ‘seriously flawed’. And he said a second social worker seemed neither to have ‘explored nor analysed’ in any detail the underlying factual basis of the council’s case. In a significant number of very material respects the local authority has simply failed to prove the factual underpinning of its case,’ said Sir James. ‘The local authority was too willing to believe the worst of the father, which led to it being unduly dismissive of what he was saying.’
Sir James said he had ‘quite deliberately’ not identified either of the two social workers or a team manager. But he said he had deliberately identified Darlington Borough Council. ‘It is Darlington Borough Council and its senior management that are to blame, not only social workers and a team manager, ‘ said Sir James. ‘It would be unjust to the social workers and the team manager to name and shame them when others are not similarly exposed.’
Sir James said he had reached conclusions about the toddler’s father after going through the council’s concerns in detail.
He said: ‘The father is immature and can sometimes act irresponsibly. In some instances, though not to the extent alleged by the local authority, the father has minimised or played down matters which were properly of concern to the local authority. He has not always been open and honest with professionals. To an extent the father is lacking in insight regarding [the toddler’s] needs and minimises some aspects of his character and behaviours which may bear adversely on [the toddler]. On occasions the father drinks to excess. On occasions he has taken cannabis. There have been episodes of domestic discord between the father, his mother and his step-father, involving the police and, on occasions, actual violence.’
But the judge said he had found the man to be a ‘truthful and, for the most part, reliable’. He said this did not establish a real possibility that the toddler will suffer significant harm, or that his welfare requires him to be adopted.
Sir James suggested that similar concerns might be raised about many men. ‘It is an undoubted fact of life that many youths and young men have sexual intercourse with under-age girls. But if such behaviour were to be treated without more as grounds for care proceedings years later, the system would be overwhelmed,’ said Sir James.
His analysis of the concerns about the man’s links with the English Defence League was similar. ‘The mere fact, if fact it be, that the father was a member, probably only for a short time, of the English Defence League is neither here nor there, whatever one may think of its beliefs and policies,’ said Sir James. ‘It is concerning to see the local authority again harping on about the allegedly ‘immoral’ aspects of the father’s behaviour.’
He added: ‘I cannot accept that the father presents the kind of risk to [the toddler] which gives rise to a real possibility of [the toddler] suffering significant harm, let alone the degree of risk which would have to be demonstrated to justify a plan for adoption.’
The case follows an incident in 2012 when three children in Rotherham were taken from foster parents after social workers discovered they were Ukip supporters. Ada Burns, chief executive of Labour controlled Darlington, said: ‘We have taken the issues raised by Sir James Munby on board.’
Social Affairs Correspondent for the Daily Mail