Judge names council after deciding knowledge of its social services failures in care case outweighed risk of jigsaw identification of children

A judge has severely criticised the London Borough of Haringey’s child social services department, after deciding to name the council following an appeal by the Press Association over an earlier anonymity order.

Mr Justice Hayden said after hearing arguments he had been persuaded that the public interest in knowing of Haringey’s failings outweighed the potential danger of ‘jigsaw’ identification of the children involved.

Hayden J had originally concluded in A Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] EWHC 1162 (Fam) that Haringey should not be named but regretted the press had not been given the opportunity by the parties to make representations.

The Press Association and journalist Louise Tiickle then argued in PA Media Group v London Borough of Haringey & Ors [2020] EWHC 1282 (Fam) that the public interest required identification in part because of Haringey’s poor track record starching back to the ‘Baby P’ case of 2009.

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Despite his criticisms of Haringey the judge made a care order in its favour in A Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] EWFC 38 for one child given his mother’s relationship with a convicted sex offender.

The case concerned 14-year-old A ,who has complex health and social care needs, and 12-year-old B.

Their mother fought a lengthy battle with Haringey to secure adaptations that would permit A to leave a temporary residential unit and return home.

In the course of this the boys’ father, who is separated from their mother, became abusive during court hearings to the extent that Haringey refused to deal with him.

The judge said: “Unfortunately, the situation here got to such a pass that the social services declined to speak or meet with the father. I am not convinced that was a proportionate response or a sensible one.

“It created difficulties of a different kind and contributed, in due course, to the local authority making some fundamental errors in which they fell considerably short of their obligations to safeguard and protect the children subject to these proceedings.”

Haringey’s failings worsened after it in July 2018 received an anonymous phone call saying that Schedule 1 sex offender CC was in a relationship with the mother.

CC was at the time out of prison licence, having been convicted of possessing an indecent photograph of his daughter, and was the subject of a 10-year sexual harm prevention order.

The judge said: “It is an alarming feature of this case that the local authority failed, in the initial stages, fully to appreciate the significance of the risk CC posed.

“I regret to say that social services failed in any way adequately to assess the information that was at their disposal, or easily attainable, in order to conduct a professional risk assessment.

“There appears to have been a collective professional amnesia in respect of the good practice.”

The mother appeared to see no difficulty in this relationship for her children’s welfare, an attitude the judge said, “must also be set in the context of the local authority’s own supine reaction to the danger”.

He added: “I am at a complete loss to understand how the local authority went so woefully adrift.”

At a hearing last July the question of a risk assessment was canvassed and the judge was “surprised that the local authority were resistant to such a course and wanted to proceed with the return of A to a home where the involvement of a Schedule 1 Child Sex offender had not been subject to any real professional scrutiny”

Hayden J said: “The social work failures are, in isolation, concerning. Cumulatively, they are profoundly troubling.

“They signal, to my mind, a need for significant retraining…the failure to inform the father of CC’s involvement in his son’s lives…defies comprehension.”

But he said CC’s involvement with the mother now made it impossible for A to live at home safely.

He made a care order for A, and said B should live with his father subject to a six months supervision order.

Cllr Zena Brabazon, Haringey's Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “The most important thing for me to note is that the children remain safe, and their wellbeing is our primary focus.

“The assessment and management of the risks to the children was completely unacceptable and fell far below the council’s usual social work practice. We recognise wholeheartedly that this judgment highlights areas where we can and must improve – many steps have already been taken and significant progress has been made."

Cllr Brabazon said: “We firmly believe that this judgment is not a reflection of our wider practice in children’s social care. Since the Ofsted inspection of 2018 we have made significant changes, and Haringey has been commended by Ofsted and its partners for its work strengthening and improving its children’s services.

“We have been carrying out our own review into what can be done better, and this will continue, along with a new, independent assessment. We have brought in additional resource and training, and are accessing expertise from some of the best services in the country. We have made real progress, but where there are still improvements to be made, we will continue to make them.

“It is our duty to protect our young people. We did not do well enough in this case, and that is being rectified now, and going forward.”

Mark Smulian

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