Local authority’s failure to focus on the needs of a child

PA Media Group v London Borough of Haringey & ors [2020] EWHC 1282 (Fam) (20 May 2020), Hayden J was the culmination of a series of hearings in relation to the care of two boys; and as the extent to which the name of the local authority concerned with them should be publicised.

First, in A Local Authority v The Mother & ors [2020] EWFC 38 (11 May 2020), Hayden J found the threshold under Children Act 1989, s 31(2) for the two boys, A (14: who had complex health and social care needs; including quadriplegic cerebral palsy) and for B (12). A care order for A and a supervision for B who was to live with his father (F). This was against a background of the local authority’s failure – severely criticised by the children's guardian and the judge – to take proper account of the mother’s (M) involvement with a convicted a Schedule 1 sex offender (whose offences included with his own ten-year-old daughter).

B was to live with his father in M’s rental property with tenancy transferred to F.

The second reported case was A Local Authority v The Mother & ors [2020] EWHC 1162 (Fam) (11 May 2020), where Hayden J ordered that the local authority was not to be named. He referred back to his original judgment and stressed the extent of the very real failings of the local authority in failing to take account of the threat of the offender to the two boys:

'[14] A reading of my substantive judgment reveals my conclusion that this social work team, within this Local Authority, disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection. The nature and extent of the failings, as well as their persistence, can only give real cause for public concern. There is an undoubted public interest in the Local Authority being named, in order that they might be subject to the kind of public scrutiny that many would regard as necessary…. It is easy to see how lessons might be learned more thoroughly in the spot light of media scrutiny.'

The children's guardian had been ‘unsparing’ in her criticism, but felt anonymity was in the interests of the two boys and of preserving their anonymity. However, the press had not been served with notice of the hearing at which this decision was made. They were told they could make separate representations to the judge ‘to dislodge anonymity’.

The Press Association made application to Hayden J. In [3] PA Media Group v London Borough of Haringey (above) just over a week later Hayden J was persuaded to alter his decision and to name the local authority. He heard two journalists (supported by the children’s father, who had been very angry at what the social workers had done – or failed to do). He referred in particular to an Ofsted report on the local authority which one of the journalists put in front of him:

'[11] Perhaps the most alarming finding within the Ofsted's Inspection Report, undertaken in October/November 2018, is the following: "thresholds in the children with disabilities team are not well understood nor well applied when risks escalate. Assessments are not updated and plans are insufficiently child focused. In the majority of cases, plans focus on the needs of the parents rather the child." (my emphasis).

[12] The importance of this finding cannot be understated. To my mind any social worker who elevates the needs of the parent beyond those of a vulnerable child has disconnected with the fundamental precepts of child protection and lost their professional compass. That is precisely what I found had occurred in this case. The observations, in the Ofsted report, could easily be folded, entirely seamlessly, into my own judgment….'

The name of the local authority should be publicised. The public interest in naming the local authority, said Hayden J, prevailed against any remote possibility of identification of the children. They remained protected by statutory provision (such as Administration of Justice Act 1960, s 12(1)(a); and by the Editor’s Code of Practice. He then went on to recall the important role of the father in protecting the boys:

'[32] … In addition, they have the important support of a father and a mother (notwithstanding my findings against her) who are sensitive to their children's needs and personalities. The father, now the primary carer for child B, is well placed and well equipped to shield him from the consequences of publicity. Moreover, having supported the application of the press to name the Local Authority, the father strikes me as being in a strong position to explain to his son the reasoning underpinning this judgment….'

So he concluded (at [32]), ‘for all these reasons the Local Authority, the London Borough of Haringey, will be named as the applicants in this case’.

David Burrows

Written by David Burrows

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