A recent investigation has highlighted that an over-stretched child protection system is causing ‘traumatic’ experiences for families.

Journalist Louise Tickle’s 30-minute investigative film Protecting Our Children: A Balancing Act, based on Herefordshire’s Child Services, was broadcast by BBC Panorama on May 16th 2022. The film focussed on a series of judgments which severely criticised Herefordshire Council’s practice and management, and aimed to illustrate the effects on children and their families. Tickle stated: ‘It absolutely does blight children’s lives … Many of them will never recover from the intervention of the state into their families when it is done badly.’

The broadcast provided an insight into a severely overstretched family justice and child protection system. In 2021’s Re YY (Children: Conduct of the Local Authority) the High Court found ‘egregious and long-standing failures’, with Mr Justice Keehan questioning whether the Herefordshire Council was fit for purpose. Social work teams within the local authority ignored the opinions of a respected psychiatrist and a senior judge, pursuing Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) for four children who had made false allegations of sexual abuse against their parents. Keehan J noted an ‘LAC reduction policy’ was in place due to the higher numbers of looked-after children than in comparable authorities. This led to SGOs being favoured over foster care, and as such, the children in this family were subjected to SGOs against their best interests.

The judge commented that ‘senior management failed to put in place the necessary checks and balances that would ensure team managers and social workers would not feel under pressure to produce ‘results’ based on numbers rather than proper welfare evaluations.’ These children did not see their parents for eight years. They were ‘utterly failed by [the] local authority’. The judge concluded that the local authority wrongly excluded the mother from decision making, particularly citing an instance in which Child C passed away following being removed from life support in 2019.

Three further cases from 2018 were included in the investigative piece. In the first, Keehan J criticised the local authority for ‘wrongly and abusively’ maintaining the voluntary section 20 care agreements of 14 children for a ‘wholly inappropriate lengthy period of time’. In another, he criticised social workers for misrepresenting and failing to disclose evidence during the adoption proceedings of separated twins. Finally, the film highlighted a case in which Keehan J criticised Herefordshire’s ‘woeful’ treatment of two half-sisters, who were subjected to three years of chaotic care planning. This caused emotional and psychological harm.

Paul Walker, chief executive of Herefordshire Council, said the authority had ‘failed children in our care over a number of years’. Herefordshire Council has since committed £11.5million to improving its children’s services over the upcoming financial year. The plans include the employing a further 82 members of staff.

We at Farleys Solicitors continue to bring claims against local authorities for their failings, securing many millions of pounds in damages for victims every year. If you would like to discuss the possibility of bringing a claim against a local authority for social services failings, you can contact our dedicated abuse line in confidence on 0330 134 6430, or get in touch by email or through the online chat below.