Doncaster Council Slammed For Childcare Services Failings
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A Doncaster mother of 5 children is seeking legal advice after breaking her silence about a horrifying bungle by social services when she gave birth to her daughter Victoria on 23rd August 2011.
Kelly McWilliams, 36, is still shocked at what happened; “My midwife made a referral to social services in February 2011 when I was in the early stages of pregnancy. Shortly after that I had a meeting with someone from social services and everything seemed to be fine. When I was in hospital on 23rd August 2011 giving birth I couldn’t believe it when two social workers turned up and said that as soon as my baby was born she was going to be taken into care.”
Kelly’s solicitor Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall Solicitors commented: – “During the night of the 22nd/23rd August 2011, without any warning to Kelly, Doncaster Council obtained an emergency protection order from Doncaster Magistrates’ Court. On 23rd August they applied for an interim care order – this is a clear case of a local authority wrongfully taking a child away from her parents, given the lack of social services’ involvement before Kelly gave birth”.
No one disputes that the referral to social services should not have been made. Kelly and her family have had difficult times:
“For several years my husband and I had been trying for another child. Our son had tragically died aged 10 in 2008 and I had found it very difficult to cope. I have limited mobility following a stroke in 2001 and have in the past suffered from mental health problems – but they have been in remission for 5 years. I was confident that I would be able to cope with a new baby; I was physically and mentally in a good place and we were delighted when I became pregnant.”
Sarah Young went on to say “It was not until the 9th December 2011 that the court ordered that Kelly’s baby Victoria was to be allowed to live with her again. She had had contact with her daughter but it was clearly a very difficult and distressing time for Kelly – the care proceedings did not end formally until the 20th February 2012 by which time Kelly had developed post traumatic stress disorder”.
A report prepared by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) on 13th February 2012 found: – “There was no pre-birth assessment or initial case conference commissioned by the local authority in this matter. Had there been these proceedings may not have been initiated. It seems that a midwife referred matters to the local authority in February 2011 at which point it was too early to begin a pre-birth assessment and the referral then sat in the children’s assessment team until 20th July 2011 when it was allocated but no work done. The case was then allocated to social worker X on 18th August 2011, 3/4 days before Victoria was born. The first contact made with mother was during her labour when she was told that her baby would be removed from her care whilst assessments were made in relation to her ability to care for Victoria”.
While she was in labour, Kelly rang a solicitor, Rebecca Croft, who ensured that baby Victoria’s dad was allowed to look after her during the case.
26 hours of social work assessments, including psychiatric and psychological evaluations were carried out which supported Kelly’s belief that she was able to be a good parent to Victoria. She was offended at how she was treated: “I was an experienced mum and yet I had to be supervised all the time that I was caring for Victoria. That was awful, but it’s important for me to say that I am truly grateful to the children’s guardian appointed by the Court – without her support I couldn’t have got through the proceedings.”
Kelly feels angry and frustrated at how she was treated by Doncaster Social Services: – “I am constantly terrified that there will be a knock on the door and that someone will come to take Victoria away from me. There were lots of false and hurtful allegations in the statements that the council filed at court – I managed to prove that they were false and I can’t believe that no one has to take responsibility for that”.
The legal position is that although there may have been a breach of Kelly McWilliams’ human rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (which protects the right to family life) the value of the claim does not justify the cost of legal proceedings.
Solicitor Sarah Young shares Kelly’s frustration: – “The law relating to claims against a local authority where they have wrongfully removed a child is aimed at concern for the child rather than the parent. If Victoria had suffered harm as a result of the removal she would have a case against Doncaster. I am investigating whether a claim can be brought against Doncaster. My fear is that because it is her mother that has suffered post traumatic stress disorder, no remedy will be available”.
Victoria is now a happy healthy 18 month old and has a close and loving relationship with her mother.
The heavy handed nature of Doncaster’s approach is a worry for those who had hoped that they had learned lessons from the chaotic situation that had arisen in 2009 when 7 serious case reviews hit the headlines.
On 16th November 2012 a highly critical OFSTED report said that Doncaster was “not doing what is required to keep children and young people safe”. The report said that inspectors saw “too many cases” during an inspection in October 2012 where the social work service was not doing enough to protect children. Vulnerable children in the borough have experienced or were put at risk of “significant harm”. OFSTED awarded the lowest possible rating for the department’s effectiveness, leadership and governance and quality of practice.
None of this comes as any surprise to Sarah Young: – “In 2009 I acted for the family of Warren Jobling, a little boy who died in respite care in Doncaster and was the subject of a serious care review. At that time it was clear that Doncaster Social Services was in crisis. Nothing seems to have changed and I believe that if radical steps are not taken soon there will be another tragedy in Doncaster”.
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall Solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate and personal injury. Sarah has an LLM in Personal Injury Law and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.