1 Garden CourtGarden CourtFamily Law Week Email Subscriptionimage of 4 Paper Buildings logosite by Zehuti

Local authority criticised for quality of section 7 report

Court unable to place any weight on report

In D v E and T [2016] EWFC 3 Mr Justice MacDonald has delivered a scathing assessment of a report under section 7 of the Children Act 1989 and oral evidence of a very junior social worker and the training given to her. The report concerned the child ("C") who was 11 at the time of the hearing and had been living with his maternal aunt in London since September 2013. His mother was in Mozambique and supported C staying with the aunt. The father lived in Manchester. He applied for C to move to live with him, but the aunt cross-applied for a special guardianship order.

C had a number of specific welfare needs above and beyond those of an ordinary 11 year old. He had moderate to severe ADHD, global developmental delay and dyslexia. He needed stable and consistent routines and had 1-to-1 educational intervention 4 times each week.

The court had directed a s.7 report and two addendum s.7 reports by a social worker for the LB of Newham. Paragraphs 34 onwards of the judgment are utterly scathing about the quality of the work done by the social worker and the reports produced. She was newly qualified and had never before authored a s.7 report. It appeared her training had been a 90-minute discussion with her supervisor. She did not even understand the nature of the proceedings, describing them as "private care proceedings". The judge pointed out the significant factual errors, contradictions and omissions in the reports; for example, she had not even spoken to the mother and did not address C's special health needs beyond simply writing "ADHD" in the checklist in the report. It appears she accepted in oral evidence that her reports contained no welfare analysis at all. The judge unsurprisingly attributed no weight to the reports at all (para.47). He noted that, had this caused the adjournment of the hearing, the local authority would have been facing a non-party costs order.

In meticulous fashion the judge undertook his own welfare analysis using the framework of s.1 of the Children Act, having set out a detailed summary of the law in the preceding paragraphs. In doing so he placed a great deal of weight on the special guardianship report, which was evidently of a better quality than the s.7 reports.

The judge concluded that it was in C's best interests to remain in his aunt's care. However, he would not make a special guardianship order but preferred a child arrangements order (conferring PR). In summary, the judge did not consider this to be a case where C's welfare demanded a restriction of the parents' PR; subject to some difficulties, the aunt had been left to care for C for the past 3 years without even having PR and there was no evidence this would change.

For the judgment and the summary of Thomas Dance of 1 King's Bench Walk (from which this news item is derived), please click here.