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Social workers express astonishment at Lord Justice Wall’s criticisms

British Association of Social Workers seeks meeting with the new President

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has expressed astonishment at comments made by Lord Justice Wall who became the new President of the Family Division last week.

Those comments were made in the case of EH v London Borough of Greenwich [2010] EWCA Civ 344, which was an appeal by a mother against an order made by HHJ Hayward Smith QC in October 2009. The judge had made a full care order in favour of Greenwich, the local authority, and a placement order in respect of her two children.

Allowing the appeal and returning the case for re-hearing, Lord Justice Wall commented:

"What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process.  This case will do little to dispel that perception."

He went on to make severe criticisms of the local authority's conduct which struck him as:

"(a) entirely inimical to the ethos of the Children Act 1989; (b) wholly contrary to good practice in care proceedings; and (c) unduly adversarial.

".....Indeed, I find it difficult to believe that in 2010, more than 18 years after the implementation of the Children Act, a local authority can behave in such a manner. Here was a mother who needed and was asking for help to break free from an abusive relationship. She was denied that help abruptly and without explanation. That, in my judgment is very poor social work practice."

Hilton Dawson, Chief Executive of BASW, has responded:

"Generalising comments about 'authoritarian' social workers is just plain wrong. At a time when the profession is under huge media pressure to protect children from abuse, comments like these are inappropriate – they have a direct and significant impact on social work morale, recruitment, retention and therefore on the people that social work serves."

BASW has written to Lord Justice Wall seeking a meeting with him in order to build strong professional relations as he begins this critically important job.

The full judgment in the case can be read here.