Social worker criticised by court for failure to meet statutory requirement for child in care

The social worker for the Child and Family Agency was heavily criticised for not keeping the guardian ad liteminformed of changes in the placement of a girl in care during a review heard by the district court in a rural town. The teenage girl was the subject of a full care order and her mother had significant mental health issues. The mother was present in court and represented herself.

The social worker said the teenager was well and in good health. She said she had moved from a relative foster placement to a generic foster placement. She kept in contact with family and friends and was having unsupervised access with her mother every two weeks. She was doing well at school. The girl had stated to her previous social worker that she had wanted to return to her mother’s care, but reunification was not being planned at present. She said that family therapy had been part of the care order but this had not been done nor funding for it secured.

The social worker was cross-examined by the mother and by the solicitor for the GAL. The mother asked the social worker why her latest medical reports, which stated that she was in stable mental health and was discharged from the psychiatrist and other therapists, had not been included in her report. The social worker said that she had included the mother’s medical reports and did not have the updated reports. The mother said she had given the new reports to the social worker at the last ‘child in care’ review meeting three weeks earlier. The social worker did not comment.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) asked the social worker if she was aware of her statutory requirements: that child care proceedings were to be re-entered to the court if the placement broke down; that if there was a change in the placement, that placement was to be reviewed within eight weeks; that there was to be a periodic review of the child; and that the GAL should be informed if there were changes to the access arrangements. The social worker said she was aware of the statutory requirements.

The GAL gave evidence that she had met with the girl and that she was well and wanted to return to her mother’s care. She said that proceedings had not been re-entered when the foster placement had changed. She had written to the social worker when the placement had changed because at the new placement there were issues of over-crowding.

The social worker stated she was aware that the proceedings should have been re-entered but she had not done so. The GAL said the social worker had not reviewed the girl in her placement for nearly five months. The social worker said she had completed a safe-guarding visit but accepted that she had not completed her statutory requirement of visits. The solicitor for the GAL asked who was the social work team leader. The social worker replied that she was the team leader and the allocated social worker. The solicitor asked the social worker if she could not see that was a complete conflict of interest and the social worker said no there was no conflict.

With regards to access the girl had now started to have unsupervised visits including overnights with her mother that the GAL was unaware of and she had not been involved in any of these decisions. The social worker said she had made these decisions. When asked who supervised the access visits the social worker said the access workers and that the access was going well. The social worker was asked had she supervised any access visit and she said she had not.

The judge said: “Are you telling me you wrote an access report without having witnessed an access visit? How can you carry out an access assessment if you have not witnessed an access visit?” The social worker responded that she knew the case and had spoken with the foster carers. “But not with the GAL,” replied the judge.

The GAL gave evidence that she had not been informed of the ‘child in care’ review dates and had not been informed regarding the changes in access. She said she was also concerned that it was over a year since the care order was made and the care order had recommended family therapy and/or counselling, which had not happened. The social worker said she had sent an email to the GAL and the GAL had not responded. This was denied by the GAL.

The judge said she would not comment on what had been said by the social worker or GAL but there had been a failure to re-enter proceedings when the placement had broken down. This was a failure to adhere to the statutory requirements and it was not acceptable that a child in care had not been visited by her social worker for over five months. There had also been a failure to provide therapeutic supports that had been recommended in the care order and a failure to communicate with the GAL and make determinations of access without consulting with other professionals, in particular the GAL. It was not acceptable for a social worker team leader to oversee her own work.

The judge adjourned the matter for two months and directed that family therapy commence immediately. The social worker was to arrange a meeting with the GAL to discuss appropriate access.