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Friday, 20 December 2013

Social workers guilty of contempt over child visits

Written by The Editorial Team

Two social workers have been found guilty of contempt of court after they defied a legal ruling to prevent a mother gaining greater access to her estranged children.

The Edinburgh City Council employees, referred to as “CM” and “GL”, went against the decision of Sheriff Kathrine Mackie which allowed the woman, “AT”, to see her two children for two hours a week – more than had previously been allowed.

In a judgement published yesterday, the sheriff found the pair guilty of contempt, but said no further penalty would be imposed. But she said the case indicated a need for further training, monitoring and supervision.

The sheriff’s judgement read: “They [CM and GL] have shown disrespect for and disregard for the decision of this court and interfered with the administration of justice. They have affronted the authority of this court, frustrated the rights of AT and deprived the children of contact with her from 15th July 2013, with the exception of one occasion on 5th August 2013, until contact was reinstated following the decision of the children’s hearing on 22nd August 2013. Accordingly, CM and GL are guilty of contempt of court.

“A finding of contempt of court will be of considerable importance for persons in the positions of CM and GL. In these circumstances I do not find it necessary to be addressed in mitigation and no further penalty will be imposed.”

In May, Sheriff Mackie allowed an appeal by the mother against a children’s hearing decision, giving her more time with her children under the supervision of social workers.

In her latest judgement, the sheriff said CM had terminated the arrangements with the mother without seeking legal advice and so “interfered with the administration of justice”.The other social worker, GL, had accepted and relied upon information from her colleague and taken no steps to reverse the decision and had therefore also interfered with the administration of justice, the sheriff said.

The sheriff also noted that reports written by CM “did not demonstrate an appropriate level of understanding of the complexities of domestic abuse or coercive control”.

Responding to the judgement The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) said:" We recognise that the outcome has significant implications for the confidence of social workers holding related roles throughout Scotland, given the legal consequences of this case for individual workers. Consequently, the welfare of our most vulnerable children may be jeopardised.

"Decision making in relation to the welfare of children can be extremely difficult, particularly in the face of very complex circumstances. Attending to the interests of all involved is challenging but an essential element of any fair process. Within Scotland, only sound, evidence-informed practice, which regards the needs and views of children and young people as the paramount consideration, will ensure a process that is just for all and effective for children.

"From our experience there is a clear will and a demonstrable commitment to service improvement throughout Scotland by those people and agencies dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of vulnerable children."

The CELCIS Permanence and Care Team will continue to work with key stakeholders to determine and apply any lessons from this case.

You can read the Summary of judgment by Sheriff K. Mackie here: