Children damaged by social care failures

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TWO children were “profoundly damaged” because Wigan social workers failed to take them away from the chaotic care of their mum.

The staff were accused in a civil court case of putting the wellbeing of the mother – who had drink, drug and mental health issues – ahead of those of the children.

Wigan Council today said that lessons had been learnt from the case and measures had been taken to ensure there would be no recurrence.

The youngsters, now aged four and two, have now been placed for adoption.

Judge Lesley Newton told a private family court hearing in Manchester this week that children – who cannot be named nor even their genders identified – had been significantly harmed.

And, while recognising the heavy caseloads social workers these days she said that harm had not been curbed by the appropriate intervention from Wigan Council staff.

Judge Newton said a number of concerns had been raised about the way the youngsters were cared for – including their mother’s misuse of alcohol and illicit substances,

unexplained injuries and various problems associated with their mother’s “poor mental health”.

The judge said matters had come to a head in September last year when the children were taken from their mother, now 25, by social services staff and placed into interim foster care.

But she said the local authority should have acted sooner to protect the pair - who had different fathers who had played “very limited roles” in their lives.

“The chronology of events prior to September 2014 makes depressing reading,” said Judge Newton.

“Both children were significantly harmed and that harm was not mitigated by appropriate local authority intervention.

“The local authority could and should have intervened to remove these children from their mother’s care very much earlier.

“That said, I understand the challenges which hard-pressed local authority social workers face and it is very easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight.”

Judge Newton suggested the council had also been slow to launch proceedings in a family court so that a judge could make decisions about the children’s long-term futures.

“It is astonishing to record that care proceedings were still not issued until February 16 2015,” she added.

“That period of over five months’ delay, exacerbated by the local authority’s failures prior to September 2014, has in my judgment been profoundly damaging to the children.

“Orders, including care and placement orders, could and would have been made much sooner had the local authority issued these proceedings at an earlier stage.”

She went on: “I fully understand why everyone with an ounce of humanity would be sympathetic to the mother’s predicament.

“However, there has been far too much attention paid to the mother’s state of health, and insufficient attention to the impact of delay upon the welfare interests of such young children.”

The judge said her ruling should be brought to the attention of the relevant director of children services.

Judge Newton said she hoped that in later life the two children would appreciate that their mother “loved them very much indeed” and was “desperate to resume their care”.

“She is still only 25,” said the judge.

“It is not her fault that her own appalling upbringing and consequent psychological problems have left her ill-equipped to cope with the challenges of parenting.”

James Winterbottom, Wigan Council’s director of children’s services, said: “We are fully aware of the concerns that have been highlighted in this case and have already taken action and made changes to the service to prevent this delay in future.

“The safety of the children in Wigan borough is our number one priority and we will continue to work with our partners to protect children from harm.”