Social worker criticised after mother barred from seeing daughter for unfounded sex abuse allegations

In a complex and drawn-out set of private law proceedings, a High Court judge has ordered that a woman who made ‘persistent and unsubstantiated’ allegations about her daughter being sexually abused by her ex-partner is prevented from spending any time with her, going against the original social work recommendation that contact should take place.

In an appeal put before The High Court by the child’s father after a Cafcass-appointed Guardian had recommended that contact should take place, Ms Justice Russell criticised both the Guardian and a Psychiatrist for not robustly challenging the mother’s emotional abuse of her daughter prior to the appeal being heard.

From the age of five months onward when the couple separated, the mother made ‘persistent and unsubstantiated allegations that the girl had been sexually abused by her father, taking her to be medically examined on numerous occasions’. Despite the mother repeatedly involving  the police and local authority social services in an effort to back up claims that her ex-partner was sexually abusing their daughter, no evidence was found to support the repeated allegations.

In mid-2015, the mother breached a court order by fleeing to Israel with her daughter without permission. When in Israel, she attempted to gain the support of Israeli police by claiming that her ex-partner was a child abuser who would be coming to Israel to remove her daughter. She was convicted of child abduction for this and did not see her daughter for almost two years following the abduction.

Despite the criminal charge and conviction, the mother made further unsubstantiated allegations about the father to the NSPCC. This resulted in two police officers attended the father’s address to speak to him in 2016.

Whilst these allegations went on, the child continued to live with her father. In June 2017, after more than four years of private law proceedings and unfounded concerns, a significantly delayed psychiatric assessment of mother was filed with the Court in an effort to bring the drawn-out proceedings to some sort of conclusion.

“A flawed and inadequate report conducted without reading the court documents provided”

Commenting on this psychiatrist’s report that suggested it was actually the father who needed psychiatric treatment, Ms Justice Russell detailed how the psychiatric assessment set before the court was ‘conducted without reading the court documents provided’ and ‘based on the respondents (mother’s) version of the history of events and on psychiatric evidence obtained outside the family court proceedings and without the permission of the judge’. Because he took a ‘partisan’ view and failed to ‘challenge’ the mother’s significant history of unfounded sexual abuse allegations, the psychiatrist came to a dangerous conclusion that the respondent was a ‘capable mother who had genuine concerns for her daughter’s welfare’.

This ‘flawed and inadequate report’ that appeared to absolve the mother of any long-term emotional abuse was to have a significant influence on a social worker’s recommendation that contact between mother and daughter should be reintroduced after more than two years apart following the abduction.

Challenging the Guardian’s original assessment that supervised contact between mother and daughter should take place, Ms Justice Russell commented that ‘the guardian was quite simply not qualified or equipped to reach the conclusions that she did in respect of this child’s psychological and emotional resilience’. The criticism of the Guardian went further, with the Judge warning that social workers must not ‘consider experimenting or trying out with contact for the child or children concerned against a background of previous harmful behaviour and abduction’.

Setting out the expectations that the Court places on those who are appointed to represent the views of children, Ms Justice Russell explained how ‘in a case such as this with a protracted, complex and convoluted history it is incumbent on the professionals who are called on to proffer advice and recommendations to the court, be they Cafcass officers or others concerned with child welfare, to fully inform themselves about the case and, at the very least, read through the judgements before they commence their investigations’.

The reason the Judge made this comment is that the Guardian met the mother in this matter two days before receiving the Court bundle. Ms Justice Russell asserted that this meant that the Guardian ‘could not have been, and was not in, a position to challenge the 1st Respondent’s version of events when she met her; and her views at the time would have be based on what she knew then, which included the flawed and inadequate (psychiatrist) report’.

“The harm caused to this child was significant”

In dismissing the views of both the Guardian and Psychiatrist, and upholding the father’s appeal that no contact should take place, Justice Russell found that ‘this case includes findings of abusive behaviour towards (the child) by her mother, which, if repeated would compromise the child’s safety and reintroduce the possibility of further harm, both physical and emotional. (She) is a young and vulnerable child whose first few years of life were blighted by her mother’s irrational, abusive and harmful behaviour culminating in an unlawful abduction’.

In ruling that no contact should take place, Justice Russell concluded that ”the harm caused to this child by her mother was significant. Not only was she found to have repeatedly subjected to intimate examinations, solely at the behest of her mother, she was prevented from having uninhibited relationship with her father as an infant’.

The full order in this matter can be found here on BAILII

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