PARENTS of a two-year-old boy were kept in ‘shocking ignorance’ after county council social workers replaced his legal guardian.
Top judge Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the High Court Family Division, attacked East Susex County Council’s (ESCC) handling of the case, which involved an internal squabble over whether the boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons but lives in the Hastings area, should live with his parents while their ability to care for him is assessed.
The court-appointed guardian for the boy was adamant he should remain with his parents, but was taken off the case after a whistleblower described the boy’s home life as ‘hell’.
The anonymous tip-off came from a council agency employee, who overheard a conversation about the boy in an open plan office, and relayed the information to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).
A fundamental rift opened between the boy’s guardian and her ESCC bosses over the boy’s future.
Last September, the guardian was removed from the case by CAFCASS without any notice being given to his parents, who were described in court as a troubled couple in their twenties.
ESCC has now applied to the Hastings Family Proceedings Court to remove the boy - referred to in court only as ‘T’ - and place him in foster care. Those proceedings are ongoing.
Sir Nicholas said it was no surprise that the parents were ‘deeply troubled’ by the guardian’s sudden replacement. Emphasising that the independence of children’s guardians is something ‘to be cherished’, the judge said: “In the instant case, the process has gone badly wrong”.
The whistleblower, known as ‘X’, will be dealt with internally by ESCC.
Although he accepted there had been ‘no bad faith’ on the part of any of the social workers or local authority managers involved, the judge remarked: “It is quite shocking that the parents were kept in ignorance of what was happening”.
Ruling that CAFCASS failed to obey its own transparency rules by replacing the guardian without informing ‘T’’s parents, Sir Nicholas added: “What occurred should not have happened. Should such events arise again, they will not, I hope, be repeated.”
But he said it would ultimately be up to the Hastings judge to determine the boy’s future
ESCC did not respond to requests for comment at the time of going to press.