County council not criticised by judge

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I WOULD like to correct your misleading report on page eight of last week’s Observer of a High Court judgement relating to the technical processes surrounding a Family Court care case involving an East Sussex child.

In the opening paragraph of that report you stated that county council social workers replaced the child’s legal guardian and that county council social workers handling of the case had been criticised as a result.

If you look at the judgement closely you will see that county council social workers did not replace the child’s legal guardian and actually have no power to do so.

In fact that was done by CAFCASS - the independent organisation that represents children via court guardians during family court proceedings.

Consequently the criticism of Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the High Court Family Division, was directed at CAFCASS for this, not East Sussex County Council (ESCC).

Because of confidentiality surrounding family court proceedings we are prevented from explaining much of the detail of this case, especially as the care proceedings to which it relates are on-going. It is also highly technical because it is about court procedure.

However, in essence, an agency member of staff working in one of our teams, who had previous connections with CAFCASS, contacted CAFCASS managers directly to express concern about the behaviour of one of her former CAFCASS colleagues who was acting as a guardian in a set of care proceedings that ESCC was involved in.

The ‘whistle-blower’ was concerned about the safety of a child.

This resulted in CAFCASS managers removing the guardian and substituting another.

This was what the High Court objected to as the guardian is appointed by the court and not by CAFCASS technically.

Parents then took the matter to court alleging, quite inaccurately, that CAFCASS and ESCC were somehow working together to remove their child.

The ruling made it clear that social work staff employed by East Sussex had acted in good faith but was critical of the behaviour of CAFCASS.

CAFCASS managers and the ‘whistle-blower’ both acknowledged that mistakes had been made.

LIZ RUGG

Assistant director

Children and Families,

East Sussex County Council