High Court slams Herefordshire council for ‘woeful’ children’s care after failing children ‘on a serious and serial basis’

Herefordshire council has apologised for failing children in two separate cases through its “woeful” children’s services after a High Court judge said he was “appalled” by errors made by the authority’s social workers and managers over a prolonged period of time.

In one case brought against the County of Herefordshire District Council for the care and care planning of two young sisters who were half-sisters, Mr Justice Keehan declared that independent reviewing officers (IROs) had “failed them on a serious and serial basis.”

In another case, the “incompetence and serial failings of the local authority” led to a pair of twins being put up for adoption based on “erroneous” information, with the court finding 12 separate failings by the council.

The twins were taken into care in 2014 but two years later a decision was made for the them to be adopted separately after a social worker “misquoted” a psychologist’s assessment which said separating them would be “detrimental to their welfare,” the judge told the court.

Herefordshire council has fully accepted both judgements of the High Court judge and stated that “the standard of service fell below where it should be, we deeply regret this and we’re sorry for the impact this had.” 

Delivering his verdict, Justice Keehan said the care and planning for the two unnamed women, referred to in court as A and B, has “over the last 10 years, been woeful.”

The care proceedings were initiated because of the mother of the two young women’s substance abuse, abusive relationships, and poor mental health. At a hearing on 11 October, the local authority conceded that “serial failures in the care provided, or not provided to either A or B, amounted to breaches in their respective Article 8 rights.”

Justice Keehan told the court that both children had been made the subject of interim care orders on 14 August 2003 and placed together in foster care, but “for reasons I do not begin to understand” it was four and a half years later that the children were made subjects of care and replacement orders.

Instead of being placed together for adoption with an identified prospective adopter, the children’s care plan was changed from adoption to long-term fostering.

“The explanation given in B's 2018 care plan is plainly false or, at best, inaccurate,” the judge said, and this means neither will get a clear explanation as to why they suffered such instability when in care of the council.

“I find this to be profoundly regrettable,” said Justice Keehan.

Herefordshire council apologised to the children involved in a statement and said: “The judgments highlighted particular concerns about the effectiveness of the council’s independent reviewing service.

“We have already taken steps to strengthen this service by increasing management oversight and implementing robust processes to ensure staff feel confident to raise any concerns.  We will also be arranging an externally-led review of the service.”

Justice Keehan acknowledged that “in these straitened financial times, all local authorities are stretched,” and that in local authorities’ social workers have to carry heavy caseloads.

But the judge said: “These difficulties, however, do not begin to explain the wholesale failure of this local authority, in its role as a corporate parent to plan adequately or appropriately for the care of these children.”

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