Social workers criticised

August 2012

Six-year hell of couple kept in the dark about adopted girl’s ‘abused childhood’ before being blamed for her uncontrollable behaviour

Social workers failed to tell a couple who adopted a seven-year-old girl that she may have suffered serious sexual abuse.

Then they blamed the child’s new parents for her uncontrollable behaviour as the pair struggled for six years to bring her up.

When the parents tried to persuade their adopted daughter to follow the family’s rules, they were accused of ‘torturing’ her and being ‘high risk abusive parents’.

But the Christian couple’s ordeal came to a head when the girl falsely accused her adoptive father of assaulting her.

Both parents were arrested and the  adoptive mother, a teacher of 20 years’ standing, was briefly banned from having any contact with children.

Yesterday a High Court judge called the behaviour of social workers towards the parents ‘cruel’.

Judge Clifford Bellamy found they had made a series of unfounded allegations against the Roman Catholic parents, including charges that they locked the girl in her room to stop her stealing, violently pinned her to the floor, and strip-searched her for stolen items.  

Social workers also pretended the girl had few problems when she was away from the parents at school.

‘That was not the case at all,’ the judge said.

He further criticised the attempt by social workers to blame the parents for the failure of the adoption, condemning the workers for failing to give information to the couple or to take account of the girl’s deep psychological troubles.

The case comes at a time of growing pressure on local authorities to find more families to adopt children. 

Last year just over 3,000 children in care were permanently adopted by new families, the lowest number in a decade.

Social workers have been accused of bias against adoption and inventing barriers like rules on race or age to stop couples taking on youngsters.

In the case of the Catholic couple Judge Bellamy, sitting in Coventry, heard that the girl was born in 1997 to a family where children had been sexually abused. 

She was known at least to have witnessed the abuse of one of her sisters. However she was not taken from her mother until she was four years old, when she was found to have head lice, rotten teeth and no idea of a daily routine.

The girl was not adopted until she was seven. Her new parents had told social workers they could not take a child who had been sexually abused.

But soon after the adoption they caught the girl downloading pornography from the internet to show to children at her school.

Social workers told the court that information about suspected abuse ‘was given to the adopters at the time of the placement but in general rather than specific terms’.

Judge Bellamy said: ‘The parents have said that if they had known in 2003 what they know now they would not have proceeded with the adoption. But they did not know. And they did adopt.

‘It is to the immense credit of these parents that despite the challenges their daughter has presented, and despite the difficulties they have had to contend with in engaging with the local authority, they still care about her, and they still love her and want what is best for her.’

The court heard from psychologist Dr John Richer, former head of child psychology at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. He said that the treatment of the girl in her early life meant that her new parents would ‘get caught in a vicious circle where their normal behaviour, which works with most children, only serves further to alienate a child like this.

‘To call these not uncommon parental reactions emotionally abusive is not only inappropriate and wrong, but cruel,’ he said.

The court heard that the girl frequently went missing and stole from the parents’ two older daughters.

The judge said that the girl went back into council care in December 2010. Since then she had been sexually assaulted, arrested for a serious assault on a care home staff member, had a contraceptive implant fitted without permission from her Roman Catholic legal parents, and had been provided with no therapy, despite a deep need for help to overcome her psychological disorder.

He said he had no choice but to make a legal order transferring care of the girl to the local authority. ‘I regret to say that I am in no doubt that there is a likelihood that if I make a care order the parents will be marginalised and largely ignored,’ he said.

The judge ordered that the adults and children involved in the case should not be identified by name or location.