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Social workers conduct - disability discrimination

(16 Posts)
Conecraft Sat 02-Jul-16 19:05:42

My daughter has had her children living with her since they were born. Her ex left when the younger was 3m old but has PR and they have to date agreed all issues re care/ residency of the children, with residence being with my daughter and their father having them overnight one midweek and one weekend night. My daughter has a diagnosed mental health problem and in fact is in receipt of PIP so is recognised as disabled. Children's services have become involved and the social worker has concluded from her own assessment that the children are at risk of emotional harm. She has encouraged their father to apply to court to have them live with him. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of that because I know no-one here can comment usefully I believe her assessment has been prejudiced and discriminatory from the start. She has recently been witnessed saying to my daughter

"if I was asked whether the children would be better with a parent who has a mental illness or with a parent who has not I would say that they are better with the parent with no mental health issues"

Can anybody tell me whether this, when expressed in a professional capacity, contravenes the Equality Act 2010?

I will seek professional legal advice, but really need views in a hurry as the situation has escalated.

MarlowWills1 Sun 03-Jul-16 10:43:46

The court is bound by the Children Act 1989, S8 (as amended), which means that it must make whatever order is in the child's best interests.

This includes, but is not limited to,

The wishes and feelings of the child concerned
The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the courts decision
The child’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
The powers available to the court in the given proceedings.

So if one parent's mental health issues is having a significantly negative effect on the children, the court has to take that into account but balanced against the possibility that changing the status quo by a change of residence will have an even worse effect.

It's not an easy task for the court/Cafcass to decide, but certainly they can't just ignore a parent's mental health problems.

Conecraft Sun 03-Jul-16 12:36:32

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I do understand that but the issue is not that the MH problems should be ignored but that the sw's own bias is affecting the way she interprets. The oldest child has struggled in starting school and been anxious and withdrawn there. Sw's opinion is that this is a result of 'emotional unavailability' but in fact there are other explanations which account for this and other evidence against it. Sw actually suggested to Fa that he apply for residency despite the fact that he has not previously had concerns: she seems to have her own agenda and I do believe my daughter shoukd not suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Conecraft Sun 03-Jul-16 12:39:22

I think I cannot have phrased my original question clearly. I absolutely understand the rights and interests of the child are paramount but simply, is the sw's statement discriminatory under the terms of the Equality Act?

Natsku Sun 03-Jul-16 12:44:49

Why did the SW become involved in the first place? Because that can affect whether the SW would be focussed on the mental health issues to begin with or not.

She might be biased and discriminatory, she might not, its hard to tell from your post, but concerns about parental mental health issues are very valid but if your daughter is being treated for her issues and following medical advice then its probably unlikely the dad will get a change in residency anyway unless there really are issues to the children from this.

Natsku Sun 03-Jul-16 12:45:22

I suspect that statement on its own would be discriminatory.

AndNowItsSeven Sun 03-Jul-16 12:49:56

Have the children been neglected in any way as a result of poor mental health?

Conecraft Sun 03-Jul-16 13:26:55

Daughter has married and had another child. In Jan when the boys were with their father she was unwell and there was an incident where the her husband tried to take the little one ( then just under a year) from her arms. She panicked and resisted the little girl sustained a small bruise as a result of being bumped on a door frame. Both parents took her to be checked out, no real injury but SS advised. All checked out but SS told her that assessment would be made. All was going well but she was advised that if kids were on CP plan it would ensure that she got better access to MH and family support, to which she agreed. Ex involved, no concerns re boys, wanted to support her. Family support, MH involvement, she co-operated fully at every stage. Other tensions in marriage led to separation in April, she and her husband working together towards reuniting in the near future. Oldest not happy at school for other reasons, school not addressing lds, conclude it has to be emotional harm from mother, despite all reports saying warm positive interactions observed at home. Middle child's nursery school told Her and ex at parents evening he was a credit to them. But now this, and sw seems determined to attribute any negative to this 'emotional unavailability' MH services say she does not have.

In my view this is based on prejudice and discrimination. But I'm not asking for anybody to agree with me, just whether the statement is discriminatory. If qualified it would not be, eg "if a parent's MH issues are having a negative impact on a child then I believe the child would be better off with the parent without them" is acceptable.

But to reframe this, surely it would be discriminatory to say for example "In my opinion a child is always better off with the parent who does not have a disability than with the one who does"?

She is entitled to her opinion but should not be prejudiced when acting in a professional capacity.

AndNowItsSeven Sun 03-Jul-16 13:30:53

No expert but personally I think the same threshold for removing a child into care should be applied as removing a child from a resident parent to the other parent.
Sadly SS sometimes do not realise the more severe emotional harm they cause to children in situations like your daughter.

Conecraft Sun 03-Jul-16 13:42:24

I agree, of course. The children and their lives have been destabilised as a direct outcome of SS involvement. But I never meant this thread to be about the details of the case, was merely responding to questions. Strangers on the internet cannot really know what is/would be best. The question is a legal one only really. Of course the MH issues have to be taken into account for the children's sake but with an open mind and without prejudice. I simply sought opinions/views as to whether the statement of itself was in fact discriminatory.

aginghippy Sun 03-Jul-16 14:05:48

I asked my sw dp about this (and about your other question). DP says that if that's what the sw said, they probably could have worded it better. It sounds like the sw was expressing a professional opinion about the impact of mum's mh difficulties on the children. DP's opinion is that it would need to be tested in court, but a court could very well rule that it was a legitimate concern to raise.

As an example, DP's local authority has been involved in cases where the parents have learning disabilities. The courts have taken into account the impact of the parents' disabilities on the children when making their rulings. The best interests of the children are always the primary concern.

Conecraft Sun 03-Jul-16 14:14:27

Quite. But I would have thought that it was the impact and not the fact of the disability which had to be considered and that disabled people are entitled to be treated without prejudice and not made to feel that the very fact of their disability puts them in a weaker position from the outset.

bibliomania Thu 07-Jul-16 10:20:02

You're asking about whether this statement is discriminatory when taken in isolation, but it seems to me that it's not something that can be interpreted in isolation.

The comment can only be properly understood in the context of the social worker's overall approach to weighing up the situation. Is the sw relying only on the MH diagnosis, or is the impact of your dd's MH condition on the dcs one of the factors legitimately being taken into account?

Rather than trying to put together a discrimination claim against the sw, I think it would be more productive to ask how you can help in this situation - the fact that your dd has a supportive parent who can mitigate any potential harm to the dcs would presumably be a point in her favour when it comes to keeping the dcs with her.

Conecraft Fri 08-Jul-16 15:46:49

Bibliomania, you are of course right. I have a good relationship with both her ex and her husband and we have always worked together to support her and for the benefit of the children. The sw did not follow assessment procedures in assessing parental/family capacity and in fact actively excluded me from involvement. There is no emotional harm to the children and in fact things have now moved on. It transpired her ex never had any intention of applying for residency and this was in fact suggested to him by the sw as something he had to do as she was too unwell to care for them. He does not agree and in fact all the evidence suggests otherwise. It would appear the sw has been manipulating the situation and going beyond what she is in fact empowered to do based on her own prejudice; the MH team have also challenged her behaviour and her ex has now joined us in a formal complaint which is under investigation. The children have been returned to her, although the oldest suffered considerable distress. I am not against social workers; they do a difficult job in often distressing circumstances. This particular one though has done considerable damage and has now been removed from the case.

bibliomania Fri 08-Jul-16 15:53:45

Okay, sounds like things have moved in the right direction.

Tiggeryoubastard Mon 11-Jul-16 14:22:05

That comment can't really be taken at face value re discrimination. The whole of the situation would be relevant, down to the conversation at the time. I have to say that it does sound an unstable way for the children to live, in normal circumstances a father taking hold of the baby wouldn't warrant the mother fighting him off to the extent that the baby is injured. There's obviously so much more to this situation than you're telling. That illustrates perfectly why the comment cannot be taken at face value as a stand alone comment.

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