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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Social workers tore girl, nine, away from family 'on a whim'

Social workers tore girl, nine, away from family 'on a whim'

By Steve Doughty
Social Affairs Correspondent.

Social workers took a nine -- year -- old girl away from her family for more than a year on a whim, a High Court Judgement
said yesterday.

They embellished facts, told untruths and misled a court after deciding to take the girl into care on the spur of the moment, according to a judge. Staff decided the child's mother suffered from munchausen's syndrome by proxy, a condition which is said to make a parent want to harm their child, Mr Justice McFarlane's judgement revealed.

They did not consult a doctor about their assumption until the girl had been living in council care for three months.

He said he suspected one social worker of a 'malevolent and unprofessional motive' and said the attitude of the council bosses who defended her and her colleagues was 'astounding'.

Shortly before the girl was taken from her parents for 14 months, a council meeting on the case had noted: 'home and care good. Mother and child have good relationship. Detrimental to move.'

but social workers changed their minds in November 2004, at the end of a case conference which had decided the girl, an only child, was safe with her parents.
The girl's mother had taken her to hospital asking for her to be examined for stomach pain. Nurses decided there was nothing wrong -- and social workers decided the mother was fabricating the illness.

They were given an emergency order from magistrates to take the girl into care, and went to the hospital with four uniformed police officers to remove her from her mother.

The local authority was not named -- but yesterday it appeared that the social workers, the team manager suspected of malice, and the senior officials who protected them are still working and are responsible for the welfare of parents and children.

The case, which has cost the taxpayer half a million pounds, was followed by demands for action against the social services department.

Tory MP and former council chief sir paul beresford said: 'we must be told the name of the local authority and we must know whether the social workers have been disciplined. 'I spend my time assuring parents they can tell the truth because police and social workers have to stick to the rules when they deal with families -- this will give parents very severe doubts.'

The girl has been reunited with her parents, but the case is likely to add to concern about unaccountable behaviour by social workers. The judge said he agreed with counsel for the family that the social workers' behaviour led to 'the destruction of this family's ordinary life'.

A social services team manager made 13 assertions to magistrates who granted the order for the girl to be removed from her parents. These included charges: that the mother suffered from munchausen's syndrome by proxy.

That there were allegations of sexual abuse against the girl.

That the father had threatened to kill the girl.

The judge said: 'every one of the elements of the team manager's evidence was misleading or incomplete or wrong.'

the team manager might have had malevolent or unprofessional motives, he said, but added: 'I am not able to express a concluded view.'

Mr Justice McFarlane said: 'No doctor had ever raised any question relating to induced or fabricated illness'.

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