Social workers wield real power over people’s lives and, when they fall down on the job, it is only right that compensation is paid to those who suffer. In a case on point, a local authority was ordered to pay £40,000 in damages to a twin boy and girl whose human rights were violated when they were placed separately for adoption.
The twins’ parents were incapable of looking after them and they were removed from the family home at the age of four. They were in care for about two years before the decision was taken to place them separately with prospective adopters. The local authority applied to the High Court for orders formalising their adoption.
In ruling on the matter, the Court listed a catalogue of lamentable failures that had led to the twins’ separation. Amongst other things, the prospective adopters had been deliberately misled in respect of the children’s behavioural problems. It had already been decided to place them apart before a so-called welfare assessment was carried out which sought to justify their separation.
Social workers failed to properly consider the consequences of separating the twins or to abide by a court-approved care plan. The alternative of placing them together in long-term foster care had also not been adequately investigated and there had been a failure to promote contact between them after they were separated. Independent reviewing officers whose duty it was to oversee the council’s decision-making had done absolutely nothing to protect and promote the twins’ welfare.
The Court noted that the effect of being adopted separately would be to sever the twins’ legal relationship as brother and sister. Had the council exercised good social work practice and a modicum of child-focused judgment in its decision-making processes, there would have been a real possibility that the twins could have been placed together for a substantial part of their childhood.
However, in granting the adoption orders sought, the Court acknowledged that the twins were well settled with their prospective adopters. They had, for the first time in their lives, allowed themselves to believe that they had forever families. Removing them from their adoptive homes would risk causing them grave, lifelong harm.
The Court ordered frequent direct and indirect contact between the twins, who were each awarded damages of £20,000 after the council admitted extensive breaches of their human rights. Their adopters were also awarded a total of £10,000 in damages. The Court noted that the council’s children’s services department was under new management and had responded to the criticisms in a forthright manner. Assurances had been given that the department would undergo root and branch reform.