A significant minority of mothers live daily lives, separated from their children and I am one of them. I have become very aware that my story although a nightmare is not unique...

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Compare and contrast the roles of an IRO and the Queen, transparency makes everything clearer

 Admittedly not the snappiest of titles, but bear with me. Being the Queen comes with a few perks, a couple of palaces, free flowers and of course always a freshly decorated loo whether she officially visits, just in case. I can't imagine for a minute that an IRO have any of these perks of the job.
The Queen is our head of state, but she actually has no powers and is independent of the Government. By way of contrast, the role of the IRO , comes with real power, they can override a local authority in it's decision making and even refer a child's case back to court. So actually in theory they are not just a figurehead, but in practice they sometimes are. Maybe it something to do with the lack of perks , but actually it is more likely that because they are paid by local authorities they are supposed to hold to account, pressure is applied to see that they don't. So actually in day to day work life,at least from my perspective, they can end up as powerless as the Queen.                                                                                                     Transparency comes in because I have at the tail end of last year completed yet another complaint  process with my local authority.  The two are related, in that complaints are not subject to reporting restrictions like family court hearings and the complaint relates to the action, or rather non action, of an IRO.

The complaint:

 I have copied the stage 2 submission, it was not upheld at stage 1, it has been redacted to leave out my name and my child's , though I am not sure it is a legal requirement. I have also redacted local authority workers as I personally do not agree with naming them, though many parents would choose to do so. At the meeting with the independent person and the investigating officer  the conversation was recorded at my insistence.

                                                      Stage 2 submission by complainant

1. The original complaint as submitted
"I wish to make the following complaint about Childrens Services:

Childrens Services have failed to put in an application discharge  X's Care Order as agreed at her LAC review on the 26th August 2015, where the recommendation was that the application should be made by the end of November 2015. The application was not made until the 9th March 2017, despite it being an outstanding recommendation at subsequent LAC reviews. In that time, contact has been problematic, I have not received School reports , I have been excluded from LAC reviews and I have only met her social worker once
The delay has resulted in an article 8 breach of the 1989 Human Rights Act for both X and myself.

Remedy sought.

I require a written apology.
I require separate amounts of compensation reflecting the severity of  the breach of Human Rights for both  X and myself. 

Thank you"

2. The Local Authority initially refused to allow me to go through the complaints procedure, after contacting the Chief Executive , this decision was over turned. 

3. The  complaint at stage one was not fully addressed as the investigating officer went off at a tangent rather than target what I had complained about. I did point this out at the time of our meeting.P2-P3

4. At the LAC Review on the 20/08/15  the child's  plan was to discharge the care order, by November 2015, nobody consulted disagreed with the plan P4

5. At the  LAC Review  on 11/02/16 the child's plan was to discharge the care order and no one disagreed  with the plan .It was also noted that the recommendation to discharge was "now well overdue being actioned" , " The application should be prepared for court by the second week in March 2016" P5-P6

6.  At the LAC Review of 08/07/16 the Local Authority disagreed with the plan to discharge the care order. The Local Authority did therefore not disagree with the discharge of the care order , until the LAC Review of 08/07/16, they simply  failed to make to make an application as agreed before that date.   The only significant event in between LAC reviews was me handing a letter to the social worker outlining that a Clinical Psychologist had found that I had no mental health issues , but was a victim of chronic abuse, the abuser of course being  X's father whom she still lived with under a care order. P7

7. The Review of Childrens Cases Regulations  1991 state " Arrangements for implementation of decisions arising out of reviews
8.  The responsible authority shall make arrangements themselves or with other persons to implement any decision which the authority propose to make in the course, or as a result, of the review of a child’s case." P8
 It is amended by The Review of Children’s Cases (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2004 P9

4) After regulation 8 insert—
“Independent reviewing officer to be notified of failure to implement etc.
8A.  The responsible authority must inform the independent reviewing officer of—
(a)any significant failure to make arrangements in accordance with regulation 8; or
(b)any significant change of circumstances occurring after the review that affects those arrangements.”.
 The Local Authority unlawfully ignored these regulations, resulting in human rights breaches.

8. Article 8 Human Rights Act 1998
Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

 Failing to discharge the care order at the time it was recommended, caused drift .  Both X and myself have had  interference by the local authority in our private and family lives. The remedy for Human Rights damages includes monetary compensation.
I have asked for £16,000 for X and £16,000 for myself. I have also offered to go into ADR with the Local Authority on 09/08/17 but this offer was declined.

8. I received a letter of apology from the LAC Team Manager , which only addresses part of the complaint. P10

Remedy required:

1. I wish the stage 2 investigation to solely focus on my original complaint and the remedy I requested. I am not interested in why the order was not discharged or lessons learned. I simply require my original complaint to be answered.

For me the above the equivalent of a skeleton argument or a position statement submitted to the court. I remember reading many moons ago that , alongside the release of judgements into the public domain, such documents would also be made available. Sadly very few are, the last I can think of is the "Muslim foster carer case" The argument against is jigsaw identification, from my stage 2 complaint you may have guessed I am more than a little fed up by this stage, but I really don't think you could either identify myself or my daughter through the information given.

The Stage 2 report
This would be the equivalent of a judgement, however unlike most judgements that are never published , I am free to publish this with no restrictions, I found out several years ago that complaints are publishable, this however is the first time I have set out one in full.  Four years ago the President of the Family Division, published guidance , to make the family court more transparent. To be blunt, nothing much has happened.  I am not writing this out of spite, for either the local authority or the IRO , the latter personally, has treated me with courtesy.  By publishing , I add to informed public debate something, I have not been able to do through court proceedings.  It tips the scales of power ,which are very much weighted towards the local authority ever so slightly towards parents. It has been a considered decision to publish, the post has been in draft for some weeks. Rather to illustrate what a fair system looks like. I feel it is important to provide both the investigation of the complaint and the outcome.

From putting both together, you can get the gist of what has happened from both sides, rather than a judgement which is normally just one persons, the judge's (albeit informed, to a greater or lesser extent ) opinion.  You may have noted that the local authority refused to let me use the complaints procedure in the first instance. I have not had contact with my daughter for some time; this stopped after I had an emergency operation and missed a contact. I do not know to this day what she was told.  Without much study,I know the chronology is incomplete as was the investigation into the complaint. The IRO has failed to hold the Local Authority to account in a timely manner , the dispute process is supposed to take 22 days to complete not 10 months.  Both my child and I have breaches of human rights which he ought to have highlighted. 
I have recently found out two more factors that need to be taken into account. My daughter was assaulted in the family home , during this time and I was not informed. This could have triggered a serious case review, instead she remains there at risk. Also the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Board, where the IRO is based is a former senior police officer , whom I made a complaint about as she refused to prosecute my ex husband or listen to my children despite there being a history of violence and witnesses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Many parents would say that judgements bear very little relation to reality at all, because the evidence that the judge considered was incorrect /falsified and defamatory.  There is also lack of disclosure in family cases ,as much as there is in criminal cases. I think it is essential to stop the clamour about courts being unfair that all judgements are skeleton arguments/position statements are made available. There is of course the problem of jigsaw identification, however this could be  mainly overcome if children were not named in court or dates of birth routinely given. As in my experience ,most documents are submitted to courts electronically now, and provided they were redacted  before submission, eg child 1, child 2 etc, and searched for identifying details before publication, it should not be difficult to publish these with judgements.

From Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division:
to which I  add such drastic decisions made against parents with such very little power must be open to scrutiny. Not just with adoption ,but with all family cases where a parent ceases to be involved in the child's life in any meaningful way, it is a gross invasion into a persons, whether child or adult,  private life.  With the present system decisions are not open to examination , with the transparency I have demonstrated in this post they would be . It would not stop accusations against the family court , but it may , just may slow them down from a flood to a trickle. I am confident it would result in fewer true miscarriages of justice, as those involved in each case would know that they could be held to account in a more meaningful manner.

In this case the IRO was about as powerless as the Queen, despite legally being able to hold the local authority to account.  I wonder whether he would have been more inclined to use his power had he known his actions would be completely transparent? Or did internal pressures keep him from exercising his powers?

I was not expecting to get £ 16,000 , but a Human Rights claim such as this is normally worth  some thousands. The only reason I got an apology, I believe is that I insisted that the meetings with the investigating officers at stage 1 and 2 were recorded thanks to the Transparency Project . Previous complaints , not recorded have not been upheld. I am also not a legal genius;I found the relevant law thanks  to this post by Suesspiciousminds.

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