Blackpool Council today refused to make excuses after a senior family court judge slammed the authority as “reprehensible” for its care of two brothers.
Mr Justice Newton – who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London – had been asked to decide whether the boys, aged five and four, should live with foster carers they had been temporarily placed with or with an aunt and uncle.
He said the council had effectively pitted one family against the other and said the council’s approach had been “dogmatic” - with no weighing of “pros and cons”.
He said an inexperienced social worker had been “hung out to dry”.
He said the foster carers and the aunt and uncle had been “toyed with” and “set up” in the “most deplorable fashion”.
Coun Graham Cain, Lead Member for Children’s Services at the Council, said: “The comments made by Justice Newton are devastating and the exact opposite of how Blackpool Council should behave.”
Mr Justice Newton, in a ruling after analysing the case at a family court in Preston, said the decision he had been asked to make was difficult.
He indicated that the children’s parents had been ruled out as possible carers after concerns were raised.
And he said the choice of carer was difficult.
The judge said the aunt and uncle were “almost unknown” to the children – but the youngsters had a strong attachment to their foster carers.
He said he had decided the boys should stay with their foster carers.
Mr Justice Newton outlined a number of criticisms of the council.
He said the treatment of the boys and plans for them had been “chaotic”.
He said there had been “no proper concentration” on their welfare.
“It is perfectly obvious that both the couples are thoroughly and well-motivated, decent people, both endeavouring to do their very best for these boys,” said the judge.
“However, effectively, the conduct of the authority has been almost to have the effect of pitting them one against the other.
“In no circumstances could that be appropriate.
“It is to the court repugnant that it should have been so, it could so easily and should have been avoided,”
He added: “Ultimately, the local authority’s approach has become quite dogmatic...there has, in fact, been no weighing, no balancing of the different ‘pros and cons’ on any basis, let alone welfare.
“There has been no robust analysis.”
And he went on: “They effectively set up these two couples, quite wrongly, against each other.
“There should have been some sensible and constructive and mature discussions.
“That is what social work is about. There are other aspects which illustrate not just a closed mind but reprehensible conduct.”
Mr Justice Newton said the relationship between the foster carers and the council was “poor”.
“The local authority bears all the responsibility,” he said.
“The (foster carers) have been dealt with unfairly, and have been toyed with, and set up in the most deplorable fashion.
“The same can be said too for the aunt and uncle.”
The judge also raised concerns about the management of a social worker at the centre of the case.
“In a very real sense, she has been hung out to dry by her authority,” he said.
“For much of the time of her tenure of this case she has had no assistance or real oversight by her superiors, and no real help or sensible advice.”
He did not identify the children involved or the foster carers or any family members.
In a statement to The Gazette, Coun Cain added: “To say I am disappointed is an understatement.
“Based on the points made, standards have fallen below the level that we would expect.
“On behalf of the Council I whole-heartedly apologise to all parties who have been affected by this.
“This case has been discussed by senior officers and an action plan created to ensure that failings like this do not occur again.
“A new Leadership Team is now in place across Children’s Social Care and reflective supervision is embedded.
“In recent years Children’s Social Services has been completely transformed. Protecting children is our top priority and I am confident that we have a workforce that is 100 per cent committed to looking after vulnerable children and families.”