Social services staff criticised over ‘fundamental lack of understanding’ of deaf woman in child dispute

Council social services staff have been criticised by a judge over the way they dealt with a deaf woman embroiled in a family court dispute over her two children.

Deputy High Court Judge Elizabeth Isaacs said there had been a “fundamental lack of understanding” of the woman’s needs as a deaf parent.

The judge said the issue of the woman’s deafness had been “placed well and truly on the back burner”.

She said “even the proper nature” of her disability had been wrongly record on court orders.

Judge Issacs, a barrister based in London who also sits as a judge, outlined her concerns in a written ruling published online after a recent private family court hearing.

She said the woman and children could not be identified in media reports and has not named the council involved.

The judge concluded that the woman’s children should be placed for adoption.

She heard that the children were in foster care and the mother wanted them to stay there so she could keep seeing them.

She said she could not care for them “at the moment” but would like to care for them in future when “things get better for her”.

Social services bosses had said they should be placed for adoption.

“At the risk of stating the obvious, it is absolutely fundamental that any parent in care proceedings should have the reasonable expectation that they will be treated fairly, provided with appropriate information clearly and in a timely fashion, without any attempt by professionals to second guess what they may or may not say or how they may or may not respond,” said Judge Isaacs.

“Put simply, what appears to have occurred in this case is a fundamental lack of understanding for (the mother’s) needs as a deaf parent from the earliest pre-proceedings point.

“It was as though, once raised and identified, the issue of (the mother’s) deafness was then placed well and truly on the back burner.”

The judge said the woman was “only ever referred to in court orders” as being “hearing impaired”, not as a “deaf parent”, and went on: “Even the proper nature of her disability was wrongly recorded.”

She said there were a number of lessons to be taken from the case.

“It is encouraging that the local authority has firmly stated and confirmed its intention to learn lessons from the review of its approach in this case in order to improve its service provision to deaf parents in the future,” she said.

“In due course I will order that a copy of this judgment in full is to be sent to the director of the local authority’s children’s services department for full consideration in that regard.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kate Collins / PA Wire.