Social workers face jail over parent access row

Sheriff Kathrine Mackie
Sheriff Kathrine Mackie
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TWO city social workers face the possibility of being jailed for contempt of court after allegedly defying a court ruling that a couple should have greater access to their children in care.

The two experienced child protection managers are due to face a hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court later this month.

It is understood the city council is backing them and leading solicitors have been hired to represent them.

The parents in the case mounted a legal challenge earlier this year over the decision to restrict access to their two children, who had been taken from them and placed in care for their own protection.

Sheriff Kathrine Mackie ruled in May that the parents were entitled to see their children more often than a children’s panel had determined earlier this year.

It is alleged, however, that the two social workers handling the case stepped in the following month after the youngsters appeared distressed following further visits from their parents.

Staff took the decision to suspend a further scheduled meeting between the parents and children while an urgent review over access was undertaken by a children’s panel.

But now, Sheriff Mackie has ordered the pair to attend court later this month. If found guilty, they could face jail and may even be struck off by the Scottish Social Services Council.

It is understood the social workers had not acted alone and had sought advice from senior lawyers at the local authority, and it is expected that council chiefs will strongly support their staff.

A spokesman for the union Unison said social workers had an overriding duty to ensure the child’s welfare is paramount in all that they do. This gives them a dilemma when a legal decision [granting access] is made and social workers believe this is harming the child.”

He added: “As far we know, this is an unprecedented case and it would have significant implications for social work across Scotland were this to be upheld.”

A source, with knowledge of the case, said: “The staff fully implemented the sheriff’s decision and granted greater access. After something like five visits, the two staff took this action because of the clear distress of the young children.

“They suspended a single contact meeting [between the parents and children] while a children’s panel carried out a review.

“Each of these actions was taken in consultation with the council’s legal team so it’s simply not the case that they were acting alone.”

A council spokesman said: “We are offering every support to two experienced child-protection managers who are due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in relation to contempt of court allegations.”

It is not known why the children were removed from their parents. Neither the parents nor the children involved in the case can be named in order to protect their identities.