— The Van Rooyen report —

Critique from writer/journalist, Brian Rothery, in Ireland br@rothery.com

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

regarding

J XXX

(d.o.b. 15.10.2002)

SINGLE JOINT EXPERT

DR CELEST VAN ROOYEN
Chartered Clinical Psychologist
Canterbury Psychological Clinic
198 Wincheap Road
Canterbury
Kent CT1 3RY

Dated: 5th November 2012

CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION
1.0 My Qualifications
2.0 The Parties Involved
3.0 Background History
4.0 Summary of Opinions
5.0 Interviews and assessments
6.0 Documentation
7.0 Issues to be addressed

2. INVESTIGATION OF FACTS Individual Clinical Interview / assessment of E L
Observation of contact J and father
1.0 Interview with foster carer
2.0 Assessment of J
3. ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED
4. STATEMENT OF TRUTH / DECLARATION
Curriculum Vitae

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

regarding

J XXX

(d.o.b. 15.10.2002)

Instructing Solicitors: Davis Simmonds & Donaghey
Solicitors, 5 High Street, Gillingham,
Kent ME7 1BE

Ridley & Hall Solicitors
Queens House, 35 Market Street Huddersfield, HD1 2HL

Legal Services Medway Council
Gun Wharf, Dock Road Chatham ME4 4TR
Consultant: Dr Celest van Rooyen Chartered Clinical Psychologist
Date of Assessment: 26th October 2012
Place of Assessment: The Canterbury
Psychological Clinic 198 Wincheap Road Canterbury Kent CT1 3RY
Date of Report: 5th November 2012

1. INTRODUCTION

1.0 MY QUALIFICATIONS

1.1 I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Registered with the British Psychological Society and with the Health Professional Council. I qualified as a Clinical Psychologist in l985 and have been actively in clinical practice since l985. I obtained a Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology in l985 and obtained a D. Phil (Clin. Psych) Degree in l993 in South Africa. Whilst in the Republic of South Africa I held the position of Senior Consultant Clinical Psychologist and honoree lecturer, with a specialty in Adult and Child Mental Health Psychology. Having worked four years in the NHS where I was associated with the University of Kent, I have since worked independently as a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, incorporating Adult and Child Mental Health as well as medico-legal assessments of families and individuals. In 2004 I attained the Certificate of Expert Witness Accreditation from Cardiff University. In March 2007 I achieved Chartered Scientist status and in 2012 became an independent member of the Expert Witness Institute.

THE PARTIES INVOLVED

2.0 2.1 A psychological assessment was requested in respect of J XXX by Legal Services, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, ME4 4TR. The lead solicitor is Hannah Simpson.

2.2 The biological father is E L and he is represented by Ridley & Hall Solicitors, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2DH. The lead solicitor is Nigel Priestley.

2.3 The child is represented by his Guardian who is represented by Davis Simmonds & Donaghey, 5 High Street, Gillingham, Kent,ME7 1BE. The lead solicitor is Phillipa Thomas.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND OF THE CASE AS PROVIDED BY INSTRUCTING SOLICITORS

3.0

3.1 These proceedings concern J C (DOB 16.10.2002). J's Father is Mr E L. J's Mother is S C, her whereabouts are unknown but it is understood that she is a Thai National and maybe residing in the USA. At this stage, Ms C is not a party to these proceedings as she has not been served with Notice of these proceedings given that her current whereabouts are unknown.

3.2 Mr L is a Dutch National but his first language is Russian.

3.3 J has resided in this Country with his father since 2006, the Social Work Chronology sets out Social Services involvement with J and Mr L.

3.4 J has previously been subject to proceedings in 2010 when his father left him home alone; therefore an Emergency Protection Order was made. J was returned to his father's care after this order expired and remained with him until 25th July 2012 when the Police took protective measures after J was discovered home alone again the emergency services were contacted reporting a fire at the rear of the property.

3.5 The Local Authority issued proceedings on 26th July 2012. J was initially accommodated under Section 20 Children Act 2012 but an Interim Care Order was granted on 23rd August 2012 and proceedings have now been transferred to the High Court due to the complexity of the case and the international elements.

3.6 J remains in foster care and is having contact with his father twice a week after school.

4.0 SUMMARY OF MY OPINIONS

4.1 It is my assessment that Mr E L has limited ability to meet J's emotional and psychological needs. He is certainly able to provide structure and give J meaningful opportunities in his life. However due to father's cognitive inflexibility, limited emotional capacity and lack of empathy, it would be essential that J's emotional and psychological needs are addressed in other ways and in other settings. Thus it is my assessment that Mr L would not have the capacity on his own to meet J's emotional and psychological needs. He needs to have opportunities to have his life experiences broadened and have the benefit of the influences of persons who are more emotionally and psychologically in-tune with him. Without this J would be left with an increasing sense of unmet needs, being unheard and not being able to meet his emotional and psychological potential.

4.2 All the while Mr L is open to consider receiving support, willing to bring about meaningful growth, change and adjustments in his current approach, the remaining inflexibilities as part of his core cognitive functioning could be balanced against J having broader influences in his day-to-day life experiences. This would involve there being some level of co-parenting arrangement, such as a permanent and consistent live-in housekeeper/nanny taking on a maternal role or there being some level of shared care, such as permanent respite care on a regular basis. Without change by father, alternatives would then be in J's best interests.

Comment 1:

While it is customary in peer-reviewed journals for clinicians/researchers to present an abstract at the start of the published study summarising their chief findings, it is a far more questionable practice in a report for a court of law in which the forced removal of a child is under consideration. By placing her opinions at the start of the report and ahead of the material evidence upon which they are based, the expert risks biasing the reader in favour of her interpretations, which will almost certainly be open to other, different interpretations.

(End of comment)

5.0 INTERVIEWS AND ASSESSMENTS

5.1 Assessments 26th October 2012

Individual Clinical interview with Mr L - 3 hours
Observation of contact - 1 hour
Assessment of J - 2 hours
Discussion with foster carer of J - 30 minutes

5.2 Psychometric assessments used with J:

Beck Youth Inventories of Emotional & Social Impairment (BYI) (Beck J, Beck A and Jolly J 2001)

The Beck Youth Inventories of Emotional and Social Impairment (BYI) are self-report measures to assist a child experience of depression, anxiety, anger, disruptive behaviour and self-concept. This self-report questionnaire, taps into thoughts, feelings, or behaviours associated with emotional and social impairment in youth. The child needs to respond to each item by indicating how frequently the statement is true for him or her.

The Beck Depression Inventory for Youth is designed to identify symptoms of depression in children. It includes items that reflect children's negative thoughts about themselves, their lives and their future; feelings of sadness; and physiological indications of depression.

The Beck Anxiety Inventory for Youth reflects children's fears, worry and physiological symptoms associated with anxiety.

Anger Inventory for Youth includes perceptions of mistreatment, negative thoughts about others, feelings of anger, and physiological arousal.

The Beck Self-Concept Inventory for Youth includes self-perceptions such as competence, potency, and positive self-worth.

Comment 2:

These inventories, all of which have been devised within the cognitive behavioural therapies, are rather less reliable and valid than enthusiasts for these therapies claim. Those subject to them are invited to attach a numerical value (in this case, a 4-point scale ranging from 0-3) to their subjective experiences of anger, self-worth, physiological arousal, etc.

A number seems scientific but in these psychometric instruments, it is anything but, as numerous non-CBT psychotherapists are now demonstrating in critical reviews of published CBT studies. It is doubtful whether the rating 2, for example, will accurately designate the same quantity of, say, anger in different people, even though each uses the same number, a hidden variation that completely vitiates the apparent distinctions these instruments make between 'the normal range' and psychopathological variants.

These scores ignore the unique, individual meanings and experiences of the subject, as well as the affective quality of the relationship between the subject and assessing psychologist.

In short, the results of psychometric inventories frequently obscure more than they seem to reveal and should be approached with caution, even scepticism. They are intended to overcome subjective biases in the assessing psychologist but they do not and cannot do this: that subjectivity is always present, including in the interpretations the assessing psychologist makes of the inventory results.

End of Comment

Projective techniques

Projective techniques such as the Roberts Apperception Test for Children (RATC) and the Family Relations Assessment (FRT) are methods of revealing to the trained interpreter some of the dominant drives, emotions, sentiments, complexes and conflicts of a personality. Special value resides in the power to expose the underlying inhibited tendencies of the subject or patient who is not willing to admit to or cannot admit to them because he is unconscious of them.

Family Relationships Test (Children's version) (Bene-Antony - Revised Edition 1985)

The Family Relations Test attempts to help children to express emotional attitudes of which they are aware but which they might find difficult to verbalise. There is probably a continuum of freedom of expression between the repressed feelings, the suppressed feelings maintained privately, the feelings expressed to familiar persons and the feelings expressed to strangers. The test responses are expected to reflect conscious feelings of the child towards his family, including his more or less private ones. His 'deeper' emotions can only be inferred from the test results.

Comment 3:

The assessing psychologist is indeed a trained professional. But she is not trained in accessing and interpreting unconscious mental processes - nowhere in her list of qualifications is there any mention of her having undergone her own psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, which all clinical practitioners working with unconscious processes are required to have. This is to enable them to be aware of the ruses and blind-spots, biases and unwitting transferences, their own unconscious mental processes would otherwise lead to in any form of clinical or assessment work in which unconscious material is being explored.

The notion that a questionnaire can elicit unconscious material is frankly misguided; more than a century of psychoanalytic study has demonstrated time and time again that the unconscious emerges under conditions of unobtrusive listening on the part of the psychologist and free association on the part of the subject/patient. The subject/patient is invited to speak as freely as possible without direction from the therapist or without self-censorship. It requires robust confidentiality; when unconscious material comes out of repression, it often conflicts with the patient's established (or preferred) self-image and can be painful, embarrassing or humiliating.

The patient has to trust that the therapist will treat these conversations with the utmost confidentiality. The subject of an intrusive assessment such as this is most unlikely to have any such trust. In the context of a court-mandated assessment, the findings will be released in court, demolishing the confidentiality upon which access to the unconscious fundamentally depends. Moreover, questionnaires and probes almost exclusively elicit conscious, superficial meanings only: they distract the subject from unconscious material, which requires time, space and safety to emerge. These tests elicit conscious replies and, even with projective tests, unless the 'trained interpreter' is familiar with her own unconscious tendencies and biases, the results (interpretations) should be treated with great circumspection.

End of comment

6.0 DOCUMENTATION

Bundle of documents provided

7.0 ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED

1. Please provide an individual psychological profile of J C and Mr E L
2. Please comment on the quality of relationship and level of attachment between the J and Mr
3. Please comment on the psychological impact, if any, on J and on his relationship with his father as a result of:-
a. The removal into foster care.
b. The fact that contact is supervised and
c. The fact that contact is limited to two hours per week.

4. If there are any issues in respect of the attachment, please comment on any services or support, which could be put in place during to improve any issues you identify.

5. Please say whether there is any aspect of Mr L's psychological profile, which in your view has any bearing on his ability to parent J.

6. In the event that you consider Mr L to have a psychological profile, which affects his ability to care for J, please comment on his ability to change, the timescale within such change could be achieved and whether in your opinion that timescale is compatible with J's long-term needs?

7. Please comment of Mr L's ability to recognise the concerns of the Local Authority and their reasons for issuing Court Proceedings.

8. Please comment of Mr L's ability to meet J's emotional and psychological needs.

9. Please comment on Mr L's ability to work with professionals openly and honestly.

10. Please comment on whether it would be advisable for there to be a separate psychiatric assessment of Mr L or J.

11. Please comment upon contact arrangements that you feel J should have with Mr L.

12. Please specifically comment upon the services, which could or should be put in place to assist J.

13. Please identify other issues, which have not been raised above which you consider are relevant in relation to decisions concerning the future care of J.

2. INVESTIGATION OF THE FACTS

INDIVIDUAL CLINICAL INTERVIEW WITH MR L,

1.0

1.1 An interpreter assisted Mr L during the clinical interview and the joint session with J. Although his command of English was more than adequate, there were times when it was felt essential that the interpreter assisted, however even with this input, Mr L had difficulty grasping what was being asked. This appeared to be due to an inflexibility of thought process and maintaining his own agenda of what needed to be discussed. From the onset Mr L was extremely anxious about this assessment, admitted he did not trust this assessment, did not trust myself and was feeling fearful that he would be considered to be mad or something wrong with him, which he insists is not the case. It is appreciated that Mr L is extremely anxious that J may not be returned to his care.

Comment 4

Despite this acknowledgement by the psychologist of Mr L's understandable anxiousness, we are not presented at this point with ANY verbal evidence supplied by him. Instead, ahead of such material, we are presented only with the psychologist's interpretation ('inflexibility of thought processes' 'maintaining his own agenda'). This distinctly pejorative interpretation ignores the strong likelihood that Mr L. was indeed exceptionally anxious about this assessment, and his anxiety is almost certain to have contributed to the way he presented himself under these conditions. The psychologist, in effect, dismisses her own acknowledgement and decontextualizes his presentation, treating it instead as evidence of an underlying, enduring pathological trait. This is a most questionable inference under the circumstances.

End of comment

1.2 When posing questions to Mr L, whilst it was clear that he understood what had been asked of him, confirmed by the interpreter, his inflexibility of thought and eagerness to present information he wanted to put forward, dominated his responses and he would not always address the question asked. It was also evident that he was not willing or able to pay attention to the question, as he was more intent at giving certain information and presented as having 'tunnel vision' with regard to an agenda of setting out his position. He wanted it to be understood he was a caring father who had made a mistake of leaving J at home unattended, for which he was remorseful, but this should not detract from all the sacrifices he has made for his son, therefore J should now be returned to his care.

Comment 5

If these concerns on the part of Mr L are evidence of an 'agenda', it seems to be an entirely reasonable and understandable one; he knows that this assessment could result in his losing his child and it is, frankly, a very tall order to expect him to simply have trust in the assessing psychologist. The stakes are simply too high for that. This is not a therapeutic relationship but, effectively, a form of extended interrogation. He is not to be blamed for fearing that the questions being directed at him may miss vitally important points. Is a desire to convey such information in the context of the possible forced separation from his son 'inflexibility of thought', or the understandable efforts of a deeply worried father to make himself understood?

End of comment

1.3 It was also clear throughout that Mr L had great difficulty making any real acknowledgement of concern and the emotional impact of events on J, this appeared to be in part due to not accepting there were difficulties, but also not willing to make any acknowledgements for fear of repercussions based on his overwhelmingly pessimistic and distrustful approach to anything which he felt could be 'used against him'. It was extremely difficult to get past his preoccupation with how he is perceives the situation and with how he was coming across and/or the impression gained about him, being rigid in his belief that he was needing 'to give evidence' as he was to be judged during this assessment. It was therefore extremely difficult exploring issues in any meaningful way as Mr L could not focus enough to listen and hear what was being asked, resulting in areas being explored, re-asked and re-explored, without gaining improved understanding of the issues.

Comment 6:

The serious limitations of the method used by the expert are here being blamed, forcefully and blatantly, on the interviewee. Free discussion can only truthfully arise in conditions of mutual trust, in the context of a relationship in which the interviewee is confident that the interviewer does not intend to inflict pain or harm on him.

These conditions simply do not exist in a context where the interviewer may decide to support the forcible removal of a loved child from a parent. For most ordinary devoted parents, this is the ultimate agony. People tend to become defensive when they feel that they and/or a loved one are under serious threat. Forcibly removing a child is a serious threat by anyone's standards.

As any psychoanalyst can testify, the use of standardised psychometric instruments such as questionnaires does nothing to dispense with this crucial requirement. People can only access their emotional and psychological truths when they do not feel threatened. There would have to be something seriously wrong with Mr L were he NOT to feel threatened in the context of this assessment. To state the obvious again: he is facing losing his son to State care.

Take this statement by the expert:

Mr L could not focus enough to listen and hear what was being asked, resulting in areas being explored, re-asked and re-explored, without gaining improved understanding of the issues.

The expert appears to be almost inhumanly dismissive of the obvious fact that she is interviewing a worried and frightened father. Instead of seeking to ameliorate his anxiety (as most psychotherapists would do), she relentlessly 're-asks and re-explores' the issues her questionnaire-driven approach requires. This is, to be blunt, brutal.

From a psychoanalytic point of view (which contemporary neuroscience would support), human beings are not 'data mines' to be probed at whim by interrogators; they are sentient, intelligent beings whose emotional and psychological truths and memories are continually evolving and shifting. The conditions under which these truths and memories are explored are of immense importance, which the expert appears to totally disregard. Patient, non-judgemental and unobtrusive listening are pre-requisites for accessing such truths, not brutish re-asking and re-exploring.

End of comment

It was also not possible to cover all the areas intended during the clinical interview, which was not helped by the fact that Mr L had been over 40 minutes late for this appointment. However if it was considered a further appointment would assist, this would have been offered, however the nature of Mr L’s defended and rigid cognitive approach is such that further time would not take this assessment any further forward, afford any new information or gain any further insight into Mr L's current presentation.

Comment 7:

This is a breathtakingly arrogant statement. 'It was considered', of course, means 'I decided that' Condescending and almost delusionally omniscient, the expert summarily dismisses this intelligent man's fears and anxieties as nothing more than a 'rigid cognitive approach' when they may, of course have been well-founded. Any ordinary, loving parent, one might argue, would be deeply fearful and mistrustful of an interrogating expert when the conclusion may be the forced removal of his beloved child. Mr L's error may simply have been one of honesty: showing his fears and mistrust too openly.

End of comment

I had clarified with the interpreter following the time spent with Mr L, that whilst she was trying very hard to explain the questions and he clearly understood what was being asked, he irrespectively came to his own conclusions and kept to his own agenda. There was the general sense that one was hitting against a brick wall.

Comment 8

Given the intrusive nature of the questioning Mr L. was subject to, an interrogation in which there was no discernible attempt to cultivate a trusting and safe relationship as would happen in psychotherapy, is it really any wonder that he became something of a 'brick wall'? Is this not an entirely understandable self-protective measure in the context of a complete stranger asking him intimate and personal questions, any answers to which may result in his child being taken away from him?

Psychometric instruments take no account of these subjective and contextual factors and are based on the premise, apparently shared by the psychologist, that the human mind is a static data store which can simply be probed with a series of questions. Neuroscientists and psychotherapists are united in eschewing this ridiculous fantasy: human minds are living, experiencing, dynamically evolving entities which don't (and can't) simply 'retrieve' pre-stored information, as a digital camera can retrieve a digitally encoded image. They actively create responses each time they are elicited by an interlocutor, and if the material being accessed is emotionally distressing, the interviewee may well become spontaneously (as opposed to wilfully) resistive.

No psychotherapist would consider such resistance as evidence of culpable obstinacy; most sensitive clinicians would instead consider them to be attempts at self-protection, efforts to stop becoming flooded with unmanageable affect. If the interlocutor appears highly intrusive, if there is no carefully nurtured relationship of trust to speak of, and if a high level of threat exists (which it clearly does in this case) Mr L I repeat, is aware that he may lose his child), the subject's responses are liable to become intensely self-protective (the original clinical meaning of the word 'defensive').

End of comment

1.4 With regard to an understanding of the concerns of the Local Authority, Mr L understood this was due to him having left J alone at home, which resulted in J's friend having caused the fire. He wanted it to be known that it had not been J who had been responsible for the fire. With further exploration, he does accept this had been a dangerous situation, irrespective of which child had set the fire. It was however his view that while he had done things that were considered to be negligent; he took issue with J being placed in a foster home with a child that has Downs syndrome. He implied that being in a home with such a child would in fact cause 'emotional harm'. He felt this was entirely inappropriate and believes this child with such a problem is left to supervise J going to the shops. He felt this arrangement was no better than him having left J at home, implying there is one set of rules for him and another for the foster carers. (From discussion with the foster carer, the child in question does not in fact have Downs Syndrome, rather she is a young girl of twelve years with mild learning difficulties. She attends a mainstream secondary school and is not considered disabled in any way at all).

Comment 9

Listening to Mr L's comments about the 'Downs Syndrome' child from a psychoanalytic perspective may have yielded other interpretations beyond the rather peremptory (and somewhat condescending) dismissal of his remarks as an attempt to mislead or deceive. A psychologist who claims to be exploring unconscious motivations shows a shocking disregard for the multiple meanings that invariably lie ciphered in human speech, as any experienced psychoanalyst can testify (and demonstrate). Instead of patiently encouraging Mr. L to explore his personal associations to different elements in his account, this psychologist appears to believe that she already knows what he really means. She simply treats Mr. L's spoken responses as though simple, singular meanings are perched unambiguously on the surface of his utterances, ready to be read off like a list of ingredients for a cake. From a psychoanalytic point of view, this is a cardinal error.

He may, for example, have been deeply worried about the impact on J of other people, including other children, over whom he now suddenly finds that he has no influence whatsoever. Irrespective of his remarks about a Downs syndrome child, this underlying worry may be the motivating truth of his comments: a fear that others over whom he has no control for influence are now influencing his child. This is, one might reasonably suggest, a painful experience for any father, especially one who has devotedly brought up his child as a sole parent. To treat his remarks as simple deceit is condescending and ill-informed.

End of comment

1.5 With regard to any additional concerns, Mr L was aware that social services consider that J 'may be in danger of emotional harm'. When enquired as to his understanding of emotional harm, Mr L could not be encouraged to consider what this meant for J, insisting on providing the legal definition which he had brought with him and read out.

Comment 10

Mr L is ineluctably in a 'damned if he does, damned if he doesn't' predicament here. If he acknowledges that he may have been responsible for 'emotional harm' - a construct which has been opposed by some psychologists and psychotherapists due to its vagueness and its capacity to include anything a professional assessor decides that it covers (many ordinary, loving parents would be caught by it) - he runs the risk of being judged as a child abuser. If he refuses to accept that he has caused 'emotional harm', he runs the risk (as is evidenced by the psychologist's response here) of being judged as 'in denial' and therefore a high risk. Sticking to a legal definition, under such fraught double-bind Catch22 conditions, is hardly a pathological or even unreasonable response.

End of comment

He clearly finds it incredulous that he has been accused of causing 'emotional harm' to his son or that his son has been affected in this way at all. Whilst Mr L would make reference to certain situations such as some of the concerns raised during contact sessions as being 'not good', or 'could be seen as harmful', he couldn't in any way describe or consider the emotional experiences of J and when he did not accept the version of events documented by the social worker, he could not hypothetically consider the impact of a similar situation on any child. It was my assessment that Mr L lacks empathy and certainly had difficulty identifying the emotional experiences and responses of a child.

Comment 11

OR, Mr L. is being interrogated in an extraordinarily anxiety-provoking context and asked to supply information which may unjustly incriminate him. When in states of extreme anxiety and fear, it is not unusual to find one's capacity for empathy and for 'identifying the emotional experiences' of others profoundly but transiently compromised. This information, we must always remember, is not being explored in the context of a therapeutic relationship in which the well-being of the interviewee is the paramount concern of the psychologist. The interviewee is being 'probed' in the context of legal proceedings in which the psychologist may use anything Mr L says or doesn't say to justify the removal of his child. To disregard this anxiety, which is, as previously noted, perhaps the most agonising form of anxiety a parent could ever face, and to interpret desperate and fear-drenched responses - entirely understandable given the context - as inherently unempathic and uninsightful deficiencies, is close to boorishness. A rather shocking example of a profound lack of empathy and insight on the part of the assessing psychologist, it would seem.

End of comment

1.6 In an attempt to consider particular issues as a means of understanding his insight into the impact of some of his behaviour and emotional responses on J, the concerns raised by social services were explored. With regard to his responses and reactions during the contact sessions, he views the concerns raised had been at a time when he was highly stressed, extremely concerned about his son and was endeavouring to reassure his son. Whilst this appears to be some acknowledgement of having reacted in a stressed or distressed way at the time, he then would revert and say what he was saying to his child was merely reassuring him and he had not been reactive or stressed in the session, rather it was the environment that was stressed and unnatural. He insisted his motivation for speaking Russian to his son is based on the fact that it is the language they always communicate in, denying he was speaking Russian to hide any information from the social workers.

1.7 When exploring any areas of concern, Mr L would continually revert to his insistence that he has cared for his son since he was aged three, and whilst he fully accepts that he has made mistakes, he believes that he has been a good father to him. He wanted it to be known that he has never knowingly harmed his child and if he has said something that may be interpreted as harmful; he was sorry for this. He clearly does not view what he says as harmful, therefore it was explained to Mr L that for him to moderate or change what he says or does, he would need to have insight and understanding of how what he says impacts on his son.

Comment 12

It is not clear from this report what, exactly, social services have deemed 'concernworthy' vis-a-vis Mr L's behaviour in relation to J. The psychologist, however, appears to be accepting these concerns and that Mr L. is now expected to 'moderate or change'. The particular concerns may have been itemised in other documents in the bundle, but rather than proceeding from an uncritical acceptance of them, the psychologist as an independent expert would have made the issues clearer by briefly enumerating them at this point.

End of comment

Despite his partial acceptance that 'he may have said something that may have been harmful', he responded by insisting there wasn't anything that he had done or said that had been a problem and no further exploration as to the impact this could have on J was possible, because according to father, this did not happen. This pattern of making some concessions, only then for him to refute the concern was a consistent feature throughout the time spent with him.

Comment 13

Again, the specific context of this interview disappears from view - a context which is, I would suggest, powerfully shaping Mr. L's responses. The psychologist appears here, as before, to be treating him as a static store of data which he is simply obstinately refusing to permit her to probe. He is, to repeat, an anxious father fearful that the State may remove his child from his care. This fact simply cannot be ignored and it is simply wrong to judge his responses as manifestations of characterological defects: the conditions for reliably identifying such characteristics simply do not exist in the context of this interrogation.

In the context of psychotherapy, where therapists devote much time to establishing an empathic and trusting relationship with the patient/subject, apparent rigidities in thought can be gently and benevolently challenged or questioned. The patient is far more likely to respond non-antagonistically and productively, as he has evidence that the therapist is there to help him and not to harm or traumatise him.

These conditions simply do not exist in the context of a court-appointed expert's assessment interview, where a traumatic outcome for the subject cannot be ruled out. To interpret defensive, self-protective 'rigidities' emerging in the discourse of a fearful man who has no reason to trust the psychologist as entrenched characterological deficiencies is reckless. Such an interpretation itself displays rigidity of thought, by rigidly excluding (or not even considering) the (highly likely) probability that these 'rigidities' are in fact iatrogenic effects of the interview/assessment process itself.

End of comment

1.8 From discussion with Mr L, his lack of flexibility, tunnel vision and his egocentric and constrictive thought processes prevented any meaningful discussion with him.

Comment 14

In the light of the previous comment (#13), this statement is blatantly pejorative and not far off being frankly insulting. The limitations of the psychologist's approach, as discussed in Comment 13 and elsewhere in my commentary, are being crudely blamed on the subject of the assessment.

End of comment

He disputed the Guardian's version of events, disregarded the previous social workers concerns and insisted it is the social workers and the foster carers who have caused J to be upset or affected. He insisted on going into endless detail of the events surrounding the first LAC review meeting, considering there would be a lack of understanding if all the facts were not presented by him.

Comment 15

A not unreasonable consideration which is being summarily pathologised by the psychologist, who appears already to have sided with Social Services against Mr L. and acts as though she is oblivious to Mr L's insecurities and fears in the context of this inherently anxiety-provoking assessment.

End of comment

Essentially he does not accept that he had caused J any upset, rather believes it was the social worker that caused the upset by raising her voice and being confrontational with J. Mr L was pleased to have a different social worker who he feels understands him, implying, as the social worker is male, he is not judgemental or critical.

1.9 With regard to the concept of leaving a child unattended and alone, Mr L initially said this had been the only occasion other than the one occasion in 2010, however when it was said that J had said this occurred on more occasions, he then admitted there had been other occasions when he would briefly pop out to the shop for a very short period of time. When exploring how a child who was left its own would feel, Mr L had some difficulty with this and could only consider 'it would be not good' but could not say in what way. When encouraged to try and consider these emotional experiences, Mr L would opt out of such discussions by justifying his position, saying as a single father, therefore he 'didn't have much choice'. He rationalizes that when he had been brought up as a child, he would walk to school on his own at the age of seven, crossing major roads, therefore had never considered this to be problematic. However he accepts social services and police had previously said this was not appropriate, therefore accepts he has no excuse other than being in a situation where he felt he had no choice but to go out. He insisted he phoned J every half an hour to ensure he was alright and claimed he was not out as long as claimed, saying he was only away for four hours! Although he feels he made a mistake, he did not want it to be thought that he had been reckless or deliberately putting his child in danger. He did not consider J being removed from his care was proportionate for his mistake.

1.10 I explored with Mr L whether he felt he needed any help or assistance in the parenting of his son. It was said the only thing that would help J and their relationship, would be for him to be returned home. When looking at any concerns or difficulties relating to him struggling as a single parent, he accepted that there were times when he would struggle due to the other commitments, but otherwise felt he was a good father. He accepted that the house had not always been in order, but did not accept it was in disrepair. Whilst it wasn't always clean and there was not much food in the home at the time when the police removed J, it was said he had not intended to be out for more than a few hours, therefore did not feel it could be said that J was left without food. He claims they would purchase food on a daily basis as they were focused on healthy eating and would always have fresh food. He accepted that he would certainly benefit from advice as to how to organize things better, and certainly would need practical help in the home, saying he would welcome a family support worker to give him help and guidance. He also accepted that having somebody in, such as a Nanny to provide care and supervision for J and to clean the house would be good.

1.11 I spent a significant amount of time trying to explore Mr L’s understanding of J’s emotional needs. However Mr L was so entirely focused on trying to convince that he is a good father and does not have psychological problems that he could not focus on J and his needs. When this was highlighted, he did not accept he does not understand his son’s needs, but could not describe or explain these in any way, although conceding he would be willing to learn and take advice if this was said to be what was needed.

Comment 16

This is an important concession on Mr L's part. Interpreting his fear-driven efforts to insist that he is a good father as evidence of a lack of awareness or understanding of his son's emotional needs in this context is a disputable conclusion. This is an issue that requires sensitive, patient and safe exploration in the context of a therapeutic relationship. Anything stated by Mr L in THIS context, where he fears the removal of his child against his wishes, should be understood primarily in terms of the frightening and threatening atmosphere he finds himself in, not in terms of characterological defects or deficits.

The notion that the same questions will elicit the same answers regardless of the context in which they are asked is profoundly flawed. Responses to questions raised in a safe, confidential therapeutic relationship which is designed to facilitate growth and progressive self-reform will inevitably differ from responses to identical questions raised in a potentially seriously threatening assessment process which is designed to assist a court of law to decide on whether to remove a child from a parent's care. Treating these radically different contexts as irrelevant to the responses elicited is a massive and vitiating oversight.

End of comment

1.12 With regard to his relationship with J, Mr L has been his sole carer since he was aged three and half. With regard to circumstances surrounding J being in his care, it was said that J’s mother 'handed him over' and he then brought him to the UK in 2003. It was established that Mr L was living in the Ukraine until l989 when he moved to Holland; he was in the army and studied in the Ukraine before his move to Holland. He had spent some time in Thailand, which is where he met J's mother, had a very brief relationship before leaving the country. He subsequently heard that J's mother was expecting his child; he then he returned to Thailand and a DNA test which revealed he was the father. He stated that although J had been breast fed by his mother, he believed he was being neglected as he spent a lot of time being looked after by a maternal aunt. He believed he would be in a better position to provide for J. There had been a contact arrangement through the Courts allowing him to see J on a regular basis, however it took some years of negotiation and solicitor's involvement before 'a contract of compromise' was agreed for him to have custody of the child. Mr L claims that J's mother was more interested in money and had basically said if he gave her money, she would give him the child. Mr L maintains he has always been willing for the mother to visit J, however she had never made any effort to see him, even though her sister lives in France. She has written to him over the years to enquire about J and he has sent photos to her, but there has never been direct contact.

1.13 With regard to his network of support, Mr L explained that his network of support included parents at the school, giving an example of parents at the school offering to take J to football. He does have friends in the Russian community and has friends and acquaintances that live in London, however he does not have any friends with whom he interacts on any regular basis. It was claimed the in his culture maintaining friendships and relationships via the phone is quite common. He does not have any other family in this country, but does have telephone contact with his father who lives in Israel. His mother, who had been living in the Ukraine, had died when he was twenty-six years of age. From the account given by Mr L he is certainly socially isolated and has no practical or any reliable support.

Comment 17

The interpretation that Mr L is 'certainly socially isolated' appears to disregard his comments that he does have friends in the Russian community as well as friends and acquaintances that live in London. In our electronically and digitally connected world, it is by no means uncommon for people to maintain friendships via electronic media, including telephone contact. The psychologist, who may live in a different social, economic and cultural circle than Mr L, seems to believe she has the authority to dismiss such 'tele-friendships' as mere 'claims', implicitly suggesting that they amount to nothing. This seems intensely culturally biased, and it may not represent how Mr L experiences his network of support at all.

But even if it were beyond dispute that Mr L had 'no practical or any reliable support', is the right solution the compulsory removal of his child from his care? This seems excessively punitive; supplying practical support to ease the weight on his shoulders as a sole parent would seem altogether more humane.

End of comment

1.14 With regard to the issues relating to a breakdown of trust between him and social services Mr L stated that when J was removed from his care, he certainly had been extremely upset but can understand why it was felt that he was not cooperating. However it was his belief and perception that social services wanted to take away his child at all costs, which had left him extremely anxious and worried.

Comment 18

Data published by family courts body CAFCASS in 2013 revealed that the number of care applications by local authorities in England had skyrocketed by 70% on average in the years since the Baby Peter case in 2008/9:

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/147399/care_demand_per_child_population_by_la_under_embargo_until_9th_may_2013.pdf

The data also shows that there was a 64% rise in referrals per 10,000 children, amply confirming that the increase was due to social work decisions, not population growth. Some local authorities had increased applications for care by 500%.

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2013/05/09/care-applications-rise-70-in-years-since-baby-p-case/

In the light of dramatic and, some would maintain, draconian trends like this, which some have sought to portray as increased child protection rather than increased risk aversion amongst frightened social workers and police officers eager to protect their professional security, it is not entirely without justification that Mr L feared that social workers were preparing to take his child away at all costs. That the psychologist implies that his concerns are somehow excessive or irrational is, on the face of it, a position of bias which requires some rigorous justification.

End of comment

He felt that there was a tendency for social services to say one thing but do another, which had also left him increasingly distrustful. He continues to struggle to understand why he couldn't say things to J; such as he misses him, and certainly does not see this as being in any way causing harm to his child. It was stated that if his honesty and how he felt was upsetting to J, this had never been his intention and would be receptive to any help and support to ensure that he doesn't say things or express things in a way which could be perceived as being harmful to his child.

1.15 Mr L commented that it was only recently when having discussions with the social worker Scott Cherry, that he can understand why social services were considering he would kidnap his child. He does not accept he has ever lost his temper in front of J, however does accept that if he did lose his temper or became emotional; it would not be good for him. From discussion with Mr L, again while make some partial acknowledgements, he could accept that he had been placing J under any pressure at all. At most he felt that J could be confused by his current situation. With exploration to establish any level of self-awareness, Mr L could not identify any situations where he had behaved or responded in any way, which could have left J feeling under pressure or burdened. Although he commented that hypothetically he could understand that if a person was reactive and emotional, this could upset a child, but did not consider this was his response at all.

1.16 It was also a feature throughout, that when any questions were asked or areas explored, Mr L would immediately respond by insisting that he was not mad, does not have a borderline personality disorder or paranoid, which would be effective in shifting the focus from what was being explored. He also pre-empted everything by ensuring that what he says is not going to be 'judged' as being uncaring, deliberately harmful or reckless in dealings with his child. Mr L's answers and responses to many of the questions or discussions were based on his what he wanted to, without addressing the core issue that was explored with him.

Comment 19

If Mr L sincerely believes that he has done nothing to harm his child, and certainly nothing to deliberately and knowingly cause distress to him, why should he 'confess' to things he hasn't done? The psychologist's stance throughout the previous three paragraphs strongly suggests that, far from being independent, she has already decided that the interpretation of social workers is factual truth and that Mr L. is denial. But she witnessed none of the events which led social workers to make their interpretations, which is all we have when reading through social work reports. These are not, we should remember, interpretation-free statements of indisputable fact. They are interpretations of - opinions about - ambiguous events and behaviours whose meanings are not immediately apparent, even to the actors themselves.

So convinced is the psychologist that Mr L is unreasonably biased against the social workers who have entered his life that she seems oblivious to her own evident bias in favour of them. Independent experts are not intended to rubber stamp the testimony and opinions of other professionals; they are intended to furnish the court with their own unique, impartial evaluation of the predicament, in all its intricacy.

End of comment

2.0 OBSERVATION OF CONTACT BETWEEN MR L AND J

2.1 When Mr L had entered the waiting room where J was waiting, he greeted J appropriately although J appeared somewhat reserved. J then said something to his father, which was translated by father telling me that J was angry at him and said, 'because of you, I can't go to the shops'. It was clear that J was unhappy with his father and any attempt to engage with him was met with resistance and pulling away from his father. Despite Mr L being reassured this was his time with J and the interpreter would take down notes of what was said, so he should focus on J, he wanted to explain the situation and throughout the session wanted it to be known what the issues were.

Comment 20

An astonishing assumption: how can Mr L (and J.) simply regard this as a normal, everyday meeting when an interpreter and psychologist are observing their every move and taking notes? These are sentient, experiencing people, not specimens on a microscope slide.

End of comment

2.2 In essence J was unhappy that his father set rules for him during the Looked After Child Review meeting the previous day. These rules appeared to be restriction whilst in the foster home. J was obviously informed about the changes requested by his father as it affects his day-to-day routine, which had angered him. These restrictions included not to do homework in his room as father wanted him to have supervision and support, not being allowed to go to the shops unless with the foster carer and not to watch DVDs. Father continued to speak to J about this, but he became tearful with father appearing to explain why he wanted these changes and trying to be affectionate. J just pulled away from his father, not wanting to hear what his father was saying. Father found this difficult, and kept wanting to explain the situation to me and to explain to me why he has concerns. Mr L was encouraged to remain focused on his son. Mr L began talking to J in English and in Russian, always responding in Russian. Father was trying to explain to his son that he needed to make these changes, as he could not have him walking to the shops with the other child unsupervised. J remained unhappy and resisted all efforts by his father to distract him, J seemingly told his father he needed to change everything back to how it was.

2.3 J's unhappiness was clearly about his father making decisions about him not being able to go to the shops, which would then prevent him from stopping off at his friends en route. Father kept trying to justify and explain his decisions, with the conversations appearing to be going around and around in circles. Mr L was getting anxious that they were not playing and enjoying themselves in the session, which was being observed for the assessment. Despite J being very unhappy with his father and expressing his displeasure, his father wanted him to play with some of the toys. It was obvious that Mr L found the situation very difficult, particularly as J was not prepared to engage with him in any of the activities, was not interested in his father making any physical contact with him, and expressing his unhappiness with his father. Father then agreed to talk to the social worker and told J if it was safe, he would then allow him to go and would make concessions about his homework and the DVDs. Despite this the discussion continued to go around in circles, with J insisting, 'everything needed to change' and father asking what it was he wanted to change. The situation became a complete impasse, and father found it more and more difficult to respond to what J was saying.

2.4 Mr L was extremely concerned that J was not willing to play and as he was unable to deal with the situation, I offered a suggestion, about which he was relieved and said he would welcome. I explained that being in a house with other children and with one child having different rules and regulations would make it difficult for J, therefore the best way forward would be to put his trust in the foster carer's judgment on what is safe and what rules and routines would be appropriate, taking into account his safely and educational needs were assured. Father initially accepted this, but then went on to discredit the foster carer for not being concerned about the schoolwork and certainly questioned her ability to ensure J is kept safe. He stated that J's schoolwork has declined since being in foster care, therefore she could not be relied upon. As Mr L's comments were beginning to become unhelpful, I encouraged him to consider J's feelings and how things were affecting him. I then advised he needed to re-focus on J and it was not appropriate to discuss this with me any further.

2.5 Father nevertheless continued to state that he still couldn't see why the foster carer could not go with him to the shop and did not feel it was appropriate for him to watch DVDs every day, which did not appear to be what J was in fact asking for. Mr L continually pointed out to J that he would change things, but at the same time made it clear that he did not approve and certainly did not think it was right for J. Father then remembered he had brought some pictures of insects for J; however he was not interested and remained resistant. Father complained to me that J has changed since being in foster care and was no longer interested in things he use to be. Father was unable to refrain from discussing this with me, being preoccupied and wanting to discuss his frustration that he is not able to positively influence his son.

2.6 As J was still upset with his father, he became rebellious in his approach, saying he was no longer interested in insects and went on to say he was not going to read any more books and he was not going to write any stories. Rather than interpreting J's response as holding the sentiment 'if you don’t let me do what I want to do, I wont do what you want me to do', father took this at face value and was again critical about the foster carer, for the loss of interest in his academic progress.

2.7 As J remained unhappy and an un-responsive to his father, Mr L then began telling J to behave, although J was not misbehaving in any way. He then told J in English 'know your boundaries, because this assessment is important'. J kept his head down and pulled away when his father made any physical contact. This elicited more frustration with father again telling J that he needed to cooperate as it was an important meeting and that he needed to behave and be more compliant and later told him to think about how he was behaving. It was clear that father was becoming increasingly frustrated that the observed contact was not going according to how he would have wanted, and time was coming to an end. The only thing J was interested in was for his father to remove all the restrictions, with father responding by expressing his concerns at his deterioration in schoolwork and it was his responsibility as a good father to ensure his education does not suffer. J continued his rebellious approach of saying he does not like homework or school, which certainly had the effect of shocking his father, which appeared to be his clear intention.

2.8 Father tried to be encouraging and gentle, reassuring J that 'everything would be okay'. J resisted his father and remained adamant that he wanted his father to remove all the restrictions. Father then asked J if he was still writing stories, J responded that he does not want to write any more stories. Father expressed his annoyance and for my benefit stated that J's loss of interest in all things he was enthusiastic about before, reflects that he is becoming 'vegetative' and was clearly critical in his approach. This elicited J saying, "I will not read the books and will not write".

2.9 As it was the end of the session father said goodbye, but J remained passive. Father was clearly agitated and insisted there were things he wanted to talk to me about. It was agreed he could have a few minutes, as J still needed to be seen and the time with his clinical interview had earlier overrun by forty-five minutes on account of his late arrival and therefore J had already waited a long time. The time spent with Mr L was taken up with his concern about the contact session not having demonstrated how positive their relationship was, and he wanted to go over issues he had discussed earlier relating to him being a good father and that J should be returned to his care. He also appeared to make a veiled threat about people higher up, however it was unclear to myself or to the interpreter what he was in fact referring to.

The notes taken by the Interpreter of the conversation between father and J

2.10 Following the end of the session I spent some time with the interpreter who was made notes throughout. From what was said between father and J when talking in Russian, it was the interpreter's account that J was very upset at his father's decision, and repeatedly tried to tell him why he was upset, which was particularly related to not being allowed to go to the shops as this is the time he also meets up with his friend who lives close the village store.

2.11 Father had then said to J 'you don’t need to cry now', but J was not crying at that moment, just quiet and upset. It was after this that he began to cry. J then accused his father, "you stop me doing everything in the house, such as going to the shop with Shannon (which is the other child in foster care)". Mr L responded to J, "you were walking alone with that girl, she has got Downs Syndrome". J responded by saying "what is that?", and father responded, "well, she has Downs Syndrome", to which J responded, "so what, is it bad?" (It needs to be noted that Shannon does not in fact have Downs Syndrome).

2.12 J then told his father "you stop me from doing everything, I now have to be downstairs and I can't watch TV". The interpreter then stated that listening to father and J talking, J's Russian is not particularly good, but it also appeared that father and J were speaking to each other in different languages as father was not listening or responding to what J was saying, giving the impression of father not hearing what he was saying. J explained to his father that it was safe to walk to the shops as it was in a village, only three minutes away and by walking to the shop he can see his friend en route. Father did not react to this information.

2.13 J then told his father that he is now not allowed to watch any TV, father stated "you can watch it twice", and J said he didn't want to watch at specific times, he just wanted to watch at times when the others were watching. Father responded to J by saying, "there is an important person here today, so you must behave".

2.14 J then said he wanted his father to change everything on the list, and if he doesn't change everything, nothing will change. Father responded by saying, "I don't like this any more",

2.15 It was confirmed by the interpreter that the discussion was going around in circles, father neither responding nor replying to what J was saying, giving the impression they were not connecting to what each other was saying.

2.16 J then said to his father, "I am not going to say it again and again, I said it already, you need to change everything".

2.17 Father did not respond, and then J said in a defined tone, "I am not going to write the letter", (which appeared to be a letter to his grandfather). Father then said, "it is dangerous to walk to the shop", to which J replied, "its only three minutes to the shop and it is not dangerous". J then said to his father, "I am not going to write any more stories again".

2.18 At this stage father said he would speak to the social worker, however J responded, "don’t do that it will make everything worse". The conversation then went on to father talking about his work going downhill, to which J responded, "I only made one spelling mistake". He told his father that he likes to do his homework in his bedroom and doesn't want to do it downstairs, and again told his father, "I am not going to write stories".

2.19 Father then became dismissive saying, "stop it", however J wasn't doing anything to stop, other than being unhappy.

2.20 J then told his father, "I would like to see my friend", and volunteered to his father that he had got £5 for his birthday from the adult shop keeper. There was no response from father at all.

2.21 Father had instead got the pictures of the insects to show J and the interpreter stated that father and J were once again saying things, which again it appeared they were not hearing each other, father said they were large and J responded, "they are magnified". Father then again said they were large to which J responded, "they are magnified", father again said "no, they are large". J told his father that he was no longer interested in insects to which father responded, "oh, you are not allowed to have them in the foster home", to which J said, "no, I don’t want them".

2.22 Father then made the comments about there being a decline and deterioration in his work. Father then said to J "it’s not good, your behaviour is not good, there is a lady here, J behave yourself, be normal, this is not good, just stop it", but again J was not doing anything that needed to be stopped.

2.23 Father tried to entice J to talk by saying, "I am not going to see you for a long while, but everything will be alright". J responded, "Nothing is going to be alright". Then they spoke about his visit to the New Forest, father said, "when are you going", J told him he was going tomorrow and they would back after a week.

2.24 Father then said to J, "you have just be grumbling all the time, your behaviour doesn't do anything good for me". J then said, "I am going to school, I am doing my homework and I do read all the silly books, it is serious I am not going to read those books any more". Father just ignored what was said and said "stop it".

2.25 Father then asked him about a certain toy that he was given, and J replied "I only play with it once a month and it is boring". Father ignored this, and then J said, "you don't understand how I feel, you just make it worse, you don't understand anything". Father responded, "I do understand", but father then continued by saying, "just stop it", and then he tried to be affectionate to J, J withdrew and didn't want his father to touch him.

Comment 21

The validity of this observation is seriously in doubt (I am using validity to mean that the observation captures something enduringly real about the quality of the relationship between Mr L and J). What is excluded from the account of the observation is the effect on the participants of the presence of the observers. As an adult with more advanced cognitive capabilities, Mr L can see that anything short of near-perfection is liable to be interpreted by these observers as evidence of his parental incompetence. It could for example be argued that he is somewhat awkward and a little maladroit in his interactions with J, but then this is by no means an ordinary situation. He is, understandably, exceptionally anxious about what the observers will make of the interactions they are watching, and as an adult more capable than J to sense that this part of the assessment could sever their relationship. Profound anxiety isn't conducive to relaxed and spontaneous parenting. No concession appears to be made by the psychologist in this respect.

Ordinary, loving parents do on occasions come into conflict with their growing children over the formulation and implementation of boundaries. While Mr L is enjoined to support the foster carer in allowing J to enjoy the same house rules as the other children, there is little appreciation of how upsetting it can be for a parent to see beliefs and standards he values being ignored and undermined by different values.

This is not to imply that he is right and the foster parent wrong, or vice versa. But it is to suggest that foster carers and social workers who fail to negotiate with biological parents about 'house rules' will inevitably run into avoidable conflict with the latter. If Mr L is expected to respect the foster carer, fairness demands that the foster carer should also respect him, and efforts made to agree upon house rules acceptable to both. There is no evidence in this report that such a process was ever conducted.

J's resistive, sullen attitude to his father appears to be being judged as evidence of Mr L's unempathic, unaware insensitivity to his child's emotional states. Being aware of a child's emotional state, of course, does not necessarily involve indulging that state. Sometimes important boundaries should be lovingly but firmly upheld, as most experienced parents will testify, and it is crucial for children to feel they can be grumpy and unpleasant to a parent in such situations, confident that the parent's resilience and love will not be damaged by their truculent opposition.

Mr L, not unreasonably, knows that he is being both closely observed and judged during this part of the assessment, and his responses under such stressful conditions ought not to be taken as reliable evidence of underlying parental incompetence.

End of comment

3.0 INTERVIEW WITH THE FOSTER CARER OF J

3.1 The foster carer made herself available for a discussion and interview. She confirmed that when J came into her care at the end of July, three months ago, he had settled in very quickly. There were no concerns and he has not presented with any emotional or behavioural disturbances. He has however presented as an extremely private child and has not spoken about his past life, his father or anything about his previous life experiences. He never makes reference to his father and it was considered that this may well be due to father having made some comments that he should not speak about him to other people.

Comment 22

"It was considered" By whom? And why this blatantly parent-blaming, 'anti-Mr L' interpretation? J's refraining from discussing his relationship with his father with strangers could, for example, equally well be interpreted as evidence of his deep and abiding loyalty to his father, and his respect for their private lives together.

End of comment

3.2 The foster carer considered the placement was generally fine and there are times when J will come out of himself, on those occasions he would be active and become involved with the other children. He would then present as happy, spontaneous and more childlike, however he will then revert to being a more reserved, serious and quiet. Over the past three months he has increasingly become more outgoing and spontaneous, which has been lovely to observe. He has always been very polite, however when he first came to the placement he was not used to saying 'please' and 'thank you', although this was not due to any resistance, rather not being used to saying this. He does however present as a child who seeks instant gratification, doesn't like to wait for things, but not to an extent that it interferes with his ability to relate and respond to the foster family.

3.3 J was described as a lovely boy, he has no difficulty with regard to sleeping patterns, eats most things, although is resistant to eating breakfast. J is always happy to go to school, and will do his homework without any difficulty.

Comment 23

Evidence, one might note, of a child who has been brought up well.

End of comment

The foster carer does not have that much contact with school as he catches a bus to and from school, but there have been no concerns noted. Prior to the parents evening she had contact with the school, when it was said there were no concerns or difficulties, however when father attended the parents consultation he was told that there were some problems with spelling.

3.4 The foster carer stated that J was particularly upset when he was told he now needs to do his homework downstairs, as he prefers working on his own in his room and likes that independence. He is always happy for the foster carer’s teenage daughter Annabelle to help him with his homework, but he is reluctant to have anybody else help him or to be involved. He would ask Annabelle to help him with his maths. He generally gets on with his homework and is self-motivated.

3.5 With regard to expectations by Mr L, it was stated that J has been given Russian books to read but he has been very reluctant to read these. It is her understanding that he told his father that the foster carers have taken these from him, however she insisted these have always been in his room, but now they are in his school bag so that his father could assist him with reading of Russian during the contact sessions. The foster carers are aware that J plays the piano, but he refuses to play the piano in the foster home, as it is electronic. Despite much encouragement, he has been reluctant to play the piano for the foster family, in which from all accounts he is extremely proficient.

3.6 The foster carer stated that following the most recent Looked After Child Review, father had made it clear he does not want J to watch the TV, and whilst the foster carer fully appreciates and will support father's sentiments in wanting him to focus on his school work, she felt this may cause some difficulty as the other children in the home do have the opportunity to watch TV. The foster carer was positive about father's commitment to his son and understands he wants him to achieve at school, but feels for J’s benefit, there needed to be a balance between him needing to work really hard with his school work and having some time to relax and be a child.

Comment 24

Please refer to Comment 21 above. The foster parent's views about achieving a balance between school achievement and child-like relaxation are not unreasonable. But they have to be negotiated with the biological parent, with great tact and sensitivity, not simply presumed to be correct without that parent's consent and support.

End of comment

3.7 There is an expectation of J to read Russian books and the classic books that his father had sent him as well as write stories. J has been relucant to do this, but he is more than willing to do his homework. He is only reluctant to do the extra pieces of work set by his father; he tends to be stubborn and totally resistant in the face of this extra work.

3.8 With regard to the foster carer’s relationship with J, it was stated they get on really well with him. He is a child who is not affectionate and does not like being touched in any way, when one tries to be affectionate towards him he would literally go stiff. He had initially been quite reluctant to engage with the baby in placement, however over time he has become more engaged and now is far more affectionate towards the baby. There is a positive relationship between the foster father and J, however at the most recent LAC Review it was fed back that J had told his father that the foster father would come up to his room every thirty minutes. The foster carer assured that the foster father certainly does not go up every thirty minutes, but he would go up from time to time to ensure that J is fine if he is in his room on his own. J gets on reasonably well with his foster sibling Shannon, although she tends to irritate him. It was confirmed that Shannon does not have Downs Syndrome at all, however she does have some learning difficulties, but attends mainstream secondary school.

3.9 With regard to the children going to the shop on their own, the foster carer explained that they live in a small village, with only about 40 houses. Opposite their house is a green with a narrow road that goes towards the newsagent with is a small intersection with traffic lights, which needs to be crossed before the newsagent. Furthermore her mother-in-law lives close to the newsagent and therefore is always at hand for when the children go there on a Saturday morning to spend some of their pocket money. They go as a group and she is always aware when they leave and when they come back, thus considers it a positive experience for the children, as they learn some independent but are safe at all times.

3.10 The foster carer is aware that Mr L has said that J cries himself to sleep, however she has never been aware of this and she certainly looks in to check on him in the evenings after he has gone to bed. She has never been aware of him being tearful or unhappy at night time, but would not dispute if J has told his father he cries when he is in bed at night. He does cry when he hurts himself and he was certainly distressed and cried when he was told he was not allowed to go the shops.

Comment 25

Again, the foster carer's views do not appear unreasonable. J is understandably upset that a recently-granted new freedom he had not been used to previously had been withdrawn. But this may have been averted if due diligence had been given to negotiating ground rules with Mr L, a task that the social worker perhaps should have undertaken at the very earliest opportunity. This kind of negotiation should more properly be seen as an ongoing process, not a single, one-off event, keeping Mr L 'in the loop' at all times. He is likely to have been appreciably less mistrustful and troubled as a result.

End of comment

During the initial Look After Review he had cried and it was her understanding that the situation had been upsetting and overwhelming for him. When this was further explored, it was confirmed that the foster carer had been present and she had not considered any one had upset him; rather it had been a difficult situation for him. He refuses to attend any further review meetings.

3.11 With regard to the most recent LAC review, the list of expectations set out by Mr L included not wanting the foster father to keep going to J's room, J not to go to the shops, he had taken issue with J helping the twelve year old child on the computer (which father viewed as J needing to supervise this child), J not being allowed to watch TV as it was said this had been the reason that he had not achieved highly with a spelling test. Father also took issue with the fact that the foster carer had told J he would pass the 11-plus exam. The foster carer was in fact trying to reassure J, who was feeling extremely pressurized, that he was a clever boy and he had a whole year to prepare for the 11-plus exam, therefore should not worry. Father also wants J to play the piano as well as attend synagogue, the foster carer has no issue with this, however J refuses to play an electronic piano and thus an alternate plan is being investigated. She would be willing to ensure he attends a synagogue.

Comment 26

Are not Mr. L's responses an iatrogenic effect of being excluded from everyday decision-making about his son? Mistrust, and a tendency to jump to worst-case scenarios, multiply in conditions of separation, enforced powerlessness and exclusion. They do not represent reliable evidence of cognitive rigidity and characterological defect in these circumstances.

End of comment

3.12 The foster carer appreciates father's concerns, as it is also apparent to her that J has begun to change since being in foster care. These changes were however considered to be positive as he is learning how to relate amongst a busy family home and is certainly coming out of his shell, relaxed and far more spontaneous than when first placed with her. She also appreciates that school work is important and is encouraging him to ensure that his homework is completed to a good standard and she would support him in every possible way to improve his education and to comply with father's expectations.

4.0 ASSESSMENT OF J C

4.1 J was able to separate from his foster carer to join me for a one to one session. He understood that he was in foster care with Jo and Danny and other members of the foster family, including foster sister Shannon, a fourteen-month-old baby as well as the foster carer’s daughter Annabelle. He said it was fine being in foster care and particularly enjoyed playing with his friends. He gets on very well with both foster carers, although thought he got on better with Jo, but was comfortable with both. With regard to the foster sister Shannon, it was said she wasn't too bad, but she tends to be bossy. When asked if there was anything about the foster placement that he didn't like or was unhappy about, J said it was all fine and he like it there and there was nothing about the foster placement that he did not like.

4.2 I explored with J why he thought he was in foster care, rather than living with his father. He responded, "because dad left me alone", and felt people worried he might do it again. When asked if there were any other problems in the house besides him being left alone, J said the house would get messy, commenting sometimes quite messy, although not always. When asked if he thought his father struggled to cope and look after him, J responded by saying it was only the house work, although told me there were different people who used to come and help in the house and to look after him. It was his perception it was about half the time there was somebody there and for the rest of the time it was just his father and himself.

4.3 With regard to his father's job, J was not sure what his father does, but knows he is a pianist. J also plays the piano and was pleased to say that he has been playing the piano since he was aged three. When asked about father's friends, or having a partner, he told me his father does not have a partner or girlfriend but he does receive messages off the Internet from 'China Love'. He has never met anybody from there, although he has seen pictures of women from ‘China Love’ (an international online dating site for meeting Asian women).

4.4 When asked about his mother, J said he has been told his mother was in a different country. He has no recall of her and has not seen her since he was three years old. He has never seen any photos and has no idea what she looks like. He explained that he had come to England when he was three years old and therefore has never met any of his other family. When asked if he had any desire to do so, he thought it would be nice to know what his mother looked like, but hasn't given this much thought. When asked about friends and other family members, he told me that he has some school friends, who come to the house, but his father does not have any friends who come to visit, but he does speak to people on his phone. It was established that he has no recall of his father ever bringing friends home to visit their house. With regard to family, he told me that he has a grandfather in Israel who had visited a few months ago, but he had only seen him about three times in his life, but when his grandfather does stay he stays for a few weeks at a time.

4.5 With regard to his relationship with his father, J said he got on well with his father and did not view that there were any problems in his relationship. However when this was further discussed he does feel there is some pressure because of what his father always wants him to do, but didn’t see this as too much of a problem. With regard to his schooling, J attends Bryony Junior School and was hoping to go to Tonbridge Grammar School, but if he couldn't go there, he will go to a school in Rainham. He is currently in Year 5 and is due to take his 11 plus exam when he begins Year 6. He enjoys school, is friends with everyone in his year group, explaining there were only fifteen children in his group.

4.6 When asked about the occasions when he had been left alone, he said he had been worried about being on his own, but he would ring his father and his father would ring him. He understands why people are worried about him being left alone. With regard to the fire setting, J explained that he and a friend were playing together and his friend wanted to light a fire. Because it was windy they went inside the shed. It was clear from his account that the friend had set the fire and J was keen for this to be known. Fortunately they were both outside the shed when they realised the shed was on fire, and admitted he had been very scared. His friend, who was a year older, was also extremely worried. J has not seen this friend since the incident, as after this he was placed in foster care.

4.7 When I explored with J his understanding whether he felt he was in foster care because his father had left him, or because of the fire, he said he was not really sure. With discussion there were indications that J is not fully blaming himself for being in care, but admitting that he feels "a bit to blame, but not really".

4.8 I discussed with J the recent change of the rules, which he had discussed with his father during the contact session. He explained that his father does not want him to watch films more than once or twice a week, wants him to do all his homework downstairs, and he is not allowed to go to the shop. He understands his father has made these changes because he wants him to be good at school, however J explained he is good at maths and it had only been on one occasion that he had got five out of ten for spelling, other than that he has done really well. When asked if he thought his schoolwork had gone down, J accepts his spelling is not as good, but he had been told that his maths, social studies and science were all good and his handwriting was very good. Overall J felt that he was doing fine at school, but understands his father wanted him to do better.

4.9 With regard to expectations for him to do the extra reading and writing stories, J stated that he does sometimes feel there is pressure from his father, explaining that his father wanted him to be famous and successful when he grows up. It was said that his father does get stressed when he makes a mistake on the piano or he gets bad marks at school, but did not consider his father was being negative towards him. He went on to say that he likes writing stories, but does not like to read the Russian books as his main language is English and he prefers to read in English. J said his father wanted him to be a successful writer or pianist when he is grown up, however with further exploration, it was said he would prefer to go into the Air Force and would like to be a pilot.

4.10 In order to assess underlying needs and emotional focus he was asked to name three wishes. His first wish was to have all the different consoles, in order to play TV and computer games. His second wish was to have a scooter bike where the handlebars spin around and his third wish was to have a TV that he can use when he plays on the consoles. When asked if he had a magic want that could change anything about his life, he would not want to change anything, however with regard to his father he would use the wand to make his father not so stressed or angry. However when this was further explored he told me this was not a problem for him as his father usually calms down quite quickly.

4.11 When asked if he had any wishes about his mother, J said it would be nice to meet her and he was aware that he had two brothers who lived in Thailand. He went on to say that he has dreams about being in Thailand, but is now unsure what are his dreams and what are the real memories of the time he was living in Thailand, feeling his memories and dreams have become mixed up. He usually dreams about how it would be and he would eventually like to visit Thailand, but again does not give it much thought.

Psychometric assessment of J

4.12 In order to assess his current emotional experiences, the Beck Youth Inventory for Social and Emotional Impairment (BYI), was carried out. This is a self report questionnaire, tapping into thoughts, feelings or behaviours associated with emotional and social impairment in young children. J needed to respond to each of the items indicating how frequently this statement is true for him. From the Beck Self Concept Inventory for Youth (BSCI–Y), which includes self perception, confidence, potency and positive self worth, J scored in the normal to low range, which reflects tendency towards negative self perception, and tendency towards low sense of competency. The items he endorsed highlighted a generalised lower sense of self, but not to a level of clinical concern.

Comment 27

I will repeat Comment 2 from page 7 here, as it applies to directly to the following paragraphs detailing these CBT-developed inventories:

These inventories, all of which have been devised within the cognitive behavioural therapies, are rather less reliable and valid than enthusiasts for these therapies claim. Those subject to them are invited to attach a numerical value (in this case, a 4-point scale ranging from 0-3) to their subjective experiences of anger, self-worth, physiological arousal, etc.

A number seems scientific but in these psychometric instruments, it is anything but, as numerous non-CBT psychotherapists are now demonstrating in critical reviews of published CBT studies. It is doubtful whether the rating 2, for example, will accurately designate the same quantity of, say, anger in different people, even though each uses the same number, a hidden variation that completely vitiates the apparent distinctions these instruments make between 'the normal range' and psychopathological variants. These scores ignore the unique, individual meanings and experiences of the subject, as well as the affective quality of the relationship between the subject and assessing psychologist.

In short, the results of psychometric inventories frequently obscure more than they seem to reveal and should be approached with caution, even scepticism. They are intended to overcome subjective biases in the assessing psychologist but they do not and cannot do this: that subjectivity is always present, including in the interpretations the assessing psychologist makes of the inventory results.

End of comment

4.13 With regard to anxiety experiences, the Beck Anxiety Inventory for Youth (BAI-Y), was carried out. The items in this inventory reflect a child's fears, worries and physiological symptoms associated with anxiety. There are indications that J experiences anxious thoughts and emotions, with items the endorsed reflecting generalised anxious feelings at a low level. Whilst he would not meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety state, there are features suggestive of an underlying and internalised anxiety, which would affect him to a mild degree. Items endorsed were associated with

Being fearful that he will make mistakes
Getting nervous
Afraid he might get hurt
Worrying about getting bad grades
Worrying about his future
His hands shaking
Worrying that he may go crazy
Worried that people will get mad with him and
Worried that he might lose control

Comment 28

Without exploring in depth the origin and persistence of these worries and the meaning they hold for this particular child, this checklist, tick-box approach is meaningless. Many completely normal children experience a multitude of anxieties (the paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote of 'the common anxiousness of childhood').

Of signal importance is the fact that these ratings were elicited in the context of a relatively brief assessment (each inventory takes about 5-10 minutes to administer), not in the course of an ongoing therapeutic relationship. The latter is far better able to detect and explore persistent and enduring anxieties, and offers the subject/patient a background of safety, confidentiality, unobtrusive therapist presence and beneficence, none of which are available in a brief assessment such as this.

These inventories, by their very nature, are not based on the spontaneous and specific expressions of the child/youth; rather, they require the child to fit himself in to pre-formulated categories as listed in the inventory, which may or may not reflect emotions and states specifically experienced by the particular child. They create imaginary unities and homogeneities, assuming that words like 'anxiety', 'anger' etc., mean the same thing for each individual, when of course they simply don't.

These results should be interpreted with great caution and should not be considered valid (in the sense of referring to some real and enduring psychological condition or structure).

End of comment

4.14 With regard to anger related experiences, the Beck Anger Inventory for Youth (BANI-Y) was carried out. J was assessed to experience mild experiences mild angry thoughts and feelings and some level of anger arousal. The items endorsed suggest mild anger, which would impact on his day-to-day functioning. Items endorsed which highlight his internal experiences were associated with,

Sometimes people make me mad
I sometimes think people bother me
I sometimes get mad at other people
When I get mad I stay mad
When I get mad I have trouble getting over it
I feel people try and put me down
I get angry
When I get mad I feel mad inside my body
I hate people and
I get mad

4.15 As anger is a vehicle for acting out behaviour, the total absence of acting out behaviour from J, suggests he tends to internalize and suppress anger feelings. This would contribute to a lowering of mood and would certainly be related to his negative sense of self.

Comment 29

The psychologist appears to have forgotten that she has just observed some expressions of anger during J's contact session with his father. J. appears able to express anger and disgruntlement with his father easily, suggesting in fact that he feels safe to do so. Acting out typically occurs when the open expression of certain feelings is barred or prevented, so that they become manifest in behavioural form. The psychologist is making an inference based on dubious and disputable evidence here, and appears to be relying on theory for her formulation rather than on observed evidence.

End of comment

4.16 The sub test assessing mood levels, the Beck Depression Inventory for Youth (BDI-Y), does not reveal any mood related disturbance. While J endorsed items associated with having trouble doing things, thinks he does things badly and at times feeling lonely, these experiences would not contribute to a depressed mood.

4.17 In order to assess family interaction and relationships, the Family Relations Assessment Technique for Children (FRTC), was carried out. With regard to expressing positive feelings these were primarily defended against, with some responses allocated to his father. Defending positive feelings would suggest some level of psychological inhibition and underlying negativity in relations to his father. It also highlights a concerning level of social and emotional isolation, as there is no-one in his world with whom he shares positive associations. With regard to expressing negative feelings these defended against to a mild degree, however the only person who he consider an object or focus of his negative regard is his foster sibling Shannon, suggesting some level of sibling rivalry and feels he needs to compete with her to have his needs met. This would need to be understood against a backdrop of never having any experience of having to share parental attention or support and never having to share his space with any sibling figure.

Comment 30

Given that the psychometric instrument used by the psychologist here takes a matter of minutes to administer, the degree of certainty she expresses in her interpretation of the test results is unfounded. This inventory cannot possibly elicit deep-seated and enduring psychological tendencies and structures; it reflects the particular state of mind the subject happened to be in at the time of the assessment, a state of mind partly conditioned by the assessment process itself. J., like his father, one needs to repeat, is not a specimen to be probed but a sentient and intelligent human being.

End of comment

4.18 With regard to receiving positive feelings, these were primarily associated with his father and to a lesser extent the foster carer. He clearly associates his father with a sense of acceptance and father providing him with positive regard, caring and nurturing support. He also allocated a high number of responses in relation to the foster carer's daughter Annabelle, who he perceives as unconditionally accepting, positive supportive and accepting of him. With regard to receiving negative feelings these were primarily defended against although he does tend to associate discipline as a lack of acceptance towards him although not to a significant or meaningful extent.

4.19 With regard to dependency needs and feelings, it was noted that J looks towards his father for some emotional, nurturing and practical needs. He generally presents with a high level of emotional and practical self-reliance, but also looks towards the foster carer to provide support, suggesting that he has transferred emotional focus toward this relationship.

4.20 From assessment it is clear that J's primary emotional focus is towards his father, viewing his father as an object and source of positive regard, viewing his father as unconditionally accepting of him and associates his father with meeting some of his emotional and practical needs. This is a positive feature and certainly would be expected as J has been in the primary and sole care of his father throughout his life. J also has positive association with the foster carers and the foster carer's daughter Annabelle.

3. MY OPINION

OPINION AND DISCUSSION OF ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED

1. Please provide an individual psychological profile of J C and Mr E L.

1.1 From the assessment, clinical interview, and review of documentation of Mr E L, there are no features of psychological or personality disorder. There are however features of paranoid ideation and traits which are related to his fundamental lack of basic trust and suspiciousness.

Comment 31

It's tempting to make reference to the old bumper sticker, which reads 'Just because you're feeling paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you'. What the psychologist refers to as 'paranoid ideation and traits', 'fundamental lack of basic trust and suspiciousness' should more properly be seen as the entirely understandable emotional responses of a father who finds himself in a nightmarish scenario. The psychologist is basing her opinion on her assessment while ignoring the fact that the entire process is an inherently anxiety-provoking and fear-laden experience for any loving parent.

One might suggest, in fact, that there would be something wrong with Mr L if he did not feel suspicious, fearful and mistrustful of powerful State agents who have removed his child from his care and may be preparing to do so permanently. The characteristics the psychologist is attributing to enduring psychopathology, in other words, are far more likely to be iatrogenic effects of an intrusive and inherently threatening assessment process that Mr L. knows may culminate in the forced removal of his deeply loved son.

End of comment

Mr L also presents with strong egocentric thought processes where he views the world in how things relate to him with a concerning lack of empathy. His lack of empathy is evident in his tendency to lose sight of the needs and emotional wellbeing of his son. He has difficulty separating the needs and feelings of his child from his needs, thus views J as an extension of himself rather than a person in his own right with his own experiences and needs.

Comment 32

As noted in earlier comments, the psychologist is mistaking the iatrogenic effects of her interrogative and relentless assessment procedure for inherent personality traits in Mr L. She appears throughout to be oblivious to the effects of such an atmosphere of threat on Mr L's emotional and psychological functioning. To suppose that it's possible to wrap an entire human being up in a few glib statements about paranoia, ego-centricity and lack of empathy while remaining obstinately blind to immensely anxiety-provoking context in which these apparent qualities were being observed (and, I might add, fomented) is misguided and, frankly, reckless.

End of comment

1.2 Due to his strong egocentric approach, Mr L has difficulty acknowledging concerns, which are opposed to his views and thoughts. He has a strong tendency to present his views, beliefs and opinions as fact. Additionally there is rigidity and determination of his views and beliefs, which could be understood in light of his egocentric thought patterns and tendency to disregard others and/or limited capacity to appreciate others’ perspectives. His condescending approach to professionals and persons in authority highlights underlying narcissistic traits, which has egocentric features at its core. Additionally his difficulty considering the views of others is related to lack of empathy as well as rigid, inflexible and egocentric thought processes. Such rigidity of thought would impact on his interpersonal and emotional functioning, and would imply he could react in inappropriate ways if he feels his sense of self has been undermined.

Comment 33

The assessment that this psychologist has carried out, which has taken at most a few hours of observation and interviewing, is simply not sufficient to justify such pejorative inferences. Had these characteristics emerged in the context of a long-term psychotherapeutic relationship, one could have more confidence about the validity of these formulations. But they did not emerge is such a context; they were elicited instead in the course of a probing and intrusive short assessment, in which there was no empathic relationship to speak of between psychologist and subject/interviewee.

The assessment appears to be based on the fallacy that human minds are data repositories that anyone can mine at whim, irrespective of context, and produce the same results. We cannot know from this assessment how Mr L might have presented in the context of a containing and empathic therapeutic relationship in which his anxieties were being gently explored and soothed. His anxieties and mistrustfulness, instead, were not only being magnified, they were also highly likely to have been actively created by the assessment process itself.

This opinion should therefore at least be treated with considerable scepticism and perhaps totally rejected.

End of comment

1.3 With regard to his interpersonal and object relationships, Mr L was assessed to be socially isolated and has limited face-to-face interpersonal relationship.

Comment 34

The psychologist consistently resorts to the third person when she actually means 'I assessed him as' In other words, she effaces the ineluctable fact that she interpreted his speech and behaviours in a specific way, one which, as argued in preceding comments, is certainly open to contestation.

End of comment

This would suggest he has difficulty establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships and from his and J’s accounts, he has a very isolated lifestyle with his son.

Comment 35

This flagrantly disregards evidence cited earlier that Mr L has friends in the Russian community and that he frequently has people in his home to help him.

End of comment

His rigid thought processes would impact on relationships, especially as there appears to be a tendency for conflict and anger outbursts when faced with stress, conflict and pressure in interpersonal situations. Certainly his responses in relation to authority figures and professionals, reflects emotional dys-regulation and reactivity when under pressure. His interpersonal relationships also appear to be characterised by a fundamental and significant lack of trust and fear of loss of autonomy.

Comment 36

Yet again, the psychologist wholly disregards the possibility - the probability, to be more precise - that many of the characteristics she uses pathologising terms to describe (rigid thought processes, emotional dysregulation and reactivity) are iatrogenic effects of the inherently and massively anxiety-provoking circumstances Mr L now finds himself in. She is simply not in a position to know whether the anxiety-saturated responses she attributes to psychopathology are present outside of the context of an intrinsically anxiety-provoking assessment, because (of course) she has not seen Mr L. outside of this context.

End of comment

1.4 With regard to his reality sense, there were no indications that Mr L experiences any loss of reality or presents with any distorted reality in any way. He certainly does not present with any psychotic features or avoidance of reality. 1.5 It was assessed that Mr L presents with some level of maladaptive defence structures in the form of minimizing concerns, avoidance and denial. Furthermore his inflexibility of thought could also serve as a means of opting out of discussions of engagement. From clinical interview and review of documentation, there are features of Mr L being highly defensive with an inability to acknowledge emotional experiences and he has very little insight into his emotional responses and how this impacts upon others.

Comment 37

The use of third person again, presumably to imply some spurious objectivity, does not remove the fact that the psychologist herself made these inferences. Again, everything she describes in this paragraph could be equally, if not more, plausibly described as iatrogenic effects of a fear-inducing and intrusive assessment conducted by a professional who neither Mr L nor his son had any meaningful relationship of trust with. As most psychotherapists operating outside the CBT paradigm will testify, trust has to be built; it can't simple be presumed.

End of comment

1.6 Mr L's cognitive functioning would be clinically assessed to be at least within the average, if not in the above or higher intellectual ability range. His verbal and non-verbal skills are certainly intact and he would certainly have the intellectual ability to deal with demands associated with organisation childcare needs on a day-to-day basis. The fact that the had left J alone on two occasions is more closely related to inflexibility of thought and his egocentric thought processes, rather than a failure to learn or inability to manage or plan a situation.

1.7 With regard to the psychological profile of J, it is my assessment that J presents as a reserved, quiet and somewhat emotionally isolated child who tends to lack spontaneity. This appears to be associated with internalized anxiety although not at a level which would suggest an anxiety state. From psychometric assessment there are indications of mild social and emotional impairment relating to internalized anxiety and anger arousal, which he tends to suppress. There are some features of J experiencing lowering of mood, tearfulness and underlying anger feelings, but would not meet the diagnostic criteria for a mood disturbance. There are no indications that J is presenting with adjustment disorder and there is no psychological difficulty in the clinical range.

Comment 38

To avoid repetition, please refer to Comments 27 (pp. 61-62), 28 (pp. 63-64), 29 (p. 65) and 30 (p. 66)

End of comment

1.8 From assessment of J it is clear that he is intellectually able and his school performance would suggest at least an average if not an above average intellectual ability. J presents as a child who has a high level of emotional self-reliance, suggestive of avoidant attachment styles, and some level of psychological inhibition, although not in an extreme range. This however suggests some degree of unmet needs, which has led to a high level of emotional self-reliance at an early age. There are features of insecure attachment with his father, however J does have a sense of security and confidence within this relationship, being able to express his feelings towards his father without fear of repercussion.

2. Please comment on the quality of relationship and level of attachment between the J and Mr L.

2.1 It is my assessment that Mr L with J reflects lack of empathy, which together with an inflexibility of thought would suggest he is not open to understand J's internal life experiences and to respond with sensitive parenting. There is no doubt that Mr L does love and care for his child and is certainly focussed on wanting to secure his best interests. He is committed to J and has a strong desire for him to achieve and meet his full potential. There are however some indications that his own needs govern his aspirations for his son and in this way he could lose sight of J's individual needs or consider J being an individual in his own right. The fact that he had sought to place J in the position of being excluded in activities within the foster home is a reflection of viewing his son as an extension of himself and giving no consideration as to the impact his actions and decisions would have on J. Additionally the contact between J and his father highlighted that Mr L is not in tune with J’s internal world and does not hear or understand what J attempts to communicate to his father, particularly when his needs are in conflict with J’s needs and feelings.

Comment 39

As noted in earlier comments, there are other ways of construing Mr L's interventions which are completely overlooked in this assessment. Little or no effort was made to help the foster carer and Mr. L agree on basic ground rules for J; Mr L was in the midst of a traumatic separation from his son, imposed by State agents invested with enormous statutory powers, over which he had no control; he was being restricted in his contact with J.; he was deeply fearful that he might lose his son permanently to the care system. I will not repeat the arguments made earlier in detail here. But to make authoritative statements about alleged lack of insight into his son's internal world, lack of empathy, failure to see J. as an individual in his own right, etc. on the basis of such a brief and flawed assessment procedure (flawed principally by its total failure to take account of the effects on Mr L of the immensely anxiety-provoking context in which it was undertaken) is unjustifiable.

End of comment

2.2 From observation of contact and psychometric assessment of J, there are features of positive parenting experiences, a close bond, loyalty and positive attachment with his father, albeit some features of insecure and avoidant attachment responses. J associates his father as a primary source and object of positive regard and certainly has experienced his father as the person to whom he looks for his needs to be met, as one would expect as he has been his sole and primary carer. It is however of concern that he has created a singular relationship with J, evident by the total social isolation. Whilst there are some areas of limitations within this relationship, there is sufficient security and emotional focus for J to experience a sense of belonging and attachment with his father.

3. Please comment on the psychological impact, if any, on J and on his relationship with his father as a result of:-

(a) The removal into foster care.
(b) The fact that contact is supervised and
(c) The fact that contact is limited to two hours per week.

3.1 J has positive association with the foster placement and has begun to transfer his emotional focus towards the foster carer. He denies any concern or difficulty within the placement and clearly states there is nothing about the placement he does not like. The foster carer reports that with time J is developing social confidence and learning to become spontaneous, rather than remaining inhibited, quiet and exceedingly private and independent. He is certainly being enriched by the large family environment, learning to share with sibling figures and has enjoyed making new friends. He is developing a positive sibling relationship with the foster carer's teenage daughter, from whom he is seeking support and advice, which is a further positive feature of becoming less inhibited. Thus although J has undoubtedly found the process of being moved into foster care and exposed to a number of professionals overwhelming, there are no features of him having being traumatized and no concerns relating to adjustment difficulties.

Comment 40

It is at least possible that there were no features of J having been traumatised by being moved into foster care because the brief psychometric assessments and observation were incapable of detecting these feeling states. A longer term therapeutic (or attachment) relationship is perhaps the only context in which such issues may emerge. The fact that J. has adapted to the transition as well as he has done suggests that he is a resourceful and not easily destabilised child, attributes which amongst other things reflect good parenting experiences.

End of comment

He is however finding the expectations and distress of his father as a pressure, but he is clearly loyal and suppresses his feelings in this regard. He was however able to express his upset and anger towards his father for setting restrictions for him in the foster placement.

3.2 It is clearly evident that contact being supervised in difficult for Mr L, who finds the whole process stressful and challenges his capacity to contain his emotional balance. He is constantly preoccupied with the professionals in his surroundings and his lack of trust, suspiciousness and defended approach led to him experiencing increased distress. Whilst he would be more comfortable in an unsupervised setting, there are no indications that J is negatively affected by professionals during the contact sessions, other than needing to have to endure his fathers criticism of his foster carer and to comments relating to how he has 'vegetated', how poor his school performance is and how it is disappointing that he is changing. It is my strong recommendation that until Mr L gains insight into the negative impact of his responses, comments and approach in the presence of his son; he could not be relied upon to moderate what and how he expresses things to his son.

Comment 41

An opinion based on observations of Mr L and J in what is for them a non-naturalistic and unusual setting, fraught with anxiety for Mr L, who as an adult is better able to see the potentially calamitous consequences than a 10-year-old child for their relationship

End of comment

3.3 As J is attending school with a high level of homework, twice weekly contact is appropriate. The duration of contact could be increased if the time spent is used on completing his homework. Twice weekly contact is more than needed to maintain and to develop the relationship, bond and attachment between parent and child. Therefore there are no psychological concerns relating to the current contact arrangement.

Comment 42

On what basis does the psychologist asset that twice weekly contact is 'more than needed' to maintain and develop the relationship between father and son. For Mr L and J, it represents a huge and unprecedendted decrease in contact. There is no cookbook of generalised contact arrangements. This appears to be an opinion plucked out of the air by the psychologist, ignoring the possibility and danger of a growing and preventable estrangement between father and son.

End of comment

4. If there are any issues in respect of the attachment, please comment on any services or support, which could be put in place during to improve any issues you identify.

4.1 It is my assessment that Mr L would certainly be assisted by guidance and support as to how to understand, recognise and respond to J's needs. He also needs some support and assistance of how best to identify the emotional responses of J and to gain greater insight as to the impact of his emotional responses. It is my assessment that should Mr L not feel he is in a situation where he is being judged, which increases his defensive responses, he may be sufficiently open to address the issues and concerns relating to his lack of sensitive parenting.

5. Please say whether there is any aspect of Mr L's psychological profile, which in your view has any bearing on his ability to parent J.

5.1 It is my assessment Mr L does have difficulty responding to J's needs, particularly when under stress and pressure. In such a situation his thought processes and defensive responses become more rigid and inflexible, as well as there being difficulties with empathy and in providing sensitive parenting. His lack of empathy is evident in his tendency to lose sight of the needs and emotional wellbeing of his son. He has difficulty separating the needs and feelings of his child from his needs, thus to a large extent views J as an extension of himself rather than a person in his own right with his own experiences and needs.

5.2 It would be essential that Mr L is assisted to gain insight into this aspect of his emotional and personality functioning as highlighted under Issue 1 above. He needs to address his rigidity of thought, as this would impact on his interpersonal and emotional functioning, and would imply that he could react in inappropriate ways if he feels his sense of self has been undermined. It would also be helpful for Mr L and J's emotional and social life to be expanded so that he has a broad range of influence over him, so that his emotional, social, interpersonal and psychological functioning could be developed and enhanced.

Comment 43

To make the re-establishment of the parenting relationship between father and son conditional upon changes to psychological states that have been amplified and, it seems probable, created by their enforced separation seems unjust and punitive. Mr L may well need and benefit from personal therapy to help him overcome and manage the trauma of this separation; but if he is open to engaging in therapy, once he begins such work, arguably, contact should be considerably increased and steps taken to re-introduce J. to the family home, beginning with overnight stays and building up cumulatively from there.

End of comment

6. In the event that you consider Mr L to have a psychological profile, which affects his ability to care for J, please comment on his ability to change, the timescale within such change could be achieved and whether in your opinion that timescale is compatible with J’s long-term needs?

6.1 Although it is uncertain whether the level of inflexibility and rigidity of thought process and defensive could be shifted through increasing insight within a therapeutic process, it would be essential for these psychological functions to be modified for him to have adequate ability to care for J. Mr L needs to get to the point of being able to recognise these concerns, but his ability to engage in a cooperative therapeutic relationship is limited. He has a fundamental lack of basic trust, rigidity of his views and beliefs, which could be understood in light of his egocentric thought patterns and tendency to disregard others and/or limited capacity to appreciate others’ perspectives. His condescending approach to professionals and persons in authority highlights underlying narcissistic traits, which has egocentric features at its core. These features would provide obvious hindrance to seeking out and/or remaining in a therapeutic setting.

Comment 44

As noted in earlier comments, these pejorative (and, one might add, condescending) opinions about Mr L are based on the complete lack of awareness that the attitude to professionals, the lack of trust, the apparent rigidity of views are all characteristics which can be powerfully mobilised and even created by a traumatic separation, a traumatic assessment and the fear that a traumatic permanent loss may ensue.

It is stretching credulity to breaking point to assume that Mr L should simply shrug all this off and place his faith and trust in professionals whom he perceives, not without justification, as having inflicted an enormous trauma upon him. The onus is surely on them to build trust with him as far as is possible. But to imagine that this relationship (i.e., between father and professionals invested with statutory powers to remove his child) could ever be a wholly harmonious, uncomplicated and fully trusting one is to seek to impose an unrealisable and, frankly, inhuman ideal.

End of comment

6.2 Mr L would need to make himself available for individual therapeutic work as well as specialist parenting training. He has been resistant to this in the past, but currently maintains he would be open to advice and support, this is entirely untested

7. Please comment of Mr L's ability to recognise the concerns of the Local Authority and their reasons for issuing Court Proceedings.

7.1 It is my assessment that Mr L has partial ability to recognise the concerns of the Local Authority and their reasons for proceedings, however does not accept the concerns. His rigidity and inflexibility of thought interferes with the capacity to fully grasp the concerns relating to his emotional responses towards J. He accepts that he has made mistakes, however he lacks the empathy to understand the emotional impact that his actions, behaviours and mistakes would have on his son.

Comment 45

This is an unwarranted, or at least debatable, inference. Please refer to earlier comments concerning the conflation of the iatrogenic effects of an interrogative and anxiety-provoking assessment with enduring personality traits.

End of comment

7.2 Any change and shift in his willingness to bring about change would depend on the extent to which he is able to empathise and increase his self-awareness as to how his behaviour and decisions impact upon his son. Whilst there is some understanding of why court proceedings have been issued, he certainly doesn't accept that J needed to be removed from his care and does not accept change his parenting behaviour and emotional responses would be essential for him to be able to provide emotionally consistent, safe, and reliable parenting. He would also need to improve his capacity for sensitive parenting, gain insight into the needs and feelings of his son, and prioritize those needs that are in conflict with his needs, feelings and opinions. 8. Please comment of Mr L's ability to meet J's emotional and psychological needs.

8.1 It is my assessment that Mr L has limited ability to meet J's emotional and psychological needs. He is certainly able to provide structure and give J meaningful opportunities in his life. Due to his cognitive inflexibility and limited emotional capacity, it would be essential that J's emotional and psychological needs would need to be addressed in other ways and in other settings. He needs to have opportunities to have his life experiences broadened and have the benefit of the influence persons who are more emotionally and psychologically in tune with him. Without this J would be left with an increasing sense of unmet needs, being unheard and not being able to meet his emotional and psychological potential. Thus it is my assessment that Mr L would not have the capacity on his own to meet J’s emotional and psychological needs.

Comment 46

Please refer to earlier comments concerning the conflation of the iatrogenic effects of an interrogative and anxiety-provoking assessment with enduring personality traits.

End of comment

8.2 All the while Mr L is open to consider receiving support, being willing to bring about adjustments and change in the current approach, the inflexibilities as part of his core cognitive functioning could be balanced against J having broader influence in his day to day functioning, and his life experiences. This would involve there being some level of co-parenting arrangement such as a permanent and consistent live-in housekeeper/nanny taking on a maternal role or there being some level of shared care, such as permanent respite care on a regular basis. As indicated this would be dependent on there being meaningful and committed growth and change by Mr L.

9. Please comment on Mr L's ability to work with professionals openly and honestly.

9.1 All the while Mr L's emotional defensiveness is reduced, he would be more open and willing to work with professionals and he expresses a commitment to do so, but certainly has had difficulty with this in the past. It is positive that he has been able to establish a more meaningful dialogue and interaction with his current social worker who is male. This appears to have some bearing on his ability to be more receptive to advice, guidance and direction. There are however concerns that his rigidity, lack of trust and defended approach could continue to interfere with his ability to work with professionals openly and honestly.

10. Please comment on whether it would be advisable for there to be a separate psychiatric assessment of Mr L or J.

10.1 It is not considered that a separate psychiatric assessment of Mr L would be required. The concerns relating to his interpersonal and parenting functioning are evident, therefore what is required to change has been assessed. It is my assessment that Mr L does not suffer from a psychological disorder, however there are certainly maladaptive personality features, which have a bearing on his interpersonal, emotional and parenting capacity. What is needed is for Mr L to consider undertaking therapeutic work to address areas in this report.

10.2 It is not my assessment that J would require any psychiatric or further psychological assessment.

11. Please comment upon contact arrangements that you feel J should have with Mr L.

11.1 It is significant to note that despite being in the primary care of his father, J is not asking for further contact with his father and has not been asking to return home. There tends to be some level of compartmentalizing his life and he certainly does not refer to his life whilst living with his father. This may well be due to having the suggestion that he should not talk about home, although the level of his privacy and avoidance of any discussion concerning his father, suggests that despite having a positive relationship with his father, there are unmet needs and he has compartmentalized his worlds in order to fully engage in the foster placement, without feeling a sense of betrayal or a sense of guilt when having positive experiences with the foster placement.

11.2 It is my assessment that as J has a very busy day at school and a busy life pattern in the foster home, contact should remain at twice a week. However the contact time could be extended to include father taking on a parenting role of addressing some of his homework needs.

1 1.3 Once there is a shift in father's understanding and appreciation of the emotional impact of his comments to J, contact could then become more loosely supervised and could take place in a more natural environment, to engage with his son. It would be important for J to be given emotional permission by his father to share his life with the foster family and for father not to express any critical sentiments about the foster family at all. He needs to take a greater interest in the positive aspect of J's care whilst in the foster home. This would assist J to invest less emotional energy into compartmentalising his worlds.

Comment 47

In which case work should begin without further delay on ensuring that Mr L. is continually 'in the loop' vis-a-vis parenting decisions and suggested changes to ground rules.

End of comment

12. Please specifically comment upon the services, which could or should be put in place to assist J.

12.1 It is my recommendation that J is provided with some level of counselling to discuss and explore his current experiences. These counselling sessions could be provided by the school or by a mentor within the school. This would give J an opportunity to explore some of his feelings without fear of repercussion or fear that it would meet the disapproval of his father. Certainly his support should be totally confidential enabling him a space to express his emotions and his experiences, without concern that father would get to hear about these or that he would be taken to task for this.

STATEMENT OF TRUTH

I confirm that I have made clear which facts and matters referred to in this report are within my own knowledge and which are not. Those that are within my own knowledge I confirm to be true. The opinions I have expressed represent my true and complete professional opinions on the matters to which they refer.

DECLARATION

I understand that my overriding duty is to assist the court in matters within my expertise, and that this duty overrides any obligation to those instructing me or their clients. I can confirm I have complied with that duty and will continue to do so, I am aware of the requirements set out in Part 35 of the Civil Procedure Rules and the accompanying Practice Direction, the Protocol for the Instructions of Experts to give Evidence in Civil Claims, and the Practice Direction for Pre-action conduct.

I have set out in my report what I understand from those instructing me to be the questions in respect of which my opinion as an expert is required.

I have done my best in preparing this report, to be accurate and complete. I have mentioned all matters which I regard as relevant to the opinions I have expressed.

I consider that all of the matters on which I have expressed an opinion lie within my field of expertise.

I have drawn to the attention of the court all matters, of which I am aware, which might adversely affect my opinion.

In preparing and presenting this report I am not aware of any conflict of interest actual or potential save as expressly disclosed in this report.

In respect of matters referred to which are not within my personal knowledge, I have indicated the source of such information.

I have not included anything in this report which has been suggested to me by anyone, including the lawyers instructing me, without forming my own independent view of the matter.

Where, in my view, there is a range of reasonable opinion relevant to the opinions I express, I have indicated the extent of that range in the report.

At the time of signing the report I consider it to be complete and accurate. I will notify those instructing me if, for any reason, I subsequently consider that the report requires any alteration, correction or qualification.

I understand that this report will be the evidence that I will give, if required, under oath, subject to any correction or qualification I may make before swearing to its veracity.

Dated: 5th November 2012

Signed:

Dr Celest van Rooyen

Chartered Clinical Psychologist

CURRICULUM VITAE Name: Dr Celest van Rooyen

Address: The Canterbury Psychological Clinic Limited 198 Wincheap Road Canterbury Kent CT1 3RY

Website: www.thecanterburyclinic.com

Email: cvr@thecanterburyclinic.com

Telephone: 01227 457575

Fax: 01227 767324

Registration: British Psychological Society

(BPS) Register of Chartered Psychologists Registration. No. 75177 Dated: 02.06.1994

Chartered Scientist accreditation 22.03.2007

Health Professional Council – Registered to practice as a Clinical Psychologist Registration No.: PYL21847

Expert Witness Institute - Independent Member

Date: October 2012

Most of balance of CV removed for space reasons.

Extracts from CV that may be relevant to this critique.
BA degree, BA (Hons) (Clin. Psych), MA (Clin. Psychology), and a D.Phil. (Clinical Psychology)
Registered with the British Psychological Society and the Health Professional Council to practice as a Clinical Psychologist.
Certificate of Expert Witness Accreditation from Cardiff University.
Chartered Scientist status through the BPS.

I am currently completing about eight medico-legal reports per month for the purposes of child care proceedings and litigation issues. On an average I complete approximately 150 reports per year, referrals coming from a wide range of sources.

News since about Van Rooyen

On 18 February 2014, newspapers reported that a judge had criticized Van Rooyen for a 'cut and paste' report on a mother she had not even met.

The judge said that the Van Rooyen report on the mother had been researched and written in a day and that Van Rooyen had spoken neither to the mother nor the medical and psychological experts with whom she and the baby were living. Instead, she had relied on documents and a phone call to a social worker.

Justice Pauffley said: "It surprises and alarms me that Dr Van Rooyen was asked, and was prepared, to provide a report during the course of a single working day, a terrifyingly tight timeframe, and on the basis of papers supplemented by a telephone conversation with a local authority professional who had never met the mother.

"I struggle to understand how Dr Van Rooyen's apparently firm opinions, adverse to the mother, could have been formed given the complete absence of any kind of discussion with her."

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2562249/It-never-happen-Appeal-judge-slams-cut-paste-decision-family-court-led-social-workers-taking-baby-parents-unjustly.html#ixzz3zIyqe9EN

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