Social worker report may as well have been in foreign language, says judge
A social worker's report on a woman who wanted to care for two children might as well have been "written in a foreign language", a family court judge has suggested.
Judge Jeremy Lea said social worker Tina Pugh had used phrases including: "imbued with ambivalence", "having many commonalities emanating from their histories", "issues had a significant interplay on (her) ability" and "I asked her to convey a narrative".
The judge said he thought he knew what the social worker was saying - but that he doubted whether the woman the report was written about did.
He said the meaning was obscured by the language used.
The judge said he may be accused of "linguistic pedantry" but adde d he was unapologetically critical - and said he was making a serious point about communication.
Judge Lea has raised concerns in a ruling following a hearing in a family court in Nottingham.
The woman - who was represented by barrister Lucy Sprinz - had put herself forward as a carer for two children she knew who faced being placed for adoption.
Judge Lea ruled that she should care for the children - and he rejected concerns raised by the social worker.
He did not name the woman or the children.
But he said Derbyshire County Council had responsibility for the welfare of the children - girls aged four and two.
The social worker did not work for the council but had been appointed - by another judge who had been involved in the case - to provide an independent report.
"Her resultant report ... concluded that the children, if placed in the care of (the woman), would be exposed to ongoing risk such that it was not in the children's interest to place them in her long-term care," said Judge Lea.
"I was somewhat critical, and unapologetically so, of the way in which the report of Tina Pugh was written.
"Reports by experts are not written solely for the benefit of other professionals, the advocates and the judge. The parents and other litigants need to understand what is being said and why."
He added: "There were passages in Tina Pugh's report which were written in language which made their meaning quite opaque. I suspect as far as (the woman) was concerned, these passages might just as well have been written in a foreign language."
The judge gave examples of the social worker's use of words.
He quoted a passage in which she described the relationship the woman had with a man who had lived with the children's mother.
The social worker had written: "I do not intend to address the couple's relationship suffice it to say it is imbued with ambivalence: both having many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection or alternative relationship that are a reflection of this. Such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement."
Judge Lea said: "I very much doubt that (the woman) would understand on reading this passage what is being said. I think I know what Tina Pugh is saying but her meaning is obscured by the language she uses to express it."
He said another passage referred to the relationship the woman had with her son: "In narrowing down the issues (the woman) clearly believes that paternity issues had a significant interplay on (the woman's son's) ability to say no to the mother."
Judge Lea added: "Interplay is a word frequently used by Tina Pugh ... I think it can be more understandably translated as 'impact' or 'effect'."
The judge went on: "I may be accused of linguistic pedantry. There is a serious point here. My reason for criticising Tina Pugh's report in this way is not solely borne out of my concern that such reports should be so written as to be readily understood but because I have to question whether Tina Pugh was able to communicate orally with (the woman). Did (the woman) fully understand what was being asked of her or said to her?"
And he said: "I conclude that there is at least a possibility here that the negative assessment of (the woman) stemmed in part from the fact that Tina Pugh and (the woman) were simply not on the same wavelength when discussing matters."