Risk Assessment and the Tragedy of Ayeeshia Smith and Other Children

The news this week that another toddler has been murdered by her mother brings yet another reminder that when it comes to child protection in the UK, we haven’t got it right yet. Ayeeshia Smith, who died at the hands or should we say feet of her mother, who stamped on her with such violence that her injuries were likened to having been in a car crash. She was 21 months old. The toddler had been in foster care but was returned to her mother with tragic consequences. Like other toddlers gone before her, Ayeeshia Smith is testament to the institutionalised failures that leave vulnerable children at the mercy of mothers who cannot cope. Whilst natural fathers are simply disregarded in almost all cases, becoming helpless bystanders and witness to the risk that their child lives in but unable to help them. Ayeeshia Smith’s father, like others before him, raised the alarm about his child but to no avail and with tragic consequences.

Since the death of Peter Connolly (known as Baby P) in 2009, the list of child deaths goes on and on. Daniel Pelka (2013) , Hamzah Kahn (2013) , Ayesha Ali (2015) and Ayeeshia Smith (2016) were all killed by their mothers and or their step fathers whilst their natural fathers were prevented, sometimes with the support of authorities, from having a relationship with them. The common factor in all of this being the social work practice which is framed around our vulnerable families and the institutionalised beliefs which are promulgated by this practice. Beliefs which rest upon the idea that children belong with their mothers and should have contact with their fathers but ‘only where it is safe to do so.’

The ‘only where it is safe to do so’ strapline is a pernicious and dangerous one because it engenders fear of fathering and promotes anxiety about relationships between children and their dads who do not live with them. ‘Where it is safe to do so’ creates the idea that fathers must meet a threshold of approval before they can assume that they will continue their relationship with their children after separation. This leads to a tradition of looking in this ‘dangerous’ direction, whilst overlooking the fact that little children like Ayeesha Smith are at risk of being murdered by their mothers.

The truth of the matter is that children are murdered by their parents on a far too regular basis. They are murdered by their fathers and they are murdered by their mothers and any practice around the family should be alive to this fact and actively seeking to prevent it. How many serious case reviews will it take for social work as an institution to realise for example, that framing all support around one parent (usually the mother) whilst actively excluding the other (usually the father), places vulnerable children at heightened risk.

In a study recently undertaken, the overall risk assessment showed that the greatest risk of harm to children is from mothers with mood disorder such as depression or personality disorder. If this information is so readily available that it can be collected by a straightforward search on the internet, why is it not underpinning every social worker’s every day practice? In the same study, 40% of the participants had a mental health disorder but only 15% of these were psychotic. It would seem that children are most at risk from low level mental health problems in parents who have not had previous contact with mental health support services. But do children who die do so because their parents give no signs of being unwell? It would seem not. Reading the serious case reviews of the tragic deaths of these children, the opportunity to intervene was lost again and again. Not because the signs were not there, but because those responsible for seeing the signs were blinkered by their own beliefs perhaps and a lack of training and skill in seeing the risks in a child’s world.

It is time that a new model of analysis of risk to vulnerable children was created and promoted, one which is based upon the reality of what faces children rather than a institutionally held belief that one parent is good for a child whilst the other has to prove their worth to be involved at all. The research evidence demonstrates that mothers can and will kill their children and where there are signs that a child is vulnerable, they too should be assessed in their capacity to care for their child to ensure that they are safe to do so.

Analysing risk to children is not difficult when using the right tools. Risk arises from several sources in a child’s life. Generational, (having a parent who was abused is more likely to put a child at risk of abuse), situational (having a parent who is living in risky circumstances is more likely to put a child at risk), relational (having a parent who has risky relationships is more likely to put a child at risk) and recreational (having a parent who is using drugs or reliant upon alcohol is more likely to put a child at risk). Additionally emotional and psychological instability are both essential areas for investigation when there are signs of a child being abused.

Signs of child abuse are many and they are not just physical. One of the ways an abused child is often hidden from authority is by preventing the other parent from being involved, sometimes for years at a time. Psychologically unwell parents can actively and deliberately destroy a relationship between the child and the other parent in order to hide the continuation of familial dysfunction. Parental alienation plays a strong role in psychologically unhealthy family patterns. Institutionalised beliefs and practice perpetuate it.

The NSPCC in the UK counts the numbers of dead children and tells us that ‘every childhood is worth fighting for.’ Meanwhile another child dies and another serious case review is held. Until we are brave enough to challenge the institutional stereotyped ideas about who kills and why, we will be helpless to stop the next child dying and the next. It doesn’t take much to change this, just an understanding of psychology and the manner in which children learn to be parents at the hands of their own parents. Changing the toxic march of neglect and abuse and being brave enough to recognise that this is not about gender but about generational patterns of behaviour would bring long term gains in terms of the growth to full potential of all of the UK’s children. An outcome which is, quite simply, beyond risk, it is beyond value.


This is a Huffington Post Blog


  1. I am perplexed. Do you mean that if we had legalised parity of comprehensive rights to full engagement and entitlement to parental responsibility (assuming no criminal conviction for child abuse), for parents and first and second filial family members that such abuses in this blog would be reduced?
    If so why hasn’t this been made legislation decades ago?????


    1. what I mean is that social work training is underpinned by the wrong risk assessment approach, it is underpinned by a feminist agenda which sees men as inherently dangerous and women as always in need of support. It is the wrong risk assessment approach is what I am saying. It additionally captures women in its net because women whose children say they don’t want to see them, in this paradigm, must have done something really really dreadful to have caused it because women are inherently good unless their children say otherwise. Legislation has not got very much to do with this, it is the underpinning of family services with the wrong risk asssessment approach that causes it.


      1. Yes you are right in one way, but it is like ensuring people keep to the speed limit by making those who break the same, and undertake special driving courses tor them to understand that we must not break the speed limit. But we still have speed monitoring cameras because our behaviour is to do what we want rather than what we should. Its a mix of the two, without rights there can be no responsiblities, and we have to think outside of this box comprehensively. By the way it is my son’s 15th birthday today, the fourth we have missed as a family due to alienation. So if you would like to contact my son’s mother and ask her to come to a Parenting Session with you, I wish you well, but she will ignore you and send your invitation to her solicitor to respond only with a copy of the Court Order which has been broken on all parts. Carrot and stick – in the same way as we have speeding legislation. This is what ordinary folk talk about but because it does not affect them they don’t care….but the greater good has to be the fundamental reality!


  2. Nail on head article Karen. The institutional mindset among the many psuedo professionals involved in children’s services (or non services as we see here and so often) is the biggest challenge facing those of us fighting for better outcomes for children. Mum good, dad bad is in the training, the practice, the mindset, the management, and it is a cancer upon society. Quite often even house-husbands are banned from access to services because of their gender when they seek help for their children who are being abused along with him.

    Great article by you but what a pity so few professionals are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and challenge this institutional child endangering gender discrimination. Hopefully in our lifetimes we will see gender neutral impartial professionalism among these services. Which incidentally is what the law requires but the courts work hand in glove with these agencies far too often. Much pressure needed before this juggernaut will turn.


  3. It has been many years since I was in Court trying to gain support for my plan to co-parent with my former partner. It is true that the question of familial violence was on the agenda and to some extent I wish it wasn’t. It seems to me that when violence is on the agenda the accused is the father regardless of the facts.

    The premiss that all men are capable of aggression and therefore all men who separate from their former partners are violent seems to hold sway in the family court. Furthermore, they are exclusively responsible for it and special correctional courses are devised specifically for men. The nature of the course is to force men into contrition. Ironically the court advisory service would have us believe that in spite of attending the domestic violence course men never change. A leopard never changes its spots.

    So, try as he might the man can never please the family court enough to satisfy the family court and its entourage that he is safe enough to carry out his role as father. Ironically this is irrespective of the fact that he is successfully fathering children from a previous relationship.

    Meanwhile the mother who has gained full control of the children and is free to parent as she sees fit. So it is a world where mothers have exclusive control. Are the children being alienated from the father? Are they being enmeshed free from the influence of the absent parent? Are the children safe? Will she partner another male and re-cycle the same methodology that bore children and then discarded the father? How will her new adult relationship sit kindly with the children?

    She seems to be moving under the radar, made invisible by the protection racket that ensures men remain responsible for all violence. It is the belief that by removing men violence and cruelty will disappear.

    Kind regards


  4. There’s always been a pattern with these PA-related cases, which appear on the surface to be examples of incompetence but, in reality are far far worse. Those in positions of power and authority (social services and the family courts here) are often headed up by INDIVIDUALS who, themselves, suffer from severe personality disorders that limit them from having insight into their own flawed judgements of others. Their judgements (especially where tragedy strikes) are, more often than not, then passed off as “instituational failings”, thereby, abdicating the real culprit(s) from taking responsibility

    How could these individuals empathise with troubled parents and children when they, themselves, have similar hidden and unresolved issues from their own childhoods? “Who guards those guardians?”, indeed.

    Never has the, now, rarely-used phrase ever been more relevant…….”you just can’t get the staff these days”!!


    1. Well written I could not agree more. With respect I am just wondering what levels of Safeguarding these persons have? Are they registered with the DfE College of Teaching Qualifications and Safeguarding Standards and are they investigated annually under Licence?. And who audits them???? Yes there are rogue Children’s Services public servants, who have dysfunctional behaviours (DSM5) and who are currently employed by LA’s. Not all but those who have negative agendas. I could name them, but naturally will not. I am saving this for a national scandal debate and rally in response of, “Children Need to be Heard” and “Amazing Grace”….Justice will prevail but a wider approach needs addressing as well as just within the family itself. (Copy to Facebook).


      1. They are regulated by the HCPC but you will find that in cases in the family courts any complaint you make is unlikely to get through even the first stage, that is because HCPC has proofed their complaints process against complaints about cases heard in the family courts. I will write about that shortly.


      2. For those interested, a couple of Freedom of Information requests
        show just how few complaints from service users (that’s members of the public as opposed to organisations or registrants themselves) to the HCPC make it through the ‘did not meet standard of acceptance’ threshold.

        I’ll make it easy –
        – since 2013, on average 50% of cases received to HCPC come from public/service users
        – of that 50%, on average 85% ‘do not meet standard of acceptance’
        – for the remaining 15% some are still open
        – for any actually considered/reviewed beyond the initial ‘standard of acceptance’ threshold, the results in terms of action against registrants is:

        – Closed no case to answer 49
        – Suspension or Condition of Practice 1
        – Struck Off 1
        – Removal by Consent 0
        – Not well founded or No Further Action 5

        – Closed no case to answer 38
        – Suspension or Condition of Practice 0
        – Struck Off 1
        – Removal by Consent 0
        – Not well founded or No Further Action 4

        – Closed no case to answer 29
        – Suspension or Condition of Practice 0
        – Struck Off 0
        – Removal by Consent 0
        – Not well founded or No Further Action 0

        2015-2016 (to 30 September 2015)
        – Closed no case to answer 1
        – Suspension or Condition of Practice 0
        – Struck Off 0
        – Removal by Consent 0
        – Not well founded or No Further Action 0

        So the maths is (happy to be corrected if I’ve got this wrong) – since 2013 to 30/09/15,
        re the 1,925 complaints made by parents/service users/families,
        of which 129 were considered/reviewed,
        taking away the 9 for whom the result was ‘Not well founded or No Further Action’,
        the number of registrants for whom some action was taken is …… 3

        and since 1st April 2014 the number is ……. 0

        The numbers tell a story – it’s not hard to hear it if you’re listening, but you have to be listening.


      3. What I find most frightening about HCPC as well as the British Psychological Society is that it is very very difficult to get a complaint through their complaint procedures. The BPS for example, will not accept complaints against its members other than on very very narrow grounds, none of which are about practice with families. People are directed to the HCPC to make such complaints, where they will find that any complaint made about a practitioner working in the family courts is very very hard to get heard. HCPC governs CAFCASS and the outcomes of complaints are as you point out in your comment CG. Their fitness to practice standard of acceptance reads like this –

        If concerns have been dealt with satisfactorily
        at a local level, for example by the registrant’s
        employer, it is unlikely there will be evidence to
        suggest the registrant’s fitness to practise is
        impaired. We will not normally continue with
        concerns which are satisfactorily dealt with locally.

        Registrants often make decisions using their
        professional knowledge, skills and experience.
        Not everyone will agree with these decisions.
        We will not normally continue with concerns
        which challenge or second-guess registrants’
        decisions unless there is evidence they have
        acted unprofessionally – for example, they
        have knowingly made a false statement or
        acted beyond their scope of practice. Similarly,
        we will not normally continue with concerns
        which challenge a registrant acting as an
        expert witness, unless there is evidence they
        have acted unprofessionally.

        This second para is the get out of jail free card for all expert witnesses and practitioners working in the family courts. Decisions cannot be challenged or second guessed unless…..

        And HCPC and the BPS is, astonishingly, the way in which FNF were recently telling Sir James Munby all practitioners working with parental alienation should be governed. Suggesting that they too have been led up the garden path in terms of a belief that working in the family court arena puts practitioners above and beyond everyone else. FNF should know better than to be led up garden paths adorned with such self regarding nonsense in my view, too many parents depend upon the advice they give and the referrals they make.


      4. Interesting. Making a general complaint to a particular LA about an issue over Children’s Service inability to undertake an empirical investigation and making mention of investigatory inproprietary caused the complaint to go to this particlar this person’s Upline Manager in this case who was supposed, according to the Complaints Department, “to be an independent within the LA but of a completely different department.” Just like a story line out of the ” Men from the Ministry” episodes! If it were not so serious.
        Having written to the Chief Social Worker at the DFE l was Pontius Pilated (washing hands of any responsibility), back to the Directorate of CS then to Legal Services and then back to actual CS. With a firewall all around protecting them all the time. Corruption….Corruption…
        I am just going to give them a little more rope….and bingo.
        They KNOW who they are. There were 101 serious complaints against the SS of this LA in 2011-12. I wonder how many others since then including my own….but wait oh no it wasn’t included because to them it wasn’t a complaint!! Just wait!!!


  5. “Analysing risk to children is not difficult when using the right tools.”
    The social worker (Guardian) in our case refused to consider the history of the case, stating in report “The Court Bundle is illustrated with numerous allegations and counter- allegations made by the parents about the other over a significant period of time which has already been considered by the Court. It is not my intention to revisit any of these allegations as these have previously been brought to the Court’s attention, as my focus as the Children’s Guardian has been on what is in X’s best interest now and for the foreseeable future”.
    All the alienating parent’s ‘allegations’ related to verbal allegations regarding things that had already, within the court system, been proved untrue, including calling the police (who then confirmed no action taken and no substance to allegations), or historical things which ap would later say (again within court system) are not current issues and are not safe-guarding issues.
    All the rejected parent’s ‘allegations’ related to documented abuses, emails/letters documenting broken contact, abusive behaviour etc of alienating parent, also documented history of child’s distress at alienated parent’s behaviours.
    Don’t know how you can consider “best interest now and for the foreseeable future” without considering, properly, the history that got the child to where they are now.
    Otherwise you are just seeing puppet behaviour in child without tracking back up strings.
    Additionally, crucially, this was the first time the rejected parent’s allegations were supposed to be actually looked into – but that was ignored – delays by court and Guardian just put more time between events and eventual meeting with child – meaning Guardian gave that as justification for ‘historical’ blindness.
    Also – practitioner tools specifically designed and provided for use by Guardian – e.g. tools – were not used, even though guidance says they SHOULD be, and use should be reviewed by managers (didn’t happen either).
    If you don’t use the map how can you follow the hidden trail and see the path both behind and ahead?
    The lack of accountability for non-use or mis-use of ‘tools’ is horrendous and damaging.
    Meanwhile – the sun is coming out as I write this (literally; I’m not being metaphoric sadly), so today is a day to live life, be healthy and…..move on.
    Thanks Karen as always.


  6. Thanks CG for your posts re FOI. After 5 Ombudsman Investigations incl 3 PHSO (2 into Cafcass) and currently helping a parent with a hcpc investigation into malpractice by a Social Worker i’m only too well aware of the asbestos lined teflon coated protective armoured wall utilised by so called regulators to PROTECT their system from complaints from the public. The figures are dispiriting but hopefully someone will manage to get a forensic investigation established which looks properly at the institutional malpractice, ironically and tragically demonstrated by what happened to Baby Ayseeha, among so many others.


  7. According to the press “Social worker Mr Crean told the court the decision to give Ayeeshia back to her mother was based on a ‘positive risk assessment’ and the fact she had attended five out of 12 sessions of a domestic abuse workshop and ‘now understood what domestic abuse was’. ”
    It thus sounds like the consideration was not the her mother was a threat to her rather that the mother needed help to understand that her partner was abusive. This smacks of the feminist model for risk assessment, where the child’s needs are considered identical to the mother. It is for very good reason that many fathers are advised not to involve social services when they have concerns about their children. Why would they want to recruit another agency that is likely to see his concern for his child as vexatious and simply support the mother in reducing his contact?


  8. In my humble opinion, and in general, complaints have done little in the way of providing suitable redress for many many years now. The days of “the customer is always right” philosophy has long gone – the demise of genuine and transparent handling of complaints began when those with the power (and most to lose both reputationally and financially) realised they could use that power to “manage” complaints in such a manner as to steer them to a predetermined outcome of their choosing……we’ve seen it time and again whether it be the Police, Social Services, the Family Justice System, corrupt financial institutions (ie. mis-selling), etc etc etc.

    Not only does complaining (within the current self-serving culture we operate in) reinforce the control these institutions exercise it, more importantly, often imprisons the complainant into prolonged state of mental and emotional victim-hood, as he/she persists with demanding the offending party acknowledges the wrong-doing and “changes its ways”……good luck with that one!!

    Until these institutions are stewarded by INDIVIDUALS of honesty, integrity and the requisite experience nothing will change…..except an increased number of complaints, blaming and condemnation with no real improvement. The child abuse scandal (which received many complaints going back many decades) is just one example


  9. I wrote to Cafcass recently partly because I was upset by another family court case in which the criminalisation of men had denied children a relationship with their father and partly because I had seen a video on their website which suggested children were to be encouraged to make decisions about which parent they wanted to live with.

    This is the letter and the reply;

    Dear Mr & Mrs Cafcass

    I have just watched a video on your website entitled, “What is Cafcass and what do we do”. It is stated that this video is made specifically for children. https://youtu.be/WLKnazovsNQ In your video the teenager is seemingly satisfied that a Cafcass worker has helped her decide where she would prefer to live. I viewed the video with interest because I am a parent who has separated from my former partner. We had two children together. Your video made me wonder what it would be like if you went into the home of a normal healthy family and asked the children which parent they would prefer to live with, the options being either mother or father. I am no psychologist but I expect the children would be mortified at the prospect of having to choose between either living with Mum or with Dad. Can you imagine the emotional turmoil and destruction that this would cause? I am puzzled therefore why you should encourage children to think that after the parents have split you should be assisting children to make a choice, as if they now had to go along with the idea that it was only one parent that mattered. You seem to forget the most important principle that the reason the parents split is an adult one, made by the parents, not the children. The children still have and want both parents just like an intact family like yours. I have heard it said that you deal with 145,000 families per annum. I would like you to change your policy to allow the children to continue a relationship with both parents. Don’t encourage them to choose. By doing so you are joining in with the destructive pattern that has been started by the parents. You are contributing to the splitting process which is psychologically damaging the children. You are in a privileged position being able to help so many children. You could best do this by helping the parents in their co-parenting techniques and dealing with their turbulent emotions. Both parents are different but equally lovable. At present you seem to be championing single parenting even where there are two loving parents available. This is not good for our society in the long term. Our society’s well being depends upon its’ ability to cooperate and ameliorate, not on its ambition to divide and conquer.

    Kind regards
    This email was scanned by the Government Secure Intranet anti-virus service supplied by Vodafone in partnership with Symantec. (CCTM Certificate Number 2009/09/0052.) In case of problems, please call your organisations IT Helpdesk. Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or recorded for legal purposes.


    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your email and your feedback on our video. Cafcass has a statutory responsibility in England to ensure that children and young people are put first in family proceedings, their voices are properly heard and the decisions made about them by courts are in their best interests. Cafcass will only become involved with a family when parents who are separating or divorcing can’t agree on arrangements for their children, such as where they will live or who they will spend time with. Every child’s situation is different and the Cafcass worker’s role is to tell the court what the child’s wishes and feelings are, safeguard the child’s welfare and recommend what they think is best for the child. It is not our role to ask children to choose one parent over another and the starting point for our work is that contact with both parents, where safe, is in the best interests of the child. Where safe, we encourage separated parents to come to workable arrangements that are in the best interests of their children away from the family court. Regards Web Enquiries —–Original Message—–
    Sent: 17 March 2016 11:18 To: Web Enquiries (CAFCASS) – Cafcass Subject: cafcass video
    I don’t believe my question has been answered. The word “safety” was mentioned a couple of times the crux of the matter might be the way in which Cafcass determine what is safe and what is not.

    Kind regards


    1. Interesting. It is the proverbial firewall clarion call…in the child’s best interest..that both CAFCASS and Local Authority asks tjis question.

      Families Need Fathers (Parents) suggest that 360,000 families spilt away annually so that this situation is worse than given.

      Many are now demanding so that children don’t gave to choose “which parent” that parity of parenting become a legal as much as a moral right.


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