A couple say they are caught up in a nightmare with no end in sight after social services took three of their children away just days before Christmas.
The Hemel Hempstead pair, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, are fuming and frustrated by a system that has kept them apart from their children since December 21.
Their misery was set to be drawn out for longer this week when a legal expert representing Herts County Council revealed that a backlog of work meant that an assessment of the parents could not be completed until June 28 at the earliest – six months after the children aged eight, 10 and 13 were taken away.
During a family court hearing on Monday, the solicitor told magistrates that the delay in starting the assessment was down to the department being ‘inundated’ with work.
Barrister Graham Crosth-waite, on behalf of the father, told the court: “The local authority has had the care of the children since December and yet they are asking for until July to complete a parenting assessment, which isn’t really acceptable. I would ask the court to consider enforcing a timetable.”
He later added: “If they have to outsource the work to an independent social worker to do it more quickly, then they ought to.
“Everybody is finding it very difficult and the longer the proceedings drag on the harder it is for everybody.”
The court heard that one of the children – a 10-year-old boy – says he has been assaulted on at least two occasions by another boy staying with the family that is looking after him.
Lead magistrate Dorothy Deane ordered that the parental assessment must be completed and filed by June 3.
Speaking outside court the father, the biological dad to the two youngest children, said: “Our house was so happy and they have just come in and destroyed it.
“The delay is detrimental to the children.
“For every day that they are in their care they are at risk of even more harm. It is really psychologically detrimental.
“They have been asked to do these reports from the very beginning.
“The magistrate told them in the first couple of weeks they would need to be done.
“It is soul destroying. It is torture.
“I just want justice for my children.”
Other family members are being assessed by social services to establish whether the children can be homed with them while the welfare case is processed.
The parents – who still have two older children at home with them – are allowed supervised access to the three children twice a week for an hour and a half.