26 October 2017
September 2017 - Public Law
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- M is a 15 year old boy who has found himself subject to the gap in the system created by a shortage of secure accommodation required to keep him safe. Since June 2015 M has been subject to an Interim Care Order in favour of London Borough of Haringey. The LA issued proceedings after a period in which M was increasingly involved in a range of criminal activities, was increasingly beyond the control of his family, and during which he had absconded from various family placements.
- By 16 June 2017 M had again absconded after receiving a community sentence for a criminal offence, and the local authority applied for both an Interim Care Order and a Recovery Order. M was subsequently located and held on remand pending the resolution of another criminal matter for which in August 2017 he also received a community sentence. His sentence required him to live at his grandmother's home subject to a curfew which was to be enforced by way of an electronic tag.
- The LA was so concerned about M’s safety that the Assistant Director had given ongoing authorisation to seek a Secure Accommodation Order once M was located. The LA was extremely concerned about M’s placement with his grandmother however, by the date on which M had received a community placement the Placements Team had been unable to find a secure or a non-secure placement for M.
- On 25 August 2017 HHJ Karp expressed her real concern at the lack of a secure placement for M, and about the unsuitability of the family placement. The Judge directed the filing of evidence about the Local Authority's search for a placement and transferred the case HHJ Rowe, to consider giving a public judgment on the issue.
- Between the hearing on 25 August and the hearing on 1 September, M absconded from his grandmother's home and he has not been located since. Steps have been taken to return him to the criminal court for his failure to comply with the terms of the community order imposed at the end of August.
- Had a secure placement for M been available at court on 25 August and had the court made the order then M would not have been free to abscond, he would not have been in breach of his community sentence and most importantly he would have been safe. This would then have enabled the experts involved in the care proceedings to begin their assessment of M's needs. As he remains at large, it is highly likely that he is continuing to put himself at risk, including risk as a result of the commission of further criminal offences.
- Updating oral evidence was received from the LA Social Worker and from the Brokerage Manager of the Children's Placements Service about the efforts that had made to find a suitable placement for M. The referral had gone out to over 75 residential providers throughout England, Scotland and Wales however, there is currently a shortage of beds nationwide. All parties accepted that the local authority simply could not have done any more to find a placement. A bed was found for M at today’s hearing but could not be held for longer than a week given how invaluable the spaces are.
- The Judge accepted that every effort that the Local Authority could make to find a suitable placement had been made. As in the case of London Borough of Southwark v F  EWHC 2189 (Fam) before Hayden J, there was an impasse in respect of which the court was unable to achieve a resolution. The judge shared frustration, expressed by Hayden J at paragraph 15 of that judgment.
- This is a sad case involving a young mother with a background of in which she has experienced extreme abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and deprivation and has not been offered therapeutic support. The mother is in her mid 20’s and lives with members of her family. She has an IQ of 66 but does not have litigation capacity. The guardian summaries that the risks to G are that, if she was in her mother's care, she would experience the same abusive and neglectful parenting that B received. This included extreme emotional volatility, rough handling and physical chastisement, poor supervision and routines. The mother was unable to withstand the rigours of parenting and eventually abandoned B in the foster placement'.
- The LA seeks care and placement orders in relation to a five month old girl G who is currently living with short-term foster carers under an interim care order. Also living with those foster carers is G's three year old brother B who was made subject to care and placement orders in May 2017. The LA proposes that G and B should move together to prospective adopters with the mother having only letterbox contact. The mother opposes the LA applications and argues either that G should return immediately to her care or else that the case should be adjourned while she undergoes a further assessments. The Local Authority, the guardian and the psychologist, who acts as an expert in this case, oppose the mother's contention that there should be further assessment.
- It was agreed that there were only three options in the case; firstly, G returns to live with her mother immediately. Secondly the case is adjourned to assess the mother and G further. Thirdly, the court makes the orders sought by the LA. No party contends that long term fostering is a viable option for G. The mother would find long-term fostering impossible to cope with, she would have grave difficulties keeping to any contact arrangements, her distress would be very obvious to G and to the foster carers and the mother would never be able to accept the arrangement.
- The judge was clear that whatever is said in this case the judge wanted to make it very clear to the mother that the events that have occurred are not her fault. It is not her fault that she was treated in the way that she was when she was a child. It is not her fault that she has been left with the difficulties that she has. It is not her fault that those difficulties have not healed.
- In B’s proceedings and in the current proceedings there had been reports prepared by numerous experts relating to the mother’s ability to care for G. whilst it was acknowledged that the mother had made some progress and positive changes, the timescales and the longer prognosis of her parenting/lifestyle functioning were too uncertain to meet G’s needs for permanency and stability. The judge concluded that only a placement order, with an underlying care order, will satisfy G's paramount interests.
- The judge also drew attention to an earlier case where he stated that if therapy is needed it should be obtained at an early stage.
- Child is now aged 16 months and the local authority had concerns prior to birth that the mother would not be able to provide good enough and safe parenting in light of her difficulties present during her life in addition to a very modest level of functioning.
- The appeal focuses largely on the judge’s analysis of the evidence.
- The judge's analysis is in an impressively detailed judgment which runs to some 98 closely typed paragraphs. It was given as an ex tempore judgment but must be based on notes that the judge had prepared prior to delivery. The judge, helpfully for this court, summarises the evidence that she had heard. Whilst there were a number of positives for mother including her obvious love for the child, all of the professional evidence reached the same conclusion, that there would be great difficulties in this mother providing long-term care for her daughter in anything other than a heavily supervised setting.
- It was the foster carer's evidence, on my reading of the judgment, to which the judge gave the greatest degree of attention, despite the detail that she clearly had from all of the other material. The judge summarises the foster carer's evidence over the course of three or four pages in the judgment and again, in my view, sensibly focused upon the last month or so of the available notes.
- The judge summarises the evidence of the parents and my reading of that evidence is that the judge formed a favourable view of the mother but regarded the mother as approaching the evidence in the case and the difficulties that she faced in a way that the judge considered was "unrealistic" or "naïve". At the conclusion of the judge's extensive summary of the mother's evidence at the end of paragraph 74, the judge states this, "It is extremely sad but it is clear from the mother's own evidence that she cannot meet all of A's needs."
- The Judge rightly set out in summary the relevant law and considered the options open to the court before going on to conclude:
"So there are, in this case, no other options, realistic or unrealistic. I am forced into the position of saying the only option that is available for A is the last option, the Draconian option. The option of adoption…”
- She then went on to hold that such was the requirement in favour of adoption driven by A's welfare, but the parents' consent for adoption should be dispensed with.
- Mother appealed on the basis that the judge did not weigh up the benefits and disadvantages of the different options and conducted a linear evaluation. This was rejected and the Court formed the view that the judge had ruled out each option by making her own assessment.
- The second ground submitted that the LA had not complied with the Re B-S requirements. This was dismissed as whilst the Local authority may not have undertaken a full evaluation the judge had separately formed her own view.
- The third ground being that the judge had failed to undertake the holistic analysis required. The court concluded that whilst the judge may have given a linear structured judgment, the substance indicates a proper balancing exercise.
- The fourth and fifth ground were equally dismissed as was the appeal.