The Court of Appeal has issued guidance on the correct approach to be taken in cases involving disabled parents.
In Re C, a couple who both suffer from disabilities had successfully appealed against a full care order issued for their 17 month-old daughter, called A in case reports. She was taken into foster care shortly after her birth in August 2012. The mother has learning disabilities and a speech impediment, while the father is profoundly deaf.
Sitting at the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice McFarlane explained that the original judge had concluded:
“…that it was not in A’s best interests to be brought up by either of her parents, either in combination or individually, and, there being no other family resource available, the only course open for her future care was for her to move through the care system and on towards adoption. He therefore made a full care order, dispensed with the parents’ consent to adoption and made a placement for adoption order.”
The care proceedings had come to overly negative conclusions about both parents, said the judge, and had “failed to meet the disability needs of the parties and failed to produce an effective evaluation of the parents’ potential to look after their child.”
Following fresh expert guidance, the local authority changed its earlier stance and agreed that the case should be sent back to the lower courts for a rehearing.
Lord Justice McFarlane then set out the issues he believed had gone wrong during the earlier hearing and drafted guidance on how similar cases involving parents with a hearing disability should be dealt with in future, with the principles applicable to other disabilities.
Amongst other guidance, the judge declared that the presence of a hearing disability should be identified as quickly as possible and the courts should be alerted. “Expert and insightful analysis and support from a suitably qualified professional” is also important and both the professionals and the courts needed to understand the differences between the different types of communication used with and by deaf people.
In addition, the courts should not be overly bound by the standard 26 week timetable for care cases, he declared.
The judge said:
“It will be all too easy for courts now to be driven by the 26 week deadline by which care cases should be concluded, but if there are particular aspects of the case that indicate that the timescale for assessment simply cannot provide an effective and meaningful process because of the disabilities of one or more of the individuals involved, that would seem to me to be a reason for extending the timetable for the case by a modest degree, rather than squeezing the assessment in and taking whatever assessment is available within that timescale.”