A family court in Bournemouth has extended care proceedings to allow a woman to be fully assessed as a potential carer for her seven year-old grandson.
In C and H (Minors) the boy, referred to as ‘C’ in the judgement, was taken into foster care along with a sibling following domestic violence between the parents. The father was convicted of assault three times. The local authority applied for an official care order, along with a placement order, which would allow him to go and live with potential adopters.
The father dropped out of the proceedings. The mother, meanwhile, accepted that she could not care for C properly.
Judge Bond noted that:
“It is said that C has complex needs which arise from his experience when cared for in his family.”
A psychologist reported that C does not express his emotional needs because he does not expect them to be met. He needed a calm and settled replacement, she declared.
The local authority ‘s application was interrupted by C’s grandmother. She applied for a special guardianship order, which would allow her to care for him. Special guardianship orders provide secure placements, often with other members of their family, but do not end the legal relationship between children and their biological parents.
The mother supported her mother’s application, but both the local authority and C’s legal guardian were opposed.
Judge Bond explained the concerns surrounding the possibility of C living with his grandmother.
“The main concerns about C and his situation are the volatile nature of the relationship between the mother and grandmother; C’s closed emotional state – he does not talk about his feelings and is too ready to fade into the background and make no demands. He is an endearing child who is too compliant. He has said that he would like to live with either the mother or grandmother.”
“It is feared that the grandmother will have difficulty in putting C before the demands of the mother. If there were protective [legal] orders the local authority questions whether the grandmother would enforce them against the mother and be able to organise and deal with the problems of contact.”
There were tensions between the C’s mother and his grandmother, with the former having made allegations about the latter’s parenting skills which were later withdrawn. The judge noted in his judgement that this meant she had either deliberately made false allegations or that the claims had been true: both were equally worrying possibilities.
In addition, the grandmother lived in a “chaotic” household, with three of the mother’s siblings, the youngest of whom was behaving badly at school. She had both mental and physical health problems.
“There are many calls on [the grandmother’s] time”, said the judge.
Set against these issues, however, was the fact that C enjoyed a close bond with his grandmother, referring to her as his “Special Nan”. Judge Bond said that the grandmother:
“…plainly loves C. She described him as wonderful and that she has been very close to him since he was born.”
As the grandmother had made her application for special guardianship relatively late in the process, she had not been fully assessed as a potential carer for C. However, doing so would extend the case beyond the 26 week timetable for care cases now in operation.
Judge Bond explained that:
“That period can only be extended if the court can properly conclude that an extension is necessary.”
He cited the case of Re S, in which President of the Family Division Sir James Munby set out circumstances in which the 26 week timetable could be extended. These included situation where, “despite appropriately robust and vigorous judicial case management, something unexpectedly emerges to change the nature of the proceedings too late in the day to enable the case to be concluded justly within 26 weeks.”
Examples of such situations include “cases where a realistic alternative family carer emerges late in the day.”
He noted that C would be difficult to place for adoption and that he had an “existing knowledge of and relationship with his grandmother”.
The judge added:
“I was impressed by the manner in which the grandmother gave her evidence…
The grandmother is a realistic possible alternative for C and there is a gap in the evidence as to her capacity to care for C.”
Read the full judgement here.