A Family Court judge has called the year-long delay in a care case “deeply frustrating”.
In May 2014, Gloucestershire County Council removed a five year-old boy from his mother’s care and placed him with a foster couple. The council cited “neglectful parenting” as the reason for their actions.
However, the local authority did not issue care proceedings for a whole year. Sitting at the Family Court in Bristol, Judge Wildblood said it was “inexplicable” that there was such a delay and had been offered “no valid reason” for it.
During this time, the boy “developed a strong attachment” to his foster carers and expressed a desire to stay with them. A court-appointed guardian for the boy supported the idea that he remain with the couple and see his mother once every two weeks.
Despite the boy, his guardian and his foster carers all supporting this course of action, the local authority had not given it any thought as “a realistic option”. They proposed a care plan to place the child in the care of his half-sister’s father. Failing that, they would find him a new adoptive family.
The judge said the evidence revealed that the council “did not consider the possibility of long term fostering” as they had already submitted an application for a placement order before a social worker spoke to the foster couple.
As there were “realistic options” which the council had not properly assessed, Judge Wildblood called for the case to be adjourned until such assessments could be carried out. He admitted that, given the lengthy involvement of the local authority and the fact that it should have been “a straightforward case”, his decision was “absurd but now unavoidable”.
The judge once again criticised the “systemic failure” of the local authority which led to such delays. He said it had “absolutely nothing to do with limited resources” and was “simply bad practice”.
Gloucestershire County Council v M & C is available online here.