The High Court has dismissed a local authority’s appeal against a refusal to take three children into care.
Re A (Children : Adoption : long Term Foster Care) concerned a family who had been a cause for concern at the local authority since 2008. Their home was in poor condition while the parents abused drugs and neglected their six children. In 2009, the authority drew up child protection plans for the three oldest, referred to in judgements as ‘T’, ‘F’ and ‘D’. These plans set out the specific measures which will be taken to try and protect the youngster’s wellbeing.
But these had little affect and the family’s circumstances continued to deteriorate. The children missed doctor’s appointments and their attendance at school was patchy. The situation was exacerbated by the mother’s untreated mental health issues.
In June last year, interim care orders were finally made and the children were sent to live with a family friend. The parents supported this move and were allowed to see their children regularly without supervision. The family friend applied for a special guardianship order but soon began to struggle with the demands of looking after no less than six children.
Eventually, in September last year, two of the children were moved to live with foster carers. The paternal grandfather was also briefly considered as a possible carer but this option was abandoned for reasons not set out in the judgement.
The local authority and the children’s legal guardian debated the best options for the children. She supported long term foster care for six but the local authority pushed for adoption of the three youngest children, with indirect contact for the parents. The guardian eventually supported their plan but wanted long term foster care to remain on the table as a fall back option.
The authority duly applied for placement orders that would take the three youngest into care. But when the case came before Judge Matthews in April, it had revised its plans and now sought adoption for all six children. Long term foster placements would for the three oldest would be converted into adoption, while the authority would seek new foster families for the three youngest.
The parents accepted this plan for T, F and D but argued that the three youngest children, ‘P’, ‘M’ and ‘H’, should be returned to their care. Failing that, they should be looked after by the paternal grandfather they claimed.
The Judge refused to issue adoption orders for P, M and H. One of the stated reasons had been the lack of support available to the children. The authority submitted revised care plans including this but continuing to press for adoption, although the judge had already rejected this option. It also proposed limiting the search for adopters to six months and to families that would the children to see their older siblings. It would also continue a search for suitable foster carers at the same time.
But the Judge was unconvinced. She said that the stipulation that the courts only take the drastic step of severing the relationship between biological parents and children via adoption if there were no alternative options also applied to sibling relationships. In addition, she noted the strong bond between P and M and the parents.
The local authority appealed, complaining that she had not properly considered the revised plans and had placed too much emphasis on the maintenance of sibling relationships.
But, sitting in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice McCombe could find no fault with the original judge’s conclusions. It was an unusual case, he said, in the fact that the children had continued to see each other on an almost daily basis. Despite this, the local authority described ongoing contact between the siblings as no more than “aspirational”.
Lord Justice McCombe declared:
“In my judgment, it has not been shown that the judge was wrong in the conclusions that she reached, and, for all these reasons, it seemed to me that this appeal had to be dismissed.”
Read the ruling here.
Photo by BabyDinosaur via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence