Anglesey County Council has been criticised for changing its plans for the care of a child just a week before the final adoption hearing.
E (A Child) concerned ‘E’, a child born in March, to a parents who still just 20 and 21 years of age.
Shortly after her birth, the parents spent time in a youth placement run by the care organisation Kaleidoscope, but the father left after a couple of months. By then Anglesey County Council had already launched care proceedings in relation to the baby. They cited as matters of concern the parents’ youth, the lack of family support available to them, their “limited parenting capacity”, the father’s domineering personality and the mother’s learning difficulties.
After the father’s departure, the mother moved to a mother and baby foster placement, where her parenting abilities were assessed. Then in August, the local authority applied to extend the mother’s assessment period and move her again, this time into supported accommodation. This would have been her third placement in five months.
The magistrates who had been handing the case at that stage were concerned, as evidence suggested that social workers had already made up their minds about the mother. A report suggested that neither parent would be suitable carers for E, and parenting assessors also appeared to have come to negative conclusions about the mother, concluding that it was unlikely she would be able to make the necessary changes within the 26 week timetable required by law.
The magistrates therefore referred the case upward for consideration by a circuit judge. In the Family Court at Caernarvon, His Honour Judge Gareth Jones noted that the 26 week timeframe had in fact been exceeded in September.
The Judge declared:
“The Magistrates may well have been bemused, to put it mildly, by the suggestion that the Local Authority, despite the above written conclusion, was embarking upon a renewed consideration of the mother’s position as a sole carer for E, with a rehabilitative Care Plan.”
Also unhappy about the proposed extension was E’s legal guardian, who expressed her opposition when the application reached court.
The Judge refused the Council’s application and ruled that a final hearing on the adoption plan should instead take place in October, with a final care plan and other documents to filed in the proceeding weeks.
The plan had not yet been prepared, in breach of sections 31(A) and 31(3A) of the Children Act 1989.
Despite their earlier conclusions, the plan eventually submitted by the Council came down in favour of rehabilitating E to her mother’s care, with supervised contact for the father.
However, the Council then unexpectedly changed its mind, and chose to push for the adoption of E instead. This news caused the mother “great distress” according to the guardian. The change of plan had been precipitated solely by an recent occasion when the baby fell ill and social workers felt the mother’s response to this indicated that she would not be able to look after the child properly during future episodes of illness.
Judge Jones said:
“Other than this recent period of hospitalisation, this further change of heart by the Local Authority (so far as I am aware) was not occasioned by any other precipitating incident. It appears to represent, as the mother’s counsel indicated to me yesterday, not a triggering event, rather a reappraisal of events and records which … could have been communicated to the mother and to her legal advisors, and to others involved in this case, far sooner. To communicate the news to the mother last week, so close to the Final Hearing, dashing her hopes which had previously been raised, was wholly unsatisfactory.”
Nevertheless, the Judge concluded that adoption was the only realistic option for E, describing the situation as “one of those rare cases”.
“If E’s parents and wider family cannot care for him, then the State is obliged to make provisions for alternative family life, and it is adoption which most closely resembles ordinary family life for a child as young as E.”
The Judge described the mother as “young, inexperienced, and without maturity or resilience”. She had, however, come to accept that she would not be able to properly care for E at that stage in her life.
Judge Jones also criticised the “irresolution” of the Council, describing their performance in the case as “poor”.
Read the judgement here.