Care proceedings launched nearly two weeks after the birth of a baby have been called ‘inexcusably late” by a High Court judge.
A baby, referred to as ‘LW’, was born on January 16 this year. Twelve days later, the local authority launched care proceedings, saying there were grounds to believe the child would be a risk of “significant harm” if left in the care of her parents.
The family had been known to social workers for a number of years. The mother already had a child, now two, when she began her relationship with LW’s father. This was fraught, characterised by domestic violence and drug taking – at one point, the mother went to live with her own parents, taking ‘B’, the older child with her, as the situation deteriorated.
The local authority launched proceedings under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, saying the boy was at risk of emotional harm. The mother eventually agreed to B staying with her parents.
Social workers were aware when the mother later fell pregnant with LW, and knew the expected date of birth. They prepared a care plan for the new baby. But, explained Mr Justice Keehan:
“[The care plan was] not, however, worth the paper it is written on because, as it now transpires, it was ignored by everyone connected with the local authority.”
The hospital informed social workers the mother had given birth, but interim care proceedings were not launched until 12 days had elapsed. They argued that LW should be taken into foster care. Both parents opposed the plan.
At the short notice hearing, the Judge was very critical of the delay in launching proceedings, saying:
“The local authority was inexcusably late in making an application for an interim care order.”
Their failure had been “contumelious”, he said – scornful or insolent. It had meant the parent’s legal team had been served with notice of the hearing just hours before the hearing, depriving them of the opportunity to properly contest the plan and argue against taking their baby into care.
The hospital in which the mother had given birth could not accommodate the infant any longer but it and the local authority were both convinced that she would be at significant risk if returned to the care of her parents. Consequently, the court had no choice but to do agree to the interim care order. The court nevertheless insisted that the local authority arrange contact between the parents and child five times per week, “at whatever cost and inconvenience to itself”.
Mr Justice Keehan declared:
“I am in no doubt that the parents in this case have been done a great dis-service [sic] by this local authority. It may well be that the outcome would have been the same whatever the length of notice that they and their respective legal advisors had had of this application; that is not the point. It is all a question of perceived and procedural fairness.”
Nottingham City Council admitted that that the proceedings had been late.
Read the ruling here.