A care order for an a11 year-old boy with suspected autism should be set aside, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
L (Children) concerned a family with four children – three teenagers and one 11 year-old, referred to as ‘AL’, ‘JL’, ‘PL’ and ‘NL’ respectively. Social workers from Cambridgeshire County Council had been involved with the family for a number of years, worried about living conditions in the family home, questionable parenting practices, poor behaviour by the children and the family’ multiple mental health issues. Several show autistic traits.
Sitting in the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice King noted that:
“The father, himself, has complex needs both psychologically and physically. He is reported as suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome and he is in a wheelchair. He has been living in a shed in the garden of the family home for a number of years.”
The father used an intercom to communicate with the rest of the family back in the house.
Following assessments and interventions, AL was taken into foster care in 2014 due to violent behaviour. NL, who is 15, has since expressed a wish to change gender, from female to male. His family had not been supportive in response, he believed and so he approached the local authority and asked to be taken into foster care like his brother.
Full care proceedings later began when NL claimed that 18 year-old AL had sexually abused him before his gender transition. In July, a Judge issued interim care orders for the 15 year-old and his younger brother PL. These did not have a major effect on the youngsters’ situation – NL remained with his foster family while PL stayed at home – but the Judge’s ruling in relation to the latter was appealed.
Social workers planned to remove PL from the home and take him into care when they had found a suitable placement able to cope with his suspected autism on a long term basis. The order has specified that the interim care order would only come into effect when such a placement had been found.
The social workers had not drawn up a care plan for the boy. PL’s legal guardian insisted that a psychological assessment was needed.
Lady Justice King agreed, saying:
“An assessment is clearly of the first importance, given that the local authority’s current position is that PL’s particular difficulties, which include socially inappropriate behaviour which have resulted in him on occasion being exclude from school for a day or two, can be managed by way of strategies and routines, which are not being implemented by the parents.”
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, explaining the difficulties she foresaw in finding a suitable placement for PL:
“In my judgment, the judge was wrong to make what amounted to a suspended removal order, as not only was there no evidence that the local authority would be able to identify an appropriate placement, but, more than that, the judge wholly failed to take into account the guardian’s understandable view that absent the psychologist’s assessment in relation to PL’s autistic traits the local authority were not in a position adequately to identify such carers or properly to equip those carers with the information and understanding of PL they would require if they were to cope with his significant difficulties and the inevitable distress he would suffer being removed from the care of his mother.”
The care order was therefore set aside and replaced with an interim supervision order, under which PL would remain at home while social workers continued to monitor the situation.
Read the ruling here.