Judge asks: why wasn’t court money spent on therapy?

Children|September 19th 2017

A family court judge has questioned a local authority’s decision to spend money on care proceedings for the second child born to a vulnerable mother rather than offer her therapy.

The case concerned a five month-old baby girl who had been placed with a foster family under a temporary care order. The same family had already been looking after her older brother, now three, who was taken into care earlier this year. The unnamed local authority now planned to place both for adoption, with their mother only allowed to write to them when they were older: an arrangement known as ‘letterbox contact’.

The mother, in her mid-20s, has learning difficulties following a traumatic childhood, a fact which led His Honour Judge Wildblood QC to describe the case as “desperately sad”.

He said:

“[The mother’s] grief is very apparent. This is yet another truly wretched public law case. It is also yet another case of a young mother with a background in which she has experienced extreme abuse and deprivation whom, I am told by everyone involved in this case, has not been offered therapeutic support. It may well have been discussed with her in the past but has never been followed through to the point of offer of therapy.”

Psychiatrists who had assessed the mother concluded that any progress the mother might make with therapy would be “outwith the timescales of the child” – i.e. it would take too long. The Judge reluctantly agreed with this assessment, saying:

“I have seen a lot of wringing of hands as people speak with regret about the sadness of this case. I express that sadness and regret myself.”

He declared an adoption order in the children’s best interests, a conclusion which allowed him to set aside the mother’s objects under the relevant legislation.

The Judge added, however:

“…I ask anyone who does read through this judgment to ask themselves these four questions:

i) Is it right that this mother should not yet have been offered therapy, particularly bearing in mind that her first child was born three years ago and was himself the subject of lengthy proceedings?

ii) If she had been offered therapy at an early stage, is there not at least a possibility that the outcome of these proceedings might have been different?

iii) Even if the outcome would not have been different, would not an attempt at therapy make these proceedings more satisfactory?

iv) Has the money that has been spent on issuing proceedings (£2,055 is the cost of issuing a care application) and on psychological evidence (over £2,000) well spent when the expenditure is incurred before attempts at therapeutic support have been made in cases of this nature.”

The full ruling is available here.

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  1. Dr. Manhattan. says:

    Local authorities never offer therapy to parents. they will always go for proceedings and ignore any other possibilities. this can only send Alarm Bells ringing. especially when Adoption is in their sights.

  2. padrestevie says:

    This is another thoughtful judgment from His Honour Judge Wildblood QC. He begins para 52 with an apology. However, I think this is unnecessary because yet again here is yet another family case where lessons from prior cases are either being forgotten or not even read and learned in the first place. The judge states:

    52 Therapy – For someone at my level of the judiciary to cite things that he has said in the past seems narcissistic and arrogant. With a huge apology, therefore, I would like to cut and paste into this judgment what I said nearly three years ago in another case reported on BAILII, when I first became Designated Family Judge here: ‘This case is another example of how important it is that, if therapy is needed, it is obtained at an early stage. Time and time again I see a process whereby the following occurs: a) a Local Authority intervenes and begins making assessment of a family; b) months later proceedings are issued; c) an order is made for some form of expert evidence to be produced (often a psychological report); d) months later the psychological report is obtained which says, invariably and utterly foreseeably, that someone within the family needs therapy and e) it is stated that, by then, the beneficial effect of therapy would be ‘outwith the timescales for the child’. In this case, for instance, it would have been perfectly obvious to all that, when the mother was referred before birth, she was a prime candidate for therapy. If therapy were to be obtained at an early stage such as that there is at least a prospect that outcomes in some cases might be different. I have therefore already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how we facilitate and access therapy in this area, with a view to doing my utmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. I ask for as much help as possible with that endeavour’.

    I feel that there is no reason for the judge to feel contrite. In fact I think that the other judges, who failed to heed his advice, actually owe him and the respondent mother an apology.

    In this case, in the family court, lessons are not being learned in the sphere of public law. Recently, there has been similar evidence which I have highlighted in the private law arena.

    Sadly, it does seem to be a regular failing and scarcely a judgment gets published that does not contain at least some evidence that important lessons are not being learned. At a time when it has never been easier to research case law this is clearly disturbing and simply not good enough.

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