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”.
“[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.