The judgment is being distributed on the strict understanding that in any report, no person may be identified by name or location (Other than a person identified by name in the judgment itself) and that in particular the anonymity of the children and the adult members of their family must be strictly preserved
RE: S & M (Minors)
1. In this case the local authority, X Metropolitan Borough Council, commenced proceedings in relation to two children: 'A', who was born on (date given) and she is now six years old; and 'B', who was born on (date given) and she is two and a half years old.
2. The local authority commenced proceedings in March 2009 and there is no doubt at all that at that point in these children's lives, proceedings were justified and the local authority were justified in taking those proceedings. The local authority and the mother's solicitor have agreed a threshold document today which sets out the basic facts of why the children were made the subject of an interim care order.
3. Notwithstanding that and the historical concerns, it is very clear to me that the mother has made a significant amount of progress in relation to the longstanding concerns which the local authority say existed then and existed previously. There have been a number of assessments of the mother. There has been a psychiatric assessment which indicates that as long as she can remain drug-free, her psychiatric difficulties are unlikely to surface again and it is clear that she has been able to address her difficulty, albeit longstanding, with drugs and has been drug-free now for some considerable time. She managed to come off her Methadone problem before her child, 'C', was born in March of this year. I am told – and I have no reason to doubt it – that she visits, which is the drug treatment centre which has been assisting her, every three weeks and that she has provided clear samples, the details of which have been sent to her social worker.
4. The mother and her partner, Mr L have now been together, I think, since February 2009. The Guardian (and I will come on to the Guardian's view in a moment) indicates that that is a relatively new relationship. In terms of relationships seen in this court, it is perhaps not as short as some we see and in any event Mr R, on behalf of the mother and in part on behalf of her partner, Mr L, indicates that both of them have had stable and quite longstanding relations previously. Of course, I take into account that they now have a baby themselves, who was born in March of this year, and I particularly take into account the fact that the pre-birth case conference was unanimous in its decision that there was no need for registration of that child, nor indeed was there any need for any court proceedings.
5. There have been announced and unannounced visits since the children returned to their mother in February and there have been no concerns. No concerns are raised by the school or the nursery. I particularly take into account in this case the fact that the social worker is well known to this court. He is an experienced social worker with some ten years experience and, unusually in my experience, has been the allocated worker throughout this case and he, having worked with the mother, her partner, Mr L and the children, and seen the new baby and taken all the reports into account, is of the view that supervision orders are an appropriate disposal and a proportionate response to the concerns which might – and I say 'might' – resurface or need to be addressed in this case.
6. Mr R, on behalf of the mother, submits that the Guardian has perhaps laid too much weight on the negative factors and the historical concerns. There can be no doubt that there is a wealth of historical concerns and that there are still some matters which need to stand the test of time. I feel somewhat sorry for Miss A, the Guardian, who took over this case at very short notice shortly before the previous final hearing.
7. CAFCASS in this case have not covered themselves in glory. The previously allocated Guardian, Mrs C, has been on long-term sick leave and been unable to carry out her duties in this case and a number of other cases known to this court for a considerable period of time and yet CAFCASS say that she is the allocated Guardian. As I say, she has not actively worked the case at all and has only seen the mother for a matter of minutes at court on one stage very early in the case, so Miss A comes on board having to absorb what is a complex case mainly on the papers of course and at a very short space of time before this adjourned final hearing. Given the historical concerns it is perhaps not surprising that the paper information which she sees does not give her a true flavour of what I accept is the progress that has been made which militates against giving too much weight to some of the historical negative factors in this case. I thank her for her assistance to the court, but I do bear in mind that she has only been involved for a short time and that she has largely dealt with this matter by way of a paper exercise and a review of the historical papers and she has not met with the mother, Mr L or the children.
8. It is for those reasons that I depart from the Guardian's recommendations that the girls should be made the subject of care orders and accede to the local authority's care plan and the mother's request that they should be made the subject of supervision orders.
9. I would hope that having been through these proceedings, the mother knows what the expectations of the local authority are and that those expectations should be met by her for the foreseeable future, otherwise I have no doubt – and the local authority has this avenue open to them – that the local authority has and could commence fresh proceedings if circumstances deteriorate. But in the meantime, given the current circumstances and the fact that there is a baby at home who is not the subject of any order or proceedings, a pre-birth case conference having decided none were necessary, it seems to me a proportionate response in this case to make a supervision order in respect of both the girls for a period of twelve months from today.
10. All that I would say is that the Guardian's position statement does contain certain comments about things which might be missing from the care plan. Those are matters which need to be considered in reviews, like therapeutic life story work for these little girls so that they understand what has happened, and one or two other matters which I will not ask the local authority to put into its care plan because I have already commended the social worker in this case for his work, but some of them are justifiable comments in respect of omissions, Miss T, and I think they should be taken on board by the local authority.
11. So I make those supervision orders and that concludes the proceedings and, of course, as usual I make no order for costs, save public funding assessment.