IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989
AND IN THE MATTER OF ME ML AND MCL (CHILDREN)
St Mary's Court, Regent Park Road
B e f o r e :
|LONDON BOROUGH OF ENFIELD||Applicant|
|- and -|
MR. J. AGEROS (instructed by Lawrence & Co.) appeared on behalf of the 1st Respondent.
MS. S. BRADLEY (instructed by Hopkin Murray Beskine) appeared on behalf of the 2nd Respondent.
MS. A. DIXON (instructed by Shepherd Harris Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Guardian.
Crown Copyright ©
i) The resources available to support the family if they moved to Redcar.
ii) Family support to be achieved through a family group conference if practicable.
iii) Assessment of sibling attachment.
iv) Re BS analysis of all placement options.
a) Mrs. RL (now 73) would move in with the family for at least two years.
b) Mrs. PG would provide emotional support and parenting advice on the telephone. She further agreed that she would visit occasionally.
"As we have discussed in our previous conversations, I would like to clarify the precise nature of what I am prepared to offer AL and his family should the decision be made to return the children to their parents' care and the family move to live in the North of England.
My role would be quite limited in its contribution to the robust and overarching multi-agency protection plans which will be put in place for all of the children.
I would offer some telephone support to Mrs. RL as well as the occasional face to face meeting with her. Depending on how the situation develops, I would probably have some contact with Mr. AL and his wife when, hopefully, the family's support network starts to be more firmly established."
i) The local authority would conduct their own initial assessment.
ii) In view of the children's ages, the family would be supervised under the local authority's "early help" scheme which enables families to access support groups and child development groups.
iii) A family support worker would be appointed. The family support worker would not be qualified but would be supported by qualified staff.
iv) Monthly visits under a supervision order.
v) Fortnightly visits under a care order.
vi) There would be no financial support under a supervision order.
vii) Access to a health visitor.
viii) Mrs. CL would be invited to a mental health centre for an initial assessment.
ix) The local authority has its own community mental health trust.
The London Borough of Enfield obtained a list of housing agencies. The London Borough of Enfield do not anticipate that housing would be a difficult matter to resolve.
"This has been highlighted by the CAMHS worker who states that during sessions carried out with ME, she will show no bond or positive attachment towards her brothers, despite constant encouragement to talk about them or show her affection towards them through play or art activities.
This is also something that has been highlighted by the foster carer for ME, who states that she does not interact with ML at all within the home. When encouraged to talk about her brothers and what they did during contact, for instance, she has never once replied. The carer tries to encourage ME to interact with ML and show him some affection. However, she reportedly has never shown any level of interest towards him despite being placed together for a year.
ME is described by her CAMHS worker as a child who is very shut down and closed off, and someone who shows similar characteristics to those of a neglected child. In the opinion of CAMHS, ME has not had a positive and consistent parental mind available to her in order for her to develop her own identity which results in her acting closed off and being unable to form positive attachments. This would correlate with the amount of times she has been in and out of care at such a young age.
ME is a child who requires a great deal of one to one work and nurturing from a carer or an adoptive family that will work at her pace and allow her to continue to develop within a stable and permanent placement. Careful consideration will need to be given to the exact type of care and support she will require in the future, but CAMHS are very committed to working with ME and any potential adoptive family to ensure that when a placement is sought for her, either alone or with her brothers, then it will be the right placement that will allow her to thrive and reach her full potential in all aspects of her life."
"ML and MCL currently see each other for several hours per week during contact. It has been noted that, at times, the two boys argue and show little attachment to one another. It is clear that MCL is jealous of ML in the attention that he gets, often resulting in MCL acting aggressively towards ML and pushing him over, for instance.
However, it would be fair to say that this level of jealously between two such siblings would be normal and will be heightened by the fact that they not only have to share their parents' affection during contact times but also because they are currently placed in separate placements which has not allowed them the chance to develop a strong attachment to each other."
"The local authority thought the court may find it useful to have an idea of placement statistics. So after further consultation with Enfield's adoption team, we were able to analyse the team's past success rate regarding the placement of sibling groups. Over the past five years, the team has only managed to place one sibling group of three. With regard to two siblings, between 2009 and 2010, there was one sibling group of two placed. In 2010/2011, there were three. In 2011/2012, there were two. In 2012/2013, there were three and from 2013 to date, there have been two sibling groups of two placed."
"I visited the children at their foster placements on 4th February 2014 and requested and received updating information about ME's progress at school dated 17th February 2014.
ME, during my visit, engaged well with me on a one to one basis to complete her puzzle, and whilst talking about her friends at school. However, the view expressed by her foster carer is echoed in the letter from her school. That is that ME is generally very much on the outside of events around her. She talks about her friends but actually rarely engages with them. With her brothers, and in particular ML, she does not talk about them and makes little to no effort to engage with them.
The information from CAMHS suggests that ME presents as an emotionally neglected child. One has to question how much ME's early life experience in the care of her mother at a time when her mother's illnesses were not managed well and her mother was physically and emotionally vulnerable has impacted on ME's early attachment development.
One has to question how much the removal from her mother's care and placement with foster carers has impacted on her attachment development. One also has to question the impact of parental alcohol misuse and domestic violence on her attachment development. It will only be through further work with ME that answers will become clearer. ME needs to be placed within a family setting where she can learn and experience on a consistent basis, that there are people/carers that are emotionally and physically available to her, that she can rely on adults to protect her and to meet her needs whether or not she seeks it out.
When considering the local authority's placement for adoption and her specified needs, I would argue that ME is likely to benefit from a placement where she is the youngest or only child."
"(2) A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied -
a) That the children concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
b) That the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to –
i) The care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him."
1) All parties accept that on 26th January 2013 (the relevant date) the children were suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. The harm was attributable to the care being given to the children by the parents, not being what it is reasonable to expect a parent to give.
2) Previous harm
The children are the subject of supervision orders made on 12th September 2012 during care proceedings. Within those proceedings it was accepted that the children had suffered owing to the mother's mental health problems, numerous incidents of domestic violence between the parents, periods of imprisonment in respect of both parents and alcohol misuse. A copy of the agreed threshold is attached.
3) Domestic violence
On 26th January 2013 at 5 a.m. the mother was arrested by the police following an allegation that she had assaulted the father. The parents accept that there was an assault with an implement that caused substantial bruising/cuts to Mr. AL. The children were present in the home at the time of the attack.
4) Alcohol misuse/mental health issues
At the time of the assault on 26th January 2013, the mother was under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol affects the mother's anti-psychotic medication and is known to make her angry and violent. Both parents have previously admitted drinking alcohol knowing that this can fuel arguments. Mother admits to using alcohol as a mechanism with stress.
5) Non-cooperation with child protection services
The parents have a distrustful and volatile relationship with social services. They did not cooperate fully with the arrangements for monitoring and support of their care of the children under the supervision order.
On attending the family home on 26th January 2013, the police found the home environment to be extremely untidy with brandy and flour on the floor as a result of the incident.
i) The societal, medical and emotional pressures on the parents have been enormous.
ii) Mrs. CL has remained abstinent from alcohol from February 2013.
iii) Mrs. CL engaged with services in an attempt to address her maladaptive use of alcohol.
iv) There is no evidence that mother is not currently compliant with the psychiatric services and, in particular, with regard to her medication.
v) She has a developing insight into difficulties within the relationship.
vi) She has an enduring psychiatric condition in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.
vii) Mr. AL has continued to have difficult and challenging relationships with professionals within these proceedings as he did during the currency of the earlier Supervision Order.
viii) Mr. AL uses complaints against professionals as a defence mechanism.
ix) Mr. AL has no or limited insight as to the impact of domestic conflict on mother's mental health.
x) Mr. AL failed to engage in any meaningful work with Mr. Clark or the Moorfield Centre around the underlying cause of marital conflict.
xi) Mr. AL is challenged by the competing vulnerability of his wife and his children, and has repeatedly failed to prioritise the children's emotional and physical safety as demonstrated in January 2013.
xii) During Mrs. CL's psychiatric episodes, the children have been exposed to episodes of explosive violence.
xiii) Mrs. RL's principal concern is for her son and that she did not report events of July 2010 to social services. In consequence, the court must be extremely cautious about her ability to work transparently with the agencies.
Recent case law
"The welfare evaluation and the question of what, if any, orders are to be made, engages Article 8 of the Convention and the proportionality of that intervention must be justified. One cannot have a clearer description of the imperative than that contained in the Supreme Court's judgments in the matter of Re B (A Child)  UKSC 33. A court cannot apply the yardstick of proportionality in its consideration of what is necessary without having evidence about the options to which it can apply a welfare evaluation. As McFarlane LJ said in Re G at :
'What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.'"
In Re BS (Children) EWCA Civ.1146, the Court of Appeal said this;
"22. The language used in Re B is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – are 'a very extreme thing, a last resort', only to be made where 'nothing else will do', where 'no other course [is] possible in [the child's] interests', they are 'the most extreme option', a 'last resort – when all else fails', to be made 'only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child's welfare, in short, where nothing else will do'. See Re B paras.74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.
23. Behind all this there lies the well-established principle, derived from s.1(5) of the 1989 Act, read in conjunction with s.1(3)(g), and now similarly embodied in s.1(6) of the 2002 Act, that the court should adopt the 'least interventionist' approach. As Hale LJ (as she then was) said in Re O (Care or Supervision Order)  2 FLR 755, 760:
'The court should begin with a preference for the least interventionist rather than the more interventionist approach. This should be considered to be in the better interests of the children… unless there are cogent reasons to the contrary.'
25. Implicit in all this are three important points emphasised by Lord Neuberger in Re B.
26. First (Re B, paras.77, 104), although the child's interest in an adoption case are paramount, the court must never lose sight of the fact that those interests include being brought up by the natural family, ideally by the natural parents, or at least one of them, unless the overriding requirements of the child's welfare make that not possible."
Section 1 The Children Act
(a) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the children concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)
(b) His physical, emotional and educational needs
(c) The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
(d) His age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
(e) Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
(f) How capable each of his parents, and any other parent in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs
a) At times when she is experiencing psychotic thoughts, her ability to meet the needs of the children would be impacted due to preoccupation with her symptoms;
b) If depressed, she would be remote;
c) If intoxicated, the children will be exposed to explosive situations;
d) She needs to remain compliant with her medication for the foreseeable future;
e) Mrs. CL understood her diagnosis and was able to identify symptoms;
f) Mrs. CL had a history of non-compliance but this was linked to her mental health.
Sections (a), (b), (d) and (e) have been addressed by me above but the balance of the checklist that requires further examination is as follows:
(c) The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become and adopted person
(f) the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including:-
(i) the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so.
(ii) the ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the children's needs.
(5) In placing the child for adoption, the adoption agency must give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.
Placement with mother and father supported by Mrs. RL, Mrs. PG and Mrs. JD with a support package from Derbyshire
a) Adoption ensures a child is a permanent part of the adoptive family to which he or she will belong. To the child it is likely they will feel different to when they are fostered. The commitment of the adoptive family is of a different nature to that of a local authority foster carer whose circumstances may change however devoted he or she is, and who is free to determine the caring arrangements. ME is a child who requires certainty and security in the care arrangements for the whole of her life. The Guardians analysis suggests she will require significant remedial work supported by committed and supported lifetime carers. The boys relationship needs to be nurtured and supported in a robust and committed forever family.
b) Parents may apply for a discharge of a care order with a view to getting the child back to live with them, whilst an adoption order is made for ever. These three children have been in and our of care throughout their lives. It is essential that the uncertainty in the arrangements for their care is brought to an end.
c) Contact in the context of adoption is different to that in the context of a fostering arrangement. The local authority is obliged to allow contact in the context of long term fostering . The contact position can be regulated by alternative orders, but the situation is still in marked contrast to that of an adoptive child.
Open adoptions are unusual. There are open adoptions where parents see the child but it would be fair to say that generally, contact only happens in the context of an adoption where there is full agreement. Once the adoptive order has been made, the natural parents normally need leave before they can apply for contact.
d) The local authority no longer has a role in the life of an adoptive child which means the child escapes from the ongoing administrative burden of reviews, meetings and consultations. ME, ML and MCL are still very young. It would not be appropriate for these three children to be burdened with the administrative demands of a fostering arrangement throughout the rest of their minority when weighed against the limited benefits of long term fostering for them.