Sitting at NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
In the Matter of S (A Child : No 1)
| NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY COUNCIL
|- and -
(3) S (by his children's guardian)
Ms Pauline Moulder (instructed by Yarwood and Stubley) for the first respondent (the mother)
Mr Justin Gray (instructed by Pearson Caulfield LDP) for the second respondent (the father)
Mr Thomas Finch (instructed by ) for the third respondent (the child)
Hearing dates: 17-21 November 2014
Crown Copyright ©
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :
"the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child's welfare, in short, where nothing else will do."
"family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and that everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to 'rebuild' the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing. However, where the maintenance of family ties would harm the child's health and development, a parent is not entitled under article 8 to insist that such ties be maintained."
"History: belligerent and angry, came for sick note, admits intoxicated (10am); on no benefits – all work test > fit for work. Mood very low, doesn't feel life is worth living, looking at custodial sentence 1-2 yrs when goes back to court on 12th August.
Drinking 'a case' (eg 18 cans carling) daily + vodka if he can get it – fills in day, helps the pain, helps him sleep. (this is ~240 u/wk) Little positive in life, no money, no home, says no future. Made dramatic remarks about hanging himself in his opening statement, but when challenged no firm plans, not made any attempts.
Examination: slurred and drowsy. When anger settled, flat affect
Diagnosis: Alcohol abuse.
Plan: drinking heavily and formal pysch assessment difficult now, must be at some risk of self harm > asked to half alcohol and half again then consult for discussion re mood?
… Duration of sickness certificate … 4 weeks"
Had a chat to patient – came back with gf, diff started after on sick with mumps very angry with job centre – stopped money for a month so behind in rent now in debt partner pregnant tried to get job but not managed drinking heavily now + feels hopeless that no-one will help him, angry that not his fault has got into debt, low initially very angry but long chat + agreed needs to sort problems out not helping staying at home drinking agreed to see NECA to try and reduce/stop alcohol, not ready to talk to counsellor, encouraged to sort out situation with finances speak to welfare rights, see Neca + rev here note given for job centre.
Depressed mood – pt not seem partner came concerned about him drinking heavily, feel sis low in mood not eating, refusing to talk about it/see anyone booked appt for him but wouldn't come, tried to get mum to talk to him but not helped, partner 17 weeks pregnant, Plan chat with partner re help available where to go will try to get him to come down again for an appt, given info on neca + plummer court etc for alcohol."
On 12 October 2012 he was stated to be "still waiting to hear from neca" but his GP recorded him as having "done well in last month reduced alcohol to 2-3 bottles a week." On 7 November 2012 the GP recorded "done great stopped alcohol 10 days ago no drink since".
"On Friday 19/04/2013, [the father] offered to care for S whilst [she] went out. When she returned [he] was very drunk having drunk a bottle of whisky with a cousin. [She] at this point had drunk 1½ glasses of cider and decided to stop drinking and resume care of S. She intended to go to bed immediately. [He] came into the bedroom and an argument began. [She] stated she was leaving to go to her own flat with S. She placed S in his car seat and as she tried leaving, [the father] pushed passed her and blocked her way; as he did so, he bumped the car seat and S fell out (fortunately onto the bed). [He] then took S and refused to give him back, when [she] demanded her son back, [he] kicked [her] in the ribs whilst holding S. [She] received minor bruising. [She] called Police and … went to stay with her mother".
In the witness box the father did not dispute this account except for the mother's description of him as having been "very drunk". He told me that he had only a couple of doubles and was not drunk. He admitted that he had kicked the mother in the ribs as he was holding S.
"S presented as extremely passive and was completely unphased by this situation, showing no distress at all … S presented as pale, tired, heavy eyed and was extremely passive; despite the chaotic and aggressive manner in which his mother behaved, S remained unusually quiet and unphased which I found alarming given his age."
I add that his foster carers reported that when S was placed with them "there was no structure or routine and they … needed to implement this." In contrast, the social worker was later able to report (see her statement dated 17 January 2014) that S "presents as a delightful, happy and contented little boy who is thriving in the care of his foster carers."
"Concerns raised regarding [his] overall presentation: he appeared very tired, his eyes were much glazed and appeared unsettled, agitated and at times a little forgetful; his hands trembled uncontrollably. On one occasion I could smell stale alcohol. Although [he] was coherent I questioned whether he had been drinking alcohol; he stated his Probation worker also thought this but adamantly denied this to be the case. He stated he had simply had a tough day."
"extremely distressed and very tearful re current situation – feels injustice that son being taken for adoption, feels he could look after son who is 14 months old, worries about who will be looking after him, does not trust the system, social services mention his drugs in past but denies taking any for past year, also says his only mental heath problem is his distress at not being able to see and look after his son, has good friend who visits – he is apparently in same predicament, with problems of access to his child, mother in …, older brother who has schizophrenia and is homeless never seen, although tearful has good insight into situation, no thoughts of self harm, has been doing his research into law at the public library.
Plan: thinks he will appeal the adoption but needs to reapply for legal aid which is being cut back, needs to stay in contact with solicitor, Psychological therapy declined … stress, 13 weeks, continuous since 8-5-14, to review when he feels the need to talk again."
"He stated after his son was born he was repeatedly 'concerned for his son's welfare due to [the mother's] lifestyle' stating 'I had these concerns long before professionals did'. Despite this, [he] stated he chose not to alert professionals to these concerns, in fact taking the opposite stance in seeking to cut out professional involvement on the basis that it was 'causing him and [her] stress' and preventing them from parenting their son effectively. Whilst it is positive to state in retrospect that he had concerns, in reality, during that time, [he] was either minimising those concerns in any contact with professionals or simply not telling them. It is difficult to understand the paradox in [his] statements; on the one hand he states [she] is a "good Mum" and is to be "trusted"; on the other hand he expresses concerns about her "behaviour" and "attitude". Whatever the explanation, [he] never expressed any of his alleged concerns to any of the professionals involved. In my experience as a Social Worker where there is dissonance between a person's verbal statements and his behaviour, it is invariably the behaviour that is most reliable gauge of that person's views.
Regarding parents lack of engagement with the Child Protection plan and his unwillingness to alert professionals of his concerns for his son, he stated 'I would never put my son in the eyes of Children's Services for any reason'. I find this comment highly concerning; should his son be placed in his sole care, [he] will need to work with professionals and self-report any issues; historically, [he] and [she] have failed to do this and I cannot say without any certainty that this would happen given these comments. [He] appeared somewhat defensive and a little arrogant in his general manner when challenged on this issue; his answers were often contradictory and I felt he again lacked any real understanding and took no responsibility for his actions during this time. Initially he stated that '[She] was dishonest, I wasn't' and that he was 'not a dishonest person'. I challenged this and brought to his attention a number of occasions whereby he and [she] had lied to professionals about their relationship and breached the contact plan; he responded 'professionals never asked me'. He later admitted he didn't work to the Child protection plan, that he did in fact breach agreements and that [she] and S were staying with him when they weren't supposed to be but denied being dishonest about it. [He] stated that when [she] stopped his contact with his son and he was advised to seek legal advice, in his eyes, the contract with Children's Services had ended. He stated '[She] offered me my child and I would never say no regardless of what plans were in place' and 'I would never reject [her] or my son from my home no matter who told me to do so'."
"I am unsure as to the reasons why [he] failed to mention this information; and raises questions around his honesty and validity of the information [he] has shared in this area of this assessment."
"What is evident however is that when all this information is married up with the factual information available; a history of violence, aggression and driving offences, the last recorded incident being as current as June 2013 the majority of which have been alcohol fuelled, concerns raised at the Initial Child Protection Conference with Newcastle Children's Services in July 2013 that [he] minimises his alcohol use and does not see the concerns as other do and indicators in discussions with [him] such as 'I don't drink at all now … I don't feel like I need a drink … I don't go out drinking with friends and will go alone as I'm too scared of getting into trouble … If I feel like having a drink I will go to Davy's house as I feel safe, he keeps me on the straight and narrow and will make sure I only have a few', I have no other option other than to consider this issue needs to be considered when assessing [his] ability to provide safe care to his son. I therefore draw the conclusion that [he] may have unresolved issues with alcohol and that with a lack of evidence to demonstrate his understanding into the above factors, could potentially place any child at risk of potential harm in his care."
"[He] denied reports that on the 21/04/2013 that he had drank a full bottle of whiskey whilst caring for S that night; stating 'I had a few drinks and was merry but was in control of my actions'. He stated he remembered cradling his son in his arms as [the mother] was being 'ridiculous and was trying to snatch S from me in the early hours of the morning', that [she] was 'winding me up stating S wasn't mine'. He stated 'at the time I didn't see it, I would never harm my son and should have used different techniques and could have walked out the room … I should have let [her] leave with our son'. He stated 'I was young and stupid back then' and stated that 'I didn't harm my son that night but I accept I shouldn't have drank'. There was no acceptance from [him] into the immaturity within their relationship and the impact of their dangerous behaviours being displayed in front of their son. [He] showed no responsibility for his actions that evening other than he shouldn't have drank alcohol, often placing blame on [her] actions and behaviours as a justification for his violence. Whilst [he] was able to recognise that he was wrong to have drank alcohol whilst caring for his son stating 'he could have fell over, fell asleep, may not be fully alert and may not have been thinking clearly', he was of the firm opinion that he had not harmed his son that night and lacked complete insight into the fact his son would have been terrified, was caught up in the altercation falling out of his car seat and could have been seriously harmed. He showed no understanding of the emotional impact on S."
"I discussed with [him] the Transfer in Conference in October 2013 in which significant concerns were raised that he minimised his violent behaviours stating 'everyone gets stressed when they are pushed and that [the mother] had pushed him'; he repeated 'I have come a long way since then', that he 'understands this all now'. Again I probed [him] around this understanding he stated he had and what he considered the risks to his son to be; he struggled with this question and became a little agitated and defensive. With further prompting he stated that his son 'would have heard a noise … he would have been upset … I am still working on this, I'm not fully sure … I can't push myself too much'. [His] account of exactly what has changed in his understanding of domestic violence in any detail remains vague and superficial. I suggest that with a lack of evidence to demonstrate his understanding into the above factors, places any child at potential risk of harm in his care."
"I explored with [him] whether he thought his son had been harmed in any way by his experiences; [he] replied 'he has only been around this once, is too young' and that he hoped he 'hadn't been harmed.' There was no recognition from [him] to the fact that his son was in fact witness to 2 serious incidences of violence that we know of, one of which he was physically caught up in, knocking him out of his car seat where he could have been seriously hurt. There was also no understanding or acknowledgement into the emotional impact on his son having witnessed these violent incidences or that he would have been terrified by what he was witnessing, and he was unable to demonstrate an understanding into the associated factors connected with domestic abuse."
"[He] has never been convicted of an offence of domestic abuse, however, he is honest in his account of his past relationship with … the mother of his son. He accepts that the relationship was both physically and verbally abusive and says both parties were abusive. In discussing his behaviour to [her], [he] admits that he believed he only had [her] best interests at heart and at the time felt that he was trying to protect her. There has also been at least one occasion when [he] assaulted [her] when he was intoxicated, he maintains that this was a mutual assault. This did not result in a conviction.
At the commencement of [his] supervision with Probation he presented as being quite rigid in his views about domestic abuse, however, I am of the opinion that although some of his views were rigid, for the main his opinions appeared more due to a lack of understanding about domestic abuse. After lengthy discussions about his behaviour, and [his] apparent honesty about his relationship with [her], in which he acknowledged he had been abusive and/or controlling on a number of occasions; he agreed to undertake some detailed structured offence focused work surrounding his abusive behaviour. From the start [he] presented as being eager to gain a better understanding into his own behaviour and the impact of that behaviour on [her] and their son."
"Regarding domestic violence, [he] stated he 'now accepted his actions were inappropriate' and his issues were 'now fully resolved in this area'.
In further exploring his role in this violence following the completion of these courses, [he] stated his relationship with [the mother] was 'far from usual' but that he 'tries not to beat himself up about it' as he 'can't change what has happened'. Reflecting back, he states he 'should have dealt with it better and taken breaths'. [He] seemed ambivalent regarding his role in this violence and I feel he still struggles to comprehend his actions were not valid; on one hand he stated he 'accepts responsibility for his actions, should have dealt with the situation better and has since apologised' to [her], whilst on the other hand describing his response being due to [her] being 'equally to blame, grabbing his testicles, accusations that S was not his child and sleeping about with other men' as a defence for his actions.
Following the completion of the Solo Programme, [he] demonstrated general knowledge of the impact of domestic violence upon children. [He] was able to demonstrate that children can be affected by hearing or seeing arguments and fights between parents that could impact on a child's development both socially and emotionally and that they may grow up thinking this behaviour is normal. Reflecting back on this violence, [he] was unsure as to whether his son came to any harm when caught up in the altercation where he fell out of the car seat and it was only when the physical risks and the fact he would have been terrified were pointed out to [him] that he was able to accept this.
… Whilst [he] states that he has changed and he would utilise everything he has learned to ensure there would be no further violence in any future relationship, this is an area we have been unable to test out within the context of previous or current court process; his ability to manage a safe adult relationship whilst also caring for a child. The level of violence previously documented to the courts was significant and this remains an untested area."
"When asked what had changed and what he could do to reassure Children's Services that he would cooperate with professionals, he responded by saying 'I have changed' and 'I'm working with you now' and 'I'm letting you speak' and made it clear that his engagement would be predicated on how he was spoken to by a worker and questioned our commitment to working with him.
[He] did not acknowledge or agree with Children's Services in this regard and I was concerned that his acceptance of professional involvement appeared to be very much on his terms. [He] said that he would welcome support, fully engage with professionals and services and listen to the advice given but would not necessarily act on this advice. When this was further explored, [he] stated that he had been given, at times, conflicting information from different parenting workers on how to manage a given situation but stated that the priority would be S's safety.
[He] stated that people tend to take him the wrong way and perceive him to be aggressive when he is in fact being assertive. I would contest this view however as there has been a number of professionals who have found [him] to be opinionated to the detriment of accepting advice and so this area remains untested in the face of a possible rehabilitation of S to the care of his father."
"[The father], to his great credit, has continued to be proactive in terms of his learning and to better himself as a parent. Impressively, he has acted autonomously in accessing and completing a course in domestic violence and anger management as he perceived that other people were recognising something in him that he himself was unable to see. However [his] own accounts of what he has learned suggest he is not yet able to deal with accepting responsibility. It is also commendable that his parents are able to offer a high level of support and have provided some very insightful information into [his] functioning and areas in which they feel he needs support.
Given the lapse of time that has now taken place, it is evident that [he] has made progress and it would be unfair not to suggest the possibility that [he] would be able to provide good enough parenting to his son should the Court decide that a rehabilitation plan would be the most appropriate course of action. Based on the information to date, the risks of rehabilitation not being successful are high but [rehabilitation is] not entirely ruled out. [He] has utilised the time that has passed since the last proceedings in a way that has benefited his understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood in addition to examining his own behaviours. However the main obstacle to this view, is that this learning, through no fault of [his] own, has been theoretical. The elements which have been discussed within this addendum are, for want of a better term, untried or academic.
The success of this would depend on honest communication from [him], a willingness to meaningfully engage with professionals and services, accept support and take advice on board, maintain his relationship with his family and engage fruitfully with Children's Services. However during this assessment process, I have not seen consistent examples of these; for instance, in respect of honest communication, he has not divulged his arrest in April 2014 nor has he divulged the full extent of his housing problems. In respect of meaningful engagement with professionals, this remains uncertain given [his] own accounts indicating he would only engage on his terms.
… it is evident [he] has made progress but I am not of the view that it is sufficient to warrant delay and upheaval for S to further test out [the father] in what would essentially be a long period of time without the reassurance of a positive outcome. There are concerns that a rehabilitation, which may not be successful, would result in S being emotionally damaged by this process and his need for stability and security not being met. There are significant concerns that S is now 18 months old and his need for permanence cannot be progressed until these matters are decided through the Court process.
S's needs are the priority and his need for permanence should not be any further delayed. Therefore in my view, it is not in S's best interests to be rehabilitated to [his father]'s care."
"he is currently settled and remains in placement with potential adopters. However, his care has required more than average levels of nurturing, reassurance and consistent routines to reassure him and to help him develop good sleep routines and manage some of his anxieties … he is making good progress as a result of the consistent care he is receiving.
… Given the option of a long period of rehabilitation for S to the care of his father, without a guarantee of a positive outcome, the Local Authority are of the view that disruption and delay presents too high a risk for S given the information within both the previous and updated Parenting Assessment.
… There are significant concerns that despite some changes to [the father's] circumstances, the success of a rehabilitation plan remains doubtful based on issues around [his] engagement, honesty, past relationships and his capacity to make changes in areas which can be sustained for the duration of S's life. His ability to work meaningfully with professionals to support him in achieving this remains of concern and is untested."
"more than average levels of emotional anxiety and requires well established routines, a high level of consistency, nurturing and reassurance."
It records the view of the independent reviewing officer (IRO) as being in agreement with the local authority's plan for S and that:
"in light of ongoing concerns highlighted in both the previous Parenting Assessment and the addendum Parenting Assessment … a rehabilitation plan with a high level of significant disruption and potential risk of failure would not be in S's best interests."
"A return to his father's care would in all likelihood involve a rekindling of S's relationship with his mother and probably her extended family. This might lead to the possibility of renewed parental tensions and thus distress for S if his parents could not, in the longer term, negotiate consistent and safe contact arrangements for their son.
… Love and affection are very important but for children with more complex histories, such as S, this is not enough. They require parents who are able to identify and then meet their more extensive emotional needs.
… At this stage I am not confident that [the father] is able to understand and meet those needs despite his real wish to do so. S does not have the time for [him] to show that he can develop and use the necessary parenting skills."