IN THE PRESTON FAMILY COURT Case No. BB14COOO42
Friday, 25th July 2014
HER HONOUR JUDGE SINGLETON QC
In the matter of:
Re: A (A CHILD)
Counsel for the Local Authority: MISS HOBSON
Counsel for the Mother: MISS WALL
Counsel for the Child: MR. ALLEN
JUDGMENT APPROVED BY THE COURT
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This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of the family must be strictly preserved. All persons including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.
1. THE JUDGE: This is an application for the secure accommodation order in respect of A (born 13th March 1999) who is now 15 years and four months of age. The application is brought by the Lancashire County Council, represented by Miss Hobson of counsel. A’s mother is represented by Miss Wall of counsel. A’s father does not hold parental responsibility for him and is not a party to the proceedings. A himself has been represented by counsel, Mr Allen, and his children’s guardian is Sally Wright.
2. A was due to attend this hearing by way of video link from detention but has declined to attend the video link facility at the secure training centre where he is being held. That is probably for good reasons in that he would have to remain in the video link facility for two hours and he anticipated that he would have some difficulties sustaining good and peaceful behaviour during the two hour period with nothing to do except occasionally talk to Mr Allen or come through to this hearing. Therefore, he has not given Mr Allen direct instructions but he has been seen by Miss Wright. I also have his perspective on this application set out comprehensively in a document which somebody has encouraged him to prepare and in which he has set out why he should and why he should not be subject to a secure accommodation order. Mr Allen did not urge upon me that I should adjourn these proceedings.
3. This is the second time I have considered a secure accommodation order for A. I made a secure accommodation order on 9th June until today and delivered a judgment which has been published. Neither A nor any professional were identified in that judgment which was published because of the real difficulties Lancashire County Council encountered in meeting A’s need for protection from his self and in meeting the public’s needs for protection from A. I have already set out in a judgment which needs to be read alongside this one the difficult history of this matter.
4. A is a child who is, in effect, parented by the Local Authority. He was made the subject of a final care order by District Judge Jones on 14th June 2012. He had had an extremely troubled background even at that point. He appears to have been committing offences at a very early age and has been addicted to cannabis from a very early age. The chronology which accompanies the application made to me is one that I already described as frightening having regard for his conduct to others. He has committed violent and sexual assaults on others. The chronology also establishes a clear risk to A from others. That risk has played itself out over the last few weeks when he has been subject to assault after his history became known in the detention centre where he is held. As a result he has had to be detained on his own, out of the way of the other trainees and young offenders who are detained with him because of that risk. I concluded on 9th June that the criteria under the Children Act 1989 section 25, the secure accommodation criteria, are made out in that unless A is kept in secure accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons. Those criteria being made out, I have no discretion but to make a secure accommodation order.
5. Therefore, I do make a secure accommodation order. The only issue over which I have got any discretion is the length of that order. The Local Authority seek an order for the maximum length of six months. Nobody is seeking to argue that that is not appropriate. The order that I make, of course, does not oblige the Local Authority to keep A in a secure accommodation but permits them to do so. It seems to me that I should make an order for the period of time that they seek having regard for this very troubling history, which I have summarised here and is also set out in my previous judgment. This is the second part of the judgment, and it is appropriate for this judgment also be anonymised and published for the same reasons as the first and because this judgment is the conclusion of the first one.
6. On the working day following the last judgment, A appeared before the magistrates having being recalled under the terms of his release license from detention – and that is a detention under a sentence, he having committed a criminal offence. He has, since that time, been detained having been recalled under his sentence at a secure training centre. The secure training centre where he is now detained has liaised extremely effectively with the Local Authority and have provided them with all the information they sought from the last detention centre. They have demonstrated an understanding of the needs of A as a child parented by the Local Authority and of his needs as a young person who presents a risk to himself and to others. I remind myself that Probation Service consider that he poses a very high risk of harm to himself and to others and that his MAPPA rating is three which means that MAPPA also consider him to present a very high risk.
7. Notwithstanding all of that and the judgment that I have previously delivered, and not withstanding continued efforts by Lancashire County Council’s social work professionals, no approved secure accommodation centre in the country have indicated a willingness to take A. One unit may be willing to take him but that unit may or may not be suitable for reasons which I do not need to relate. There continues to be an acute shortage of secure beds for children who satisfy the criteria under section 25. Those beds are referred to as welfare beds because they are for children who are in the care of the Local Authority to promote their welfare either because they have been accommodated or are subject to care orders ( as in this case). There are only about 60 welfare beds out of approximately 1,200 secure beds in the country. Those are the statistics that I was given and that I published in the last judgment.
8. It seems that A is not the only child in respect of whom the Local Authority are searching for welfare beds. On the last occasion, the Local Authority were told by an official from The Department of Education that there were three other children in the same situation as A. During their assiduous searches this time, they have been told by an institution that they were being approached for places for nine other children. It seems that the secure institutions up and down the country are able to pick and choose which secure accommodation welfare children and young people they take. This young man, who is extraordinarily difficult and has had an extraordinarily difficult history, seems to be a child whom the relevant institutions have little inclination to accept.
9. That leaves this Local Authority wrestling with an extremely difficult problem of promoting the welfare of the child in their care and in respect of whom they are the statutory parent, whilst at the same time protecting the public and protecting him from the harm that his situation undoubtedly presents. They have approached that task with huge effort and industry. I know that the weekend before I last delivered a judgment, they had worked around the clock to try and locate a placement. They have also worked with imagination; the plan for A now is that he should return to the children’s home which is not approved to be a secure centre, where they will not be able to lawfully detain him because that children’s home is not an approved secure placement. Nonetheless, the Local Authority have in place plans that will hopefully enable A to settle safely and not to abscond, commit offences or to be violent. Those plans will involve a large investment of resource and this Local Authority has not only invested professional work and imagination and flexibility in this case but they have also made no question of the issue of financial resource. They have put the public protection ahead of resource. Their plans will involve extra staff going into this home, including waking watch staff. Ultimately, however, if A goes out to commit offences, the Local Authority will not be able to stop him, because this is not an approved secure unit. It is that problem which drives me to deliver a second judgment for publication in this case. It is in the public interest that the obvious risk of the lack of resource highlighted in this case are made known.
10. I make a secure accommodation in this case for a period of six months as asked and I am going to provide, again, for an anonymised transcript of the judgment to be prepared.