IN THE FAMILY COURT Case No: LS14C000531
SITTING AT LEEDS
IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989
Date of judgment : 3 July 2015
HER HONOUR JUDGE LYNCH
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In the matter of : V, W, X, Y & Z (children)
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Alison Hunt for the Applicant Mother
Andrew Fox for the Applicant Grandmother
Vicky James for the Respondent Local Authority
No appearance of the father of V
The father of W - Z appeared in person
Richard Howard for the older two Subject Children
Nigel Bowman for the remaining Subject Children
Hearing dates: 23 – 25.2.15
Judgment handed down : 3.7.15
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1. In these proceedings I am concerned for V, W, X, Y and Z. They are the older five children of a sibling group of six. The mother of all the children is M (‘the mother’), the father of V is H and the father of the younger children is F. The children’s maternal grandmother (‘the grandmother’) is GM. Although through the majority of these proceedings the mother and grandmother have been representing themselves, they obtained public funding prior to the issues resolution hearing and have been represented at this hearing. F took no part in these proceedings, including not filing any statement, until he attended at the first day of this hearing, on which day he stayed until lunchtime and then left. I was made aware by court staff that police attended at court that afternoon to arrest him which may explain why he left court. He returned on the last day of the substantive hearing, spoke with the social workers regarding a contract of expectations around contact which he refused to sign, and then left court again. I understand he was arrested later that day. W and V have both instructed their solicitor direct and the guardian has been represented by the solicitor for the younger children. During the lifetime of these proceedings W and V have on occasion turned up at court hearings but I was clear with them it would not be appropriate for them to come to this final hearing. I offered to meet both of them away from the court room; V took that offer up but W failed two arranged appointments.
2. All six children were subject to care proceedings which concluded on 19.6.15, the judge who dealt with that being Recorder Pemberton. Care orders were made in respect of all the children apart from V and also a placement order in respect of B, who is now placed for adoption. A child arrangements order and supervision order were made in respect of V who was to live with her father. I shall return later in this judgment to the issues addressed then but both the mother and maternal grandmother, the latter having been made a party to the proceedings at the final hearing, were ruled out as carers for the children.
3. M sought to appeal the orders made by Recorder Pemberton, that appeal being refused on 12 November of last year. Then on 19 November, one week later, the mother filed an application to revoke the placement order in respect of B, as did the maternal grandmother, which I treated as applications for leave and which applications I ultimately refused in February of this year after a contested hearing. The grandmother has lodged an appeal, out of time, against my decision in respect of B, which application as I understand it has not yet been determined. W then made his own application to discharge his care order, followed shortly afterwards by the mother issuing applications to discharge the care orders on all the children and for greater contact with the children including unsupervised and overnight contact – I shall return to her position regarding her applications later. The maternal grandmother seeks to discharge the care orders in respect of X and Z and to have more extensive contact with Y, also seeking more extensive contact with the girls if they are not placed with her. She too wishes contact to include unsupervised and overnight contact. All of those applications in respect of discharge of the care orders and contact have formed part of this hearing.
4. The final application I am asked to consider comes from the children’s guardian who invites me to make an order under s91(14) Children Act 1989 limiting further applications being made by the family in respect of the children, to minimise the chance of future litigation destabilising them. No formal application for such an order was made by any party but when I asked the guardian at the conclusion of his evidence he indicated he did wish me to consider such an application. His proposal is that I should make orders preventing the mother, grandmother, V or W applying without leave to discharge the care orders or for a review of contact arrangements for a period of two years.
5. Looking at the situation as it is in reality at this time, V returned to her mother’s care around July or August 2014 and then W did likewise by December 2014 to January 2015. Therefore, although the local authority would prefer them to be in foster care, they are in effect now living at home with their mother. The other three children remain in foster care, Y in one placement and the girls in another. Contact for the mother and grandmother takes place on alternate months, the mother’s being for one hour and the grandmother’s for two hours. I believe the children are also meant to have had monthly sibling contact since they were first removed although this has not happened with any consistency and has become even more problematic since W left his foster placement.
6. These proceedings have been protracted, in part because the mother and grandmother have been unrepresented and what the mother has wanted has changed at different times, with her filing various applications during the proceedings. Ultimately all applications were joined up together and the local authority given time to look at the situation and set out clear plans of each of the children, who between them have three social workers. I have had the benefit of a guardian in these proceedings, who was the guardian in the original care proceedings and the intervening sets of proceedings including B’s, so he brings consistent oversight to the case.
The Issues and the Evidence
7. In preparing for this hearing I have read the full bundle of papers provided to me in this matter, including a number of documents from earlier proceedings regarding the children and B. A number of documents have been handed to me during this final hearing – a letter from MST who are working with the family, the worksheets the children did for the guardian, an email from the IRO regarding the views of the girls, an email from the girls’ current social worker, a letter from the older children’s school, and certificates of achievement obtained by W and V. I have heard evidence in court from four different social workers (the workers for these five children and for B), from the mother, the grandmother and the guardian.
The mother’s case
8. The mother, up to the outset of this hearing, was pursuing discharge of the care orders in respect of all five children. However in the week preceding this hearing the court and the parties were made aware of an incident which occurred on 17 June when there was a significant physical dispute between the mother, V and W, which had involved the children damaging the house and assaulting their mother, W apparently pulling a knife on her. When social workers visited they report that the mother initially acknowledged the children were out of her control and that they should stay on care orders, although towards the end of the visit her more open attitude reverted to anger and hostility toward social workers. Ms Hunt spent time with the mother on the first morning of this hearing and ultimately when the hearing commenced told me the mother, whilst she still hoped ultimately to care for all of her children, acknowledged in the light of this incident that realistically the court would not discharge the orders in respect of V and W nor return any of the other children to her care. She therefore has not pursued the application to discharge the care orders but does still seek extended and unsupervised contact with the children. She also said she supported the girls being placed with her mother at this time, denying that she had been opposed this when speaking to one of the social workers very recently. In terms of C, she did acknowledge C used cannabis and there had been a fight previously been V and C, and said it would be better she moved out and got her own place, but did not seem to think overall this was an issue in respect of her children living in that household. I would have to say though from her evidence it was very clear that the mother wishes her family to be fully reunited in her care and I was left with no sense that she will ever really accept them living anywhere else. Equally I had no sense that she acknowledges her role in her children's problems, her evidence being clear that she blames everyone else including Social Care.
9. The mother accepted she maintained contact with the father whilst he was imprisoned by visiting and he has been to her home since then because he and W wanted contact. She spoke of being proud of the father because he had done a parenting course in prison. The mother did not feel she could prevent contact as she knew her son wanted to see his father. She said she would like there to be arrangements in place so she knew what was meant to happen, maybe at a weekend organised by F's mother, but she was doubtful the children would keep to this. She did not accept there was any risk to the children from the father, saying there would not be the same problems now that they were not in a relationship, but then went on to say she was confused as to what he wanted in respect of that.
10. In respect of the contact which has happened since the children were removed, the mother says that this has not happened consistently. The plan was for contact to take place for one hour in alternate months but in fact it had happened in October, December, March and April. She says that she has had to push for contact to be organised and has not had good notice of the dates for contact sessions. In her statement she acknowledges that Y and Z can be very demanding, making it hard to give X as much attention, but she feels that the children are demanding because they see so little of her. The mother would want to have some contact just with Y who she felt needed that individual time. She feels one hour every two months is not enough such that contact would be meaningful and of good quality. She would want contact with the children to be at least monthly, fortnightly with Y to rebuild her relationship with him. The mother objects to the venue for contact, a room at social services, when she would like to be able to take the children out and have activity based contact for a longer period of time, to have normal family time. She does not wish her contact to follow straight on from her mother's or vice versa as she thinks it will be too much for the children.
11. The mother also was concerned at the lack of contact between the wider sibling group. She feels W and Y would benefit from some individual contact, likewise the girls with V. She points out when the children were originally made subject to care orders the plan was for monthly sibling contact but since V and W had been at home the new plan is three times a year for all the siblings with them also joining the mother or grandmother’s contact four times a year. She was adamant the children should see each other every month as originally planned, all of them. She felt the children had deliberately been denied contact because W and V had returned home.
12. In her statement the mother therefore said that she would wish the contact plan to incorporate contact time for Y and W on their own; the girls with V; all five children together; the mother with Y on his own; the mother with Z, V and X; and the mother with all five children together. She would want her contact to be unsupervised, so as to make it the most natural ‘family time’ possible, and to include overnight contact. In her statement she said it might be confusing for the girls to come home for contact when they were not living at home but she felt that could be managed.
The grandmother’s case
13. The grandmother is clear that she wishes to care for X and Z. She seeks the instruction of an independent social worker and for this case to be adjourned whilst such assessment is carried out. Mr Fox on her behalf submits that such delay is ‘planned and purposeful’ and will not jeopardise the current placements of the children. It is her belief that she has been marginalised from the outset of local authority involvement, with little regard being given to her ability to parent the children, and that the viability assessment of her was insufficient to inform the court as to her capacity to meet the children’s needs. She feels the local authority have been quick to see negatives in respect of her without acknowledging positives.
14. The grandmother makes the point that she has always been committed to the children and there is a good bond between her and them. She has tried to address the issues there have been in her life, having been sober since January 2013 and now not even needing medication to maintain that and she has not been in a violent relationship for a very long period of time. She has also made contact with a project and after the proceedings conclude intends to engage in further work with them. She has put great thought into how she could fit the children into her home and organise school places for them.
15. Although she does not think other members of the family would jeopardise matters if the girls were with her, in due course the grandmother would invite the court to make any such orders as were necessary to manage that.
16. The grandmother is able to admit that things are not good between her and the social workers but she says she can see some positives in the children’s relationship with their carers, particularly Y. She does not however accept the views expressed by the girls that they want to remain in their current placement, sure as she is that they would prefer to be with her, and I should say the mother was of the same view. They both talked of the words used in the work sheets done by the guardian not being the girls’ words. The mother spoke of professionals knowing what to say to the girls to get a particular reaction and objecting to the fact they had not been given a clear picture of what the grandmother wanted.
17. The grandmother does not accept suggestions by the local authority that she has said negative things to the children in contact which could be seen as undermining their placements. Her view is that she has raised such matters with social workers at the end of contact, she says out of earshot of the girls, and says she has had no other opportunity to raise such matters.
18. In terms of contact, she wants her contact to progress to unsupervised and overnight and certainly does not wish it to reduce in duration as is proposed. She says her contact is generally very positive for the children, particularly the early activity-based contact, and she thinks the current setting, a small secure room, is wholly inappropriate and unnecessary. She does not trust the local authority to promote her contact and would prefer there to be contact orders.
W & V’s case
19. W and V’s case reaches me most clearly in letters they have sent to me, together with my meeting with V, although of course Mr Howard has also presented their case very ably. Both children say that they want to continue to live with their mother, which is accepted by everyone in this case. The children are very positive in their letters about their mother’s care. Both of them also say that they do not want the care orders in respect of themselves to continue. W's letter was written at the beginning of this year when he was still not permitted by the local authority to live at his mother's, although he was running away there at the time. In his letter therefore the focus is on being back at his mother's rather than why he does not want the care order to be in place. But through Mr Howard though I am told W’s objection is to the involvement of social workers in his life, particularly given his experiences of workers since 2013. What V says in her letter is very similar, that she does not want anything to do with the social workers. She says “I just don't like them and I don't like what they have done to us. I don't wish to be impolite to them it is just that I don't want to speak to them.”
20. F attended this hearing briefly on the first day and sat through the morning's evidence. The local authority took advantage of this hearing starting slightly late to speak with the father to put in place a plan to re-establish contact between him and the children subject to certain actions taking place first. I asked the father at the beginning of the hearing if he was content with what had been discussed. He told me his one issue was that he would want to go to collect his children from the mother's home. He did not stay however to deal with this in any way with the local authority when the relevant worker gave evidence. He also declined to sign the contract when it was gone through with him at court.
The local authority and guardian’s position
21. As the guardian and the local authority take essentially the same position on the family’s applications I shall deal with these together.
22. The local authority social workers take a unified stance in respect of the plans for the children and oppose any of the care orders being discharged. I was told the plan for W and V is clear, that it is accepted they should remain in the care of their mother, even though the local authority would have preferred W to remain in his foster placement, but the local authority wishes to retain the care orders, to enable it to remain involved with the children, to provide the children with support and also to provide the mother with support in her parenting of them. It was acknowledged that the relationship between W and his social worker had entirely broken down, V’s with her worker having generally being a bit better.
23. Despite all this the local authority remains of the view that care order should remain in place in respect of the older children. The local authority says it needs to share parental responsibility with the mother because she has not exercised her parental responsibility appropriately, because having an allocated social worker provides a focal point for other professionals to contact someone regarding concerns, that the local authority can act to protect the children such as reporting them when they are missing which the mother has not done or to accommodate them if such were necessary, to coordinate professionals involved in the education of the children, to ensure someone has regular contact with the children in their home even if they will not engage, and to ensure multiagency planning for the children, as well as attempting to regulate contact between the children and their father given the risks involved. The local authority makes the point that the children would also benefit from leaving care provision.
24. In terms of further assessment of the grandmother, the local authority is clear this is not required. It acknowledges improvements she has made including abstaining from alcohol and engaging with a project, but says the concerns that existed when Recorder Pemberton gave her judgment in June 2014 still remain. The local authority says she still minimises and fails to understand the reasons why the children were removed from the care of their mother and minimises the mother's ongoing difficulties. She also has a volatile relationship with the children's mother and other members of her family which would impact on the children. If the girls were in the care of the grandmother she would be unable to protect them from involvement from their mother and siblings. The local authority would say she also struggles to work with professionals.
25. Looking at contact, the local authority accepts arrangements for contact are very complicated due to number of people that need to be considered and the local authority has worked to come up with a better plan. The local authority however does not agree to extending the younger children's contact with their mother, grandmother and older siblings. Looking at the contact between the younger children and their mother, the local authority would say this is chaotic and is not of good quality. The local authority says that M, V and W say inappropriate things to the children during contact and this has an unsettling effect upon them. SW1 said, after a contact whether mother talked about coming home and about court involvement, the foster carer said Z was tearful and was changing her view as to whether she wanted to go home or remain in her foster placement. The girls have also complained about stomach aches or headaches prior to contact. The mother had also when saying goodbye to Y at the end of contact told him she would keep asking the judge about the children coming home. Overall the girls in particular are very happy in the placement they are in and I saw evidence of their desire to remain there, from their previous social worker and from the guardian. I read emails from the IRO and their current social worker which support that evidence, although I accept those witnesses were not made available for cross-examination so I do not place significant weight on their evidence.
26. The guardian too is concerned that the mother's opposition to plans for the younger children pose a significant risk to the stability of their placements, which the guardian says has to be the priority for them. He feels contact between the younger children and the wider family must be at a level which will maintain relationships but not such as would destabilise them, given that he would still not support return of the children to family placements if the foster placements broke down.
27. Looking at the grandmother’s contact, the local authority acknowledges that there are positives to this, that she does plan the contacts and thinks of what to take. However she too has said less than ideal things to the children and has been hostile to contact workers in front of the children. There have also been problems with other members of the family turning up at her contact which led to it thereafter being held in a social work room. The local authority is worried that if contact were moved out of the social work building and into the community that would be a much harder situation to manage.
28. Whilst the guardian felt the grandmother shared the mother's view that the children should not be in foster care and about social workers, he believed she was more able to hide her views from the children. He had concerns about some of the things she had said in contact which the children heard and he was also concerned about the fact that family members turned up at one of her contacts. He felt there was more potential though for managing her contact in such a way that practical arrangements could be improved, both in terms of venue and duration. He however supported the local authority in terms of the frequency of the grandmother's contact and the pattern, enabling the younger children to have periods of time when there was no contact with their family to assist them in settling with their long term carers.
29. Given all the difficulties, the social workers for the different children have come up with a plan which it is felt would best meet the needs of all the children. It attempts to provide for contact between the three younger children who remain in foster care, contact for all five children together, contact for the five children with the mother, contact with the five children for the grandmother, and also anticipate contact resuming between the father and the three younger children. The local authority's goal was also to allow the three younger children space between contact so that they would have the opportunity to live a normal family life in their foster homes, the emotions aroused by contact with their natural family having the potential to unsettle them.
30. The plan is inevitably complex and hard to summarise but provides for one hour of contact six times a year between the mother and children and for one hour of contact six times a year between the grandmother and the children, with these two contacts happening on the same day one after the other and with W and V joining four of those sessions over the year with one adult or the other. The plan provides for contact between the father and the three younger children four times over the year. It also provides for a large sibling contact an additional three times a year, meaning the five children would get together seven times over the year. In addition there would be a small sibling contact involving just the younger children and their foster carers six times a year, which would mean they would see each other every single month as a minimum. Finally, it has been agreed that the children's step-maternal grandmother, who came to court to support the mother on the first day of this hearing, should join a total of three contact sessions over the year, as well as a maternal aunt and two maternal cousins joining on occasions.
31. It can be seen that maintaining the relationships between the children and their extended family inevitably involves a number of contact sessions. The father's with the younger children needs to be separate from the mother for obvious reasons. The mother and grandmother have suggested they could share some contact but historically their relationship has been very up and down and I can see why the local authority is providing separate contacts. Equally the children need some contact which is just with each other, although the fact that W and V are back at home and are opposed to the younger children being in foster care adds a layer of complication. The local authority says at the present time the alternating arrangements for contact, with the children seeing either their mother or grandmother each month, as well as the additional contact, makes for a high level of contact in a situation where the plan is not for the younger children to return to live within their family. The social worker is proposing that there should be a month in between contact with the mother , grandmother and their older siblings which would give them time to settle further into their foster placements. The social workers also propose the contact for younger children should be in school holidays where possible.
32. I now turn to consider what orders if any are in the best interests of each of the children. I start from the position that, wherever possible, children should be brought up by their natural parents and if not by other members of their family, and should have a proper relationship with them if not living with them. The state should not interfere in family life so as to separate children from their families unless it has been demonstrated to be both necessary and proportionate and that no other less radical form of order would achieve the essential aim of promoting their welfare. In Re B  UKSC 33 the Supreme Court emphasised this, admittedly talking about adoption but other cases make clear that long-term removal to foster care is not so very different. Re B reminds us such orders are “very extreme”, and should only be made when “necessary” for the protection of the child’s interests, “when nothing else will do”. The court “must never lose sight of the fact that (the child’s) interests include being brought up by her natural family, ideally her parents, or at least one of them”.
33. In reaching my decision I have taken into account that the welfare of each of the children is my paramount consideration, although there is the potential for that to be in conflict, and also the need to make the least interventionist order possible, indeed only to make an order if it is appropriate. I am conscious that I must have in mind the general principle that any delay in determining the question is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child. I must also consider the Article 8 rights of the adults and the children. Any decision I make will inevitably involve an interference with the right to respect to family life given the complexities of this family. Having given very careful consideration to the orders I am going on to make, I am satisfied that those orders are in accordance with law, necessary for the protection of the children’s rights and are proportionate.
34. Looking at the matters I have to address in respect of each of the children, with V and W I have to consider whether there is value in the care orders continuing or whether they should be discharged, possibly being substituted with supervision orders. In respect of X and Z I have to consider they should remain living with foster carers and also whether I need the benefit of an independent social work assessment of the grandmother to answer that question, given her desire to care for them. In respect of all five children I have to consider what contact they should have with members of their family, including each other, and whether there is any need for me to define that contact. Finally I have to look at the impact of court proceedings on the children and whether I should restrict in any way the ability of the mother, the grandmother or the older children to make further applications. In addressing those questions it is important that I balance the pros and cons of each of the options being presented to me together with any other options which seem worthy of consideration. McFarlane LJ in Re G  EWCA Civ 965 said “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 addressing this task I have also considered all the points in the welfare checklist as contained in the Children Act 1989.
INDEPENDENT SOCIAL WORK ASSESSMENT OF THE GRANDMOTHER
35. After the grandmother became legally represented, around the time of the issues resolution hearing, reference was made for the first time in these proceedings as to whether a full independent social work assessment of her was required to enable me to determine whether the girls should be placed with her. The grandmother has always been of the view that the girls should come to live with her and indeed that was her application at the final hearing last June. Having received legal advice her position has become one of inviting me to order an assessment of her by an independent social worker to inform the decision I have to make.
36. Mr Fox very helpfully put his client’s position in a skeleton argument at the outset of this hearing which assisted me in considering the point as the hearing progressed. The grandmother does not feel to date she has had the opportunity of a full parenting assessment. On her behalf it is accepted that there was a negative viability assessment in early 2014 which was addressed in the judgment of Recorder Pemberton in June 2014. I relied on that judgment in part when refusing the applications to revoke the placement order in respect of B. I am conscious that the grandmother has submitted an application for leave to appeal that decision but Mr Fox does not ask me to adjourn these proceedings pending determination at that appeal.
37. The grandmother believes she has never been given the opportunity to show truly her capabilities to parent, feeling she was ‘written off’ and marginalised from the outset. She feels the local authority, following that negative viability assessment, have never really considered her as a carer for the girls. It is clearly true to say that as a result of that assessment the local authority did decide that she would not be able to care for the girls; that was their position to the court in June 2014 and it has not changed. Although the local authority have seen the significance of her relationship with the children, indeed planning more contact for the children with her than was planned with their mother, the grandmother feels the venue for contact, a social work room, is such that it does nothing to assist in the development of a relationship between her and her grandchildren.
38. The grandmother points out that some of the matters which were raised in the viability assessment are by now less significant matters and I acknowledge that. The grandmother has had a long history of problems with alcohol but I entirely accept she has now been abstinent from alcohol for something approaching two and a half years, likewise domestic violence has not been a problem in any relationship with a partner for an extremely long time.
39. She says that I need a full assessment of her before I can decide whether or not the girls should be placed with her. The grandmother acknowledges that her relationship with the local authority is a difficult one and she says they cannot now view her objectively and assess her as a carer, hence her application for an independent social work assessment.
40. The question of the instruction of experts requires me to deal first with the relevant law. No party can involve an expert in a family case unless, as set out in s13 of the Children and Families Act 2014, a court is satisfied that such expert’s evidence is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly. The President in Re TG (A Child)  EWCA Civ 5, commenting upon the test in its previous incarnation in Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, said that this test was ‘on any view significantly higher than the old test of what is reasonably required”. Again, in Re H-L (A Child)  EWCA Civ 655, it was said : “The short answer is that ‘necessary’ means necessary… If elaboration is required… it “has a meaning lying somewhere between ‘indispensable’ on the one hand and ‘useful’, ‘reasonable’ or ‘desirable’ on the other hand”, having “the connotation of the imperative, what is demanded rather than what is merely optional or reasonable or desirable.”’
41. I also need to look at s13(7) Children & Families Act 2014 which sets out the criteria to which, when deciding whether to give permission to instruct an expert, the court is to have particular regard. I am required to consider the impact which giving permission would be likely to have on the welfare of the girls, which links to the question of the impact such an assessment on the duration of the proceedings. Within six to eight weeks an assessment could be carried out and so the delay in determining the question of where the girls would live would be at I imagine about three to four months. Delay is generally seen as harmful to children. The local authority say that the children are aware of these proceedings from things which have been said to them in contact and the social worker for the girls believes they would be unsettled were they to know that there was further assessment of their grandmother as a potential carer for them, which could impact on their placement. The grandmother makes the point the children had been settled in this placement since they were first removed from foster care and are doing well there.
42. I also have to look at the issues to which the expert evidence would relate and the questions which would be asked, as well as whether evidence could be given by another person on those matters. Mr Fox helpfully put before the court a draft letter of instruction and in essence what is invited is a full parenting assessment, including addressing the grandmother's understanding of the local authority's concerns, issues around alcohol, her ability to avoid any negative relationships, her ability to protect her grandchildren from the mother or father, and her ability to promote contact. The question of her ability to work with the local authority is also addressed. The local authority and guardian would say I can obtain the information I need to reach my decision from the historic papers, from the viability assessment, and from the observations of the grandmother's contact since the conclusion of the last case.
43. I go back again in my mind to the legal test of whether such an assessment is necessary, something which is demanded rather than merely optional or reasonable or desirable. Recorder Pemberton decided last summer it was not necessary. That does not prevent me looking at whether it is necessary now but it is worth going back to look at her judgment. She deals with the grandmother across paragraphs 56 to 66. I am not going to set them out in full here but I am going to quote key sections from that judgment because much of what she says there is what has gone through my mind during this hearing, focusing as she inevitably did on the conflict and enmeshed relationships within the family and the difficulties there were between the grandmother and the local authority.
44. Looking at the relationship between the mother and grandmother Recorder Pemberton said : “I was saddened to hear that the relationship between M and her mother had been so poor that there had not been direct face to face contact following the removal of the children in February. I think this pattern is likely to continue with periods when there is a good relationship and other times when the relationship is very poor. The children if placed with their grandmother would be exposed to ongoing conflict. It is clear that GM would struggle to prevent C from taking whatever steps she felt were appropriate in relation to any of the children.” The judge went on to talk about C having gone to the children's school and turning up at the girls’ foster home, and the grandmother's inability to manage that. She spoke of physical fights between C and W and of the volatile relationship between the mother and her sister. Looking at those issues the judge said “ The provision of services and support or of court orders would not alleviate this as they would be reliant on GM to report matters and recognise dangers.”
45. Recorder Pemberton also identified the issue of the grandmother not recognising that the concerns about the mother's care of the children, of her inability to see how the children were the product of parenting they had received from her daughter. The judge considered the question of further work being done with the grandmother by the local authority to improve the situation. She said : “ I am not confident about her ability to work with professional agencies. I note that she left the family group conference prior to the conclusion of the meeting…..and I note that she was abusive at court on the 7 th February – referring to the social worker, or on her account the people in court as “fucking bastard”. When she was asked what she would do if M turned up to see the girls she told me that she would tell her to contact the social worker. She was very hesitant in this.” She went on : “It is clear that she felt unable to challenge her daughter about these rumours and feelings and I think this is indicative of the dynamic between M and GM. I was left with the very clear impression from GM’s evidence that she was somewhat fearful of her daughter and her daughter’s volatility telling me that she will avoid her daughter when she is irate.”
46. Recorder Pemberton concluded her section in respect of the grandmother at paragraphs 65 with these words : “ The history of the relationship between M and GM presents a very difficult and confusing picture. There have clearly been times when GM has been a significant support to M and I note in particular she has offered her daughter support during the course of this final hearing. However there have been other times when there has been significant acrimony and conflict between mother and daughter that must have been confusing and distressing for the children. Whilst the children may not have been present when the police were called due to fallouts between mother and daughter, they must have been aware of the acrimony in the relationship. A significant part of the reason for the children being removed from their mother’s care and a significant factor in terms of my decision making has been the need to protect the children from further acrimony and conflict. To place the girls with their grandmother in my view would place them at risk of being exposed to further conflict. The children if caught up in this conflict will inevitably be emotionally harmed and may well be physically harmed.”
47. And the judge’s final words in respect of the grandmother were : “GM is clearly making progress in terms of her own issues and I hope that this continues. It may be that during the course of the reviews for the children, the role that GM plays can be revisited. I certainly hope that she will play a significant role in terms of her contact with the children but as the evidence stands today, I am not convinced that she can meet these children’s needs either now or in the short to medium term. I have considered whether the problems that GM is likely to experience in caring for the children could be assisted and supported by the provision of services by the local authority. Whilst services may to some extent alleviate and support GM, I do not see what services could be put in place to prevent the children being exposed to the acrimony within this family and the stresses and anxieties that will face this family over the next few months and possibly years. Whilst I hope it is clear therefore that I recognise very clearly the obvious benefits there will be to the girls, if they could not be brought up by their mother, in being brought up by their grandmother whom they clearly love very dearly, I am unable to find that a placement of the girls with their grandmother is consistent with their welfare interests.”
48. It seems the grandmother feels that when I made my decision regarding B I was wrong to find that she had been banned from school premises at the end of last year. She produced a letter to show there is no current ban. I have since seen a letter from the school to the local authority talking about the grandmother having asked for clarification “regarding her ban from our school site”. I read that letter to imply there was a previous ban but as the grandmother had accepted previous behaviour was unacceptable and would not be repeated there was no current ban. I do not therefore see any evidence which tells me I was wrong to make reference to this in B's judgment but it is not a factor in the decision I am making today. Similarly the grandmother is aggrieved that the social worker has made unwarranted accusations about C harming another girl in January and the grandmother’s subsequent behaviour at the hospital. Again I do not feel any need to make findings in respect of this as it has not formed part of my decision making today. I say this because I told the grandmother during the hearing neither of these factors would play a part in my decision and I want to be clear to her that they have not.
49. Going back to Recorder Pemberton’s judgment, I have quoted from this much more extensively than I would normally do because the words could be my own a year on. Looking at the assessment proposed now, I am satisfied I do not need an assessment of the grandmother in respect of matters such as alcohol or domestic violence in a relationship with a partner because they are not live issues for me. The key issues for me are the conflict within this family and the harm that would be caused the children by being exposed to it, as well as the ability of the grandmother to work with the local authority were the children in her care. For all the reasons identified by Recorder Pemberton last summer, I agree that placement of the girls with their grandmother would open them up to all the problems within this family. I do not believe the grandmother could manage her daughters (the mother or C) nor V and W and I do not believe they will be able to keep away from the girls if they living with their grandmother - the pull would simply be too great. There is also the risk of volatility in the relationship between the mother and father now he is out of prison and has been going to her home. This is my view even if they do not resume an intimate relationship, and I am far from certain that will not happen. The assessment identified by Mr Fox is not necessary for me to address that key issue and I am therefore not going to allow it. For the same reasons, were it being sought I would not agree to the girls being placed with their grandmother now without assessment, given that I find they would not be safe from the conflict in the family and I do not accept the grandmother would work with the local authority in terms of any support offered to address that.
50. For all these reasons I therefore refuse the grandmother’s application for an independent social worker and refuse her application to discharge the care orders in respect of the girls.
DISCHARGE OF V & W’S CARE ORDERS
51. It is obvious that none of the family members, including V and W, want the care orders in respect of the two older children to remain. In the welfare checklist the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned have to be considered and given the ages of these young people their wishes have been at the forefront of my mind. Everyone acknowledges that W's relationship with his current social worker has entirely broken down and V’s with her social worker is variable.
52. I have looked at the situation the children are living in at home with their mother. I have no doubt whatsoever that she loves all of her children and wants to do what is best for them but it is evident the task is beyond her. I am not going to go into detail about the recent difficulties involving the older children but I think her response to the local authority on that day demonstrates how hard life is for her at the moment. She is clearly keen to improve her situation but can only focus on one thing at a time, currently the court case. The behaviour of the older children, which I am satisfied is the result of the parenting they have received over the years and not because of being in care, is beyond her ability to manage and would impact on the younger children were they living with her. When looking at whether or not they should be care orders I cannot disregard their behaviour and her abilities. I also have to take into account that F is now back in the community and is going to the mother's home, with all the risks that brings.
53. Mr Howard makes the point that I need to consider whether there is a need for a care order and of course he is right. The guardian in his evidence was very clear that, despite the lack of evident cooperation from V and W, there were still good reasons to keep the care orders in place, that they were indeed needed, the position the local authority also takes. He pointed out that the mother has not exercised her parental responsibility altogether in a satisfactory way and at times has failed to protect the children from things happening around them. This was still the case for example in terms of contact between W and his father. Care orders would allow the local authority to determine, or at least try to, the contact which does take place. The guardian noted that both parents minimise the difficulties around that and saw no risk in the contact but the guardian could see the potential for conflict in the future. He felt it was necessary for the local authority to give direction and to facilitate that in a way that would be safe for the children. When listening to this evidence I had in mind the fact that the father had just that day declined to sign a contract of expectations around contact. The guardian did of course acknowledge the difficulties in a practical sense managing contact if W and his father declined to be controlled.
54. The guardian also pointed out that the mother had not reported the children missing after the recent conflict between her and them, even though she did not know where V had stayed. The guardian was conscious that the relationships between the mother, W and V could be difficult and he had some misgivings about the children's growing independence and the mother's ability to manage that now and in the future.
55. Mr Howard put to the guardian that a supervision order would be a lighter touch, with the local authority not holding parental responsibility. The guardian was unconvinced that the children would accept any local authority involvement, whatever the order. He could see that maybe a supervision order would be preferable to them but on balance he could not agree that was right. He accepted a supervision order would still enable the local authority to give advice and make investigations but the local authority would have less authority to gain access to the children or dictate contact. There would also be more power under a care order to enforce, although he accepted the limitations of that given the situation. In response to my queries on this point, the guardian said that in his experience where working relationships are difficult, if lesser orders were made then if progress was not made local authorities were more likely to close cases as resources could be better used elsewhere. If the care orders remained in place there would be an active duty on the local authority to promote the children's welfare as well as giving them authority and power. He pointed out it would add an intermediary level and negotiation and oversight from the independent reviewing officer. It would also add a safety net if there were breakdowns in relationships at home which could lead to a real risk to the children, as well as the provision of accommodation or financial support if needed.
56. In considering whether the care order should remain in place in respect of the older two children, I believe that they need to be kept safe whilst having the best possible relationships with family members. I think their situation living with their mother has many risks inherent in it. I am quite sure that she is very committed to keeping them with her and doing as much she can for them but the recent physical disputes between them show how fragile the situation is. I know that she wants to meet the needs of the children but I do not believe she is in a position to do this entirely. The children are back at home because they have voted with their feet and not because any professional or the court has said this is the right place for the children to be. I am quite sure the children would not turn to the local authority if there were difficulties but I believe the social workers would do their best to ensure the needs of the children were met if they became aware of problems.
57. I have had in mind that Mr Howard says W is afraid he may be removed from the care of his mother because he knows the local authority have the power to do that under a care order and have in the past tried to make him return to his foster placement. The local authority has said very clearly in court that it acknowledges his wishes and will not seek to do so but Mr Howard makes the point that that may not reassure W.
58. I have looked at the options of retaining the care orders or replacing them with a supervision order or indeed having no orders at all. I have reminded myself that a supervision order would only last for one year unless application was made for it to be renewed. On balance I feel the risks within the family home, particularly now that the father has come out of prison and is seeing W, are such that the local authority needs to have an ongoing responsibility for the children and to share parental responsibility. It is also important that in decisions regarding contact the local authority has a responsibility to promote contact for all five children. In making this decision I acknowledge I am going against the wishes of teenage children, children who tell me they do not like being heard but not listened to, but ultimately I have to do what I think is best. The reality is they will continue to live with their mother as long as that is what they wish, even though it is not what the local authority thinks is best. V has been back in her mother's care for a year now, W for six months, without being removed and there is no reason to think the local authority's approach to this will change. Substituting the care order with a supervision order or having no order would leave the local authority without parental responsibility and I do not believe that would be in the best interests of these young people. They may not want the help the local authority will be obliged to offer but it should be available to them. I therefore refuse W’s application to discharge his care order and I am not going to discharge V’s either. A recital should be added to today's order to reflect the local authority’s position that it accepts the choice of both children to live in their mother's care and is not seeking to remove them.
59. I next turn to the question of contact, a task which is going to require the wisdom of Solomon to resolve. The local authority plan is complex but clear. The social workers for all the children have produced a plan they think best meets the needs of all the children, having to balance those where there is a conflict. The decision I have made means that the younger three children are going to be in foster placements for the foreseeable future. They need to be able to commit to those placements and build up a normal family life in those homes. They also need a level of contact with their natural family which promotes their identity and recognises the strong sense of family that they have, important characteristics of these children. That contact needs to be with the key people within their natural family, their mother, their grandmother, and with W and V. There is also the question of contact with their father if he will work with the local authority to find a safe way for that to happen. Other people within the family such as their maternal step-grandmother, aunts and cousins whilst important are not as significant.
60. When considering what contact is right I have to consider any harm the children have suffered or are at risk of suffering. The guardian summed it up in his report saying : “ The children have suffered significant emotional harm through being exposed to domestic violence and to chaotic and unstable family circumstances on a chronic basis and the emotional and behavioural development of each of them has been compromised to varying degrees. They each primarily require stable and safe care in circumstances wherein they identify positively with their carers, so that they may make remedial progress.” [C71]
61. It is also important that I consider the potential harm that could result from contact, balanced of course with the benefit of retaining their relationship with their natural family. That links to considerations of how capable the mother and grandmother, and indeed V and W, are of understanding the children's emotional needs and meeting them in contact. Contact clearly needs to happen but in such a way that it does not prevent the children identifying with their foster families as their long term carers.
62. Of course I need to look at the wishes and feelings of the children in terms of contact, taking into account their age and understanding. The guardian described the direct work he had done with the three younger children about their wishes and feelings and I saw the workbooks he had done with them. On his first visit he talked about preparatory matters and then on the second and third visits went through the worksheets with them while they were with him. He saw each child on their own. He had written out Y's sheets for him as Y would not do this and he assisted the girls with spelling but he was very clear the thoughts were their own.
63. Both girls talked of wanting to stay with their foster carers and indeed X prepared a poster for the guardian saying that this was what she wanted. They were also clear they wanted to stay together. The girls talked of their mother shouting and of wanting her to be calm. X said she saw her mother and grandmother enough, similarly W, but wanted to see Y more. Z spoke of wanting to see her dad but not particularly making reference to her grandmother.
64. Y was clear he wanted to see his mother and grandmother, his older brother and sister. He said he would like to see his mother and his grandmother more often, and it is clear he has a particular strong sense of identity with his family. He also spoke of wanting to see his father.
65. I must not of course forget V and maybe most particularly W, who want to have a relationship with their siblings who remain in foster care. There is a particular challenge in balancing the needs of the older children with the needs of the younger children as V and W strongly disagree with their siblings being in foster care and W I am sure would struggle to let the younger children commit to their carers.
66. The arrangements for contact have to reflect the plans for the younger children which is for them to remain placed away from their natural family. The idea of the children seeing a family member every two to four weeks is not going to enable them to absorb this. The simple number of people with whom contact is to be arranged, coupled with the fact that the contacts with adults need to be separate because of family difficulties, compounds the problem. Links with the natural family have to be maintained but the children need to be enabled, by the adults involved and by the arrangements themselves, to absorb internally that they are not going back to live in their natural family.
67. I have read a number of references in the contact notes to comments, explicit or implicit, which show the difficult relationship between the mother and grandmother on the one part and the local authority. The mother has made comments on several occasions in contact to the children about these proceedings, including on 11 March asking the children if they wanted to return to her care. The grandmother's comments it seems have been less significant but she still says things in earshot of the children, either oblivious to their presence or disregarding the impact on them of what she says. I appreciate the grandmother in particular does not accept the children heard what was said but I am satisfied that they have been around her when critical things have been said so will have heard. Having seen the hostility of the mother in particular in the witness box to the local authority it is evident what the problems would be in managing contact. I would agree with the guardian that I think that is slightly less of a problem with the grandmother. Whether she is simply not as emotionally up and down as her daughter or whether maturity enables to her to manage her feelings better I do not know. The mother struggled to even sit through the hearing without expressing her feelings and had to leave the courtroom several times. The problem is that unless the mother and grandmother can during contact give the children permission to be in foster care, by which I mean giving them a positive message about the carers and social workers, their contact may harm the children. I would ask mother and grandmother to think very carefully about this as their approach needs to change if their contact is to improve.
68. The level of contact the mother is asking the court to approve is simply not workable. I am also satisfied that I cannot prescribe exact contact arrangements as they need to be flexible around the children's needs and to adjust over time. I am therefore not going to make any defined order regarding contact. The guardian says the local authority's proposed arrangements are broadly appropriate and I would agree but what I want to do is set out my thoughts about contact and I then direct that a copy of this judgment is to be provided to the IRO for her information.
69. The local authority accepted that arrangements to date had not proved successful, with too many workers being involved and there not being a central coordinator. Hopefully now the children will have between them just two social workers. It is also planned that a social work assistant will take responsibility for contact arrangements, a very sensible proposal. It is crucial that dates are set up well ahead so that everyone knows when sessions are to happen and what the practical arrangements are to be. I also agree with the local authority's proposal that contact involving the mother, grandmother and where possible that involving W and V, should take place in school holidays. That would have the added advantage, when the time is right and when it meets the children’s needs, of some of it being able to develop into activity based contact.
70. In terms of sibling contact, it must be right that X, Z and Y have monthly contact and the local authority are right to plan for this. I am not going to specify it but will rely on the local authority to ensure it happens; it will of course be clear that if this is regularly breached the need for an order next time would be much more obvious. That contact should be able to be relatively informal as it would involve the foster carers for the children. I would also agree that ideally the younger children would have that level of contact with V and W but it is not realistic given the approach of the older children at this time to the younger children's placements. If in due course the older children can make the necessary adjustments to their own thinking contact can be reviewed. For now though I am satisfied the plans of the local authority in respect of the larger sibling group are appropriate. Separate individual contacts, say between W and Y or between the girls and Y could be factored in if the older children can accept the plans for the younger children but whether they can is far from certain.
71. Looking at the contact between the children and their mother and grandmother, I think the proposal of contact six times a year with each is right at this time. Equally I can see why at this time contact needs to be in a setting where it can be appropriately supervised and where staff can be satisfied no other family members will simply turn up. I would hope very much that the mother and grandmother would be willing to meet with the local authority and talk through what is needed for contact to be able to move on to a more natural arrangement. I think the local authority need to commit themselves to setting up such a meeting, possibly with a neutral chair, to try to assist in getting a contract of expectations in place showing what is required of each person, including the local authority. It also needs to address any “dos and don’ts” as to what should happen in contact. I do not underestimate the magnitude of the task but the local authority of course know that this mother and grandmother are not going to walk away from the children. At this point, particularly if there is a change of worker, everyone needs to view this as a fresh start and use it to get an arrangement in place which best meets the needs of the children.
72. In principle it would have to be better for the children, both younger and older, for contact to be activity based and I would expect the local authority to have a goal of achieving that. The mother and grandmother however need to demonstrate that such contact will not put the children at risk of harm, either by other people joining or by things being said in front of the children which give them a negative message about their placements or about the possibility of them moving to live with their family. My view is that the grandmother is nearer that position now than the mother. Having read the notes of contact, the one the grandmother had when the family all went out and the one when they did cooking activities do seem generally quite positive. I thought the grandmother's description of the planning she put into the latter of those sessions was very touching and should be the kind of thing that the local authority could build on. I would agree though with the guardian that the grandmother has at least been naive in thinking other members of the family would leave her to enjoy her contact. She needs to understand the potential for them impacting on her contact arrangements and she needs to work with the social workers to ensure this does not happen. It is also crucial that an arrangement is put in place, and recorded in the agreement, as to how the family can raise issues, regarding for example the care of the children, and to whom those should be directed in the first instance, so such matters need not be talked about during contact.
73. I know that their mother and grandmother would like contact to increase, for them to be able to have unsupervised and overnight contact, but this is simply not in accordance with the children's needs. Such contact I am quite satisfied would cause confusion for them in terms of where their future lies.
74. Looking at issues around the mother's contact with the three younger children, I have some sympathy for her not being able to give one-to-one attention to each of the children in contact which takes place for one hour every two months. I do not suggest this means the local authority needs to extend the duration of contact but it seems to me consideration could be given to, for example, separating that contact involving Y and the girls on some occasions in the year so she sees Y for an hour and the girls for an hour. They would still have the same amount of contact and there would be no distinction drawn between them. I would not want the children to see less of each other but hopefully their carers could arrange informal monthly contact in any month where they did not see each other with an adult, as that contact should not in any way impact on the stability of their placements. I acknowledge such a plan would not necessarily fit with the contact with their mother and with their grandmother following on one after the other but again I can see some potential for that being quite difficult for the children, particularly if for example one family member was having activity based contact and one was not.
75. Such considerations show exactly why it is impossible to prescribe contact arrangements in any way in a court order. At the end of the day I have to trust the local authority to plan in such way that meets the needs of the children. Ms Hunt says the schedule of contact is not complete at the moment and the court should not hand back the case to the local authority to manage until contact is properly planned in detail. She points out quite rightly that "the devil is always in the detail" and says problems not previously thought of will crop up and need resolution. The difficulty is that will always be the case with this family and I cannot keep this case live indefinitely. It seems to me time is needed for new workers to be allocated as well as a social work assistant, for them to meet the children and then have a meeting with the family, and there is no need to remain within court proceedings whilst that is ongoing. The children need these proceedings to end as the feelings they engender in the adults are conveyed to the children. I am not therefore going to adjourn the case any further but hope I have been clear as to what is needed now from the local authority.
76. The local authority has attempted to put arrangements in place with F for contact between him and the older children and between him and the younger children, I understand without success. It seems the local authority and the guardian are now clear as to what is required for the local authority to facilitate contact and in respect of the younger children contact simply will not happen if F does not engage. In respect of the older children I accept the situation is very difficult, particular W who currently is choosing to see his father in an unstructured way. The local authority needs to be clear with the mother what it expects from her in that regard but equally it is going to have to be realistic I suspect about the likelihood of father and son complying. This seems to be less of an issue where V is concerned. Given F's lack of engagement in these proceedings I certainly do not propose to make any recommendations as to what should happen in respect of his contact which will have to remain in the hands of the local authority.
77. Ms Hunt in her closing submissions suggests that, whatever orders are made, better planning and execution of plans is clearly needed. She suggests that the local authority should file more detailed care plans to spell out clearly to the new social workers and to the IRO what the plans are which the court has approved. I would agree that it would be useful if each child had a plan which dealt with matters I have raised in this judgment but I think the meeting between everyone involved with the children might beneficially come before the plans are firmed up. I would agree with many of the points Ms Hunt makes and would suggest the plans should address the following :
a. The need for better liaison and coordination between the children's social workers and between all professionals involved with the family must be clarified. From all the evidence I heard it seemed the view of the MST worker was that she should be the focal point for work with the mother and the older children. That was certainly not an impression I had gained from the care plans. If that is correct then the plans need to reflect that and other professionals involved with the family need to know whether they should continue to provide services alongside MST. The roles of the children's social workers and the MST worker need to be clear to everyone including the family.
b. There needs to be clarity as to the schedule for contact, and it goes without saying that the arrangements need to be spelt out in the same terms for example in the plans for V and W. There also needs to be clear expectations around and conditions in respect of contact, which will hopefully come from discussions between the workers and the family members involved in contact. That detail in respect of expectations I am sure would be better put in a separate document but should be referred to in the care plans. Matters that could be addressed include arrival time, departure arrangements, the need not to be critical of social workers or foster carers during contact, that no one should attend contact or come in the vicinity of the contact venue if it has not been agreed in advance, and what gifts can be brought and arrangements for opening them, but I am sure there are many other matters which need to be addressed.
c. There needs to be a forum where the family can raise any concerns about the children, their placements, their education, etc. It might be sensible if the general expectation as to how this is to happen were referred to in the care plans.
78. I am invited by the guardian, supported by the local authority, to consider making an order under s91(14) Children Act 1989. This section of the Act says that on disposing of any application for an order under the Children Act, the court may order that no application of any specified kind may be made with respect to the child concerned by a named person without leave of the court. It is not therefore an order that prevents applications being made in the future but it creates a first hurdle the applicant would need to surmount.
79. Orders of this nature are by no means routine and I have looked carefully at the leading case of Re P  2 FLR 573 and the guidelines set down in that case. I remind myself that the child's welfare is paramount. I am conscious to impose such a restriction is a statutory intrusion into a parent's rights to bring proceedings before the court and be heard in matters affecting her child and therefore this power should be used with great care and sparingly, the exception and not the rule. Whilst it is generally seen as a useful weapon of last resort in cases of repeated and unreasonable applications, in suitable circumstances and on clear evidence a court may impose such a restriction in cases where the welfare of the child requires it, although there is no past history of making unreasonable applications. In such a case the court would need to be satisfied first that the facts go beyond the commonly encountered need for time to settle to a regime ordered by the court and the all too common situation where there is animosity between the adults in dispute between the local authority and the family. In addition there must be a serious risk that, without the imposition of the restriction, the child or primary carers will be subject to unacceptable strain. The restriction may be imposed with or without limitation of time and should be proportionate to the harm it is intended to treat. The court should therefore consider the extent of the restriction to be imposed and specify, where appropriate, the type of application to be restrained and the duration of the order.
80. I have also considered the case of Re S (Permission to Seek Relief)  1 FLR 482. There it was held that it was not permissible to attach conditions to a s91(14) order beyond stating how long it was to last and identifying the type of relief to which it applied. However a party who was subject to a s 91(14) order because of his or her conduct must have addressed that conduct if an application for permission to apply was to warrant a renewed judicial investigation or an arguable case. Although it was clear from Re P (supra) that s 91(14) orders made without limit of time and orders expressed to last until a child was sixteen could properly be made, these should be the exception rather than the rule. Where they are made, the reasons for making them should be fully and carefully set out.
81. In this case what the guardian invites me to do is to restrict the making of applications to discharge the care orders or in respect of contact by the mother, grandmother or W. He proposes that such restriction should be in place for two years, to allow some stability for the children. In respect of such an order being made regarding applications for contact, the guardian did say he felt such an order should be made for a period of two years but he accepted that he had some hesitance due to the perceived shortcomings of the local authority.
82. I have considered long and hard whether it is right to restrict the right of the mother and grandmother to put their case to the court within the next two years. In my mind I need to look separately at the question of the care orders and the question of contact. In respect of the question of contact the new arrangements are I think an improvement on the previous situation but they are new and untested. The local authority has not in this case entirely met its obligation to promote contact for children in its care and it needs to show that the new arrangements, with a single point of contact, are robust and can meet the needs of the children. The court cannot micromanage arrangements for children and in this particular case the idea of defining contact seems impossible. It is possible though that the arrangements will not work overall or some aspect will prove problematic which may affect the overall pattern. My clear view is that the responsibility for arrangements for contact needs to lie with social workers but like the guardian I hesitate to say I am confident there will be no problems. It would not therefore be right to restrict the ability of the court to look again at contact if that proves necessary, although as I would emphasise very clearly the court’s role is not to micromanage the local authority’s arrangements.
83. Looking at the other aspect, the younger children need to be able to be told that they are staying with their current carers, subject to approval from the local authority, and they need to get that message loud and clear. Given the fundamental issues about this enmeshed family and the chaos within it, I am quite clear that the younger three children's future lies in foster care. I do not believe the mother and grandmother are likely to take that on board, given that there has been litigation now for two years with little break in that when one looks at the appeals. The grandmother's live appeal shows there is still no acknowledgment of the fundamental issues which have concerned the court and led to the children’s separation from their family.
84. Looking back to the test in Re P, I am not convinced it is right to make such orders at this time in respect of contact applications. There have not as yet been repeated and unreasonable applications; within this single set of proceedings I accept the mother and grandmother had made various applications but they have not been legally represented and have not necessarily known how to bring matters to the court's attention.
85. The situation is more troubling in terms of applications to discharge the care orders. As I have already said, the mother and grandmother are unable to accept that the younger children should grow up away from their birth family, or indeed acknowledge the findings made in successive hearings that the needs of the children cannot be met in the care of their family. There have in effect been proceedings in existence since the time the care case began, if you factor in appeal hearings, and I have a real sense that the mother and grandmother cannot move on. Each time a case is begun and a guardian is appointed the children become aware of the litigation, not least because the mother talks about it in contact. I acknowledge that where proceedings are ongoing it must be in the mind of the children that they may have to move from their current placements, despite having expressed clearly their desire to stay there. I have read notes of a contact session where the mother quizzed each of the children as to where they wanted to live, which is entirely inappropriate and demonstrates her inability to put the needs of the children first. I am satisfied therefore that the welfare of the younger children requires a restriction to be put in place preventing further applications in respect of discharging their care orders and I agree a period of two years in the first instance is appropriate. I therefore make an order under s91(14) that the mother and grandmother may not without permission make any application to discharge the care orders in respect of X, Y and Z, or seek an order which would have the effect of discharging their care orders, for a period of two years from the date of this order. I am not going to make a similar order in respect of the care orders regarding the older two children as I am of the view that the welfare issues in terms of the impact of applications in respect of them are different.
86. It goes without saying that future applications in respect of all the children will be reserved to me and applications by any member of the family, be that for discharge of care orders, contact, or anything else, will be robustly case managed and disposed of at an early stage if they appear to be without merit.