MISS RECORDER HENLEY
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 children and members of their 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.
MISS RECORDER HENLEY
IN THE FAMILY COURT Case No. NE17C00032
SITTING AT NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
In the matter of the Children Act 1989
In the matter of
K O-S (born January 2017)
S O-S (born January 2017)
A Local Authority
(4) K O-S AND S O-S
(Minors, acting through their Children’s Guardian, Miriam Dolman)
Applicant – Mrs Taylor (Counsel)
Respondent Mother – Miss Usher (Solicitor)
Respondent Father – Miss Lennon (Counsel)
Respondent Paternal Grandparents – Miss Hewitt (Counsel)
Respondent Children – Miss Davison (Solicitor)
(i) The parents’ learning difficulties and the impact that those difficulties may have on their ability to meet the basic needs of a child
(ii) The level of assistance that each parent requires as a vulnerable adult with day to day living, each living in supported accommodation for this reason
(iii) Each parents’ history of misuse of alcohol and illicit drugs
(iv) Domestic abuse and volatility within the parents’ relationship
(v) The Paternal Grandparents had been caring for their other grandchildren, who were not able to remain in their care and, following negative assessments of them, were placed in alternative placements by another local authority. One of those children was adopted.
Positions of the parties
Legal Framework in respect of welfare decisions
29. When considering which orders if any are in the best interests of the children I start very clearly from the position that, wherever possible, children should be brought up by their natural parents and if not by other members of their family. 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, reminding 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".
30. It is not for the court to look for a better placement for a child; social engineering is not permitted. In YC v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33 it was said: "Family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and…. 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."
33. In terms of the Local Authority's application for a placement order, it is trite law that I must be satisfied that any orders I make are a lawful, necessary, proportionate and reasonable response to each child's predicament. The granting of a placement order represents the most drastic curtailment of the right of these parents and of the children under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which can only be justified by pressing concerns for their welfare. However, in construing both the Convention and domestic law, I now have the assistance of the decision of the Supreme Court in Re B (A Child)  UKSC 33 followed by the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Re P  EWCA Civ 963 and Re G  EWCA Civ 965. Those cases firmly re emphasise that a placement for adoption is a "very extreme thing" and "a last resort to be approved only when nothing else will do". Both domestic and Convention law do require a high degree of justification before adoption can be endorsed as "necessary", the term in the Convention or "required", the term in the Adoption and Children Act.
34. I must apply the welfare checklist found in section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, and I must be satisfied that the making of a placement order accords with each child's welfare throughout his life.
35. If I conclude that each child's welfare throughout his life demands that such an order is made then the law requires me to dispense with the consent of the parents to the making of a placement order in circumstances in which they oppose the application.
(a) The parents are both vulnerable adults; each has significant learning difficulties which impacts upon their ability both individually and as a couple to consistently manage their own care.
(b) The Father is very dependant upon the Mother for support and can become upset when separated from her, and he struggles to allow the Mother to meet with professionals away from him, because he worries about what is happening when he is not there. This has made it extremely difficult for professionals to work with the parents.
(c) The Father has difficulty in regulating his emotions particularly when presented with advice from professionals which disagrees with that advice.
(d) The Father is unable to engage with professional support in a consistent and meaningful manner.
(e) As a consequence of their own inherent difficulties, which are static in nature, the parents are unable to meet the emotional and physical needs of the children, one of whom has developmental delay.
37. As a consequence of these concessions I am satisfied that the threshold criteria is crossed.
“Physically S is not meeting his milestones. He can hold his head a little better but it is still floppy. He cannot roll onto his back but his carer says he will push up with his legs. He has significant hearing loss and wears hearing aids in both ears. There are recent concerns about his vision, which need to be investigated further. He can see directly in front of him, fix and follow. He struggles to see something from the side. Medical professionals are confident that S has cerebral palsy although a formal diagnosis is awaited. Many of the needs he has, could be attributed to cerebral palsy (developmental delay, floppiness, swallowing difficulties, vision problems). S’s condition is likely to affect his four limbs. If he is not sitting independently by the time he is two, he may not walk. However, this is not a certainty and it is too early to understand how his condition will impact on him or what needs he will have when older. S is dairy intolerant and has special milk. He also has reflux…”
48. S requires a far higher level of professional and medical involvement as a consequence of his condition, the Guardian sets this out in her final report as follows:
“S has several professionals involved with him - a hearing advocate supporting him and K to learn sign language, a physiotherapist, an occupational health therapist, health visitor, hearing specialist, dietician and paediatricians from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He has appointments on the 8th September for his sight and the 12th September with all the professionals discussing his condition. If he is to have an MRI scan, he will go to the Royal Victoria Infirmary but no date has been arranged as yet. Anyone caring for these little boys will have a lot to manage.”
49. Both children are too young to express wishes and feelings and have been given a very high standard of care to date in their local authority foster placement. The Guardian’s opinion is that “S needs extremely good care, due to his current high level of need and uncertain future needs. There will be many appointments and home visits to manage. Whoever cares for him will need to be highly organised, attentive, alert and be able to manage the needs of K alongside this. It is just as important that K’s needs are fully met and that he is not neglected in any way.” I agree. I am satisfied that providing good enough care for these two children will present considerable challenges for any carer.
50. Having read the bundle of documents in this case I am left in no doubt whatsoever that very sadly these children cannot be cared for by their parents and that all of the advantages of these children being brought up in their natural family by parents who love them, enjoying relationships with family members who love them, are outweighed by the very considerable negatives that a placement with their parents would bring.