ON APPEAL FROM READING COUNTY COURT
(HIS HONOUR JUDGE ELLY)
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE RICHARDS
LORD JUSTICE HUGHES
| IN THE MATTER OF H (CHILDREN)
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Mr Miller and Ms Morton (instructed by Deborah Baxter Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.
Crown Copyright ©
Lord Justice Ward:
"It is clear to me that there are positives in the children's relationships with their parents and in the children's capacity to deliver good enough care, but only with the provisos already discussed."
-- By which I assume she means their changing their lifestyle. And so, as the judge set out in paragraph 33:
"The parents would need to move their position if they are to accept adoption is in the children's best interest."
"He agreed that the parents had offered good enough parenting for periods of time and that Ms [M] (the mother) showed empathy to her children and insight into their needs and could be child-focussed. To be able to have post adoption contact he felt that the mother would need to accept that the children were no longer part of the birth family, and he recognised the difficulty in reaching that conclusion until the court had made a decision; and therefore he would keep under review the question of direct contact with the mother post-adoption. His view in his report to the adoption panel would have reflected this and was that the parents would not be able to work with long-term foster care, and therefore long-term fostering with contact of the children was not viable. He accepted that by and large contact had been going well, but he did point out that sometimes the children are told things that were not necessarily going to happen. For example, they had been told by mother she would be released in November although that had not at that time been agreed.
47. As to the views of the children, he accepted that their wishes and feelings were to return to their parents' care. Some work had been started, both by him and at the family centre about the prospect of not returning to the family, but he recognised that there was further work to be done to prepare the children for adoption if that care plan was approved. So far as placement was concerned, his view was that if in nine months time the children had not been placed with prospective adopters then the local authority would revisit the question of long-term foster care. In any event, whether placed with foster care or adoption there would be a need to look again at the question of contact. He accepted that severing the children from the family is potentially harmful and that there was a need to balance the various risks when considering the different strategies."
I add again, in parenthesis, it is a shame that eight months of that time-span have already passed and we are not much further forward.
"The children, particularly [C], have a strong sense of their family and the members in it. They are going to suffer loss and that is why they need a coherent story and explanation of why it has been necessary to place them for adoption and a realistic picture of their situation and why it has been necessary to safeguard them from further harm and disruption."
"The children do have a strong relationship with the extended family, particularly the Maternal Grandparents. It is not known at this point of time how the children will react to no contact with the grandparents as proposed by the Local Authority or how the Grandparents will enable the children to move on to an adoptive placement. The Grandparents, particularly [grandfather], have found it difficult to accept that the children should never be reunited with their Mother. [Grandfather] seems unable to understand at present the rationale for adoption as opposed to other forms of care. The Grandparents' understanding may increase if they take up Adoption Counselling and [so forth]."
"In order to safeguard the children's placement therefore the Local Authority does not recommend direct contact. Placement is likely to break down if the children are presented with conflicting emotions or if the Grandparents give in to the parents' natural desire to know the whereabouts of the children. I therefore support that no direct contact for family members at present. It may be however that the children will not settle without some direct contact, particularly given [C's] age and development, and therefore I would suggest that this possibility be kept in mind."
So that was her report.
"The local authority say they will carry out a further assessment, and one can trust them to do so. The children's views are quite clear. It is a balance as to how far one can discuss with children who are still placed in the family and whose family are looking after them to remain in that placement until return to their parents in due course before the court made a final decision. The guardian had acknowledged the mutual attachment between children and parents and the effect of breaking it was important. So was the relationship of grandfather and [C]."
He accepted the evidence of Mrs Steinhart, Dr Wilkins and Mr Campbell. Mr Bryant was an honest witness. He accepted the father but was not impressed by the mother.
"I find that the wishes and feelings of the children are that they want to return to their parents' care and I have no doubt that if they understand the concept of adoption they would at this stage reject that because what they want is to stay in the family. I am also sure that if they are placed for adoption, and if they are asked at this stage whether they wished to maintain their links through contact, they would say that they do. All of that has to be assessed in the light of their age and understanding, and of course they are not yet eight. I also note that of course this is one of a number of factors in the welfare checklist; all of them need to be considered."
"I have heard about the attachment of [C] to his grandfather and also that [C] has been expressing a wish to see his half brother, [J]. I accept there is further work to be done with the children and with family members, including the parents, to assess the contact needs of the children and also the capacity of the family to support adoptive or foster placement if that course is followed. I do not accept that this needs to be done before the placement order can be made. I am satisfied the court has full information as required by the Act, partly based on the reports, partly based on the evidence which has been given, and that the court is in a position to make a decision on that application at this stage."
"Although the preferred outcome for the children on one hand is to be with the family, on the other the court has to decide the matter now. Faced with the choice between adoption and foster care, I accept the advice of the guardian and the local authority that adoption would be in the better interests of the children if they have to be placed outside the family."
"Though I recognise the love these parents have for their children and that the children have for their parents, it is not in the children's best interests to postpone a final hearing, so that the application for an adjournment is rejected."
"But on the evidence which I have from the guardian and from the social worker, placement in adoption is preferable to long-term foster care. On consideration of the welfare checklist and even recognising the children's wishes and feelings, I accept the advice of the guardian and local authority that they should be placed for adoption."
"I accept this contact may be in the interests of these children if the family are able to work with the local authority and are able to support the placement. I accept both parents and grandparents need an opportunity to change their present position, once this decision is made and carried into effect. I accept that the children to need the opportunity for assessment of their needs and opportunity which can be put into effect if what therein has been called the bridging placement."
"On that basis I do approve the care plan and I accept that currently, as Mrs Steinhart has said, that on the present situation the plan should be for letterbox contact; but I agree with her that as with the guardian that something more may be both possible and desirable in this case. I expect the local authority therefore to carry out this assessment while the children are in a bridging placement to see whether that is possible."
"The court required not only a list of the factors that are relevant to the central decision, but also a narrative account of how those factors fitted together, including an analysis of the pros and cons of the various orders that might realistically be under consideration, given the circumstances of the children and a fully reasoned recommendation."
And she submits that here, as there, the deficiencies in the material render that proper assessment impossible.
Lord Justice Richards:
Lord Justice Hughes:
Order: Appeal allowed