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Cite as: [2016] EWFC 59

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Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWFC 59
Case No: UO14C00046

IN THE FAMILY COURT

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
18th November 2016

B e f o r e :

Mr Justice Moor
____________________

Between:
London Borough of Redbridge

Applicant

- and


GN.
First Respondent

- and

Second Respondent
AI.


- and


EA (by her Guardian)
Third Respondent

____________________

Mr Paul Pavlou for the Applicant
Ms Esther Maclachlan for the First Respondent
The Second Respondent did not appear and was not represented
Ms Tabitha Barran for the Third Respondent

Hearing dates: 14th to 18th November 2016

____________________

HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
____________________

Crown Copyright ©

    MR JUSTICE MOOR:-

  1. I have been hearing contested care proceedings and an application for a placement order in relation to E., who was born in January 2014. She is therefore coming up towards three years of age.
  2. Following the Family Justice Review, it was recognised that care proceedings were taking far too long. At the time, the average length of a care case was around 57 weeks. This was unacceptable. The Review recommended a maximum of 26 weeks. The Government accepted the recommendation and the Children and Families Act 2014 was enacted. Section 14 imposes a statutory limit on care proceedings of 26 weeks, albeit that the period can be extended but only if it is necessary to resolve the proceedings justly. Extensions are not to be granted routinely and each extension is to be for no more than eight weeks.
  3. The care proceedings in relation to E. commenced on 12th January 2014. By my calculations, that is some 148 weeks ago. I am dismayed by this. It is completely wrong. E. has been let down in a quite unacceptable way. The strain on E.'s mother has been huge. She has been let down as well. Everything that could go wrong in this case has gone wrong. E. and her family are due an apology for this unacceptable state of affairs.
  4. The relevant history

  5. The Father, AI., was born in April 1991, so he is aged 25. He does not have parental responsibility for E. as he is not on the birth certificate. Regrettably, he has numerous criminal convictions including offences relating to drugs and violence. He has played very little part in the proceedings themselves.
  6. The Mother, GN., was born in March 1995. She is therefore aged 21. She was badly let down by her parents who did not provide her with good parenting. Some of the documents say she was accommodated in care pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989 in March 2008, although she herself believes it was earlier than this when she was aged approximately eleven. She clearly did not have a happy experience in care, moving from placement to placement. She has 22 previous convictions, many of which relate to the period that she was in care homes. I am told that the offences include violence, racial abuse and criminal damage. Over the years, there has been concern as to her mental health, her aggressive behaviour, her use of drugs and a chaotic lifestyle.
  7. In 2011, she was arrested for assault. She was placed in a secure unit and there was a psychiatric assessment whilst she was there. In 2012, she was in a psychiatric hospital after bouts of self-harming.
  8. E. was born in January 2014. Care proceedings were instituted on 12th January 2014. The Local Authority placed the Mother and E. at the Beacon Lodge Family Centre, Finchley in January 2014, immediately after E. left hospital. It was supposed to be an eight-week assessment but there were difficulties. It is alleged that the Mother initially failed to attend to E.'s basic care needs. It is said she was aggressive and that she refused to engage. Abuse to staff was said to have improved following a verbal warning. There was intensive supervision but, on 27th January 2014, the Mother asked for E. to be taken into care. Beacon Lodge terminated the placement and E. was moved to foster carers, initially pursuant to section 20 and, from 4th March 2014, as a result of an interim care order.
  9. There were a number of difficulties thereafter, including an alleged assault by the Father on the Mother at her address on 8th March 2014, as well as an incident where the Mother was accused of assault at a bus stop on 16th March 2014 and the like. A psychiatrist, Dr O reported on the Mother. There was no evidence of a psychiatric illness or personality disorder but the Mother did have anger management issues which the Mother said she would like to address. The doctor thought that, if she cooperated fully, improvement would be expected within 3-6 months.
  10. I simply do not understand why the case was not brought to court for final hearing within the 26 weeks. This is not optional. It is mandatory. An Independent Social Worker, SM was asked to report. She did so on 16th July 2014. She highlighted the Mother's vulnerability, such as to domestic violence and her inability to control her emotions. There was aggression and the Mother found it difficult to work with professionals. She did not recommend E. be placed in the Mother's care.
  11. On 5th August 2014, an application was made by the Local Authority for a placement order. Later that month, the Mother started counselling with AC at KCA (now known as Addaction). To her credit, the Mother began to change her behaviour. This included, for a time, ending her use of cannabis but it appears that this increased her anxiety. Ms SM reported again on 16th October 2014. She noted a change in the Mother's skin tone, her eyes and her body language. She was hardly smoking cannabis. She displayed an insight as to the Father. She had made a substantial change and, although the change was late and the decision finely balanced, Ms SM thought that rehabilitation was feasible.
  12. The Final hearing was listed before Sims DJ at the East London Family Court on 20th October 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, the District Judge gave an indication rather than a judgment. She said she did not have sufficient information to make a placement order and would like further information. She adjourned the case for the intensive work proposed by Ms AC.
  13. The case was relisted on 2nd January 2015, but AC was not informed of the date. The Mother's drug tests results were, at that stage, negative. The case had to be adjourned. It was alleged that there was an outburst from the Mother after the District Judge had retired due to contact difficulties on E.'s birthday.
  14. In February 2015, there was a change of foster carers. E. was placed with C and M. They are older carers, aged respectively sixty-four and sixty.
  15. The case was heard again by Sims DJ on 18th February 2015. She gave her judgment in the middle of the evening on 19th February 2015 due to pressure of work. She found that there was a clear emotional bond between the Mother and E. but set out all the difficulties that I have briefly outlined above. In particular, she made findings as to the Mother's loss of control in court in January 2015. She went on to find that E. deserved a permanent home where she could thrive. The care plan for adoption was found to be appropriate and proportionate. She made a placement order, saying no other order would do. She dispensed with parental consent. Slightly surprisingly, she immediately granted permission to appeal.
  16. The Father went to the Mother's flat in April 2015. The Mother was later found to have been untruthful as to this. In July 2015, the Mother had a pregnancy terminated. She now accepts the Father of E. was also the father in relation to this pregnancy although she initially lied about that.
  17. The appeal was heard on 1st June 2015 by HHJ Purkiss. She allowed the appeal and set the order aside. It could not stand as the District Judge had made factual findings on which no evidence had been given such as in relation to the incident at court on 2nd January 2015 about which the Mother had not given evidence and had not had the opportunity to call a witness. The Circuit Judge considered this was a central finding as the rest of the updating evidence had been positive. Contact was thereafter increased first to twice per week and then to three times per week including one session of community based contact.
  18. The case was not, however, reheard speedily. Permission was given to instruct a second Independent Social Worker, LC to undertake a parenting assessment. The case was only finally relisted for hearing on 20th November 2015, before Mr Recorder Bedingfield. He dismissed the application for the placement order. He followed the recommendations of Ms CT. He required the preparation of a new care plan based on a phased rehabilitation plan to Mother lasting 6 to 8 weeks. It is a long judgment and I do not propose to rehearse all his findings. Suffice it to say that he found there was a bond between the Mother and daughter. Contact was positive. The Mother had engaged well. Her guidance and boundaries were good. Both took pleasure in the other's company. He considered there would be harm to E. if the bond was severed. There had been a sea change in the Mother and, although she sometimes shouted at professionals, she was not out of control. She was able to provide warmth and set consistent boundaries and could take the foster mother's advice without getting upset. He also made some findings that were not positive in relation to the Father and four incidents of domestic violence; to the Mother's cannabis use; to her lack of a positive experience of parenting; and as to the risk of breakdown of placement but he thought the pressures on the Mother would lessen if the proceedings were over. He disagreed with the Guardian who recommended a placement order finding that the risk was manageable although it remained a finely balanced case. He was not appealed.
  19. On 27th December 2015, before E. was placed with her, the Mother contacted the Father and invited him over. There was a dispute and it is alleged that a television was broken. The Mother called the concierge of her flats who telephoned the Police. The Mother then told the duty social worker. Overnight contact commenced on 18th January 2016. On 25th January 2016, Mr Recorder Bedingfield made an interim supervision order on the basis that E. would return permanently to the Mother on 13th February 2016. The interim care order was discharged. In fact, E. was placed full-time with the Mother on 15th February 2016 with a high level of Local Authority supervision, provided by an agency known as PKS. The same day, Ms CT reported again. She said it had been an exceptionally difficult transition process. She alleged the Local Authority was not wholeheartedly supporting the rehabilitation plan and that finance for the Mother was not provided on time. The stress had led to the Mother smoking cannabis again, once per day after E. had gone to bed.
  20. The case was relisted on 18th February 2016. There was an incident at Canary Wharf Station that morning. The Mother had gone there to help the Father find his way out of the station. She had a disagreement with a member of staff and was later arrested. The Recorder listed the matter for final hearing on 14th March 2016 but he made an interim care order at the request of the Guardian, albeit on the basis of placement with the Mother. As the Father was applying for contact, there was to be a risk assessment of him and various other directions.
  21. Although the Local Authority had been arguing at court for the case to end with a supervision order, it is clear that it was rapidly changing its position to one where it would be seeking to remove E. A new care plan to that effect was produced dated 22nd March 2016 seeking immediate placement with foster carers and "parallel planning" to ensure E.'s long term needs were met. A statement dated 4th March 2016 by the Social Worker, AA referred to difficulties at home ending by taking the view that the Mother was dependent on professionals.
  22. The Mother filed a statement in which she said she didn't think the Local Authority had acted openly and honestly with her. She accepted that E. had been "playing up" by kicking and hitting her but she felt this was because the Local Authority had denied E. any contact to the foster mother after placement with the Mother. She accepted she had been smoking cannabis but not in E.'s presence.
  23. The matter returned for final hearing before Mr Recorder Bedingfield on 31st March 2016. He made a care order to the Local Authority with contact to the Mother six times per annum. As he had dismissed the application for a placement order, the care plan was effectively on the basis of long term fostering, although there is reference to a possible further application for a placement order. He refused a stay and permission to appeal. E. was removed from the Mother's care at court to the inevitable distress of the Mother. E. was, at least, able to return to the foster carers where she had been before.
  24. The judgment refers to the Mother indicating that she was having trouble caring for E. and that E. missed the foster carers. It refers to the incident at Canary Wharf on 18th February, the Mother's regular use of cannabis and various other incidents, including with the Father. The Recorder felt the Mother was unable to shield a child from him and would continue to have an emotionally volatile relationship with him. The Mother was petulant and impatient in her evidence. He said that she finds it difficult to work with professionals and to be truthful and honest in relation to the Father.
  25. The Mother appealed to the Court of Appeal. Keehan J granted permission to appeal on 25th May 2016 but he refused the Mother's application for a stay on the basis that E. had, by then, been in care for nearly two months. He said he was very uneasy about making a final care order where there was an inchoate care plan that provided for long term foster care which was not supported by anyone.
  26. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal (Black, Tomlinson and Lindblom LJJ) on 26th July 2016. The Mother's appeal was allowed and the final care order set aside. An interim care order was made and the case was returned for reconsideration by a High Court Judge. In the judgment, Black LJ set out four incidents that led to the change in the care plan, namely the Mother's involvement with the Father on 27th December 2015; her walking out of a contact review on 18th January 2016; the incident at Canary Wharf station on 18th February 2016; and her reaction at the child protection conference on 22nd March 2016. Black LJ said that the Recorder failed to put these four incidents into proper context and why they justified a change in direction. If the decision had tipped the other way from November 2015, it would be necessary for it to be founded on well-established facts. She noted that E. was not present at any of these incidents. There was insufficient analysis of whether the alleged Local Authority failures to support the Mother contributed materially to the Mother's difficulties. Finally, it was clear that the Local Authority had decided on placement for adoption but the Recorder did not consider it. She was, however, at pains to say that nothing in the judgment should be taken as an indication of the likely outcome following the rehearing.
  27. The matter was listed before MacDonald J on 28th July 2016. He listed the case for final hearing on 17th October 2016 with a time estimate of 5 days. He noted that it was agreed that threshold in section 31 was met. He directed contact once per fortnight on a supervised basis. The Mother has missed three contacts, once because of her refusal to countenance the presence of the Local Authority Social Worker, Mr MM as an observer. I have been told that she has only seen E. six times since E. was removed from her in March 2016, although the quality of the contact has been good.
  28. On 26th August 2016, the Local Authority Adoption Agency approved adoption but did so on a flawed basis, namely that there had been injuries sustained by E. whilst with her Mother. This decision therefore had to be revoked.
  29. The matter was listed again before MacDonald J on 1st September 2016. The Mother accepted that she has regularly smoked cannabis since March 2016. At that point, she had been smoking one joint of cannabis per day but since E.'s removal, this has increased to three per day. Moreover, it is now alleged that it is the stronger type of cannabis known as skunk. Viability assessments were directed in relation to relatives, including the maternal grandmother, A. Given the maternal grandmother's abject care for the Mother relatively recently, such an assessment was surprising. It undoubtedly upset the Mother significantly. Due to ill health, the original Guardian, MS, was discharged and a new Guardian, SC was appointed. Detailed directions were given to ensure the case was ready for trial in October.
  30. Sometime in the summer, the Mother had become pregnant again. She is adamant that the Father of E. was not the father on this occasion. The Mother had a termination in early October 2016. This must have been very traumatic for her as she was eighteen weeks' pregnant at the time.
  31. Notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Local Authority's position remained one of adoption but no placement application had been served. Numerous other directions had not been complied with. An application was made to adjourn the final hearing. On 12th October 2016, MacDonald J adjourned the application to the first day of the trial, namely 17th October 2016.
  32. On 17th October 2016, MacDonald J felt he had no alternative other than to adjourn the final hearing. The case was simply not ready as the Local Authority had not complied with the directions. He gave a judgment that he placed on the BAILII website, saying that the case was, in effect, in special measures. The Local Authority had to write to the court on a weekly basis to update the judge on progress and to report any non-compliance. The case was adjourned until 14th November 2016. He directed that the Local Authority should file a "notice to show cause" statement as to why it should not pay the costs thrown away. The Local Authority indicated that an independent review would be launched. The "notice to show cause" statement is dated 7th November 2016 and is from NE, solicitor for the Local Authority. In fairness, it apologises for the non-compliance.
  33. The updating evidence

  34. The final care plan is dated 8th October 2016. There is also an application for a placement order but my copy is undated. The final care plan is for a care order and a placement order for adoption. The Local Authority says that, since returning to the care of the foster parents, E. has had frequent tantrums and difficulties separating from the foster mother. She needs a loving, stable and secure home environment with permanence, which the Mother cannot give her. It proposes adoption with letter box contact.
  35. The Local Authority Social Worker, MM was allocated to this case on 13th June 2016. He was the sixth such allocated social worker. His most recent statement refers to the Mother's alleged inability to provide effective and consistent care and asserts that it would be impossible for the Mother to address the concerns in E.'s timescales. E. is said to be thriving in foster care. The Mother has demonstrated an ability to meet E.'s basic needs but she has no coping mechanisms. She is defensive and becomes angry if challenged. Her cannabis use has now increased to 10 per day which she can ill afford. She has completely refused to engage with Mr MM and remains oppositional, defensive, defiant and blaming. On E.'s return to the foster carers in March, E. seemed more anxious, frightened and clingy. Her emotional security is to the foster mother. She is a happy, friendly and easy going child. E. went two months without contact to her Mother as the Mother cancelled the June contact. Mr MM says that E. calls the foster mother, Mummy M., which angers the Mother. E. has said she wants to stay with M. and C. (the foster carers) and that she is anxious and fearful. She needs a clear and decisive decision. Finally, he says that the Mother will not work with him and has not allowed him into her property.
  36. The Mother has filed two recent statements. In the first, she says she did use cannabis when E. was with her but only in the evening after E. was asleep and she was open with professionals as to this. She confirms she has now increased her cannabis use to three per day to deal with stress and anxiety but she thinks she can give up. She says she fully accepts that the Father is a risk to her and E. and she will keep him out of her life. She wants to move to Northampton where her father lives with her brother. She says she did shout and cry and bang her head following the judgment in March 2016 but E. did not see it. She did cry in front of E. on removal. She does get frustrated at times. She has never had the benefit of the Webster Stratton programme because the course provider requires a child to be living with the parent at the time. She accepts she needs counselling or therapy to work on her anxiety/self-esteem and to enable her to work with professionals as well as proper assistance and support.
  37. Her second statement starts by saying that she has found the proceedings extremely stressful, distressing and upsetting. She was utterly devastated by E.'s removal in March 2016. She controlled herself but it was wrong and unfair. She still suffers from anxiety. She accepts she has shown feelings of frustration and annoyance. She cannot work with Mr MM as he prejudged the case by saying his view was adoption at their first meeting. Although she cannot work with the local authority, she could work with the local authority where she lives. This, she says, is demonstrated by her working with the Guardian and the Independent Social Worker. She has fought for her daughter for years. E. was just beginning to get used to being with her when she was removed again. Her next move should be permanent and secure.
  38. She has not seen the Father for months but she did telephone him to confront him on things he was saying. She says he has now moved out of the area and is in a new relationship. She blames him entirely for her losing E. She cancelled contact in June 2016 as she was very emotional and tearful. She was sick in August and cancelled one in September due to Mr MM wanting to attend. She says she understands the difficulties if E. is returned home but there will equally be difficulties if she goes to adopters. If the court decides on adoption, she will support it for E.'s sake.
  39. The Independent Social Worker, Ms CT's final report is dated 8th October 2016. She says the quality of the contact she observed on 17th September 2016 was excellent. E. was genuinely pleased to see her Mother and it was as if they had not been separated since March 2016. The warmth and bond remains present and there are no signs of insecure attachment or of distress before or after contact. The Mother's level of understanding and ability is better than "good enough". It was a poorly thought out and extremely badly managed transition home. The Mother must demonstrate that she can work with professionals although she has been able to work with some such as the workers from KCA, PKS and the Guardian. The number of allocated social workers has made it exceptionally difficult for the Mother to forge trusting and useful relationships with them. The foster carers were not willing to be involved in the transition plan. They were placing their own needs first above E.'s. This was something that a mother would be criticised for. She ended by saying that the Mother can provide a positive parenting experience but she will need support.
  40. Finally, the Guardian, SC's report is dated 14th October 2016. She recommends adoption. She accepts the Mother's commitment to E. as shown by her bravery in continuing to fight for her. The Guardian has great sympathy for the Mother. She suffers from a lot of anxiety but there is a very likeable side to her. The Guardian's concerns however, include her cannabis use, and her anxiety, in part caused by a fear that E. will be taken away from her again. The Mother says she stopped completely taking cannabis on 10th October but the Guardian did not see this as likely to succeed without professional help. The Guardian's concerns include the Mother's volatile behaviour shown for example, by her overreaction on 13th September to her solicitor not being allowed into contact, which the Guardian describes as being like a "stroppy teenager", and her difficulty in working with the Local Authority, in which she considered it must change not her.
  41. The Guardian concluded that, regrettably, the risks of placement with the Mother were too high. The Guardian had serious concerns as to the Mother's ability to meet E.'s needs. The Mother needs access to further therapeutic support which she has not had since E.'s removal. E. is a delightful little girl but she has had a lot of anxieties since her return from being with the Mother. She is anxious on being away from the foster mother. She has an insecure attachment to her Mother whereas her strongest attachment is to the foster carers but it is not a secure environment given their age and it is only fostering rather than permanence.
  42. The Law

  43. Before turning to my findings and my welfare conclusions, I will deal with the law I must apply. To make a care order, I need to be satisfied that E. is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to her, or likely to be given to her if the order is not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give [Children Act 1989, section 31(2)]. It is accepted that this test is established but it does not automatically lead to a care order. I must go on to consider E.'s welfare.
  44. The burden and standard of proof

  45. The burden of proof is on the Local Authority. It is for the Local Authority to satisfy me that it has made out its case in relation to disputed facts. The Mother does not have to prove anything.
  46. The standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities (see Re B (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2008] UKHL 35; [2008] 2 FLR 141 and Re S-B (Children) [2010] 1 FLR 1161).
  47. The welfare determination if threshold is established

  48. The first application is for a full care order in relation to E.. I must consider the welfare checklist in section 1 of the Children Act, reminding myself that E.'s welfare during her minority is my paramount consideration.
  49. Placement order application

  50. The second application is for a placement order for adoption pursuant to section 21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. I can only do so if E. is subject to a care order or I am satisfied that the conditions in section 31(2) of the Children Act as to threshold are met.
  51. A court will only make a placement order if it is justified having given paramount consideration to the child's welfare "throughout his or her life" (section 1(2) of the 2002 Act). I must have regard to the checklist set out in section 1(4) of the Act. Section 1(6) provides that the court must always consider the whole range of powers available to it (whether under the 2002 Act or the Children Act 1989) but must not make any order under the 2002 Act unless it considers that making the order would be better for the child than not doing so.
  52. Section 21(3) provides that, in the absence of parental consent, I can only make a placement order if I am satisfied that parental consent should be dispensed with. Pursuant to section 52(1), I need to be satisfied that the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with. This is to be done in the light of the current circumstances (see McFarlane LJ in Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 813 at Paragraph [13]).
  53. In relation to dispensing with consent, Wall LJ said in Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535, [2008] 2 FLR 625 at Paragraph 126:-
  54. "Section 52(1) is concerned with adoption the making of either a placement order or an adoption order and what therefore has to be shown is that the child's welfare "requires" adoption as opposed to something short of adoption. A child's circumstances may "require" statutory intervention, perhaps may even "require" the indefinite or long-term removal of the child from the family and his or her placement with strangers but that is not to say that the same circumstances will necessarily "require" that the child be adopted. They may or they may not. The question, at the end of the day, is whether what is "required" is adoption."
  55. The case goes on to set out that "required" in this context means the connotation of the imperative. It is what is demanded rather than what is merely optional or reasonable or desirable. It is a stringent and demanding test. The court should begin with a preference for the less interventionist rather than the more interventionist approach. This should be considered to be in the better interests of children unless there are cogent reasons to the contrary (Re O (Care or Supervision Order) [1996] 2 FLR 755 at 760.
  56. Adopting a child is a draconian order. It is an extreme order, only to be made as a last resort when there is no other order compatible with the child's long term welfare (Re B [2013] UKSC 33). In short, nothing else will do (per Lady Hale at paragraph [198]). I entirely accept that this is because the interests of the child self-evidently require his or her relationship with his or her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course is possible in the child's interest (Lord Neuberger at Paragraphs [76] to [77]). Cutting off all contact and the relationship between the child and his or her family is only justified by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child (Lady Hale at Paragraph [198]).
  57. The Court of Appeal considered the application of Re B in Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 965 and re-emphasised the stringency of the welfare test when considering whether to dispense with parental consent. The President, Sir James Munby, said that there is a necessity for a "holistic" and rigorous evaluation of all placement options before coming to a decision. I remind myself that Article 8 of the ECHR is engaged.
  58. The President stated that the Court of Appeal had real concerns about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption both in the materials put before the court by both local authorities and guardians and in too many judgments. He said it was time to "call a halt". The evidence placed before the court must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option and, in particular, the nature and extent of the risk of harm involved in each of the options (Paragraph [34]). The need for analysis of the pros and cons and a full reasoned recommendation was essential if the exacting test set out in Re B and the requirements of Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention are to be met (Paragraph [36]). There must be adequately reasoned judgments (Paragraph [43]). The court rejected a linear approach whereby each option other than the most draconian is considered and rejected in isolation. Instead, a balancing exercise is required in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives. Each option should then be compared, side by side, against the competing option or options (Paragraphs [49] [50]).
  59. It is not sufficient merely to pay lip service to adoption being the most draconian order without engaging with the detail of the option as to do so would be nothing more than "formulaic window dressing."
  60. It is also right to remember that an adopted child is treated in law as if he or she had been born as a child of the adopters (section 67 of the 2002 Act). The parental responsibility of the birth parents is extinguished (section 46). An adoption order is irrevocable except in exceptional circumstances.
  61. Darlington Borough Council v M and others

  62. Ms Maclachlan for the Mother drew my attention to the case of Darlington BC v M and others; [2015] EWFC 11 where the President, Sir James Munby was clear that:-
  63. (a) Findings of fact must be based on evidence (including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence) not on suspicion or speculation.
    (b) The Local Authority must adduce proper evidence to establish what it seeks to prove. Whilst hearsay evidence is admissible, if a parent goes into the witness box and denies it, the Local Authority must call the maker if it is to prove the factual point.
    (c) Family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and that everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to "rebuild" the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing. However, where the maintenance of family ties would harm the child's health and development, a parent is not entitled under article 8 to insist that such ties be maintained (see Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33; [2012] 2 FLR 332 at Paragraph 134).
  64. Finally, Ms Maclachlan also reminded me of the well-known and wise dicta of Hedley J in Re L [2007] 1 FLR 2050 at Paragraph 50 where he said:-
  65. "Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, while others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the state to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event, it simply could not be done."

    My findings of fact

  66. It is right that Mr Recorder Bedingfield found that, although the case was finely balanced, the correct outcome was rehabilitation in November 2015 and this decision was not appealed. I do not, however, accept that the only matters I have to consider thereafter are the four "incidents" that took place in early 2016. I must consider all the circumstances. This includes everything that has occurred since the November 2015 judgment. One obvious example of other matters I have to take into account is the Mother's increased cannabis use. Another is her failure to work with Mr MM.
  67. I heard from a total of eight witnesses. The first three were the Local Authority Social Workers, AA, AD and the current social worker, MM. It is always unfortunate when so many changes in personnel take place in a case. It is, regrettably, increasingly common. All three witnesses were clearly trying to do their best for E. There is, however, no doubt that the Local Authority has not complied with all its duties and obligations to her during the course of this case. I will return to this in due course.
  68. I was impressed by Mr MM. It was very unfortunate that the Mother was not prepared to work with him. He had to tell her, at their first meeting, that the Local Authority plan remained one of adoption as she asked him and he would have been misleading her to say otherwise. Whilst I accept this was very difficult for the Mother to accept, I find that he is not the sort of man who would be insensitive in conveying this to the Mother. Indeed, he told me that, he first spoke to her over the telephone and she said to him that she did not want any "baby snatchers" in the house. When he first met with her, she was very hostile. She said he should be ashamed of his culture and religion. Given the racial heritage of the Father, I do find this an odd reaction from the Mother. She then asked him what the plan was and he said it was adoption but that did not mean he was taking that view. She slammed the door and stormed off. She has basically had nothing to do with him or anyone else from the Local Authority since. This has undoubtedly harmed the Mother's case.
  69. The fourth witness was the adoption team manager, TS. She said that she considered it would not be difficult to find an adoptive placement for E. and that she was optimistic that any such placement would not break down even though E. is nearly three. Interestingly, the Independent Social Worker, Ms CT, gave very similar evidence later.
  70. The fifth witness was a PKS support worker, AY, who worked with the Mother and E. for a week during March when E. was with the Mother full-time. She told me that the Mother's ability to care for E. was pretty good. The Mother was doing things to meet E.'s needs correctly. She was polite and friendly. She required only a minor amount of support. The home was clean and tidy. There was a relaxed atmosphere. There was adequate food in the fridge. In answer to questions by Ms Maclachlan for the Mother, she said she would be prepared to work with the Mother again in the future but she was not management and it was not up to her. She was present when the Mother left the child protection conference on 22nd March 2016, caring for E. I will return to this later when I make my findings of fact in relation to this aspect.
  71. The other PKS support worker, SL, initially failed to attend despite indicating she would. When it finally proved possible to get her to court, the Mother was not present, such that her counsel and solicitor could not take instructions. I pressed further and it became apparent that nobody wanted to ask any questions to Ms SL anyway. Her written PKS reports on the Mother's care stand and I confirm that they are as positive as to the Mother's parenting of E. during the time E. was with the Mother as Ms AY's report.
  72. The sixth witness was the Independent Social Worker, CT. I took on the role of calling her to give evidence to enable all three advocates to cross-examine her. She is a very experienced social worker and has been a part-time Cafcass Guardian since 1999. She is a strong supporter of the Mother being given an opportunity to care for E. She accepts that this could not be an instantaneous return to her care. In addition, the Mother would need to undertake a number of courses in relation to drug misuse, parenting and anger management. It is right to note at this point that her position is diametrically opposed to that of the Guardian, SC. I will obviously return in due course to consider this divergence of opinion when I reach my conclusions.
  73. The Mother was incredibly distressed for much of the case. She sat through the evidence of the social workers on Monday getting more tearful as the day went on. She did not return on the Tuesday. I accepted her absence on the basis that she felt unable to sit through adverse evidence to her yet again. She was due to give evidence on the Wednesday after Ms CT. She was not at court at 10.30 but arrived mid-morning. She did not enter the court and despite the presence of her very supportive solicitor, in whom she clearly has a great deal of confidence, she felt unable to remain and left. She was therefore not present when it came to her turn to give evidence.
  74. Her solicitor and counsel made a fresh attempt to get her to come to court and she said she would. I adjourned to enable her to do so and she did enter the witness box, albeit reluctantly. She stood up to the experience better than I had expected despite remaining very distressed. At one point, Mr Pavlou upset her by one of his questions and she left court. Again, her lawyers managed to get her back and I sat slightly late to conclude her evidence. She did not return yesterday, Thursday.
  75. I do not have any updated report on her health but she is clearly feeling the effects of this litigation very greatly. I will have to make findings in due course as to whether it is just the stress of this litigation that is causing her anxiety and distress or whether it goes deeper than that. She has been through a very great deal in this litigation and it is not surprising that it has made her angry and distressed but I have to consider whether her anxiety will disappear if I was to find that E. could return to her care. After all, Mr Recorder Bedingfield did so find in November 2015 but she clearly remained very anxious. Her main concern, it appears justifiably, was that the Local Authority would remove E. from her care again. She would undoubtedly continue to be terrified of this if I agreed with her proposals.
  76. I do accept that she has a likeable personality. On any view, she loves her daughter enormously and has been very committed to her as well as to the legal process. For that, she cannot be faulted. I did, however, gain the clear impression that she has been close at times, particularly recently, to "giving up". She told me that she did feel like giving up some days as it was a constant battle. I do not criticise her for this but it is as a result of a number of factors, including the dreadful stress of these appalling proceedings that have gone wrong at just about every point as well as the clear difficulties she had after the second judgment of Mr Recorder Bedingfield and her current anxiety combined with her belief that E. will be taken from her again even if returned. She has specifically said she wants what is best for E. She does not want E. to go through what she encountered from her mother, particularly during her teens. I find that there is a little part of her that has wondered whether adoption would be best for E. I make it quite clear that I do not criticise her for any of this. In fact, it goes to her great credit. She has been putting E. first and that deserves the greatest praise.
  77. The Mother did say to me that E. is "my daughter and I have every right to say I want her in my care". I accept that. She added that "nobody believes in me but I believe in myself. It is never going to work because everybody believes it will never work". Whilst I listened to this evidence with sadness, I consider it did show an insight into the problems she faces.
  78. The final witness was the new Guardian, SC. Like Ms CT, she is a very experienced Guardian. She has reached the opposite conclusion to Ms CT and agrees with the Local Authority's care plan. I accept that she has not been involved in the case for as long as Ms CT but that is not her fault. Moreover, that point is somewhat diluted by the fact that the previous Guardian had also supported the Local Authority's care plan throughout. I will obviously have to return to my conclusions as to the divergence of opinion between the two experts later in this judgment.
  79. The Local Authorities' failings

  80. I have already dealt with the failures of the Local Authority to comply with the directions of this court in the run up to this hearing as set out in the judgment of MacDonald J dated 17th October 2016. In the context of what had happened before, I am of the view that this case should have been given absolute priority. It was not.
  81. I am equally satisfied that there have been many operational failings by the Local Authority in performing its duties as to its social work function. These have occurred at a significant number of points in the case but were particularly evident at the time that rehabilitation to the Mother was ordered by Mr Recorder Bedingfield. For example, the order of the Recorder dated 20th November 2015 required the Local Authority to convene a professionals meeting by 4pm on 7th December 2015. It did not do so. It did attempt to arrange a meeting but gave Ms CT such little notice that she could not attend. The Local Authority did not, therefore, comply with the next order, namely to file a new care plan setting out the detail of the rehabilitation plan within seven days of the meeting.
  82. The Mother's benefits had been stopped. Whilst the Mother may have carried some of the responsibly for this, I am satisfied that the Local Authority did not assist in the way that it should. Correspondence from the Mother's solicitors was not responded to such that judicial review had to be threatened. Eventually, the Local Authority agreed to provide the Mother with 234.31 per week in a recital to an order dated 25th January 2016 but I am satisfied that even that did not go smoothly. Moreover, there was difficulty with the Mother getting her travel warrants to attend KCA for her drug and anger management therapy. Later, she was unable to attend this therapy as only one hour of child care was provided via PKS. As the KCA appointment was also for one-hour and she had to travel to and from the venue, it made it virtually impossible for her to continue with the work.
  83. I further accept that the Mother did not find her leaving care worker, Ms T to be remotely supportive of her. The Local Authority knew that. Mr Recorder Bedingfield had made criticisms of Ms T in his judgment. I accept Ms Maclachlan's submission that Ms T should not have been invited to the contact review meeting in January 2016, although I do not accept that this was a deliberate attempt by the Local Authority to get the Mother to lose her cool. I do recognise that, for example, the issue of the Mother's leaving care grant, which I have been told is some 2,000, was very much in issue and needed to be dealt with. However, given the Mother's opposition, the Local Authority should have respected that. It was another unnecessary failing.
  84. Finally, the position of the Local Authority throughout this period left much to be desired. At one point in February/March 2016, it was inviting the court to make no order at all. At another, it sought only a supervision order. It then changed tack completely in later March 2016 to ask for a full care order. On 14th March 2016, it had been indicating it would be withdrawing the PKS workers. I accept that they could not continue to go into the home for ever, let alone daily but it is in stark contrast to a care plan only eight days later for removal. The way in which the Mother was told of the change in the care plan in the child protection conference on 22nd March 2016 was very insensitive, particularly as E. was present in the building, albeit with a PKS worker. I accept that it was always going to be difficult to tell the Mother. Is it better to do it in her home or with her solicitor or in the Local Authority offices? It was not, however, right to do it in the meeting. It was bound to distress the Mother enormously.
  85. The four "incidents"

  86. I now turn to make my findings as to the four "incidents". First, the Mother was quite wrong to invite the Father to her home on 27th December 2015. She knew the danger he posed. She had suffered significant domestic violence at his hands. She has suggested that she invited him there to ask him for financial assistance due to the failure of the Local Authority to support her. Whilst that may have been part of it, she says in her statement that she invited him because she felt "low". I prefer the latter explanation as the main motivator. This is another indication of her vulnerability, isolation and lack of support.
  87. It is right that the Police log suggests that he was living there but that is only as a result of what the Father said. I remind myself that I have not heard from him or from the Police. The Mother denies to me that he was living there. Moreover, she denied it to the Police at the time. I cannot find that he was living there but there were clearly unresolved feelings between them at the time.
  88. It was inevitable that inviting him back would lead to difficulties, particularly in the context that E. was soon to be returned. I am satisfied that there was an argument and that the Father refused to leave. The Mother denies that there was any damage to a television. All I would say is that it would be odd if the Police recorded that if it was completely untrue. It appears to have come from the Father and I cannot see why he would admit to such damage if he had not done it. Nevertheless, I make no finding. The position was, however, bad enough for the Mother to call the Concierge to ask him to seek assistance from the Police. I accept that the Mother acted responsibly in calling the Concierge. I further accept that she behaved responsibly when she told the Local Authority, although she may well have expected the Local Authority would find out anyway. The difficulty is that this shows that she turned to the Father when she was feeling low, notwithstanding her knowledge of the dangers he posed and the threat this was to the return of E. to her care only a few weeks later. If E. had been present, she would undoubtedly have been harmed.
  89. I do not find that there has been recent contact between the Mother and the Father. There is no credible evidence as to his presence recently, let alone that he was the father in the pregnancy this summer. I accept the Mother's evidence that he was "bad-mouthing" her and she called him in March 2016 to "warn him off". On the balance of probabilities, I find that she does now view the relationship as at an end. I am not sure what would happen if E. was returned to her care. It might spark the Father into further action as I am sure he would find out. It is correct that he has not shown any real interest in E. over the years but it is a small additional risk factor. I remind myself, however, that the Mother could protect herself by means of an injunction if necessary.
  90. The absence of the Father is not, however, the end of the matter. The Mother got pregnant in the summer. This was clearly an error of judgment. She says it was after a "one-night stand". The Local Authority submits that this is unlikely as it was exactly what she said when she got pregnant the previous year. I remind myself that she did lie about the identity of the father on that occasion although I have accepted that E.'s Father was not the father of the baby this year. I find, however, that it does show her vulnerability. She needed male company. We know nothing of this man other than that he appears to be White British and to have a girlfriend who resides on the same Estate. She does have a friend called A. but she denied any sexual relationship with him. She did say that he could give her money if she needed it. I do not know if this is right or just an off-the-cuff remark but I do not suppose he would give her money unless he, at the very least, hoped for a relationship. Again, we know nothing about him although I make it quite clear that this is not an important aspect in my decision. I remind myself that the Mother has not done the Freedom Programme. I cannot speculate but I do find that her choice of partners remains a risk factor.
  91. The incident at Canary Wharf Station on 18th February 2016 was a clear example of the Mother's failure to control her emotions. It was only three days after E. was returned to her care. I do not consider it was sensible of her to go to the Station at all to help the Father. I do not see why he would need help getting out of the Station. She could have given him directions to the Court. I entirely accept that the day would have been stressful for her but so are many days when you are caring for a young child. She lost her temper and behaved badly. As I have not heard from the London Transport staff, I cannot find that there were threats of violence but it was sufficiently serious for the Police to be involved. If E. had been there, she would have been harmed. I find that it might well have happened even if E. had been present.
  92. On 18th January 2016, the Mother walked out of the contact review meeting due to the presence of her leaving care support worker, Ms T. I have already accepted that Ms T should not have been there. The Mother, however, overreacted. Two points arise. First, she should have put E. before her own feelings and remained in the meeting. Second, she tells me that she is unable to work with the local authority but can work with the local authority where she lives. She therefore asks me to make a supervision order to them. The simple fact of the matter is, however, that Ms T was employed by the local authority where she lives.
  93. I have more sympathy for the Mother leaving the child protection conference on 22nd March 2016 when she was told that the care plan had changed and the Local Authority would be seeking the removal of E. I understand this would have been very distressing for her. Moreover, she did return. Having said that, the Minutes of the Conference say that her behaviour was "challenging, confrontational and difficult" throughout the majority of the Conference. She showed little respect for the social worker and the Chair with inappropriate laughter and insulting comments referring to them as "baby snatchers". She then left but after re-entering, she said that the social workers should take E. immediately.
  94. It is also clear from the evidence of AY that the Mother had told her that she had lain awake the night before the Conference worrying about it. She said she was fed up with the social services controlling her life as she had not done anything wrong and that it would not matter if she did not attend as they don't listen to her. This was all before she knew of the change of plan. Her solicitor had to convince her to attend. This is of some relevance to the issue as to whether or not she can work with the social workers in the future when things become difficult. It is said that she has shown that she can work with the Guardian even though the Guardian is against her. It has to be said, however, that she has not been prepared to meet the Guardian without her solicitor. She even said that she would not attend the contact the Guardian wished to observe if her solicitor was not present. This was before the Guardian reported. Moreover, once a final order is made in this case, her solicitor will cease to be involved and the Mother would have to work with professionals without the support that her solicitor undoubtedly gives her.
  95. Both AY and Mr AD said that their relationship with the Mother was not without difficulty. Mr AD told me it was a difficult relationship with tension at times although he had endeavoured to make it work. AY said that the Mother engaged with her albeit reluctantly. Overall, I consider that the position is not encouraging. If anything, it has got worse as there is no relationship with Mr MM at all and I have found that the Mother has reacted unreasonably in relation to him. I consider it likely that she would fall out with the local authority where she lives as well when they challenge her or take a position that she does not accept.
  96. The position whilst in the Mother's care

  97. I accept that the Mother's level of care was good whilst E. was in her care in February/March. There were some initial problems with E. not sleeping and being difficult about eating. She also appears to have been kicking and hitting the Mother. Such incidents are not surprising and I do not criticise the Mother for them. She is clearly good at dealing with E.'s tantrums by deflection using appropriate language and tones. Her home was kept clean, tidy and warm. There was lots of eye contact, praise, encouragement and physical closeness. E. presented as being happy and confident. I find that it may not be nearly so easy if E. was to return to Mother now although this is not in any way the Mother's fault. The one difficulty is that the PKS worker's report ends with the following "N. became very emotional and difficult when dealing with the social services. This affected N.'s mood". I would add that it would also affect E. if she observed it.
  98. The Local Authority was criticised by the Mother for preventing E. from having any contact to the foster mother after the move. I have not heard from the foster mother so cannot speculate as to her position on the matter. Although it might have been better for there to have been some contact, I do not find this criticism of the Local Authority to be made out. I can equally see it being argued that such ongoing contact could undermine the placement with the Mother.
  99. It is right that the Mother continued to smoke one "zoot" of cannabis every evening after E. had gone to bed. She was honest about this and I accept that she smoked it in the bathroom with the window open and a towel beneath the door. I do not say that smoking cannabis automatically rules a mother out from caring for her child. It all depends. I accept that she did it to reduce her anxiety although I doubt very much that this is the best way to do so in the long run. I accept that it does not appear to have affected her care for E. at the time. I will have to return to this later.
  100. In this regard, I must deal with one further aspect of this period. At the time, it was being alleged by the Local Authority that E. had suffered a number of injuries whilst in the care of her Mother. This aspect has rightly not been pursued before me. There is absolutely no evidence that these injuries were anything other than the normal rough and tumble involved when caring for a two-year old toddler. The only possible relevance is that it is yet another concern that the Mother would have if E. was returned to her care.
  101. The position since March 2016

  102. I accept that the decision of Mr Recorder Bedingfield in March 2016 was a huge blow to the Mother. The proposed appeal will not have comforted her even though her previous appeal was successful. She does appear, however, to have had something of a collapse. She was unable to attend the June contact due to this. I consider it was responsible of her to recognise this but it does show her level of distress. Moreover, she has had the very significant trauma of a termination of pregnancy at 18 weeks on 3rd October 2016. She presented at court as being very distressed. I have not seen her at previous court hearings and cannot contrast her presentation then to now. I do find, however, that she is at present vulnerable and fragile.
  103. After the March hearing, the contact was immediately reduced to once every two months. I consider this was too abrupt and it would have been better to have reduced it gradually. As it turned out, it might not have made a difference if the Mother had been too upset to attend contact during this period but I do not know that for sure. In fact, she has only had six contact visits since March 2016. In nearly eight months, this is a low level of contact. Three visits have been cancelled. One was when she was too upset. The second was when she was ill with morning sickness when she was pregnant. The third was when Mr MM wished to observe the contact. I do consider that it was not reasonable of her to cancel for that reason. By then the contact was back to fortnightly but that is still not a high level. It meant that E. did not see her Mother for a month. Whilst I recognise that the Mother considers it was pointless for Mr MM to observe the contact, I would have expected her wish to see E. to be at the forefront of her thinking.
  104. I accept that there have not been any serious incidents since March 2016. On 13th September 2016, the Mother did lose her cool when initially told that her solicitor could not come into the contact which the Guardian was observing. She became agitated, protesting about the decision and commenting several times that "this is a joke". I accept the Guardian's analysis that she was behaving like a "stroppy teenager" and that the Guardian was uncomfortable. She questioned how E. would react if she saw her Mother behaving like this. The Local Authority also sought to rely on an alleged incident on 7th August 2016 when she attended at the Local Authority's offices with her friend, ML. The log says that she was quite aggressive and used inappropriate language towards the receptionist before shouting at another service user. The only part of the log accepted by the Mother was that she "ripped to pieces" the paperwork she was seeking. I have not heard from the receptionist and cannot make findings but it is clear that, on her own evidence, the Mother did lose her temper by tearing up the paperwork.
  105. Equally, it is very clear that the contact has gone very well when it has taken place. E. and the Mother are delighted to see each other. E. runs into her Mother's arms. The Mother is warm, cheerful and thrilled to see her daughter. E. reciprocates and enjoys the contact greatly. There is undoubtedly a bond. The Mother loves E. and E. loves her. I accept all of this. I do, however, equally accept that E. herself has displayed anxiety since the return to the foster carers. She is concerned that she will be removed from them again. She has found it difficult to adjust to nursery. She is worried that the foster mother will not collect her. I do not find that any of this is as a result of anything the Mother did when E. was with her Mother but it is a function of the various moves of carer that have taken place. I do find that any return to Mother's care now would be significantly more difficult to manage than it was on the last occasion.
  106. Another real and genuine concern is the Mother's increased use of cannabis since March 2016. She has gone from one zoot per day to three zoots. This is a clear indication of her increased anxiety and fragility. She told the Guardian that she had ceased taking cannabis on 10th October 2016 but it lasted one day, as the Guardian predicted. She has told me she has reduced her cannabis intake recently but I am not satisfied as to this without far more information. She told the Guardian that she was using skunk, which is a significantly stronger version of the drug. She told me that she did not know the difference between ordinary cannabis and skunk, which I did find surprising although she seemed to be genuine when she told me. Having said that, she did accept that it was skunk she was buying and the Guardian told me that this is now the normal way in which cannabis is sold.
  107. The use of cannabis can be very serious for the mental health of the user. I accept that different people react in different ways. This Mother has been using cannabis since she was aged thirteen. It does not appear to have affected her as badly as some. It has not prevented her getting to contact on time even early in the morning. It has not stopped her providing a good level of care for her daughter but I simply do not know what damage it is really doing. I strongly suspect that, in the long term, it is making her anxiety worse rather than better even though it does deal with the symptoms at the time. Moreover, the Mother accepts that the cost is some 10 per day or 70 per week. Given the enormous squeeze on benefits, I simply do not know how someone can spend that amount of money without a really serious effect on their standard of living. All this would have a real effect on E. too if it was to continue notwithstanding what the Mother said about prioritising E.
  108. Ms CT appeared to accept the seriousness of this in her evidence. She said to me on more than one occasion that this did concern her, particularly if the Mother was taking skunk. She said she did not know of the increase in usage and there was no disagreement as to the seriousness of the risk if she was using three zoots per day. She accepted that the Mother would have to deal with this before E. could be safely returned and she was not advocating an immediate return to that Mother's care. She reminded me that the Mother had managed to achieve periods of abstinence in the past (on one occasion of some four months) but she has always returned to the drug. I find that, without professional help, there is no chance of her being able to cease its use. In due course, it may start to have severely adverse effects upon her mental health.
  109. The Mother has not, in my view, been able to address this issue to date. She has used all the available time that can be offered to her by KCA. She did contact another provider but missed the first appointment. She told me she did not go as she was feeling "down". It has not been rearranged as yet. I recognise that she would not have been in a good state to embark on this after the decision of Mr Recorder Bedingfield but I do consider that she should have done more following her successful appeal in the knowledge that this hearing was fast approaching. It is a significant risk factor that I cannot ignore.
  110. I do accept the Local Authority's case as to the Mother's inability to work with professionals. She told me she could work with professionals but they had to work with her. She said some of them are always against her whatever she does. She added that they do not see the good in her. This is all very well but she does have a history of not being able to work with professionals who do not agree with her. She failed to give Mr MM any chance at all. She has not even allowed him into her flat. She has refused to give the Local Authority her new mobile telephone number. She would not see the Guardian without her solicitor. The problem is getting worse, not better. Moreover, her solicitor will soon leave the case.
  111. The professional conflict

  112. I now turn to the conflict between the various professionals. It is right to note that it is not just Ms CT on the one hand and the Guardian on the other. All three social workers who gave evidence before me supported the Local Authority's care plan. It might be said that they had to do so but two of them no longer work for the Authority. The previous Guardian also supported the care plan.
  113. The first social worker who gave evidence was Ms AA who had conduct of the case from November 2015 to March 2016. She told me that the care plan had to change in March 2016 for a number of reasons. I accept that one was invalid, namely the alleged injuries to E. in the Mother' care. The others, however, were legitimate concerns, namely lack of engagement with professionals, the history of lack of cooperation, the Mother's volatile outbursts at times and her drug misuse. The second social worker, Mr AD was involved from March 2016 until the end of June 2016 when he left the local authority. The first thing he did was to alter the care plan to one for removal of E. from the Mother. I entirely accept that this must have come from his managers as his involvement until then had been peripheral to say the least but, as he grew into the case, he clearly formed the view that removal was correct. He did not change his view before me although he also referred to inappropriate supervision leading to injuries, which I have rejected.
  114. The final social worker, who has been in place since the end of June 2016 has been Mr MM. He has been quite unable to do his job properly given the refusal of the Mother to engage, which I have already found to be unreasonable. I accept that he was an inexperienced social worker having only qualified in July 2013. This was only his second contested care proceedings. I have already indicated that I was impressed by him but I accept that it would have been far better given the terrible history of this case if it had been allocated to a more experienced social worker or even a team manager. Nevertheless, his evidence was compelling. He accepted that his ability to contribute had been hampered by the Mother's unwillingness to communicate with him and that there had been no shift in her position since the Court of Appeal decision. He accepted that the Mother showed some strengths but he could not see E. having permanency with the Mother in the long term. He told me that, in general, children do better with their families but, in this case, he could only see the concerns continuing in the foreseeable future. He said that E. needs permanency. She is very anxious. The Mother is unable to engage with him and any improvement would be, in his view, outside E.'s timescales. Consistency had not been demonstrated. The Mother needs to do a lot of work before she could care safely for a child. This includes work as to domestic violence, drug misuse, anxiety and anger management. I accept his evidence save in one aspect. He was critical of the Mother's basic parenting and her alleged inability to draw boundaries. I accept he has been hampered by his inability to see the Mother with E. but I do not consider his conclusion fair. In this regard alone, I reject his evidence.
  115. I do accept that Ms CT is a very experienced social worker. By the end, however, it was clear that what she was saying to me was that the Mother should be given another chance. She accepted that this could not be until the Mother had done work on the four areas outlined above. I accept that she did not consider the work had to be completed before a return, which was different to the other professionals. She accepted that use of skunk has a detrimental effect on behaviour and it would concern her if the Mother was using this strong form of cannabis. I have already found that the Mother has used skunk. Ms CT told me that she did not understand how professionals could expect the Mother not to react when told, for example, that she cannot care for her daughter. I do accept that but it is all a question of the degree of reaction and cooperation thereafter.
  116. Ms CT accepted that there would be times when things occur and the Mother would need more help. I agree with this. She accepted that the Mother had refused to give her mobile telephone number to the social worker which had to be contrasted with saying she would work with anyone if E. was returned to her care. She made the fair point, however, that the Mother did work with the professionals when E. was returned to her care.
  117. Her evidence was, clearly, significantly influenced by the way in which she felt that the Local Authority had let the Mother down. She told me she had never seen poor practice such as this in over thirty years. Whenever there was an opportunity to do some work, the Local Authority had failed to take the opportunity. The Webster-Stratton course never happened. The only referral was a late one to Mellow Parenting in February 2016. The professionals meeting never happened. The Mother particularly requested that Ms T not be invited to the contact review. I accept all these points but I have to deal with the case as it presents itself to me today and I must consider E.'s best interests as my paramount concern.
  118. The Guardian, on the other hand, told me that she was concerned because the Mother had smoked cannabis to get her through her life, particularly when anxious. She considered the Mother got angry to mask her anxiety. It makes it more likely for incidents to occur when her stress is high. The Guardian went on to say that the Mother would understandably be really anxious if E. was returned to her care. A particular concern would be that E. would be taken away again, such as if E. got a bruise or the Mother fell out with somebody. It would be unrealistic to expect children's services not to be involved. This all makes the Mother much more vulnerable. The Guardian accepted that the Mother is very likeable and this makes taking decisions more difficult. The simple fact of the matter is that the Mother is very sensitive to criticism. It is no coincidence that incidents occur when difficult things are going on such that she is more likely to be volatile at that time. She said that none of the issues raised are new issues.
  119. With great reluctance, the Guardian concluded that the Mother did not have the capacity to give E. what she needs at this time. The Mother needs to concentrate on her own issues. The Guardian accepted that basic parenting was not an issue and it was a pleasure to see contact. Her concerns were the Mother's cannabis use; her inability to work with professionals; her anxiety and the possible threat of domestic violence. She said that, although the Father may be out of the picture, all the other concerns had increased since it was a finely balanced decision by Mr Recorder Bedingfield. Cannabis use has increased. Anxiety has increased. There is now a complete failure to work with the Local Authority social worker. I accept all these points. The Guardian said it is too much for the Mother to manage. She has succeeded at times but has not been able to sustain the success, such as cannabis abstinence despite wishing to stop taking it. The Mother had denied addiction to cannabis. The Guardian said the Mother was addicted. I agree.
  120. The Guardian ended by saying that the Mother does have the potential to be a good mother in the future but she must address the issues. Again, I agree. It may be easier for her as she gets older. We must not forget that she is still only aged twenty-one.
  121. For all these reasons, I sadly prefer the evidence of the Guardian and the social workers to that of Ms CT. I do so with regret. The Mother may eventually be able to prove herself but it will take a long time. It would be far too late for E. I accept that the four main issues cannot allow me to return E. to the Mother safely. The least significant is the concern as to domestic violence but the other three are serious, namely her cannabis addiction; her anxiety and her inability to work consistently with professionals. I am absolutely clear that, if a further rehabilitation was to be tried in say six months' time, even after extensive work, there would remain issues, incidents and problems. This case would be back before me with another application to remove E., probably by that stage made by the local authority where she lives. These difficulties would continue into the foreseeable future.
  122. The Mother rightly accepts that E. cannot be put through a childhood of contested care proceedings. I have formed the clear view that E. needs stability and permanency now. I accept the evidence of TS that E. can adapt to a placement now, even though she is three. Indeed, Ms CT agreed referring to a successful placement in the case of B where the child was 5. Although E. has had a great deal of uncertainty, I am satisfied that she does have the ability to attach to new adoptive parents.
  123. Conclusion

  124. I have therefore concluded that, with great reluctance, I have to rule the Mother out as a long term carer for E. The Mother accepts that, if I do so, adoption is really the only alternative. I think that was incredibly brave of her. She is, though, absolutely right. If the Mother cannot care for E., E. needs a permanent family for her life. She cannot remain in the uncertainty and limbo of the care system. In short, having ruled out the Mother, I accept that it must be adoption. Nothing else will do. I am not playing lip service to this requirement. I ruled the Mother out with great reluctance but I reached a clear conclusion having heard all the evidence. It follows that there really is no alternative other than adoption.
  125. I realise that the Mother will find this all very distressing. I make it clear that she has been very well represented in these proceedings and nothing more could have been said on her behalf. Moreover, I am convinced that she really does have a bright future if she can rid herself of the issues she faces. She must undertake these courses. I indicated to Mr Pavlou that, given how the Local Authority had let her down, I expected it to make the arrangements and pay for her to attend. The Team Manager accepted that the Local Authority would do so.
  126. The Mother must stop using cannabis. She must ensure any partner of hers is safe. She must learn to control her emotions and work with professionals. If she can do so, I agree with the Guardian as to the future prognosis for any further child she has thereafter. She would probably have to prove herself in a Mother and Baby placement by not walking out, not falling out with those who are there to help her and by generally succeeding in the placement. It would, however, all be far too late for E.
  127. These proceedings have been shocking but I have to reach my decision with my focus on E. E. cannot face another indeterminate period of this litigation continuing. I have formed the clear view that it is in E.'s interest for it to end now. It follows that I must dispense with the Mother's consent to the placement order on the basis that it is in E.'s best interests for me to do so.
  128. I accept the care plan. I make a final care order and a placement order. There will be letter box contact and more life story work.
  129. I order the Local Authority to pay the wasted costs of both the Mother and the Guardian for the hearing on 17th October 2016 which had to be adjourned, on the standard basis to be assessed if not agreed.
  130. Ms Maclachlan invited me to say in my judgment that the Mother's Article 8 rights had been infringed. She indicated further proceedings were being considered. I have made my findings of fact, some of which are very damning of the Local Authority. I have said that E. and her Mother have been let down. I do not consider it would be right to go any further at this stage.
  131. I wish to thank all counsel for their very great help in dealing with this exceptionally difficult case.


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