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England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions >> LA v DG & Ors  EWHC 734 (Fam) (01 February 2013)
Cite as:  EWHC 734 (Fam)
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SITTING AT MAIDSTONE COUNTY COURT
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
|- and -
|6children, X, Y, Z, A, B and C,
the Children's Guardian,
3rd – 8th Respondents
Mr Mark Batchelor (instructed by Thackray Williams) for the 1st Respondent
Miss Eleanor Platt QC & Ms Joanne Porter (instructed by Pearsons Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
Mr Giles Bain (instructed by Reeves & Co) for the 3rd – 8th Respondents
Hearing dates: 28th January – 1st February 2013
Crown Copyright ©
Mrs Justice Theis DBE:
(1) The LA initially sought care and placement orders for all the children, with care plans to place them in adoptive placements. That position changed during the hearing when the LA revised their care plan to long term foster placements for the older three children and adoptive placements for the younger three. Save for Y all the children's current carers are being assessed as permanent placements; the younger three children as adoptive placements and Z and X's carers as long term foster carers. The LA plan is for Y to move from her current placement to a long term foster placement. The LA would ideally like there to be inter-sibling contact for all the children and direct parental contact for the older three children although they accept this may depend, to some extent, on whether the current carers are positively assessed. They would wish for there to be contact between the older children and their parents, although this will depend on a number of factors, including whether the parents remain here and the impact that would have on the viability of full inter sibling contact. If there has to be a choice their view is sibling contact should take priority.
(2) The parents seek the return of all of the children to their care. If that is not possible they seek the return of the older two children and possibly Z too. They have also canvassed the return of Y alone. Their fall back position is they would want all the children to remain in long term foster placements rather than the younger three in adoptive placements. The mother is clear that she wishes the children should remain in this jurisdiction, whether in their care or in the care of the LA. The father was less clear, his oral evidence is that if he could seek the return of the children to Slovakia he would, as he sees the regime for parental contact to children in care there being more generous than here. However, he accepts that the children cannot go to Slovakia and in the closing submissions submitted on his behalf he expressly stated that if the children were not returned to their parents' care they should remain here.
(3) The Guardian supports the LA in relation to placement and future contact. There is an issue about the profile of the long term foster family for Y.
'The best person to bring up a child is the natural parent. It matters not whether the parent is wise or foolish, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, provided the child's moral and physical health are not endangered. Public authorities cannot improve on nature.'
i. The children are Slovak citizens;
ii. Their relatives and family live in the Slovak Republic; and
iii. The Slovak Republic is able to provide adequate social and medical care
for the children.
(1) Even making all due allowance for the difficulties in evidence being given by an interpreter and the mothers limited intellectual functioning their account about what happened at the meeting on 27 June and 4 July was not consistent. For example the mother remained unclear whether she was alleging that the allocated Social Worker had said this on 27 June or 4 July. What I do accept is that the mother was clearly very upset about being told what the LA plans were.
(2) The allegation that the social worker effectively told them to go back to Slovakia, said the LA would pay for that and according to the father said she did not care where they went or whether they were living on the street was a serious allegation. If true I find it very surprising that this was not mentioned to their legal teams on 2 or 3 July.
(3) Their suggestion that the social worker said these things is wholly inconsistent with the social worker stressing the need for them to contact their legal teams before they made any decision.
(4) The allocated social worker was an extremely impressive witness. She had a detailed knowledge of this case due to her involvement with this family going back to February 2011. She was fair and balanced in her evidence, was able to refer to case notes to support her position and I can see no possible motive for her behaving in the unprofessional way alleged; it was noteworthy none was suggested. I am afraid it was the parents who had the motive, seeking to justify their actions which in the cold light of day perhaps demonstrates vividly their inability to understand the basic needs of their children.
In my judgment it is more likely than not that the parents had been contemplating a return to Slovakia, this is evidenced in the LA records. Their understandable distress at the news of the LA plans for the children turned those thoughts rapidly into a reality, without thinking about the consequences for the children or investigating what help there would be in a place where they had come from after experiencing such severe deprivation. The motivation appears to be to enlist the help of the authorities there without any consideration being given to what actually could be done and the consequences of going with no means to return. That is evidenced by the father's evidence that when they got there all the offices were closed for the summer holidays. From the children's perspective this step was disastrous as they moved from a position of having regular contact with their parents, particularly their mother, to no contact and no information as to when they would see their parents again. As one of the witnesses described it was for the children like falling off a cliff edge.
(1) The younger three children are too young to have expressed their wishes. The older three children do not wish to return to their parents care as they may continue to experience neglectful parenting, as they did before. They have all expressed the wish to remain with their current carers. The court has to be alive to the fact that their wishes may be influenced by their experience of being cared for by the parents in Lunik IX and the attachment they have inevitably built up with their current carers. However, they lived in this country for 10 months, which they would all remember, and they continued to experience their parents care during the regular contact they had. I therefore consider that their views are more likely to be influenced by their more recent experiences of their parents care. Their wishes and feelings are only one of the relevant considerations.
(2) Each of the children have differing physical, emotional and educational needs due to their ages and experiences. X suffered considerable emotional and physical deprivation. His hearing and eyesight will require monitoring and attendance at appointments. He is emotionally fragile and finds it difficult to talk about life when living with his parents. His academic progress has been slow and whilst not meeting the criteria for a statement of special educational needs he will require close monitoring and support. Y's behaviour has been very challenging and she too is emotionally vulnerable, she is demanding and will engage in difficult behaviour to secure the attention she requires. The descriptions in the papers demonstrate this goes beyond attention seeking behaviour. She expresses considerable anxiety about her parents and her future care. Her educational progress has been slow and requires considerable support. Z requires firm and consistent parenting. His health has improved and his dental decay been treated. He is making progress at school. A's health has improved, his glue ear successfully treated. His general health requires careful monitoring and he requires consistent and firm handling. B's health is good, he still requires medication for his Vitamin D deficiency and benefits from his nursery attendance. C is in good health and his development now all age appropriate.
(3) Any change to the children's current circumstances is likely to be difficult for each of them. It will require careful planning and consistent and supported planning. All the children have thrived with consistent care and whilst the court has to be particularly careful not to place reliance on how children have improved when placed with foster carers who are in a better economic position than the parents, it is a remarkable feature of this case that all the children have made such significant progress in such a short period of time. This does, in my judgment, emphasise the extent of the neglect the children suffered in the care of their parents which the court cannot ignore. Care of course needs to be taken to ensure decisions not to restore children to the care of their parents are not made because they would be better off in foster care; that amounts to social engineering which is not the function of this court. What the court must consider is whether these parents are able to provide good enough parenting to all or any of these children. I have reached the conclusion they cannot as they would be unable to provide, even with support in place, the consistency of care that each of these children so desperately need. Obviously if the current carers are successful in the various assessments that will mean, other than Y, there will be no change in their carers. This would, on the information I have seen, have enormous benefits for these children as they will keep the stability of carer with whom they have strong attachments, the carers are known to each other, have established an effective way of ensuring sibling contact takes place and provide the best prospect of parental contact working. In relation to a change of carer for, Y that will obviously require careful planning and consistency which in my judgment the parents are unable to give.
(4) The children's background is clearly relevant. They are all of Roma descent and at the moment associate their background with severe deprivation. Some of the foster carers, to their credit, have taken steps to keep some of the Roma customs alive for the children. It is unfortunate that has not been undertaken more coherently which I hope in the future it will be. Obviously if there was contact with the parents that would provide a tangible way of doing that. The children are at ages where decisions regarding their future placement cannot be further delayed. These proceedings have now being going on for 17 months and although that delay has in part been beneficial for the children to enable them to settle with their current carers, they now require some certainty about where they are going to live.
(5) The children have all suffered harm as outlined above and, in my judgment, are at risk of future harm if any of them were returned to their parents care as in my judgment these parents are not capable of being able to meet the needs of any of these children within the timeframe of these children. They have not seen their parents for seven months and have had no information as to when they were likely to see them again. Their parents are in a very precarious position now having returned to Slovakia in the way that they did. They are having now to try and re-establish themselves here, where they wish to remain, but it remains very uncertain. Even when they did not have the responsibility of caring for the children they were unable to manage basic aspects of their day to day life to retain their accommodation or manage their finances. Even making all due allowance for the difficulties they obviously had it demonstrates that even with support the care they would provide for the children would be very uncertain and precarious. It is unlikely they would be able consistently to provide for the children's very basic emotional and physical needs.
(6) The children's welfare requires certainty now as to their future placement. That is the view of the expert evidence, in particular Dr Birch and Mr Tapp, who each carried out detailed assessments and, in my judgment, kept their minds open at all times to looking at ways of restoring these children to their parents care. I accept their evidence. Each of them struggled with the impact of the historical difficulties this family have had, as have I. As Mr Tapp said 'I find this a difficult complex and sad case. The parents unquestionably love their children dearly. Their commitment at attending contact has been faultless.' Later in his report he states the children require 'parenting to sustain the improvements in their development. I do not think that the parents are able to provide the necessary quality of parenting, even with support, to any of the children. I believe that the children would quickly slip back in their development and well being were any of them to return [to their parents care]. In my opinion they are very vulnerable to rapid regression given the extent of the harm in the past. They are not resilient in this respect.' I agree.
(7) I am quite satisfied on the evidence before me that no other order, other than a care order, will provide these children with the much needed stability their welfare so clearly needs.
(1) Whilst for the reasons given above I have ruled out the parents as being able to care for the children in the future, that does not mean I do not regard them as a significant part of the children's lives. Providing it is consistent with the children's welfare I wholly endorse the plans to continue direct contact with the parents and the older three children in both the short and the long term. I am entirely satisfied on the evidence that this LA are wholly committed to such contact and the benefits for the children of supporting that contact continuing. I sincerely hope the parents are able to find the necessary support and assistance to enable them to remain in this jurisdiction so they can see the children. As one of the witnesses said it would be disastrous for the children if there was a repeat of what happened in July 2012. I accept the parents, in particular the mother, now understand the impact of them abandoning the children and do not wish that to happen again.
(2) I also endorse the younger three children having direct contact with their parents pending the identification of their adoptive placement.
(3) The profile of the placement for alternative carers for Y should remain as set out in the care plan. That is a matter for the LA to keep under active review.
(4) Future direct contact with the parents needs to be closely monitored, supported and kept under review through the LAC reviews with the flexibility of reviewing the position in between the LAC reviews with the assistance of the IRO who is already familiar with the case. In addition I am informed that the allocated social worker will remain which will retain invaluable continuity for the children and the parents. It is in the interests of the parents and the children that steps are taken to restore trust between the parents and the LA, in particular with the allocated Social Worker.
(5) It would be helpful if the parents could assist directly or indirectly in ensuring the children's Roma heritage is kept alive for them.
(6) Obviously it will be a matter for the assessments that are about to be undertaken but the senior practitioner in the County Adoption Team was clear that the strong attachments the current carers have with the children will be a powerful factor. I agree.