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You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales Family Court Decisions (other Judges) >> A Council v M [2014] EWFC B158 (01 December 2014)
Cite as: [2014] EWFC B158

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This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of his family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

Case No: DX14C00137


2 Redcliff Street, Bristol. BS1 6GR
1st December 2014

B e f o r e :


A Council

- and -

First Respondent


Hannah Wiltshire for the Local Authority
Judi Evans for the mother.
Stuart Fuller for the guardian.



Crown Copyright ©


    HHJ Wildblood QC :

  1. Introduction - This case resumed before me on 28th November 2014 for three days. The position now is that the Local Authority continues to seek care and placement orders. The guardian, having thought about matters, now reverts to recommending that the orders sought by the Local Authority should be made and filed a position statement to that effect dated 18th November 2014 [A145]. The mother (as I will call her) maintains her opposition to the Local Authority's applications and contends that the child (as I will call him) should remain with her.
  2. There remain two options for the long term future of the child, who is now nearly nine months old. Either he remains with the mother under a transition plan by which she moves with him gradually from the foster mother's home into the community with a range of identified support (possibly with an adjournment of the case to see how the mother fares in the third stage of therapy). Or he is placed for adoption. The adopters of her previous child remain willing and able to have this child as well. For obvious reasons no one suggests that long term fostering is an option. I set out the legal provisions that govern this case in my earlier judgment and I will not repeat them in this judgment. Counsel have agreed that they represent a correct exposition of the applicable law. The threshold criteria are satisfied as I said in the earlier judgment and therefore the focus is upon welfare and Article 8 rights.
  3. The mother and the child remain living with the foster mother ('FM' as I called her in the previous judgment). With the assistance of her very experienced and committed legal team, the mother has filed a written plan for the package of support that she would seek and propose if the child remains with her [A132]. It suggests a gradual transition of the mother and the child from the foster mother's home to the mother's previous flat pending a move to a new flat in a new area which is about fifteen miles from her current flat. Her plan contains a proposed package of support from the foster mother, Sure Start, a family support worker, the church, Home Start and Lift Psychology. It has been prepared with far more precision, detail and care than the Local Authority's plan [F36] and bears the additional proposal of support from the church. The social worker gave evidence that the mother had been offered a place on two different Sure Start courses but had not taken up either place; however, I note that the mother says at C130: 'I have had a very long chat with [Reverend T] and I am prepared to accept the help he is offering me via [two church members]. [The two church members] will accompany me to Surestart in [the new area] every week. I will start attending in the New Year'.
  4. The foster mother, FM, has given accurate and compassionate evidence again at this hearing. Her statement at C125 and her oral evidence demonstrate a dramatic deterioration in the mother's care of the child to a level that is now manifestly contrary to the child's welfare. The strain that this has placed upon the foster family was all too apparent from the foster mother's evidence. An example of how bad things have been is given in the following extract from the foster mother's statement at C127 (dated 24th November 2014): 'today [the mother's] bedroom was found to also contain a bin full of sick by the bed, urine soaked clothing by the child's cot, a bag containing clothing and bedding covered in faeces also drops on the floor and as stated earlier smeared on the bedding. I removed 5/6 machine loads of washing from a linen bin, the floor and bags. A further 1 or 2 loads that need pre-scrubbing or binning are in bags outside the house'). She said that the mother has 'no routine of cleaning, tidying, washing up, washing and can often go days without doing either' [C127]. She says that it is impossible for the child to play on the floor 'due to the mess' [C127] and that the mother withdrew from much of the help that she had been giving around the house [C127]. The mother has not had a shower for two weeks, the foster mother said in evidence; whether she was washing at all the foster mother could not say.
  5. Following a meeting on 22nd October (at which the mother, to her understandable distress, was only invited in for the second half) the Local Authority asked the foster mother (FM) to reduce the extent to which she was caring for the child and the foster mother agreed that this was a good idea. This was done in order to see what would happen if the foster mother stopped giving the mother the significant amount of prompting on issues of basic care that she had been giving. It is after that (and notwithstanding the fact that the mother was still living under the emotional umbrella of the foster home) that things fell apart from the point of view of the care of the child although the mother's care of the child had already deteriorated before that, according to the foster mother's evidence. I do not accept the contention on behalf of the mother [at A127] that the Local Authority 'has begun to dismantle the mother's only emotional support network (that of [the foster mother])'; if there was ever to be a chance of the mother moving into independent living there had to be some idea of how the mother would manage without the foster mother's previous very high level of involvement – the foster mother said so herself.
  6. The mother returned to her flat from 30th October to 3rd November whilst the foster mother went on holiday at the end of half term. When at the flat she was given constant support from the organisation referred to as 'Alphabet Care' save for the six hours between noon and 6.00 p.m. each day. Alphabet Care has produced notes which I have seen. By 31st October [I-37] 'the flat smelt of sour milk and was very untidy. Dirty nappies and wipes were all over the floor, along with dirty clothes. The sofa was in the middle of the room, with food jars and a duvet on it. The freezer door was still open and water was leaking from it'. The mother is recorded as not responding to advice that was given. On 1st November the records of Alphabet Care state: 'Bedroom untidy and litter on bed. Freezer is still defrosting, water over the floor. Front room very knife on the floor' [I-43]. Also on 1st November 2014: 'The mother lacks positive interaction with the child…the mother finds it hard to concentrate on a task. The nappy change took 25 minutes…There is a clear lack of positive stimulation for the child' [I-44]. As at 3rd November: 'The room smells of urine and [the mother] is in the same dirty clothes as yesterday. The child has yet to be changed [6.50 a.m.]. [The child] did not want to finish his bottle, the mother threw the bottle on the floor and roughly picked the child up asking why he wouldn't drink his fucking bottle'.
  7. When the mother returned to the home of the foster mother on 3rd November, her care of the child deteriorated further still. Before she went back to the flat (i.e. before 30th October), the condition of her room can be seen in photographs at J198, J205, J211, J215, J219 etc; the photographs show not just what might be described as 'teenage mess' but squalor. Examples of photographs of its worsened state after the mother returned can be seen at J280, J282, J285, J290, J292, J295, J299, J323, J328, J329, J330, J335, J346, J351, etc. An idea of the sort of strain that the foster mother faced can be seen at J338: 'I then pop to her bedroom with the intention of sorting a bit myself as we are all getting ill and I'm worried the unhygienic bedroom is the source of the germs. Straightaway there are pooey clothes and [the mother's] bottom sheet has yellow poo stains all over it. The carpet is the same. The smell is making me heave. I phone social services…I shut the door and leave the room'.
  8. Following the meeting on the 22nd October it was hoped that the mother would have shown some sufficient progress to move into the second phase of the transition plan with a review being planned on 17th November. However, that was not possible given the state of things. There was a meeting at the home of the foster mother on that date (17th November). The social work team, the mother, the guardian (briefly) and foster mother were present. The outcome was that the same issues remained unmitigated and it was decided that the transition plan would not progress to phase two. There are handwritten minutes of that meeting which were produced and now feature in the bundle at F49; I heard about the meeting also in the oral evidence of the social worker. The meeting began with the mother saying, in relation to the expectations raised of her on 22nd October, 'I haven't done any of them, so there you go'. The guardian said in evidence that by then no progress had been made; in fact the notes suggest that the mother had done well in preparing meals and in working around the main areas of the house but there were still the other problems, in particular with the state of the mother's room ('bedroom got in a bad state after last meeting – crockery had to be thrown away. Bedroom did get nasty, cleared it yesterday but was bad again').
  9. It was hoped that an organisation called Home Start might be able to offer the mother emotional support if the child were to live with her; however, that organisation has decided, after speaking with the Local Authority, that it would only offer low level support at a later stage and would not be able to commit itself immediately to supporting the mother [C135]. The local church community has moved to offer its assistance to the mother and a pastor ('Reverend T') gave an impressive, compassionate and committed statement [C139] and similar oral evidence about how much the church community would wish to do for this mother. The psychologist, Ms F, gave evidence again; she did not think that the mother was able at present to care for the child adequately, even with the level of support that was being proposed; she thought that it was unlikely that there will be changes in the mother's psychological state for at least three months.
  10. I do not accept the underlying contention [A126 + a page of the submission that is missing from the bundle but which I have read electronically and A127] that the Local Authority scuppered the efforts that the mother was making to find support from Home Start (see, in particular the email from Home Start at F46). I accept that the plan prepared by the mother was more focussed on the need for the mother to have emotional support (and is thus directed to the area of support that the mother needs) but the Local Authority did propose a transition plan, the involvement of the foster mother, support from Ms B (who had helped her before – see the previous judgment), attendance at Sure Start, Lift Psychology and meetings with a support worker from the mother's accommodation. Further, Home Start were offering involvement only at the level of two hours a week which, on what I have now heard, would have made very little inroad, if any, into the difficulties that have been made so very apparent.
  11. During the period since my last judgment, the mother has completed the second stage of the therapy with Lift Psychology. That ended on the 6th October. The third stage of therapy is due to start on 16th December. Thus the mother was without therapy from early October until the time of this hearing. That is particularly unfortunate since it is in the area of her emotional functioning that the mother is most vulnerable and the difficulties that she faces as a parent and adult are a reflection of that vulnerability.
  12. Also during the period of adjournment, the anniversary of the removal from the mother of her first child occurred (24th November, just before the hearing started again). That very distressing date in the mother's emotional calendar saw her becoming extremely angry and telling the social worker in very strong terms, which I accept do not in anyway reflect her true feelings, that she did not want the child (i.e. the child in this set of proceedings, not her first child). The email contained the following: '[The mother] went to tell me how the Local Authority are making her feel like shit and she is fed up. She then said that she doesn't want the child. I asked what the mother meant by this. The mother said 'what part of 'I don't want the child do you not understand' and then screamed 'I don't fucking want my son' and 'take him away'… I asked the mother where the child was and she told me that she was holding him'.
  13. Thus, there has been a triad of recent stresses on this mother. The gap in her therapy. The reduction in involvement by the foster mother. The anniversary of the removal of her first child. Each of those, of course, is bound to recur; therapy will not be constant in the future, although the mother is due to start a third and more involved course of therapy on 16th December. The mother herself says at C129: 'I have been more distressed about these proceedings in the last month than ever before'. I do not accept the submission that 'the Local Authority fails to understand the correlation between the emotional wellness and good parenting and it fails to address its mind to independent emotional support in order to achieve this'. Everyone in this case now understands that correlation very well indeed. The problem is whether the mother's emotional difficulties can be mitigated in a way that will allow her to provide adequate care for her child.
  14. The sheer misery of this case is that the mother remains devoted to the child and the child continues to develop appropriately. It is the backlog of profound emotional damage that the mother has suffered that causes the vulnerabilities in her parenting. Can a means be found by which she can care for him adequately, as she desperately wants to, with support and therapy?
  15. Evidence - I heard evidence at this hearing from the psychologist, the foster mother, the social worker, the mother, Reverend T and the guardian. I will give the summary of the evidence that I heard later in this judgment.
  16. The psychologist, I felt, mulled over the issues in the case from the witness box but gave limited assistance with the core question of whether the mother could care for the child adequately in the longer term. By way of example of this, Ms F had said in her latest report, dated 15th October 2014 that 'I consider her ability to provide satisfactory care for the child will continue to fluctuate but regular contact with professionals will provide a safeguard...It appears from the foster care notes that mother's care of the child deteriorates, unsurprisingly, when there is some stress in her life, for example when she had toothache. I have mentioned in my previous reports that the mother's parenting is likely to deteriorate when there is any stress in her life, whether physical or emotional. Workers will therefore need to be sensitive to [the mother's] moods and well-being, and perhaps adjust the level of support accordingly. [The mother] will need to let people know if she is having a bad day'.
  17. I found the foster mother's evidence extremely impressive and entirely reliable. She made it plain that she would give any reasonable help that was asked of her and would assist with the transition of the mother into the community if that were to be the chosen course for the child. To her very real credit she maintains a good relationship with the mother (and the mother with her, as she says at C131) but there was no doubt about the reliability of her evidence that the mother's care of the child was now well below the level where it could be regarded as consistent with the welfare of the child.
  18. The social worker gave evidence on behalf of a Local Authority that had committed itself from the outset to the idea that the mother could not care for the child (as I explained in my earlier judgment) and nothing had changed in that approach. The Local Authority position statement at A123 ended by saying: 'It is becoming increasingly apparent that [the mother] is failing [the child's] needs within the highly supportive environment of the mother and baby foster placement, let alone independently in the community. Many of the concerns are parenting issues, whilst others can be more directly linked to the post traumatic stress disorder (such as the state of her room). [The mother] is engaging in therapy to deal with the latter but is unwilling or unable to access support or listen to and heed advice given to deal with the former. There continues to be significant concerns about [the mother's] ability to work with the Local Authority, to recognise what is required to meet [the child's] needs consistently, and to accept and act upon advice given to her by professionals. Given this, there is no evidence to suggest that [the mother] is able to make the necessary changes within timescales appropriate to [the child].
  19. Reverend T gave very compassionate and well prepared evidence. He had given a lot of thought to his evidence.
  20. The mother gave evidence in which she spoke of the child with heartfelt and genuine love and commitment. It was very distressing for her to give the evidence that she did but she gave it honestly, bravely and politely. These proceedings have been an immense burden to her and nobody could fail to be deeply affected by the misery that she feels at her predicament.
  21. The guardian had said in a position statement dated 18th November 2014 [A147]: 'Whilst fully taking into account the potential positives for [the child] of being brought up by his mother and the negative aspects of placement for adoption, having considered the welfare check lists in both Acts, having taken into account proportionality and having given careful thought to whether there is any realistic and safe option for keeping child and mother together, the Children's Guardian is driven reluctantly to conclude that for the child to be kept safe and to have his needs met to a good enough standard nothing other than adoption will do'.
  22. I will now give more detail of the evidence that I heard.
  23. The Psychologist - Ms F said that the gaps in the mother's interaction with the child may be a result of her not registering the need to stimulate him and accept advice. The mother has a very long term habit of allowing her home to get into a mess, for psychological reasons that I mentioned in my earlier judgment. Ms F thought that she cannot get over that habit. Realistically, said Ms F, it will be difficult for the mother to keep her environment tidy. She was not able to keep her flat in a reasonable condition whilst Alphabet Care were present with her from 6 p.m. to noon during the dates of 30th October 2014 to 3rd November 2014. and it was of concern to her that there has been a deterioration in the condition of the mother's accommodation with FM.
  24. Ms F had seen an email in which the social worker reported the mother's distress and anger at about the time of the anniversary of the eldest child's removal (dated 25th November 2014 – C142). The mother's anger and statements that she did not want to care for the child at about the time of the anniversary of her previous child's removal show how she responds at times of extreme stress; that level of stress may not be repeated but there would be other major stresses upon her in the future, observed Ms F.
  25. Ms F said that it is unfortunate that the mother's further therapy with Lift Psychology was delayed; however it is now going to start on 16th December (and stage two ended in October). She hoped that that level of anger would be addressed during therapy but, until it is, she did not think that there was anything that could be done now. She said that she would hope that, by midway through the twelve further sessions, some inroads would be made into her anger but she thought that the mother would need more than twelve sessions to resolve her post traumatic stress disorder.
  26. Ms F accepted that there was a range of deficiencies in the mother's care of the child when with the foster mother. They include lack of routine, not taking advice and not caring adequately or appropriately for the child. In addition, the deterioration in the mother's accommodation (both with the foster mother and also when she went back to her own flat at the end of October) must be factored in.
  27. Ms F also said that it was particularly unfortunate that the second stage of Lift Psychology therapy ended on 6th October and so, at a time of great stress she did not have recourse to therapy. When the foster mother took a step back in the level of involvement with the mother and child (as she was requested to do on 22nd October) this must also have left the mother feeling a loss of some of the support that she had received in the past. However, Ms F said, the previous level of support given by the foster mother could surely not be sustained indefinitely.
  28. Ms F thought that the guardian's identification in his position statement of things that had gone wrong was correct. She had seen the support plan and had seen the statement of Reverend T. However, the mother had not been able to maintain the child's care to an adequate level even with the support that is currently being provided. That level is high. She said that, at this stage, her opinion is that, although the mother's proposed support plan is a good one, she did not see the mother being able to rectify the difficulties that she has in caring for the child to a satisfactory level. That led to the question – 'for how long do you foresee that unsatisfactory state of affairs remaining?' She said that she thought that it was unlikely that there will be changes in the mother's psychological state for at least three months. If the mother continues with therapy then she might be in a better position to care for the child in three months time.
  29. If the child was a new born, she said that she would be recommending that 'we should come back in three months time to see how the mother was getting on'. But, she said, it is not possible to keep deferring the decision of what is to happen, if the child's welfare is paramount.
  30. The foster mother - she has maintained the very high quality of her evidence. Her statement (at C125) and evidence were highly balanced and informative. They paint the picture of the dramatic deterioration in the quality of care that the mother has given to the child over recent weeks. The foster mother said that the mother is not making any real effort at present to give her anything that would allow her to write positively about the mother in the daily reports that she keeps.
  31. The foster mother says that she does now have concerns about the basic care that the mother offers to the child. She said that the last two weeks have been particularly hard. The child has had gastro-enteritis but the mother's room and care were not being maintained prior to that. The foster mother said that the mother had cleaned her own room twice since August. For about the last month things have been particularly bad.
  32. On the 22nd October it was agreed by everyone, including the foster mother, that she should only intervene if the child's safety so demanded. The foster mother said that she thought that this was good plan since it was necessary to see how the mother coped without frequent prompting. She thought that it was a sensible preamble to any suggestion that the mother should move into independent living. The foster mother thought that it did not 'really work'; there was nothing that the mother has done to show that she has the ability to care for the child without the previous high level of involvement. She felt that the mother appeared to be less motivated despite the foster mother encouraging her and saying things like 'if you do that, I can write down great things about you…'
  33. The foster mother said that, if the child does remain with the mother, she could provide respite care for the child for one week end a month if asked. She would be open to suggestions that she might be involved in other respects but did not see herself playing anything like the current significant role. She would help with the transition of the mother to independent living, if asked. Although the distance between the foster home and the mother's current flat is not great, it takes a considerable time to travel it due to the high volume of traffic (she said 1 ˝ hours), although the mother's plan would be to move 'in 3 to 6 months' to an area that would be much closer [C131].
  34. The social worker considered that lack of routine, prop feeding, the mother sometimes not feeding the child, lack of stimulation by the mother of the child, the mother not always prioritising the child's needs, the mother not responding to him and the state of the mother's accommodation represented the main reasons why the Local Authority is pursuing its current care plan of adoption. She said that the level of concern has increased and every day those concerns are present. She said that her view remains the same that there is no alternative to adoption and that the child would be at serious risk of harm in the mother's care. If the child had not been subject to existing proceedings there would have been a number of occasions during the period of adjournment when it would have been necessary to consider child protection measures. Although the child is meeting his development milestones at present, the degree of neglect would be likely to invade that continued progress and the extent of the harm that may be caused by neglect may not be apparent until later; further the developmental milestones have only been met after a very high level of involvement from the foster mother and others.
  35. Reverend T – His carefully prepared statement contained the main body of his very impressive evidence. He said that the S. B. Community Partnership, within which he works, is seeking to empower people within the area to fulfil their potential. It engages in youth work and mentoring, training courses, healthy eating guidance, etc – a wide range of services. Two volunteers remain assigned to the mother. When the partnership first began to engage with the mother she was understandably guarded. Over time she has been prepared to open up and share things with the workers from the partnership. Someone from the partnership could visit every day, he said, for a short time. It would take a number of months to make a difference, he thought, and support would be offered for as many months as necessary – certainly 3 to 6 months. He sees the role of the partnership as offering support to the mother, not monitoring her performance. He made it plain that he was not advancing a view on the appropriate outcome of the case. As an outsider to the family justice system and having read of the systemic failure recorded in my earlier judgment he felt that the mother had been failed by the system.
  36. By this judgment I wish to send the following very clear messages to Reverend T and the S.B. Community Partnership (as I told him at the end of his evidence). First, my profound thanks to him and the members of the Community Partnership for the humanity, courage and commitment that they have shown. It is not easy to give evidence and it is not easy to get involved; but they have done so. Secondly, I wish to stress the importance of the service that they have been prepared to offer; it really does matter that members of the local community (whether from the church or not) should be encouraged to offer their support to those going through the terrible process of public law proceedings – especially to parents and families who are facing the loss of children. Thirdly, I hope that each member of that partnership feels the pride that they each should in the work that they do and the display of the highest principles that they have shown; they have acted like the Good Samaritan and have not walked on the other side of the road at the time of another's need, even in very complex circumstances such as this. Fourthly, it is important that the functioning of the system should be known within the community together with any flaws that have been revealed (such as the absence of timely assessment of this mother in the pre-birth stage and the other flaws that I identified at the outset of the previous judgment); it is only in that way that the system can be understood in accordance with the current drive for greater transparency and mistakes can be avoided in other cases. I hope that he and the other partnership members will see just how seriously the Family Court takes cases such as this and how determined the court is to ensure that justice is done and the law is upheld. Finally, that I have to absorb a very large body of evidence in this case; at the time that Reverend T gave evidence there was still further evidence to hear and I had not heard speeches from the representatives. Therefore, I plainly could not tell him the outcome when he gave evidence but informed him that this judgment would be available on (and, as a modern man, he said he would be in no difficulty in finding it). The outcome being as it is revealed by this judgment to be, I wish him to know that neither he nor the others within the partnership could have done more.
  37. The mother - She said that she has identified a flat in the location to which she wishes to move in accordance with the transition plan [week 9 – A137]. She said that it is important for her to move to the new area since she knows it well and it would be easier for her to get out and see people. She would also be much closer to the foster mother. She would be much happier there.
  38. She said that she felt that it was a 'done deal' that the Local Authority would succeed in its applications. She said that she would like the case to be adjourned to see how she gets on with the third stage of the work that she will do with Lift Psychology. She expressed her appreciation for the input from the S.B Community Partnership and her commitment to accepting the support that is on offer from them.
  39. She said that she knows that she has not kept her room tidy since the last adjournment. She said that November was a time of great unhappiness for her because of the misery of the anniversary of the removal of her eldest child. She also spoke of the enormous burden of these proceedings and her feelings that she was not supported during the period following the removal of her eldest child and leading up to the birth of this child.
  40. The guardian – He said that if the case was adjourned for three months we would just be 'sloshing around with the same problems'. He did not see any realistic prospect of the mother making sufficient changes within the child's timescales for her to be able to care for him. He said that he recommended care and placement orders. The alternatives to adoption have been full explored now and are demonstrated not to be consistent with the child's welfare, he felt. Option 1a, to which he referred in his evidence in September, has now been tested as he had suggested it should be. That option did not get past the four week mark and was no longer realistic
  41. In his submissions on behalf of the guardian, Mr Fuller reminded me that, in my earlier judgment I had said at paragraph 157: 'I need to know more about the position of FM, the progress of therapy, the potential input from Home Start and the views of Ms F on what has now been said'. As Mr Fuller said, we now know what FM can offer – she will do what she can but cannot sustain the high level of support that she has offered in the past. As to Home Start, it is known that they would probably offer two hours of involvement each week to which would be added the support from the church. But, he submitted with cogency, if the very full involvement of the foster mother did not produce improvement, there was no realistic prospect of improvement being achieved with the lesser involvement that those two impressive organisations could provide.
  42. Mr Fuller submitted that the further views of Ms F are now known, particularly in relation to therapy. The best that Ms F could say is that things might be better in three months time. Mr Fuller submitted that one could not begin a transition into community living until there was at least some evidence of progress, particularly in the light of what occurred between 30th October and 3rd November. So, any transition could not be tested or started for some time, probably three months. Given the extent to which matters have deteriorated Mr Fuller was plainly correct about that – it would irresponsible to introduce an ambulant child into the flat as described by Alphabet care during those five days.
  43. Analysis - Pros and cons of the two options - This has been a very lengthy hearing in which I have heard a very full array of evidence. The child is now nine months old and the case has exceeded the 26 week stage significantly for the reasons that I gave in my earlier judgment.
  44. The mother loves the child deeply and desperately wishes to care for him. He has lived with her for the first nine months of his life, months that are of profound importance to a developing child. The child's physical development continues as it should. She is his mother and is his only identified parent. Thus she offers him a mother's love, a home within his genetic origins and an upbringing within his natural environment. Nature, law and common sense require that it be recognised that the best place for a child to live is with a natural parent unless proven and proportionate necessity otherwise demands.
  45. Further, as Ms Evans submitted, the court must recognise that there are variations in the standards of parenting and it is only in exceptional circumstances that children should be removed from parents permanently. She referred specifically to the words of Hedley J in Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria) 2007 1 FLR 2050 at 2063 in which he had said: 'society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent' ...and also to the speech by Lord Templeman in Re KD [1988] 1 AC 806). She submitted, correctly, that this is not a case where the mother has done anything deliberate to harm the child and it is not a case where she has intentionally chosen to involve herself in a way of life that is harmful to him. There is no suggestion of drugs or alcohol, for instance.
  46. Again, Ms Evans submitted correctly that the key to the mother's difficulties in parenting lies in her own emotional functioning. She therefore submitted that, if there is a way by which the mother can be sufficiently supported to improve her emotional functioning to allow her to care for the child in a timescale that is consistent with the paramount welfare of the child, that course should be taken.
  47. Ms Evans also stressed the enormous strain that the mother has been under during these proceedings and, in particular, the period of adjournment. The mother should not be judged harshly for the manifestations of stress during an exceptionally stressful period. She has faced the constant threat of removal of the child that she loves and the flawed procedures that I identified in the earlier judgment. Ms Evans submitted: 'Low mood equates to disorder; remedy the low mood and her parenting improves' and reminded me of how positively things had started at the foster mother's (in my first judgment I said: 'FM said in evidence that, when the mother first left her home 'after the initial twelve weeks she was 95 – 99% certain that everything would work out well. The mother was then doing really well with the child and she did not foresee that things would end up as they are now'). She submitted further that, during the period of adjournment, there has not been a testing out of the effect of the mother operating as a parent with the support of Home Start, the church, new accommodation, Lift Psychology and freedom (or less threat) from litigation.
  48. Therefore, there are very strong and obvious 'pros' (to use a simplistic word that I do not like) in the mother caring for her child and her case has been advanced very skilfully, revealing the pros (and seeking to address the cons) with clarity.
  49. Placement for adoption would see him placed with the adopters of his older half-brother. They will need to see this judgment. I am sure that those adopters would offer him a loving home and the loving society of his half brother. He would have security and permanence with adoptive parents of proven ability and commitment. However, as I am sure they will understand, in placing this child's welfare throughout his life as the paramount consideration it is not simply a matter of weighing up the competing merits of the two options and seeing in which way I feel the balance tips, for reasons that I explained in the previous judgment. It is in the interests of this child to maintain his place with his natural mother unless, judged by the yardstick of his paramount welfare throughout his life, that is not possible.
  50. The 'cons' of adoption are that it removes the child from his natural family and from the mother who has cared for him from the time of his birth and who loves him. Maintaining a place within a natural family is of obvious importance wherever possible. We all want to know about our backgrounds and where we come from, because nature creates a natural magnetism between each individual and his natural family – as a judge I frequently now receive requests for information from people who were adopted years ago (or whose parents were adopted years ago) and want to know about their backgrounds. The Delphic maxim was correct: ????? sea?tó? – know thyself. That need for self understanding may be more difficult to achieve after adoption and may well not be met by 'life story work'. I also have to imagine how the child would feel if he reads this judgment in later life and, should he ever read this judgment, I ask him to note how anxiously I have thought about the importance of his connection to his mother and natural family.
  51. The cons of remaining with his mother are, I find, that it is highly likely that she will not be able to care for him in a way that is consistent with his welfare even with an exceptionally high level of support. It is not that she 'puts her needs above those of the child' (as the guardian put it); that overused phrase suggests deliberate action of a parent by which that parent selfishly puts himself or herself first. That is very far from the case here. The mother would desperately like to put the child's needs first but her own damaged past prevents her from doing so. Her functioning as a parent is swamped by her past. That is desperately sad and is not remotely selfish.
  52. The reality is that the mother has had exceptional support over the past months and, even with that support, she has not been able to give the child an upbringing that gets anywhere near what a child needs. It is not just a matter of her bedroom being untidy. It is the neglect that he would suffer if living with the mother and the very obvious and real exposure to danger of a young child living in the environment that has been described. For instance, put an ambulant child into the flat described by Alphabet Care and it is all too obvious that that child would come to harm. The child will start moving more independently in the imminent future - he would be in physical danger in that sort of environment. If one tries to imagine a child of any other age (e.g. a child aged five returning from school or a child aged ten) living with the mother in the sort of lifestyle that she provides it becomes immediately obvious that such an arrangement would be untenable.
  53. I think it highly unlikely that any degree of support would be able to make sufficient inroads into that. Notwithstanding all the efforts that have been made by the foster mother and those who have been trying to support the mother (including Lift Psychology and the others that I identified in my earlier judgment) things have got worse not better. As Ms Wiltshire said, compare paragraph 65 of the earlier judgment (in which the foster mother spoke very highly of the mother's care when with her initially), with the current reports of the mother's care of the child and the deterioration is very apparent. The mother simply could not move into independent living (by transition or not), without exposing the child to the chaos of the environment that she would provide. No amount of family support or emotional support is going to change that in the foreseeable future, I consider. Reverting to the words of Hedley J, this is not a case where the mother's care is 'barely adequate'; it is a case where her care is plainly inadequate for the very unfortunate reasons that I have given.
  54. The suggestion of an adjournment for a few months to see how the mother fares in the third stage of therapy would mean that the child would be about twelve months old before a decision was made about transition. The lack of progress that has been made despite the therapy and support that has been given, makes that suggestion so plainly contrary to the child's welfare as to make it unrealistic, I am afraid. The psychologist said that 'if the mother continues with therapy then she might be in a better position to care for the child in three months time'. I think it unrealistic to think that there could be any confidence that the engrained difficulties that the mother has would be so mitigated in three months time that she would be able to care for the child then, even with the other support that is being proposed.
  55. I accept the submission of Ms Evans that the key to the mother's difficulties in parenting lies in her own emotional functioning. I recognise that the period of adjournment has been stressful for the mother. However, I do not see any arrangement that is made for the mother and child together would ever be free from stress and I think it highly likely that similar periods of stress would arise. When she was previously supported at her flat (in July) there were similar difficulties despite the emotional support that she had then. During the period of adjournment she was still living with the foster mother and having the support of living with a very caring and committed woman and family; notwithstanding that, the care that she gave the child deteriorated dramatically. If she started to move back to independent living there would be a repeat of what happened from 30th October to 3rd November. The child cannot continue to live in the circumstances that have existed in the foster home since the case was adjourned.
  56. The transition plan that has been put forward so skilfully and carefully by the mother's excellent legal team would not avoid the problems that inevitably arise. The mother spent four nights in her flat and even though she was supported for 18 hours of the day, the care that she was able to offer the child became unsustainable. It was inevitable that further periods in the flat were not arranged and it would be irresponsible to put the child through that experience ever again. When the foster mother withdrew prompting after the 22nd October, the mother's care of herself and of the child fell apart. The more limited support that the church community and Home Start could provide is no where near the very high level of support that the foster mother provided – for obvious and good reasons.
  57. Welfare checklist analysis– The effect of removing this child from his natural mother and causing him to cease to be a member of his natural family will amount to a very major change of circumstance for him. His feelings will be those of a nine month child being removed from the mother who has cared for him throughout his life and who loves him. His background is of a child who has been brought up by his mother and his age is now such that he has formed attachments to her; he is no longer a newborn baby. Integration into a new family should still be achievable but will be emotionally disruptive for him, at very least in the short term. The only relative with whom he has a relationship is his mother. The environment that she could provide would be anything but secure either physically or emotionally.
  58. The essential feature of my decision making is that it is plainly demonstrated that the mother cannot meet the child's emotional and physical needs. Her own emotional needs are so profound that she cannot parent him either in the long term or in the short term (i.e. particularly once he is ambulant, which is any time now). I am left in no doubt at all that any attempt at her caring for him in the community (with or without support) would be utterly irresponsible and that a decision has to be made now. If living with the mother, the child would suffer emotional harm through neglect and would be exposed to a high probability of physical harm (for instance when he harms himself on the rubbish or other things left lying around him); there would be an obvious risk that his health would suffer from the chaos in which he was living. No services could sufficiently mitigate the harm that he would suffer to allow a continued placement with the mother to be consistent with his welfare.
  59. The period of adjournment has been informative. Things have got worse not better. I accept that there have been particular strains on the mother since September but I consider that almost all of those stresses are likely to be recurring or mirrored by other stresses of a similar level of impact. I also think that it is important not to judge this case on events since September only. My decision is based on the totality of the evidence that is now available. At the end of the judgment I said:
  60. 'Of the professional witnesses that I have heard the most impressive of all have been Ms B, Ms J, Ms BS, Mr DH and Ms F. I consider that they each gave measured, considerate and careful evidence. Given the contents of the evidence of those witnesses I am not sending out any messages that care and placement orders can be avoided in this case. Despite the Local Authority's very flawed procedures and approach to this case, Ms B, Ms J, Mr DH and Ms BS did what they could to support M and M was not able to engage with them.
    However, I accept that, if M feels supported in the way that is being proposed, there is a possibility that evidence might be forthcoming that shows that she might change sufficiently so as to be able to care for Chd. I therefore intend to adjourn this case for a few weeks whilst that evidence is gathered'.
  61. Sadly the evidence that has been forthcoming does not support any suggestion of positive change; the evidence points very clearly in the opposite direction.
  62. Conclusion – The only conclusion that is now available and consistent with the child's welfare is that he should be subjected to care and placement orders. Those are the only proportionate orders that can now be made and both of them are necessary for the protection of the welfare of the child. Placing his welfare as my paramount consideration, throughout his life, I am driven to the conclusion that the child's welfare requires the consent of the mother to his placement for adoption to be dispensed with. I make care and placement orders in relation to him.
  63. I realise how deeply distressing this decision will be for the mother and I wish I had been able to find a way through the case that would have led to a different conclusion – if I had been able to, I would have done so. I very much hope that those who have offered her support will continue to do so with the same degree of compassion that they have shown so far. I have no doubt that the members of the S.B. Community Partnership will do so, once again showing how vital their work is.
  64. This case is another example of how important it is that, if therapy is needed, it is obtained at an early stage. Time and time again I see a process whereby the following occurs: a) a Local Authority intervenes and begins making assessment of a family; b) months later proceedings are issued; c) an order is made for some form of expert evidence to be produced (often a psychological report); d) months later the psychological report is obtained which says, invariably and utterly foreseeably, that someone within the family needs therapy and e) it is stated that, by then, the beneficial effect of therapy would be 'outwith the timescales for the child'. In this case, for instance, it would have been perfectly obvious to all that, when the mother was referred before birth, she was a prime candidate for therapy. If therapy were to be obtained at an early stage such as that there is at least a prospect that outcomes in some cases might be different. I have therefore already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how we facilitate and access therapy in this area, with a view to doing my utmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. I ask for as much help as possible with that endeavour.
  65. A copy of this judgment must be given by the Local Authority to the prospective adopters, unless I order to contrary on handing down this judgment. The mother will have to keep the Local Authority informed of her address so that she can be given notice of any adoption proceedings that are issued.
  66. Finally, I wish to pay an enormous tribute to Ms Judi Evans (counsel) and Ms Jan Norman (solicitor) for the way that they have represented the mother. The have both worked tirelessly and with the exceptional hallmark of quality that invariably defines the work that they do within the family justice system. If any two lawyers could have achieved a better outcome for this mother, it is those two lawyers.
  67. Stephen Wildblood QC

    1st December 2014

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