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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 >> Lincolnshire County Council v M & Ors  EWHC 3279 (Fam) (01 November 2018)
Cite as:  EWHC 3279 (Fam)
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Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| Lincolnshire County Council
|- and -
- and -
- and -
(Through her Children's Guardian, Katya Mitchell)
Anne Williams (instructed by Ringrose Law) for the 1st Respondent
Steven Ashworth (instructed by Sills & Betteridge Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
Alison Hunt (instructed by Cafcass) for the 3rd Respondent
Hearing dates: 29th October - 1st November 2018
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Williams :
The issues and the parties' positions
PREVIOUS FINDINGS MADE AGAINST THE FIRST AND SECOND RESPONDENTS
1. The First Respondent was the Respondent in public law proceedings in Peterborough in 2015 – 2016, case number PE15C01318 in respect of her 5 children ("The G children"). The First Respondent accepted that the threshold was satisfied for the purposes of s31 CA1989 on the following basis
(a) That the Second Respondent has been convicted of the offences as per his PNC as recorded
(b) That the Second Respondent poses a risk of significant harm to the children
(c) That the First Respondent put the children at risk of significant harm by continuing her relationship with the Second Respondent until 6th May 2016 (the date she says they separated)
(d) That the First Respondent has prioritised the Second Respondent over the children
(e) That the children reported to professionals that they are scared of the Second Respondent
(f) That the First Respondent should not have left a named 14 year old in charge of children on a night in November 2015 at 11.30pm
(g) That the children were the subject of Child Protection Plans since October 2014 under the category of neglect
(h) That the First Respondent breached a written agreement in November 2015 and allowed the Second Respondent contact with the children after he had been arrested for the rape of a 14 year old girl.
Mother's response: this is accepted
Father's response: he does not accept all of the findings made by the court but accepts that they have previously been made.
2. It is further recorded in the order of 11th May 2016 that the First Respondent further accepted and confirmed that
(a) She had separately permanently from the Second Respondent
(b) She accepted that the Second Respondent poses a risk of significant harm to the children
(c) She put the children at risk of significant harm by continuing her relationship with the Second Respondent
(d) The threshold criteria was passed
(e) She did not want the children to have any contact with the Second Respondent
(f) She did not oppose the making of care orders.
Mother's response: this is accepted
Father's response: he does not accept all of the findings made by the court but accepts that they have previously been made.
3. The First and Second Respondents are the parents of CD born 12th August 2016. CD was made the subject of a care and placement order on 21st July 2017, case number LV16C02520. The final drawn threshold dated 24th February 2017 (which incorporated an agreed threshold document dated 7th February and the findings of HHJ Parker following a fact finding hearing on 7th February 2017) states as follows
(a) The First Respondent has not been able to demonstrate that she is able to prioritise the safety of her 5 older children against risks from the Second Respondent. They are subject to care orders.
(b) The Second Respondent has a history of domestic abuse, mental health issues and a long criminal history. He has 4 other children from previous relationships; he is not allowed to have contact with 3 of those children due to concerns around domestic abuse and issues with his mental health. He is considered a high risk to adults, namely partners, and a medium risk to children by Probation.
(c) The G children reported domestic violence between the First and Second Respondents
(d) The Second Respondent poses a risk of physical and emotional harm to CD and fails to recognise this. The Second Respondent does not accept that there has been any domestic violence in his relationship with the First Respondent
(e) Both Respondents have deceived both professionals and the court throughout these proceedings by remaining in a relationship despite advising that they had separated before proceedings commenced.
(f) The First Respondent's dishonesty and disguised compliance had negatively impacted upon the assessments of her which recommended that CD should be rehabilitated back into her care
(g) Findings were made by HHJ Parker on 7th February 2017 which confirmed that on the balance of probabilities the parents "have remained in a relationship during the proceedings and have concealed this fact from the Local Authority"
(h) The Second Respondent has consistently fabricated information throughout these proceedings and has demonstrated he is unable to work openly and honestly with the Local Authority to safeguard CD
(i) Despite there being a s34(4) order in place, the First Respondent has permitted the Second Respondent to have contact with the child during her own unsupervised contact sessions. The First Respondent has therefore put CD at risk of physical and emotional harm.
(j) The Respondents have not evidenced any change within these proceedings that would ensure CD would be safeguarded if he was returned to their care.
(k) The First Respondent has prioritised her relationship with the Second Respondent above the needs and safety of CD.
Mother's response: this is accepted
Father's response: he does not accept all of the findings made by the court but accepts that they have previously been made.
4. HHJ Parker sitting in the Liverpool Family Court made further findings against the First and Second Respondents on 21st July 2017 as follows
(a) As at the time of the hearing the First and Second Respondents are still in a relationship and the attempts each made to suggest the contrary are dishonest.
(b) The First and Second Respondents are engaged in an abusive relationship. They have a symbiotic relationship. The Second Respondent needs to feel needed and in control, particularly in relationships. The First Respondent has an unquestionable dependency on the Second Respondent
(c) That the First Respondent to get out of a moving car driven by the Second Respondent on the M6 motorway was a deeply troubling and sinister event and clear evidence of the deeply damaging relationship they have with each other.
(d) The First Respondent could not protect CD from the risks posed by the Second Respondent
(e) The First Respondent did not comply with drug testing; the court draws the inference that she has a serious and substantial cocaine habit
(f) The Second Respondent has a substantial cocaine habit.
(g) The Second Respondent's account for his conviction of his nephew was not accepted; this being inconsistent with his sister's account and probation report and the Second Respondent did not tell the truth about this.
(h) The Second Respondent's "explosion" in the court room was a clear example of what a partner or child might be exposed to if permitted and demonstrated an intimidating aggression, complete lack of anger management, loss of control and unpredictability demonstrated long standing deep seated issues that require more than a BBR course to resolve.
Mother's response: this is accepted
5. None of the findings conceded or made against the First and/or Second Respondents have been the subject of appeal.
Mother's response: accepted although the first respondent did make an application to the High Court in August 2017 to appeal the decision made in relation to the proceedings concerning CD. The application was sent to the court, but the first respondent was unable to fund the court fee and therefore did not proceed with the appeal.
Fathers Response: The Second Respondent does not accept the findings made previously by the Court are correct but accepts that they have previously been made.
6. The First and Second Respondents failed to co-operate or engage with the Local Authority once AB was placed pre-birth on the Child Protection Register on 16th November 2017. Knowing that the Local Authority had resolved to issue care proceedings upon AB's birth, the Respondents left the jurisdiction without informing the Local Authority and with the intention to avoid the Local Authority's safeguarding interventions. Whilst the First Respondent notified the Local Authority by a telephone call on 24th January 2018 that she had given birth to AB, she refused to give any details of their whereabouts and it required the assistance of Interpol to locate the family in Belgium. Between 24th - 30th January 2018 in discussions with social workers the First and Second Respondents deliberately gave false and contradictory information to the Local Authority surrounding AB's birth. The travel abroad demonstrates premeditation, planning and manipulation of the Local Authority and with no intention to work honestly or co-operatively with the Local Authority.
Mother's response: not accepted. The first respondent informed the professionals at the initial child protection conference which took place on 16 November 2018 that she was planning on going abroad to give birth. The first respondent made this decision after being advised at the meeting that the local authority's plan was one of adoption. The first respondent's intention was not to avoid safeguarding interventions. The first respondent had no faith left in the English court system and wanted to fight to keep her daughter to remain in her care through the European courts. The first respondent spoke with the social worker on the telephone on 24 January 2018 to advise that she had given birth and stated that she was prepared to return to England to work with the local authority. The first respondent, having only just given birth, had a difficult conversation with Connie Tracey who she found to be extremely argumentative and shouting on the telephone. The conversation ended with Connie Tracey putting the telephone down. The only other occasion that the first respondent spoke directly with Connie Tracey was the day prior to the hearing in Belgium when she confirmed which hospital she was at. The second respondent had other conversations with the social worker, but the first respondent is unaware of the detail of those conversations.
Fathers Response: The Second Respondent does not accept parents failed to co-operate or engage with the Local Authority once AB was placed pre-birth on the Child Protection Register. The Second Respondent was accepted that the Local Authority would seek to remove AB at birth, but wished to work with the Local Authority to secure her return to parent's care. Parents were informed at a pre-birth meeting that the Local Authority would be seeking care and placement orders. The parents therefore chose to move abroad to have a fresh start. It is accepted that the details of their whereabouts were not given. It is not accepted between 24th and 30th January parents deliberately gave false and contradictory information to the Local Authority, they believed that AB had been born in Germany and only subsequently discovered she was born in Holland. The Second Respondent accepts the move was planned, but parents informed the Local Authority of their intention to move abroad unless the Local Authority were willing to work with them. Had this been the case, the parents would have remained and co-operated with the Court procedure.
There is thus a dispute between the local authority and the parents as to the reasons why the parents left the country in late December. I shall return to my conclusions on that in the chronology.
7. The Second Respondent has 7 convictions for intimidation, violence and aggression between 2008 – 2016 and mostly against known persons, including previous partners, a neighbour and a 10 year nephew and has breached non molestation orders secured by previous partners on 5 occasions between 2010 - 2015. The Second Respondent has not engaged with programmes aimed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending, such as the Building Better Relationships course.
Mother's response: this is for the father to respond to.
Father's Response: The Second Respondent accepts the convictions and breaches of the non-molestation orders. He does not accept he has not engaged with programmes – he has completed half of the BBR course, and has repeatedly sought assistance from the Local Authority within these proceedings with assistance in completing courses.
8. On 20th March 2018 the Second Respondent was heard to shout at the First Respondent as she exited a car on her arrival at a contact with AB and then proceeded to beep the car horn at her. By driving the First Respondent to contact the First and Second Respondents were in breach of strict security measures. This caused the First Respondent to be distressed and crying and that she had "had enough" and wanted to find alternative accommodation. The First Respondent did not in fact find alternative accommodation and returned to live with the Second Respondent.
Mother's response: The mother accepts that the father drove her to contact on 20th of March 2018. The mother was upset as she had asked the father to drop her off around the corner from the contact centre. The father was aware of the venue of contact and it had already been suggested to the mother by the social worker, Norma Grove, that the father take her to contact the taxi transport not arriving on a previous occasion. The mother except she did say that she had " had enough" and wanted to find alternative accommodation. This was because she was annoyed with the father for dropping her off so close to the contact centre which she feared would have an impact upon her contact. The mother accepts that she returned to live with the father.
Response of the Second Respondent: The Second Respondent accepts he beeped the horn at the First Respondent but not that he was shouting at her. The Second Respondent is unable to comment about what was said by the First Respondent but accepts she returned to the property.
9. On 18th June 2018 they First Respondent requested the support of the Local Authority to place her in refuge accommodation and stating that the relationship with the Second Respondent had ended; he having spent rent money on gambling and drugs. On 20th June 2018 the First Respondent alleged that she had been abused in the relationship for 4 years and she had been raped her. Despite support offered the First Respondent had returned to their joint accommodation by 27th June and retracted her allegations made against the Second Respondent.
Mother's response: The mother accepts that she sought support from the local authority on 18 June 2018. This was due to the father having spent the children's birthday money and rent money on gambling. The mother does not accept that she told the social worker that the father spent the money on drugs. The mother does not accept that she alleged that the Second Respondent had abused her for four years and that he had raped her. The mother advised the social worker that she was very disappointed with the father as he had spent the children's birthday money and rent money on gambling after she had stood by him through the previous rape allegation. The mother felt that the father was not prioritising the children's needs. The mother accepts that she returned to the joint accommodation by 27 June 2018 as she had nowhere else to go. The mother has not resumed a relationship with the second respondent.
Response of the Second Respondent: The Second Respondent is unable to comment upon what the First Respondent has said to the Local Authority. He accepts that he has gambled some of the rent money but the remainder of the allegations, if made, are not true.
10. The Second Respondent continues to present a risk of engaging in violent, aggressive and intimidating behaviour to children and adults, especially those known to him.
Mother's response: This is for the father to respond to. The mother doesn't accept that the father requires support and counselling.
Response of the Second Respondent: Not Accepted.
These are of course central to the case and I shall return to them in my discussion and conclusions.
11. The First Respondent is not able to protect AB from the risk posed by the Second Respondent. The First Respondent is reluctant and unable to acknowledge and challenge the Second Respondent's perception of his violent and aggressive behaviours and convictions, for example in relation to his assault of his nephew and notwithstanding that she was present. The First Respondent has not taken steps to enrol on, or complete the Freedom Project.
Mother's response: The mother does not accept that she is unable to protect AB from any risk that the father might pose to AB. The mother has challenge the father's behaviours and has throughout these proceedings encouraged the father to seek help and counselling in relation to dealing with his behaviour and issues from his childhood. The mother has attempted to in role on the Freedom Project but has been advised that she would need a referral from the local authority. The mother has raised this with the social worker on numerous occasions but no response or support has been provided to her.
Respondent of the Second Respondent: This is for the First Respondent to comment upon.
12. The First Respondent is a regular user of cannabis and cocaine, but has not been honest about her usage. Analysis of hair strand testing confirms that between the period of the beginning of October 2017 to the beginning of April 2018 (and which covers the period the First Respondent knew she was pregnant) the First Respondent used cannabis and cocaine throughout. When under the influence of drugs, the First Respondent would be unlikely to respond consistently and predictably to AB's needs.
Mother's response: The mother accepts that she occasionally smoked cannabis prior to becoming aware that she was pregnant at 23 weeks gestation and that she continued, at a reduced level, for approximately a couple of weeks following this. The mother accepts that she used cocaine prior to becoming aware of the pregnancy. The mother accepts that she used cocaine at the end of February/beginning of March. This was following a period of bad weather resulting in the mother's contact being cancelled over a two-week period. Other than the period as set out above the first respondent does not accept that she used cannabis or cocaine continuously throughout the pregnancy.
Response of the Second Respondent: This is for the First Respondent to comment upon, as far as the Second Respondent is aware the First Respondent did not misuse drugs between late December and their return to the UK.
13. The Second Respondent is a regular user of cannabis. Analysis of hair strand testing confirms that between the period between the middle of November 2017 and middle of February 2018 the Second Respondent used cannabis throughout. Analysis of hair strand testing confirms that between beginning February 2018 to the beginning of May 2018 the Second Respondent used cocaine throughout. When under the influence of drugs, the Second Respondent would be unlikely to respond consistently and predictably to AB's needs.
Mother's response: This is for the father to respond to
Response of the Second Respondent: The Second Respondent does not accept misusing cannabis; the results are as a result of passive exposure to other users of cannabis. The Second Respondent accepts using cocaine upon his return to the United Kingdom, but ceased using when he found out there was a chance he would have contact with AB.
i) The circumstances of AB's removal from the jurisdiction and whether the parents cooperated with pre-birth procedures, whether they gave full information to the local authority at the time of her birth and in particular whether their attitude evidenced an intention not to work honestly and cooperatively with the local authority
ii) Whether the father continued to present a risk of engaging in violent aggressive and intimidating behaviour to children and adults
iii) Whether the mother was able to protect AB from any risk that the father might pose to her
iv) In relation to domestic abuse there was a dispute over whether the father had engaged in programs aimed at reducing the likelihood of his reoffending
v) In relation to the March 2018 incident there was an issue over whether the father was behaving aggressively
vi) In relation to drug use the did not accept current cannabis use and the father asserted that the results of the drug test in relation to cannabis use were a result of passive exposure to cannabis rather than active consumption.
i) Despite her troubled childhood and adolescence she had successfully parented five children whilst married to Mr G. She and Mr G had undergone two years of marriage guidance to seek to address the problems in their relationship which she says featured physical and emotional abuse. If she was able to successfully parent five children in that context Ms Williams submits that the court should feel confident in her being able to regain that capacity.
ii) During the Wirral proceedings in 2016/17 the social worker noted that she was working cooperatively with a range of professionals and was engaged in seeking out and taking up support by self referring to projects which she was unable to access. Ms Williams says this indicates that the court can feel confident that the mother could hereafter work cooperatively with the local authority and that she would seek out and take up support.
iii) Ms Williams invites me on behalf of the mother to conclude that the local authority had closed their mind both prior to AB's birth and since to the possibility of the mother caring for AB. She submits that the local authority have not been as proactive as they should have been in facilitating the mother obtaining the support that she needed and accessing the sorts of programs which would have helped her to address the identified problems. Ms Williams says that is an obligation that lies upon the local authority even if they do not feel the mother is likely to benefit from them. The referral to Edan Lincs was too late.
iv) The mother submits that her separation from the father is materially different now to any previous time. She says that she now sees that he is coercive and controlling and she accepted this for the first time in evidence. She has realised the extent to which she is caught in the spider of his control and how he influences her thinking. Ms Williams emphasises that extricating oneself from a controlling relationship is a process and that now that she has realised the possible outcome in particular having seen Ms Boardman's evidence it has made a real difference in empowering her to separate. She emphasises that the separation has been in the making for some months prior to June hence the parties were arguing a lot and the August separation is the culmination of that process.
v) The mother's preference is for AB to return immediately to her care. She accepts that there is a risk but says that this could be ameliorated by a number of factors. First of all that she can work cooperatively with professionals; secondly she has decided finally to separate and does not want to resume a relationship and hence she has blocked him and his family from her social media contacts. Thirdly she has insight into the problems and has acknowledged the damage that he has caused to her children as has she and this is a positive indicator for her being able to benefit from work that she could undertake. Taken together with protective orders that could be put in place together with the ongoing involvement of the local authority through a care or supervision order the court can be confident that AB can return to her care.
vi) As an alternative the mother submits that AB should remain in foster care. If necessary this should be throughout her minority. This would enable her to have a relationship with the mother and her extended family. If the mother is able to make progress and the risks can be reduced then reunification of AB and the mother could take place. Providing for a foster placement to allow the mother the opportunity to make the changes necessary would be planned and purposeful delay from AB's point of view. This option could be facilitated either by an invitation to the local authority to change the care plan or by adjourning the final decision in relation to AB.
vii) As another alternative the mother invites the court to consider whether a placement of AB with the mother at a mother and baby resource which can provide therapy and support or with a family member such as BX would provide the necessary level of protection to AB.
i) The evidence showed the parents had cooperated in the pre-birth procedures and that they had not given deliberately any contradictory information to the local authority surrounding AB's birth and that their actions did not support a conclusion that the travel was premeditated planned and manipulating of the local authority with no intention to work honestly or cooperatively with them. Mr Ashworth notes that the pre-birth conference minutes record that the parents told the meeting they would be travelling abroad and that what the father wanted was to be given a fair chance to keep AB he being very sad to have lost CD. He submitted that this was not a case of a family disappearing without a trace and to that extent it could not be said that the father intended to thwart child protection intervention.
ii) Mr Ashworth submitted that the evidence showed that the father had engaged with programs aimed at reducing the likelihood of reoffending such as the building better relationships course. He also drew my attention to an email from his instructing solicitors asking for the local authority to confirm what resources they were going to make available to the father to address his issues.
iii) In relation to the March 2018 contact incident Mr Ashworth points out that the evidence from the centre shows that the father was not shouting or repeatedly beeping his horn. He submits that the social worker embellished her evidence (whether deliberately or innocently) because of the blinkered view that she has of the father as wholly bad.
iv) In relation to drug use Mr Ashworth points out that the expert report identifies that the drug test results were explicable either by ingestion of drugs or by exposure to drugs in the atmosphere. Mr Ashworth acknowledges that the father himself admitted he had smoked cannabis after February. In particular the father is keen to emphasise that he stopped using cocaine when contact with AB became viable.
- In relation to the outcome Mr Ashworth submitted that there was material which should lead me to conclude that there was now much about the father that was positive. He submitted that I should conclude that the father's motives in leaving for Australia were well intended and designed to assist the mother in regaining care of AB and to demonstrate that they were truly separated. He said it was positive that the father was prepared to accept orders made against him that would limit contact if that supported a placement of AB with the mother. Mr Ashworth noted that Ms Boardman accepted that he had cooperated with her assessment notwithstanding it encroached upon sensitive areas and that the father had cooperated with the drug hairstrand testing
- He submitted that the reduction in offending behaviour since 2015 does evidence a change in the risks and that Ms Boardman concluded that the risks from the father were only medium.
- Mr Ashworth submitted that the father was committed to AB and that the intensity of his commitment to her was illustrated by how hard he had fought in these proceedings to gain contact. The father submits that the local authority had ruled him out and hence they maintained that no contact was possible. However contact did take place and the contact records whilst they showed AB was distressed this was not to be surprised given that she did not know her father. The evidence of his interactions with AB show that he behaved appropriately and lovingly with her.
- Ultimately Mr Ashworth submitted that the father felt he had not been given a fair opportunity by the local authority and that they saw nothing good and everything bad in him. Hence they sought to place weight on the allegation of rape of which he had been acquitted and they interpreted any evidence in a way which was most detrimental to him. The suggestion that his departure to Australia having had his passport returned to him that this was an example of his disregard for authority and his determination to thwart the system is illustrative of that says Mr Ashworth. In fact he left on his own making no attempt to take the mother still less AB with him.
- On behalf of AB through her children's Guardian Ms Hunt made common cause in most respects with the local authority's position. She pointed out that the mother has referred to the father raping her on two occasions and has subsequently withdrawn that. She invites me to conclude that the mother has said this albeit she acknowledges that plainly the court cannot go further than determining what was said.
- The Guardian was keen to emphasise that the evidence supports the conclusion that the mother's basic parenting capacity exists. The history of her older children and the observations of her care of CD support this conclusion. However the very significant deficit in her parenting capacity is her emotional availability to the children and their protectiveness. In this case those are both very highly relevant and make it clear beyond any argument that she cannot at present meet AB's needs. The Guardian question is whether the separation is genuine or not given the history. She also notes that the mother has failed to engage throughout these proceedings with the local authority and the services they could offer. Even since August the Guardian notes that the mother has taken no real steps to engage with the local authority or to access the support that she says she now recognises she needs. Her previous engagement has to be viewed in the context of the dishonesty that underpinned the engagement. The conclusion of His Honour Judge Parker was that the parents' relationship had continued although Ms Hunt acknowledged that there may have been a window of time when the relationship may have ended. Overall the Guardian clearly has concluded, submits Ms Hunt, that the mother has only just begun to embark on the journey to making the changes that are so needed. She is so far away from making progress and the prospects of success are so speculative that AB simply cannot wait until then. The idea that she would be reunited with her mother and then potentially separated again or that she would tread water whilst her mother attempted to make the changes would be highly detrimental to her ability to develop a secure attachment to a primary carer. In the circumstances the Guardian is clear that nothing else will do for her than care and placement orders.
The Legal Framework
- In order to make a care or any public law orders, the Local Authority must prove that the situation justifies the intervention of the State. This means that the Local Authority must establish the statutory threshold set out in s.31(2) of the Children Act 1989:
"A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied-(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and(b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to-i. the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him."
16. The relevant date for determining whether the threshold is met is the date at which protective steps were first taken which in this case is namely 24th January 2018. However the Court can rely on subsequent events as per Re G (Care Proceedings: Threshold Conditions)  2 FLR 1111. Later events cannot be relied upon unless they are capable of showing what the position was at the relevant time and if so they should be admitted for that purpose. In Re G the court said that information as to a person's capabilities which comes to light after the relevant date may inform the decision as to what the risk was before the date just as much after that date where there was no change in the person's abilities. It is clear from the judgment of Lady Justice Hale (as she then was) that she clearly had in mind subsequent events which proved that a risk existed at the time. Thus events occurring in relation to the separation of the mother and father subsequent to January 2018 are all capable of demonstrating that as at the date of commencement of proceedings there was a risk of significant harm to AB.
- It is for the Local Authority to prove that the threshold is crossed. To the extent that the threshold is not accepted the burden of proof lies squarely on the local authority to establish on the balance of probabilities that the facts which are alleged to support the threshold. All the evidence is admissible notwithstanding its hearsay nature, including Local Authority case records or social work chronologies which are often second or third hand hearsay. However, the court should bear in mind that it is hearsay and give it the weight it considers appropriate: see Section 96.3 of the Children (Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence) Order 1993 and Re W (Fact Finding: Hearsay Evidence)  2 FLR 703.
- When I come to assess the evidence, I bear all of those factors in mind in reaching my conclusions on the threshold and the outcome.
- In considering the Local Authority's application for a care order, I must have regard to s.1 of the Children Act and since the plan is for adoption, also to the welfare checklist in s.1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002: see Re C (A Child) (Placement for Adoption: Judicial Approach)  EWCA Civ 1257 and Re R  EWCA Civ 1625. I note that in Re W-C  EWCA Civ 250 Lord Justice McFarlane said it was not necessary in a case such as this to consider the case through the prism of the s.1(3) welfare checklist but rather should focus on the ACA s.1(4) welfare checklist. Likewise, I must treat as my paramount consideration in accordance with s.1(2) of the 2002 Act, the child's welfare throughout her life.
- Section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides:
"The court or adoption agency must have regard to the following matters (among others)-(a) the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding),(b) the child's particular needs,(c) the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person,(d) the child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant,(e) any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering,(f) the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant including(i) the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so,(ii) the ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop and otherwise to meet the child's needs,(iii) the wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives or of any such person regarding the child.
- In respect of placement, s.21 of the Adoption and Children Act and s.52 apply to that application. Section 52(1)(b) provides:
"The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption or to the making of an adoption order in respect of the child unless the court is satisfied that-(b) the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with."
In this case, both the mother and the father have parental responsibility and so fall within the definition of a parent within the meaning of s.52(6).
- In Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent)  2 FLR 625, the court of Appeal held that the word "requires" has a connotation of the imperative (i.e. what is demanded rather than what is merely optional or reasonable or desirable). What has to be shown is that the child's welfare throughout her life requires adoption as opposed to something short of adoption. The 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 necessary require that the child be adopted. The question at the end of the day is whether what is required is adoption.
- It is for the Local Authority, since it is seeking to have AB adopted, to establish that nothing else will do: see Re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria)  UKSC 33, Re B-S (Adoption: Application of s.47(5))  EWCA Civ 1146 and Re R. As Baroness Hale of Richmond said in Re B:
"…the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child's welfare, in short, where nothing else will do."
- This echoes what the Strasberg Court said in Y v. The United Kingdom  2 FLR 332:
"…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."
- The judicial task is always to evaluate all the options and undertake a holistic evaluation of the child's need. In Re B-S, the Court of Appeal stressed the following three points:
(1) "Although the child's interests are paramount, the court must never lose sight of the fact that those interests include being brought up by the natural family, ideally by the natural parents, or at least one of them, unless the overriding requirements of the child's welfare make that not possible.(2) The court 'must' consider all the options before coming to a decision.(3) The court's assessment of the parents' ability to discharge their responsibilities towards the child must take into account the assistance and support which the authorities would offer."
- In Re B-S, the court held that the following two elements are essential when the court is being asked to approve a care plan for adoption and make a non-consensual placement order or adoption order:
(a) There must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian. The evidence must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option; and(b) Certainly, there must be an adequately reasoned judgment by the Judge.
- In Re M-H (a child)  EWCA Civ 1396 the Court of Appeal considered the test for dispensing with consent and the 'nothing else will do' test. Lady Justice Macur observed that that phrase was often taken in isolation from the preceding words referring to exceptional circumstances and the overriding requirements of the child's best interests. She noted that:
"It stands to reason that in any contested application there will always be another option to that being sought. In some cases the alternative option will be so imperfect as to merit summary dismissal. In others, the options will be more finely balanced and will call for critical and often anxious scrutiny. However, the fact that there is another credible option worthy of examination will not mean that the test of "nothing else will do" automatically bites.The "holistic" balancing exercise of the available options that must be deployed in applications concerning adoption is not so as to undertake a direct comparison of what probably would be best but in order to ascertain whether or not the particular child's welfare demands adoption. In doing so it may well be that some features of one or other option taken in isolation would produce a better outcome in one particular area for the child throughout minority and beyond. It would be intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge the benefits. But this is not to say that finding one or more benefits trumps all and means that it cannot be said that "nothing else will do". All will depend upon the judge's assessment of the whole picture determined by the particular characteristics and needs of the child in question no doubt often informed by the harm which she has suffered or been exposed to."
- It is always important to bear in mind what Mr. Justice Hedley said in Re L, which was that:
"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."
- That approach has been endorsed by the Supreme Court in Re B, where both Lord Wilson and Baroness Hale emphasised the very diverse range of parents and the diverse standards of parentings that society must be willing to tolerate:
"The State does not and cannot take away the children of all the people who commit crimes, who abuse alcohol or drugs, who suffer from physical or mental illnesses or disabilities, or who espouse anti-social political or religious beliefs."
- Sir James Munby, in Re G, emphasised the task of the court in relation to carrying out the global holistic evaluation and the need to undertake a multi-faceted evaluation of the child's welfare taking into account all the negatives and positives, all the pros and cons of each option. To quote Lord Justice McFarlane:
"What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives, and each option is then compared side by side against the competing option or options."
- I must take into account AB's welfare throughout her life: the short, medium and long term welfare interests. I approach it on the basis that, if adopting a solution of permanent separation from his parents, it is on the basis that "nothing else will do" and that if a placement order is to be made that his situation requires it rather than it being only desirable. Delay is likely to be prejudicial to his welfare, although planned and purposeful delay may be appropriate.
- I take account of the Article 6 and Article 8 rights of AB and the parents. I remind myself that, where there is a tension between the Art.8 rights of the parents on the one hand and the Art.8 rights of the child on the other, the rights of the child prevail: see Yusuf v. The Netherlands.
- In determining what order to make, to the extent that it infringes the Art.8 rights of the mother and the father, the court must be satisfied that it is necessary and proportionate. Any conflict between the interests of the child and that of the parents should be resolved in favour of the solution which best promotes the child's welfare. In determining the proportionality issue, I approach it on the basis that if, on welfare grounds, the option of placing the child with a parent is only marginally outweighed by placing them away from the parent, that may be disproportionate. Conversely, if the option away from the parent is clearly more likely to promote the child's welfare that will be a proportionate interference.
- In carrying out the assessment, plainly some factors will carry far more weight than others. The balance sheet approach advocated by Lord Justice Ryder, whilst helpful, cannot convey the relative importance of any particular issue. The holistic evaluation is not a map without contours, but rather one in which there are very significant features on the landscape which may ultimately come to dominate the outcome.
The detailed factual background
- Set out below is a chronology drawn from the previous judgments of the court, the statements of the parties, the reports and the other records contained within the bundle. Insofar as any matters of fact are in dispute the chronology records my conclusions in respect of them.
25 August 1986
Maternal grandparents: MGF (deceased) and MGM
Mother's siblings: H (12), J (17), K (22), L (30), N (33) and P (35)
Social care involvement (Birkenhead) due to neglect and domestic abuse in her parents' relationship.
24 June 1987
Mother's parents separated
MGF committed suicide at family home, witnessed by mother. MGM had breakdown and hospitalised.
Mother and siblings went to live with their maternal grandmother (MGGM)
Mother and siblings return to live with their mother; MGM formed relationship with QR
QR moved into family home
Physical abuse of mother and siblings by QR who was strict and short-tempered with them.
Sexual abuse of N; social care intervention and N went to live with MGGM.
QR lives between home and another property.
Family moved to Liverpool and QR back in the home full time
QR becomes more angry and strict; physical and sexual abuse of mother.
Mother absconded, told police of abuse but returned home. MGM would not have mother back because of allegations against QR.
Mother in temporary foster care and then moved to mother's friend S.
Mother in and out of foster care and children's homes and living on the street. Longest placement lasted 6 months; most a few weeks.
Mother moved to live with sister N in Peterborough. Mother still running away, sleeping rough and involved with older men.
Mother placed with BX and CX, parents of Ns boyfriend.
Attended college, met Mr G
Mother became pregnant and moved in with Mr G's parents
18 Nov 2003
Mother and Mr G moved into their own home.
03 July 2005
16 Sept 2006
20 Dec 2008
11 July 2011
Police called to alleged domestic abuse incident
Mother and Mr G separated.
M says there were difficulties in marriage involving DV and Mr G drinking heavily / using drugs.
Mother moved out of the home which was in Mr G's sole name.
Mother met F via friends
04 Sept 2014
Mr G died in accident at work on a building site
08 Sept 2014
F moved in to family home
Report of Drasuta Kay. Points of note
Many meetings cancelled by M
M appears to lack the flexibility to listen to the concerns reported of others and prioritised her relationships over her children.
M appears unable to recognise the risks F poses to her children and despite numerous concerns reported by her own children she minimised the risk. She had full knowledge of his previous convictions but struggles to foresee the potential risk for the future and minimised the incidents in the past.
There appears little recognition about how the children feel about the family dynamic as F moved into family home straight after their own father was tragically killed and at a time when M was expecting another child.
The mother has a good sound understanding of issues related to children safety and well-being although struggles to apply this in practice as she dismissed concerns reported by the children about the father.
The mother breached the written agreement that the father would not have contact with her children and would not reside at the family home.
No concerns have been expressed by professionals with regard to the basic care provided to the children. An improvement in the children's emotional well-being and stability has been noted. The mother has significant knowledge of parenting and is able to meet all basic needs of her children.
The thrust of the concerns related to the mother's inability to acknowledge the risk posed by F or to protect her older children from him. The report recommended that she engage with the Positive Parenting Programme and the Freedom Programme.
Family evicted from property at Crowland due to rent arrears and anti-social behaviour by F.
Thereafter moved to a caravan in Lincolnshire area and children spent large amounts of time at PGM's home.
13 Nov 2015
Father arrested for alleged rape of 15 year old girl who was babysitting. Bail conditions stipulated no unsupervised contact with any person under age of 18.
27 Nov 2015
Peterborough City Council issues care proceedings. Lincolnshire County Council agrees to accept designation.
26 Dec 2015
F assaults his nephew, sister and brother-in-law.
M was present
30 Dec 2015
F sentenced to 12 weeks' imprisonment for those offences and an additional 16 weeks consecutive for breach of a suspended sentence
Parenting assessment of mother completed by Angela Brierley which was negative due to mother's inability to prioritise the children over her relationship with F and not recognising the risks.
02 Feb 2016
F received a 12 month suspended sentence for assault on neighbour on 06.08.15.
01 April 2016
F released from prison.
Mother asserted that she had separated from F.
05 May 2016
Unborn CD made subject to CP plan under category of neglect.
11 May 2016
Agreed threshold in PE 15 C01318
father poses a risk of significant harm to the children arising out of his criminal offending
the mother put the children at risk of significant harm by continuing her relationship with F and has prioritised F over the children
children report they are scared of F
mother in breach of a written agreement not to allow contact with F
Order by His Honour Judge Rogers
M agrees she does not want the children have any contact with F
recital records there was an unresolved issue over whether the mother failed to enrolled on the Freedom Programme as recommended in 2014
care order made and children placed with paternal grandparents
M moves to the Wirral. She is pregnant with CD. Tells Wirral social services that she and F have separated and is assessed
06 July 2016
Transfer in conference. Mother advises she and F not in a relationship. F says he is relinquishing all parental rights for his child.
11 Aug 2016
16 Aug 2016
Interim care order; LV 16 C02520.
28 Oct 2016
Parenting assessment of M and F recommends reunification of CD with M. Both M and F state their relationship was over.
M told the social worker that she had moved to the Wirral in an effort to reassure children services that she had no plans to reunite by ensuring that there was distance between her and F.
Peterborough children services believed it was highly likely M would continue her relationship with F.
The mother said she was aware of the criticism that she did not end the relationship previously but told the social worker she had nowhere else to go.
The reports of the mother's contact with CD were positive.
M had self-referred to the Freedom Project and nurturing project but had been unable to obtain a place on the current course and was waiting for the start of the next available course.
The social worker noted that it was difficult to view the mother as the same person who is named in the previous assessments by Peterborough and Lincolnshire children services. The social worker considered that the mother had moved through the preparation and action stages of the cycle of change and was at the maintenance stage whereby she must determine if she can sustain changing continue to replace her new behaviours over the old.
"Other than the historical concerns and the uncertainty of whether M can sustain these changes, I have no other concerns about her ability to parent a young child. I therefore view this parenting assessment to be positive."
02 Nov 2016
Updating SW statement in CD's proceedings: plan to progress to rehabilitation. Mother's engagement with LA reported to be good, had obtained own property in Wirral and had (apparently) remained separated from F
23 Nov 2016
Parenting assessment of F concludes he presents a high risk of harm.
12 Jan 2017
F acquitted on rape charge.
29 Jan 2017
F calls SW to report M is misusing drugs and they have been in a relationship.
M says this is because she had threatened to separate.
29 Jan 2017
M calls police and says her partner has been threatening her. When asked what threats had been made the mother became angry and distressed and said it had taken her two years to finally report the abuse. She would not answer any further questions but said she was frightened her ex-partner would return.
7 Feb 2017
Fact-finding: His Honour Judge Parker. Findings include
The mother and father have remained in a relationship during the proceedings and have concealed that fact from the local authority. The evidence demonstrated that from at least 5 October 2016 through November and December and January the mother and father had remained in a relationship but had lied to social services about it. The father said in an email that he had been living with the mother in Birkenhead since she had moved there and had paid the deposit on her property.
"The parents have done everything they can to try and thwart the court's desire to get to the truth and obtain a reliable, factual basis upon which to make very important decisions about L's future…. All in all, in my judgment, they have done everything they can to impede and frustrate the court's attempts to get to the truth in the best interests of their son. The reason is quite simple. They both believe that the evidence against them that they have continued in a relationship and misled all of the professionals and the court about that relationship and that to give evidence would serve no purpose for them other than to make their respective cases even worse. The fact that they have chosen not to give evidence and not to tell the truth does, however, have additional ramifications for them."
The judge concluded that there was a need to protect the placement with the foster carer from the father's attendance. An injunction was made to protect the placement.
The court concluded that there was clear evidence that the father poses a risk to the emotional and physical well-being of the child will be at put it a medium risk by the probation officer and that he poses a risk to the physical well-being of professionals that he deals with. The judge observed that what he had seen of his behaviour in the court room had simply served to increase his concerns abo
Other evidence and assessments
- Norma Grove's evidence is set out in her statements dated 24 January 2018, 5th of February 2018, two statements of 5th of July 2018, the care plan, and supplemental statements dated 22 October and 29th of October 2018. Much of her evidence as to the factual background and her dealings with the mother and father is rehearsed in the chronology. Some of the key points of her evidence are as follows:
i) Her own dealings with the mother from the pre-birth child protection conference through to meetings in Belgium and later satisfied her that even when offered support the mother was unable to separate from the father. She had been offered a refuge previously, including in March, she has been signposted to counselling and other services but has not pursued them.
ii) Her previous track record in relation to Wirral social services and the deception in relation to the separation caused Ms Grove to be sceptical about anything the mother said in relation to separation. She doubts that she is far along the stages of making change. If she was she would be taking up offers of help more actively, making complaints about the father's behaviour looking for somewhere safe to live.
iii) Both during the proceedings prior to August and since August it has been difficult to fully engage the mother.
iv) There is no real evidence of change in the father. He has not undertaken the intensive work required. He said he has done the advanced thinking skills course 22 times in prison. We wanted to have a psychological assessment of him but he declined. She was doubtful about the circumstances of the separation and whether it was done for the purposes only of the court or whether it was a genuine separation.
v) The mother has the basic parenting capacity to look after AB. Previous assessments combined with her own observations of the mother with AB show that she is able to meet AB's physical needs without prompting, engages well with her in an age-appropriate way, and is affectionate. The difficulty is in relation to her recognition of the risks F poses and her ability to protect AB from exposure to those risks or similar risks with another partner.
vi) Although physical separation was a positive it had to be looked at in the context both of the mother's track record in relation to separations and her lack of honesty.
vii) At this stage no package of protective measures including non-molestation or other orders to keep the mother and father separate could ameliorate the risks of them resuming their relationship. At the present the mother is in such early stages even measures such as orders in combination with the mother engaging in the Edan Lincs project and starting psychotherapy would not reduce the risks of a resumption of the relationship to any significant degree. That is a long-term issue. Given all the issues she has from her childhood together with the issues arising out of her relationship with the father she didn't think it was a matter of months it was probably years for her fully to make the separation. She needs to embrace the need for change as well as undertaking the work.
viii) In September when she called the social work manager she thought this might be a breakthrough with the mother being willing then to talk more frankly about her relationship. But when she sought to pursue this the mother didn't follow it through despite extensive efforts to contact her.
ix) The paternal grandparents (of the mother's older children) cannot take on AB. They are already looking after the mother's five older children. At the moment AB and the five other children have not had contact because the older five children's social worker thought it was not in their interests for them to see AB. U has stopped having contact with the mother and X asked why she kept having children. No other family members have put themselves forward to care for AB; both the mother and father put forward individuals but none of them wanted to pursue it. CD's adoptive parents also have said they are unable to take AB. If AB is placed for adoption we will look for a placement which could also take unborn baby EF if the mother decides she wants him placed for adoption with AB.
x) At present an adoptive family has not been identified. Her current foster carers are short-term foster carers. Long-term foster care is not appropriate. There is a shortage of long-term foster carers and it carries with it the risk of continual changes. AB needs to be placed permanently so that she can transfer her primary attachment to them and to develop a lifelong relationship with adoptive parents. It would be most unusual for a baby of this age to be in foster care for life. She was not aware of it ever happening.
xi) She did not consider that AB's placement could be deferred for six months, one year or two years to see how the mother did. Given the lack of progress so far she was not optimistic about the mother being able to maintain separation and thus deferring a decision was without purpose. The prospect would be of AB remaining with her foster carers for a year strengthening her attachment to them and then having to be moved at around two years of age or 2 ½ when it became clear that the mother had not separated. This would be damaging for AB as she would have to separate from her foster carer and transfer to a new family. Although she would still be relatively young this would be harmful.
- Ms Grove is also the author of the care plan. It is for adoption. AB will remain in her current foster placement until an adoptive placement is found. Timescales are not given in the plan. CD's adoptive parents are not in a position to care for AB. She will retain contact with her parents via Letterbox. There may be some sibling contact with her old 5 siblings and with CD and EF. A plan sets out the changes in contact with the mother. That has been superseded by the reduction initiated by the mother.
- Alison Boardman an independent social worker was instructed to carry out risk assessments in relation to the mother and father. An independent social worker was instructed to undertake this work which would usually be carried out by the in-house social worker because the father and the mother claimed that the local authority were corrupt and biased. Her report on the mother and the father and her addendum are detailed and thoughtful assessments. In her oral evidence she was considered and measured. The following are in my view some of the key points from her evidence.
i) The mother's life experiences has led to her moving into adult life lacking in confidence, with low self-esteem and poor assertiveness skills and it may be that a relationship eases her emotional isolation.
ii) The mother is a woman who is to an extent controlled, passive and to some extent accepting of her situation. Throughout the assessment she had still not completed the freedom programme but was adamant she had not been manipulated and controlled by the father.
iii) She has prioritised the father's needs over her children's needs in particular in relation to her five older children who had experienced a marital separation, bereavement, eviction, a new home and they then had to move to the paternal grandparents because the mother was unable to end her relationship with the father.
iv) There was nothing in her assessment of the father which indicated a change in the risk he presents. He engages in intimidating and aggressive behaviour usually within but not isolated to the context of his adult intimate relationships. He appears to have little regard to the impact of his behaviour upon children either witnessing violence or assaulting them. He engages in a variety of maladaptive strategies in justifying his aggressive behaviour; including reframing, minimisation, denial avoidance and excuses. He presents himself as the victim and justifies his actions accordingly. He was courteous and polite and there may have been a reduction in convictions but given he was still committing offences in his mid-to-late 20s the risks are higher. In any event even though there have not been further convictions there is evidence of other behaviours which are worrying; for instance driving madly on tracks as a way of dealing with his emotions and his behaviour within the relationship. There was little acknowledgement of his behaviours, indeed there was an abdication of responsibility for his behaviours. In his recent statement he has acknowledged some occasional verbal abuse which he had also acknowledged in 2017 but he doesn't acknowledge the risk he represents. It is a positive that he has said he wants to make some changes but in my interviews with him he denied abuse and was not frank about the past; for instance he said he had never shouted in front of the children but the evidence suggests clearly that he did. He is not motivated to engage in any treatment work in relation to his behaviour because he doesn't accept that it is a problem. He doesn't abide by court orders or agreements and his behaviour is hard to monitor. If he chose to return he could and at present it is likely that he would persuade the mother to resume a relationship with him. He continues to present a risk of violent, aggressive and intimidating behaviour to children and adults especially when known to him and this obviously places AB at risk of emotional harm at the very least. His nonengagement and non-cooperation in accessing and responding to professional interventions and his belief system are barriers to reducing the risk. There is evidence that he is impulsive and reactive but also that he uses coercion and manipulation. The evidence is that these are chronic problems and he is a medium risk such that aggressive and violent behaviour is likely to occur in the absence of any engagement in effective interventions. She recommended that he work with a clinical forensic psychologist to identify his needs and appropriate interventions.
v) In relation to the risks that the father poses the mother uses strategies of avoidance, reframing and denial to excuse his behaviours. She showed a limited ability to consider his behaviour abusive, to blame him for his actions or to fully consider the damaging effect of his behaviour on herself and more importantly her children. She is easily swayed by his opinions and her capacity to make independent healthy decisions for herself and her children are limited.
vi) There was little evidence of change during the assessment which perhaps indicates she has not spent much time reflecting on her past and learning from it. She has a tendency to give into the dominating behaviour of others and presents with a rather hopeless view of her capacity to make positive change to her situation.
vii) She is someone who struggles to take full responsibility for her behaviour and has not been able to make changes to her situation for the better. She has a tendency to externalise her problems, externalising responsibility blaming others. This is perhaps the consequence that she does not feel that she has the personal ability to make change or improve the situation. She prioritises her needs over AB's. An example of this is contact. Although the mother says she asked to reduce contact because she was concerned about the impact on AB of seeing her upset Ms Boardman pointed out that it is a responsibility of a parent to prioritise the child's needs not her own. Therefore it's not unreasonable to expect her to maintain control of her emotions in order to promote the relationship with AB.
viii) She shows little remorse about how misleading she has been in relation to her situation and her actions.
ix) She has very limited ability to assess risk to act appropriately on the information she does have about risky individuals and to keep herself and her children safe.
x) Ms Boardman questioned her ability to be open and honest about what is going on in her life, how she is coping and the challenges she faces without the support of a partner.
xi) Her basic parenting is good hence Wirral were considering rehabilitation. However an important part of parenting is protection of children in particular from emotional harm and at the moment she can't offer protective parenting as there is no change in her functioning to date.
xii) At the time she assessed them they were clearly presenting as a couple notwithstanding all of the history. This physical separation is very short-term at the moment. She did not know whether there had been an emotional separation. Given the previous history of dishonesty and the extent to which the parties so far had been unable to separate she would need much more evidence. She observed that we did not know whether there was in fact any form of indirect contact even if they were not seeing each other. Given the absence of any work undertaken by the mother so far the risk of a resumption of the relationship had not reduced. The research suggests it may take seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. At the moment she hasn't got the resources emotionally to stop him invading his way back into her life. In terms of the stages of change model she might be on the contemplating change stage but given that she has not engaged with the social worker and has not pursued the Edan Lincs project there is little progress she didn't think she was in the contemplation stage, although the physical separation was a step in the right direction. If it was truly a separation why did they not tell everybody about it? In particular was it his decision or was it her decision; it seems to have been his decision to move out.
xiii) The mother needed to engage with the local authority in their intervention. The father has possibly manipulated her deep-seated distrust of social services which arises from her childhood. That distrust is not going to change quickly. She needed to be proactive in seeking out and signing up for a program like the Freedom Project or Edan Lincs. Most importantly she needed to seek out and undergo psychotherapy. That would need to address the abusive experiences that she has had and which make her vulnerable to embarking on a resumption of her relationship with the father or entering another abusive relationship. However she also needs to work on her trust issues. Developing a trusting relationship with a counsellor would be part of this. In all of this she needs to be proactive. If she did all of these things would then need to look for palpable evidence of change. This would be found both in what she says and how she thinks about issues, her understanding of her familial and relationship history and how that has informed her behaviours but also in the way she leads her life and how transparently she leads that life.
xiv) Her difficulties are so long-term and so entrenched that the work would be long-term not short-term is likely to be not less than a year. She has been referred to resources in the past including the freedom project but has not completed the work. That is over a period of four years. However in order to start to make progress she would have to accept that it is needed for its own benefits rather than to demonstrate that she has changed and she would need to fully engage with the process in an honest and open way. She is far from that at the moment. That means the timescales are likely to be longer rather than shorter.
xv) One could not place AB back with her at the moment. There is no package of measures which could mediate the risk of her resuming a relationship with the father at the moment. To return AB to her and then remove her would be very harmful. Ms Boardman would not support AB remaining in foster placement whilst the mother embarked on the process of counselling and other work. She was very concerned that the prospects of the mother making progress in a timeframe that was consistent with AB's needs were remote because her difficulties were entrenched and multi-layered and would be difficult to unpick.
xvi) Neither a mother and baby unit or placement with BX would be feasible at the current time given the very high risk of resumption of a relationship with the father. In any event neither a unit has been identified and nor is BX willing to have the mother and AB with her given the risks the father presents.
xvii) In particular she was concerned that AB's primary attachment was to her foster carer and that this would become more deeply rooted if she were to remain with her for another year or 18 months. It would then be more harmful for AB to be placed in a adoptive family and have to transfer that attachment. Although she could do it the earlier she were to develop her primary attachment to her lifelong carers the better it would be. Ms Boardman was particularly concerned that delaying the process with the consequent likely damage to AB's attachment could produce consequences for her which would be lifelong in terms of her psychological well-being and future relationships.
- The mother gave evidence over the course of half a day. She has a limited criminal history for minor offences of violence. Her most recent conviction was on 8 July 2016 when she pleaded guilty to battery. I'm not sure of the circumstances of that. She has no history of dishonesty. She gave a vivid account of her childhood and early life experiences including physical and sexual abuse by her stepfather which led to her being removed into care at about the age of 12. Thereafter she described an extraordinarily disrupted adolescence comprising as she said some 30 foster care and residential home placements until she was about 15 when she moved to live with a sister and subsequently a private foster carer BX. She described her relationship with Mr G and how that had on occasions featured physical abuse linked to the consumption of alcohol and drugs. She clearly carries a huge burden of guilt having left him (I think for the father) and his subsequent death in an accident at his new place of work. I'm not sure if he changed jobs in order to look after the children but it appears that the mother was blamed by his family for what happened and she still carries great guilt herself. Thereafter she returned to look after the children together with the father which resulted in care proceedings being taken when she broke a written agreement which prevented the father having contact with her children; this being in the context of him being on bail for the alleged rape of a 15-year-old. She clearly carries a huge distrust of social services and the courts in this country feeling that she has been let down; she said she doesn't believe the local authority give you a fair chance. The prospect of her working cooperatively with the local authority in the intensive way that she would have to do in order to both undertake the counselling and other support work but most importantly to demonstrate that she has changed through frank and honest discussions about her state of mind and allowing social services into her life to demonstrate that the pattern of her life had changed is remote. She appeared to show relatively little insight into her own responsibility for the situation she finds herself in now and in relation to CD and in relation to her five older children. She had a tendency to shift responsibility; she was sick, a taxi didn't turn up, trains were late, her phone wasn't working, the refuge was like a children's home, she wanted to minimise AB's distress. I detected little if any true acceptance of her responsibility for the situation. She was genuinely distressed I think at the impact on her children but has still failed to grasp the nettle of the risk that the father poses and the risk of her embarking on another abusive relationship. At various points during her evidence she said certain points in time had been eye openers for her and she had realised the problem was the father. The problem was that this ranged from the father's actions in January 2017 through to losing CD in July 2017, through to the father taking her to the contact centre in March 2018, through to receiving the parenting assessments in July 2018. She said that F past was the problem. She appeared not to realise that it is his present which is also a problem. I got the very clear impression that she was holding back much in relation to the nature of her relationship and abuse she had experienced with the father. She was prepared to say that he had been controlling of her. On being pressed by me she was prepared to accept that he had demonstrated highly aggressive outbursts of temper. At one point she appeared about to reveal more information but held herself back. This is consistent with her having made complaints about the father in particular on a couple of occasions referring to him having raped her but then saying that she had been misunderstood. She has also on occasions phoned the police or social services in order to talk about her experiences for instance in September when she spoke to the social work team manager but then on being contacted by the social worker herself declined to speak further. She said at the conclusion of her evidence that "sometimes it is easier to shut yourself down than to deal with your emotions". I have no doubt that this is what has happened. I have no doubt that there is much more that she could say about her experiences at the hands of the father but she is not in a place emotionally where she is yet able to open up about that. In that sense she is not an honest witness because she will not speak the truth about the father and minimises his responsibility for issues. Her starting to use cocaine was because it was everywhere not because the father was using it. Nor is she honest in other respects; the most obvious example being her description of what occurred on the evening of 21 June 2018. The clear picture which she had given was that on that evening the father had arrived to inform her that her friend was suffering from breast cancer and they had gone to visit her. That was in line with what the police had been told when they spoke to her on 22 June. However on further explanation she revealed that they had left the property in a hurry because she had told the father that she had texted her mother to call the police and he therefore wished to make himself scarce before they arrived. In fact they travel to St Albans she said to visit friends of his; although I note the police account is that they went to a house that the father had bought. She then said that they had visited her friend in Peterborough who had breast cancer the next day. Her account appeared to me to be largely fabricated and was an attempt in some way to provide a reason why she had spent time with the father that night when only three days before she had told the social worker that she was ready to leave him and had been placed for a brief period of time in a refuge. That is not to say that there were not times during her evidence when she was telling the truth. The fact that she disclosed what actually happened on 21 June suggests that she is not dishonest and manipulative in the way the father seems to be. However she is very far from giving a full and frank account of the relationship.
- The father did not give evidence. He says that he has lost his passport since arriving in Australia. I do not believe that for one moment. His communications with the court last week suggesting that he would return if the court wished him so to do were disingenuous at best. Given that he said he had lost his passport he was in no position to travel, notwithstanding that he said he would seek an emergency travel documents, and this was simply an example in my view of him seeking to manipulate the process. Given that he has not her attended to give evidence either in person or by making arrangements to attend by video or telephone link his recent statement has not been tested. Given his track record and the assessment of Ms Boardman and others it seems most unlikely that he has gained any genuine insight into his behavioural any genuine acceptance of his responsibility for the situation. It therefore seems unlikely that there has been much shift in his attitude towards the mother or his desire to be in a relationship with her to meet his own needs. The physical separation is of course a good thing but it is easily reversed. His decision not to pursue contact and to support the mother's application is a good thing but I cannot give them father that much credit for it given the overwhelming weight of the evidence that demonstrates the sort of risk that he poses to the mother and AB and the absence of any change in him over the years.
- His criminal record is appalling with numerous convictions for offences against the person, motoring offences including dangerous driving, breaches of suspended sentences, non-molestation orders, curfew orders and the like. Mr Ashworth is right that it has reduced recently which may be a small sign of maturity. However he clearly still has a hairtrigger temper as evidenced by his outburst in July 2017. His manipulation of the mother in January 2017 but also in persuading her to decamp to Europe, to oppose a psychological assessment and to maintain their relationship all show that he remains controlling and manipulative. I note that he told Ms Boardman and/or the Guardian that he had been diagnosed with a personality disorder at some point. Whether this is true or not his behaviour at times is extremely worrying, has been long-standing in its nature and has not been addressed by the sort of intensive psychological interventions that was identified as necessary in 2017 and which is reinforced by Ms Boardman's assessment. No doubt the father also has positives. He is said to be a hard worker. He loves his child and is able to behave in a child appropriate way within the heavily monitored conditions of contact.
- However it is also clear that he remains a risk to any woman he is in an intimate relationship with, any child who is a part of that relationship and indeed to third parties. It is blindingly obvious and has been for many years that he is the barrier standing in the way of the mother caring for their children. He prioritises his need for a relationship with her over the children's needs. His behaviour in January 2017 when the mother threatened to separate from him and he responded by telling the local authority that they were in a relationship was a despicable example of putting his needs first. Had the mother been able to separate then there was a chance that CD would have returned to her care and would have been looked after by her. Instead the father's actions destroyed that chance and resulted in his own son being taken into care and placed for adoption. That is a dreadful example of his self-centred and narcissistic behaviour. He has no respect for authority and it would appear little respect for any other individual; least of all those close to him such as the mother or his sister or his nephew. I have no reason to suppose that the conclusions reached by His Honour Judge Parker are not as valid now as they were then. The fact that he has not been convicted of any further violent offence since gives me no cause for confidence in him. I have little doubt that he is the one with control in the relationship with the mother. I have little doubt that he led the way both in terms of the deception of Wirral social services and the plan to decamp to Ireland, France and Germany 2018. His reasons for leaving this jurisdiction are more likely to be linked to his seeking to avoid further castigation in the court proceedings although they might also be explained by his punishing the mother for her saying she wanted to end the relationship. His nature appears to me to be far more likely to react spitefully to such a decision by her and one way of doing that would be to move to the other side of the world in effect to punish her for her decision; he well knowing how emotionally dependent she is upon him. He is clearly a deeply unpleasant and dangerous man for anybody involved in an intimate relationship with him. The power he has managed to gain over the mother is an indication not so much of her weakness or susceptibility although no doubt it is a function of that, but of his manipulation and intimidation which still exerts considerable power over the mother even from 13,000 miles and three months away her inability to open up about his true nature in their relationship speaks volumes about the extent to which she was under his control.
- The Guardian's evidence is contained within her report dated 13 July 2018 and supplemented by her oral evidence. Some of the key points of her evidence are as follows
i) The history shows that the father presents a significant risk to AB. Ms Mitchell would have liked a psychological assessment of the mother and the father.
ii) The principal concern about the mother is her ability to assess risk to AB and to act on it. She needs psychotherapy and other support in order to make changes to put herself in a position where she could assess risk appropriately and protect AB.
iii) The separation, if indeed it is a separation, is in its infancy. It could be the separation is his decision and at the moment it is physical only. It is the emotional dependency that was very evident in the previous proceedings that is central. If it was a true separation why didn't they tell everyone in early August? Why has the mother not acted on it? It could be that it is his decision not hers.
iv) The father had said he would be agreeable to separating in certain circumstances. I think that Ms Mitchell meant by this that it was not led by a recognition of the need to separate but rather because that was what people were saying should happen. Without a genuine acceptance of the need to separate a separation was unlikely to be maintained. It may be that he is genuine and his statement contains some positive matters but we do not know whether it is genuine and he has the right intentions. If he doesn't intend to abide by orders saying that he doesn't oppose them is tokenistic.
v) The mother has demonstrated over the years that she cannot, or has not, worked openly and honestly with professionals. If she cannot do this then there is no way of assessing whether or not she has made the changes necessary to reduce the risks to AB or any other child.
vi) The work she will need to do is considerable in order to make and sustain changes. It is long-term. The need for work was identified long ago and hasn't been progressed. She hasn't made changes to date - even within the 10 months of this process and therefore the prognosis for her making changes in future is not good; Ms Mitchell said she has no confidence in it being completed within AB's time scales. One would expect the mother to be actively pursuing the sorts of support which have been identified if she was open to change. Ms Mitchell said she had herself signposted the mother to the Freedom Project and Women's Aid and the resources that they could provide but the mother had taken up none of these opportunities herself. This did not indicate the sort of proactivity which was necessary to make real progress.
vii) The mother is capable of meeting many of AB's needs and providing good enough parenting subject to the very serious deficiency in her ability to protect AB from the risk of harm both emotional and physical, arising from the relationship with the father. Her bond with AB was a warm and affectionate one but AB did not have her primary attachment to her in the psychological sense.
viii) For AB to return to her mother in any setting whether mother and baby unit or placed with a family friend without the mother having made the changes risks AB developing the attachment to the mother and then that having to be broken. The alternative of AB remaining in foster care would be that she deepens her attachment to her foster carer and then at some point down the line in six months, a year, 18 months that she then has to move. That carries with it an inherent risk of emotional harm to her in the damage to her ability to attach. That has potentially lifelong consequences in her emotional well-being or mental health. Ms Mitchell didn't think that even if there were an 80% prospect of success that it would be in AB's interests to wait for the year or more to see if that 80% prospect materialise. If the prospects of change were low (which Ms Mitchell thought they were) then there was even less reason to defer making a decision for AB
- The hairstrand drug testing reports show:
i. Mother: indicated use of cannabis and cocaine from the beginning of January 2018 to the beginning of April 2018 [E116, E122]ii. Father was positive for Delta-9-THC and Cannabinol from the middle of November 2017 to the middle of February 2018 [E4] but not the metabolites of cannabis, indicating either use of cannabis or passive exposure to it [E9]. He tested positive for cocaine (including the metabolite) from the beginning of February 2018 to the beginning of May 2018 [E17, E23]. It is right as Mr Ashworth points out that the report identifies that the cannabis results could be explicable by passive exposure.
- It is clear from the order of May 2016 that the central issue in relation to the mother's ability to care for children was the risk posed by the father and her inability to separate from him. This remained the case in 2017. The judgment of His Honour Judge Parker of 7 February 2017 concluded that the mother and father had conspired to keep their relationship secret and had presented a dishonest account both to the local authority and to the court in pursuit of their attempt to keep CD with them. The fact that the pair adopted this approach reflects their acceptance that from the perspective of the court and the local authority it was the relationship that prevented the mother being in a position to care for a child and that it was the risk presented by the father that was at the root of the concern. At the conclusion of that judgment the judge noted unless there was a sea change in their approach it would hamper the court's ability to perform any reliable assessment of them. The judgment of July 2017 was again built on the risk that the father posed to a child and the fact that the mother and father continued to be in a relationship. The court rejected the mother's and the father's case that they were no longer in a relationship but were simply friends and concluded that the mother could not live with the father but could not live without him. The judge noted that she had known for months that her relationship was critically damaging and a toxic feature of her life in relation to her being able to care for her son. The judge described it as an abusive relationship and noted that he was deeply troubled by the incident where the mother sought to get out of the father's car whilst it was travelling at speed on the M6. He concluded that she was unable to protect CD from the risks posed by the father. At that time the father was still misusing cocaine as was the mother. The judgment criticised both parents but in particular the father for his propensity to unpredictable, sudden, intimidating, aggressive and violent behaviour, his lack of respect for authority and his failure to take any responsibility for his own actions. The court noted that both the mother and father sought to shift blame and to place it on others. Even the father agreed in cross examination that he potentially posed a risk to CD and the mother and that he could slip at any point.
- It is therefore abundantly clear that since May 2016 the mother has been fully aware of the risk that professionals and the courts have found that the father poses in respect of any child. Even prior to that though she prioritised her relationship with the father over her children when she allowed him to move back into the family home following his arrest on suspicion of raping a 15-year-old. That meant that her children could not return to live her with her but remained with the paternal grandparents. What the courts have concluded though is almost by the by because the mother herself has lived with him for that period of time and has experienced first-hand on a number of occasions his unpredictable and violent nature. She witnessed him assaulting his nephew. She has seen him and been subjected to his extreme outbursts of temper. She knows he is controlling and manipulative. His behaviour in contacting social services in January 2017 and telling them that they had been in a relationship was I'm satisfied prompted by her saying that she wished to separate and is a shocking example of his manipulative behaviour towards her. Given that it was bound to lead to the abandonment of the rehabilitation plan and this must have been known to him, his spite towards the mother and desire to exact revenge upon her is quite extraordinary or to create a situation where she would not leave him but put his own needs before those of his child. I believe that the mother's assessment of why the father did what he did at this time is correct. What is more surprising is that it did not result in her seeing his true nature but continued a relationship with him.
- All of this the mother has known for many years. After the February 2017 judgment she chose to become pregnant with the father for a second time. After the judgment in July 2017 she chose to go on the run with the father to Europe in order to keep AB with her and the father. This was a clear rejection of the court's determination that the father posed a serious risk to their child. However it is clear that the father still poses a serious risk to the mother and to AB. Although he has not been convicted since early 2016 of an offence and the behaviour dates back to 2015 it is clear that he is still prone to behaving in an intimidating aggressive and manipulative way. His outburst in court in July 2017 illustrates vividly the nature of his temper. If he is capable of that in a court setting what is he capable of in a domestic setting; particularly under the influence of drugs? He has behaved in a manipulative and controlling way towards the mother. I accept her evidence of his behaviour in this regard. I am satisfied that it it was he who led the way into camping to Europe, and in opposing the need for a psychological assessment. I'm satisfied that it is he who has acted in such a way as to maintain the relationship throughout putting pressure on the mother and persuading her that they could buck the system somehow. He has not undertaken the intensive psychological work that was identified in 2017 and is further supported by Ms Boardman. I accept that he has involved himself in some work in prison and part completed a building better relationships programme. However that is only scratching the surface of the work that he needs to do. His solicitor's invitation to the local authority within these proceedings for access to support might be thought to indicate a willingness on his behalf to undertake that work. Perhaps if it had been made available he would have undertaken. However his failure to undertake work in the course of 2017 or subsequently but rather to reject that approach and to fight the system provides a far more compelling indication of his rejection of the need for him to undergo that work. Events of the last year taken together with the failure to pursue any work confirmed that the father poses as serious a risk today as he did in earlier years. I do not consider that is the local authority's responsibility that the father has not accessed the resources needed to address his problems. As a last resort he could have commissioned a psychologist himself, he having access to the financial resources so to do. The apparent reduction in offending behaviour and the indications in his statement of some acknowledgement together with his actions in withdrawing to Australia and supporting the mother might be genuine. However they might also be the product of another strategy to mislead the professionals and the court. Given the father's track record it is more likely to be the latter than the former. Whilst I hope that it is the former, if it is it is change in its most embryonic stages and is effectively of no relevance for the purposes of this hearing.
- Following their return the mother was unable to separate from the father. In March she was offered a get out but was unable to accept it. In June she was unable to accept a get out and was unable to make any progress. She returned to the house she shared with the father by at the latest 21 June and on that day went on a road trip with the father in order to avoid the police. Thereafter she continued in a relationship with him. I accept that in a coercive and controlling relationship that separation is hard. I'm prepared to accept indeed that it is a process where a step forward may be accompanied by a step back. The more enmeshed and dependent on the relationship the harder the process of separation is likely to be.
- She stated a number of occasions in her evidence that various points in time were eye-openers for her or wake-up calls. In fact she said that the judgment of July 2017 was one of those but plainly it was not given her subsequent decision to remain with the father and have further children with him. Following receipt of the parenting assessments the mother again said this was a wake-up call for her. And yet in August when she says she was separating and following an argument with him when she phoned the police she chose to return to the family home with him and to spend the night with him there. Again I'm prepared to accept that separating is not easy and that the resumption of relationships spending time with each other does not automatically mean that there is a relationship and no separation. In relationships of this sort and separation being a process there will almost certainly be periods of time and perhaps lengthy periods of time when the relationship is still ongoing but a separation is being sought. The precise nature of the relationship may ebb and flow. It may eventually reach the point of full physical and emotional separation but before that point is reached it will neither be a full relationship or a full separation. At any point prior to that full emotional and physical separation there will be a risk that the process will go into reverse and the separation elements will take second place or going to abeyance whilst the relationship elements will take precedence.
- It is very difficult to know whether the physical separation which has apparently been in place since early August was instigated by the mother or by the father. It is of course the father who has put himself over the seas and thus created a situation of enforced physical separation. Whether this is his way of regaining control-the mother having sought to separate- or whether it is part of a plot hatched by the mother and father to present a picture of separation, or whether it is a genuine response by him to the mother ending the relationship is hard to know. I'm prepared to accept from the mother's evidence given in court and in her statement that perhaps there is a faint realisation on her part that the relationship she has with the father is indeed abusive and counter-productive for her. Her evidence about putting her children first (I believe in particular she was referring to her children with Mr G) seemed heartfelt. The difficulty is that her track record both of dishonesty in relation to the father but also the intensity of her enmeshed relationship with the father means that if there is a dawning realisation it is very very early days indeed in terms of testing whether that dawning realisation translates into the full sunlight of true acceptance of the abusive nature of the father and the terrible damage that is doing to her and her ability to raise her children. It seems to me that the mother is now beginning to realise and appreciate the father's flaws and the risks that poses to her and the obstacle it places in her path to caring for her children. However that is a very fragile realisation and could easily go into reverse; particularly were the father to place pressure on her to resume. She is currently far more likely to still trust him or be susceptible to his pressure than to place her trust in social services or others and to resist him and report him.
- Her evidence of her childhood experiences of abuse, an extraordinarily unstable period in care, her abusive relationship with Mr G and the guilt she feels in relation to his death combined with the loss of her children to the paternal grandparents and the subsequent loss of CD to adoption are all profound insults to her emotional and psychological well-being. Her historic experiences combined with her dishonesty and her track record in relation to the father all combine to create a situation in which it seems to me the mother will need to demonstrate by many months, probably years of separation from the father, combined by a genuine demonstration of moving on in her life in various ways combined with charted progress in terms of therapy or counselling before anyone could be satisfied that she has not only put the father behind her but has addressed the underlying causes which have led her to embark upon and remain in a highly abusive relationship. Even the psychotherapeutic element of this alone on the evidence would be not less than a year of effective engagement. The mother is not yet at the stage of being able to engage effectively because she is only just perhaps beginning to realise that she needs to deal with these issues. In order to move forward and to gain some trust in those who are willing and able to help her and then to use those resources and to begin to acquire the insight and proactivity that she needs to do to make significant progress is a work in my view of somewhere between one and two years probably closer to two than one.
- At the present time and in January 2018 it is beyond argument that the mother is unable to protect AB from the father and the risks that he poses to her. Since 4 August she has made little if no progress in terms of engaging assistance. She seeks to blame the local authority for this and yet it is her case that since 4 August she has finally separated from the father. However she has not done anything like enough to demonstrate this or to call upon the local authority to provide her with services through the Freedom Project or Edan Lincs. It may be a product of the effect of the father's abuse upon her that she seems in many respects to feel powerless. She is reactive, seeking for others to solve her problems rather than taking ownership of them and seeking to solve them herself. Whether she was like this prior to her relationship with the father I am unable to ascertain. If she wishes to take control of her life and to put herself in a position where she is able to play an active role in the lives of her five older children or to have any hope of playing a role in the lives of her younger children a transformation in her attitude will be needed. I appreciate that, as Ms Williams submitted, she needs somebody alongside her to encourage her to do that work. There is some force in that but the most crucial element is that the mother finds the spark of determination that will enable her to work with someone to access the resource. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
- The evidence suggests that underlying her current presentation of a disempowered and repressed woman is a character who may be able to reshape her life. I suspect she was very different 5 years ago. However much she may wish to shift responsibility for that I cannot emphasise strongly enough that ultimately it is down to her, albeit with help, to confront the problems that she has and to begin to take steps of her own making to address those problems.
- Although the father accepts that findings have been made against him historically he does not accept the basis of the findings. Hence the dispute as to the threshold in his response. It is clear from the judgment of His Honour Judge Parker of 21 July 2017 that he concluded that the father had long-standing deep-seated issues that will require more than a BBR course to resolve. He concluded that the father would have to engage in lengthy and intensive work to address those issues with a high level of success before he can be trusted by the court with childcare. Against that backdrop and with the evidence that the father has done nothing further to seek or undertake the lengthy and intensive work identified he plainly continues to pose a substantial risk of violence to third parties including intimate partners and thus to any child in either his care or the care of an intimate partner. That the mother has not responded to this is a small illustration of her inability to confront the risk that the father poses to her and to any child in her care.
- The mother did not respond to the threshold in relation to the allegation that the father continues to present a risk of engaging in violent aggressive and intimidating behaviour to children and adults. Her failure to address this issue even as late as October is significant. In her evidence the mother accepted that the father was capable of losing his temper in the way described by His Honour Judge Parker in his judgment of July 2017. She said she had witnessed it on a few occasions throughout their relationship. Strangely she described it as being like a child losing their temper which seriously underestimates the nature and likely impact on those around of that sort of behaviour. I conclude it is an example of the mother being unwilling to criticise the father to the extent that objectively would be appropriate. She herself described him as being controlling, always having to have the last word, not letting her speak, it was quite clear from her evidence that she viewed him as being controlling and domineering and that for large parts of their relationship she went along with what he wanted in order to keep the peace. The fact that she was on occasions able to argue with him or otherwise confront him does not in my view detract from the generality of their relationship which in my view was characterised by coercive control, Given the fact that the father has not undertaken any of the intensive work that would be required to address these issues it is clear that he continues to present a risk of engaging in unpredictable, sudden aggressive and intimidating behaviour with the risk of that escalating to physical violence.
- Although only a small component of the case in her evidence the mother accepts that she has continued to smoke a couple of joints of cannabis on a regular basis in order to alleviate anxiety and help her sleep.
- The father's drug use is a more significant issue. The mother's failure to deal with this in response to the threshold is another example of how she is unwilling to truly confront the issues in relation to the father or to be seen to criticise him on paper. Her response to the threshold is dated 26 October and yet even 2 1/2 months after separation she is unwilling to state that the father was misusing drugs. Given what the mother has said about her own cannabis use and the father's general dishonesty and his admitted cannabis use in February I'm satisfied that the father has used cannabis over the relevant period as well as periodic use of cocaine. It is highly probable that the father's misuse of drugs would contribute to his propensity to aggressive, intimidating and occasionally violent behaviour. His continued use throughout these proceedings notwithstanding a short period when he may have abstained, makes it highly likely that he would be continuing to use in the future and thus would continue to present a heightened risk of aggression, violence and loss of temper. I am prepared to accept that he abstained when he was going to have contact with AB but that hardly forms a foundation for confidence that he will not be using in the future.
- Thus in relation to the threshold and attempting to summarise the reasons why AB was at risk of suffering significant harm, that harm being attributable to the parenting that she would have been given, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give I'm satisfied of the following:
i) The father has for many years posed a serious risk of physical and emotional harm to the mother and to any children in their care. This arises from his hair-trigger temper, his propensity to very seriously aggressive and intimidating behaviour, occasional physical violence and a deeply manipulative and controlling nature. I'm satisfied that as a minimum he has behaved in an intimidating and highly aggressive way towards the mother as she described in relation to his outbursts of temper. I'm satisfied that he has acted in an extraordinarily manipulative and controlling way towards her to the extent that he was prepared to see his son adopted in order to ensure that the mother did not break free from him in January 2017 and hence he informed on her to social services just at the point when she might have been making a break from him.
ii) This risk has never been addressed by any form of acceptance by the father that it is a problem. It has never been addressed by any of the intensive psychological intervention that was considered necessary in 2017. It remains necessary now.
iii) Since 2014 the mother has prioritised her relationship with the father at the expense of her children. This includes her older children but also CD and AB. This means they have been exposed to harm or the risk of harm. This occurred from 2014 to 2016 in relation to her five older children, occurred in relation to CD, and has now occurred in relation to AB.
iv) The mother and father decamped to Ireland and then to continental Europe in order to avoid social services and court intervention they both considering that the local authority was corrupt and biased and the English court system unfair. This was a deliberate attempt to keep AB beyond the reach of child welfare services and the courts in England. It was ill thought out and unlikely to have endured for long but that was the intention. I'm prepared to accept that the mother intended to return because of the presence in England of her older children but only if she felt secure in keeping AB with her. It was only the prompt action of the English and Belgian courts which remedied the parents attempt to manipulate the process.
v) Both the mother and the father have a track record of dishonesty and deception in relation to their situation. I'm prepared to accept that the father is the leader in this regard but the mother has also played along. They both have a deep-seated distrust of the local authority. For the mother this is very damaging because they are the people who she needs in order to break free from the father and to acquire the skills to address the risks of her resuming a relationship with the father or entering into another abusive relationship.
vi) For reasons that probably find their roots in her childhood the mother has needed the father. He has exacerbated that need by manipulating her in various ways so that she is emotionally dependent upon him and distrustful of authority. That has bound her to him. She was unable since 2014 to separate from him, was unable despite support to separate from him whilst pregnant with AB. The physical separation that occurred in August 2018 in part is attributable to the mother expressing a desire to separate from him. That desire to separate in part I conclude arises from her realisation that she had no chance of resuming care of AB if she was in a relationship with him; that is in part a forensic recognition. I'm prepared to accept that now the mother may be gaining some small degree of insight into the true nature of the father and thus that the separation is also to a degree motivated by an internal desire to rid herself of the father because of the damage that he does to her. However the separation in part is also attributable to the father's actions in taking himself to Australia. The mother is so vulnerable to the father that the separation can be described only as embryonic. The mother has a mountain to climb in maintaining a separation and at present she has not even got her boots on still less started upon the journey to the foothills before scaling the summit.
vii) There is a very high risk at present of a resumption in the relationship. The longer the physical separation and the more the mother engages with social services and places her trust in them not in the father and the more that the mother engages in accessing the support that she needs the more that risk will reduce but it will remain high in my view for a considerable period.
viii) Both parents have drug misuse problems albeit in respect of the mother at a relatively low level. The father's cocaine misuse is likely to exacerbate the problems related to his anger management.
- Having regard to those conclusions what order is in AB best interests? What will promote her welfare throughout her life? Applying a holistic analysis to the realistic options before the court where do her welfare interests lie? Will nothing else other than adoption do?
- In the absence of any family placements the alternatives before the court are either:
i) Care and placement orders as advocated by the local authority and supported by the children's Guardian, or
ii) A return to the mother's care whether alone or in a mother and baby unit or in a family placement, or
iii) AB remaining in foster care whilst the mother embarks on the process of change with the possibility of her remaining in long-term foster care throughout her minority or possibly returning to her mother.
- The risks of the mother reuniting with the father are of such magnitude and such seriousness that returning AB to her care now would be pregnant with risk. Even the most stringent orders will not prevent reunification with the father if that is what he or the mother want. The mother is not in a position now to work honestly and openly with the local authority. Yes, AB would live with her mother but at what potential cost; exposure to the father and all that risk brings. It would almost certainly end in AB being removed with all the harm that would cause. It is therefore not a realistic option.
- Given there is no mother and baby unit or family placement which would form the foundation of the second option, neither of them fall into the category of realistic options which need much further consideration. In any event the reality is that based on the current risk of the mother resuming a relationship with the father and deceiving others about it that the risk to AB of placing her with her mother is simply intolerable. The risk that AB would be exposed to violence, aggression or controlling behaviour by the father to the mother in order to resume a relationship or once a relationship had resumed is unacceptable. Similarly the risk that the placement would breakdown because of either a resumption of the relationship or the mother embarking on another abusive relationship is too high. AB could not be exposed to the risk of transferring her primary attachment from her foster carer to her mother and then having that attachment broken. That is a recipe for lifelong attachment issues with long-term consequences for her emotional well-being and psychological health.
- Adoption would probably result in AB being placed with an adoptive family within a matter of months. At the age of 10 months and with no physical or psychological problems accompanying her she falls into the category of children who are most likely to be adopted. At this age the likelihood of her transferring her primary attachment to adoptive carers and that providing her with a forever family with all of the benefits that that brings are at a premium. However it will mean ending her familial links with her mother and father and also the possibility of relationships with her half siblings and her full siblings and other extended family members. If EF were to be adopted there is a possibility that a placement could be found for AB and EF but that is speculative at the moment. It might be possible for AB to have direct contact with her siblings if placed for adoption but it will be a limited relationship.
- Placing AB in foster care would have the advantage of keeping alive the relationship with the mother, possibly the father and with the siblings or half siblings. It would have the potential benefit of AB returning to her mother's care at some point in the future. If she made good progress with addressing her problems that might be in a year. If not at least AB would have a foster placement where she could feel secure and combine that with a relationship with her mother. If the mother had demonstrated good progress to date in addressing the underlying issues, showing insight, demonstrating the separation emotionally and physically was real and working with professionals then the potential benefits would justify a further period of AB remaining in foster care. However the mother is very far from that. Had she separated in January and begun the work we might have been close to being able to give a prognosis of the chances of success. But we are not there. The mother is in the earliest stages of that process and the prospects of success are not good. At present it is more likely that she will resume a relationship with the father or will fail to work with professionals or fail to take up support than that she will. Thus from AB's perspective she would remain in foster care whilst her mother failed to make progress. Then she would have to be placed having developed a primary attachment for 2 odd years. Yes she might still be adopted – she is under 3 – but what will the consequences be for her emotional wellbeing in the longer term if she has attachment issues? All this risk with no significant prospect of the mother making the change needed.
- What if one assumes the mother won't make progress - what about long term foster care. Children need a secure and stable home that is theirs forever – to have parents who they are attached to and from whom they can derive emotional and psychological wellness. A foster home cannot do that. The foster parents would never be AB's parents. A long-term foster carer would be unlikely to last for her minority. She would be at risk of the very fractured upbringing the mother herself experienced. I am satisfied that adoption is far better for AB than long-term foster care.
- Taking AB's welfare as my paramount consideration and applying the section 1(4) welfare checklist to her welfare throughout her life and taking a holistic view of the realistic options before the court leads me to conclude that AB needs as soon as possible a forever family through the process of adoption. Balancing all the relevant factors, the most significant features in the holistic landscape are the risks facing AB and the mother's capability and the effect on AB of change. The risks are currently still very high indeed. The mother's capability is seriously undermined by the issues to do with her emotional availability and inability to recognise and protect from risk. I hope she will address them but the separation and her response to it and ability to change and evidence that change are so embryonic that there is a high risk that she will fail to make the progress necessary. That process would be 1-2 years and with such a poor prognosis it cannot be in AB's interests to tread water in foster care whilst the mother undertakes that process. That would be to prioritise the mother over AB.
- I am therefore satisfied that the option which will best promote AB's welfare throughout her life is adoption. I am satisfied that nothing else will do for AB. I am satisfied that it is necessary and proportionate for that order to be made. I am satisfied that I am required to dispense with the parents' consent.
- I will make a care order and a placement order.