(Court of Appeal, Lloyd, Patten, Black LJJ, 3 May 2013)
The mother had three children, none of whom she had been able to care for due to her drug use and chaotic lifestyle. The oldest, aged 4, was placed with the maternal grandmother, the 2-year old had been adopted and the youngest child, now 4-months old had lived with foster carers since shortly after his birth.
When the mother became pregnant with the youngest child she did not attend ante-natal appointments for fear the baby would be removed from her care and she received a 3-year prison sentence for burglary. She sought to care for the baby at a prison mother and baby unit. The local authority did not support this course and initially the mother was refused a place at the unit.
The baby was placed in foster care under an interim care order. When a place at the mother and baby unit was offered to the mother, the local authority maintained its position on the basis that the mother had in the past been unable to maintain changes she had made in a residential setting and so the a further assessment would need to take place when she was released from prison which would cause further delay for the child.
The judge found that in the light of the lack of evidence of the mother's ability to change, it would not be in the child's best interests to place him in her care. An interim care order was granted. The mother appealed, submitted that the judge had erred in focusing on the long-term care of the child and pre-determining the substantive care proceedings.
The judge had been incorrect in his approach. The interim care regime was designed to ensure the child was kept safe in the period prior to the court's full consideration of the local authority care application. The focus of the interim care hearing was upon what may happen to the child during the interim period if he or she continued to live with a parent. The purpose was not to evaluate the longer term future. It should not make an order that afforded an advantage to the local authority or prejudice a parent's ability to put forward proposals for future care.
In the short term there was no danger to the child's safety and there was little doubt that if the mother was to have the best chance of caring for him she needed the opportunity to get to know him.
The appeal was allowed and the interim care order substituted for an interim supervision order. The baby would now move from the foster placement to the mother and baby unit at the prison where the mother was currently incarcerated.