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(Magistrate's Court of the Falkland Islands/Supreme Court of the Falkland Islands, CJ Gumsley, 12 August 2013)
The two children were removed from the immediate care of the family under an emergency protection order following suspicion, which was later proved, that one of the children had suffered sexual abuse by a man present in their home. The children had since lived with members of the extended family under an interim care order.
A fact-finding hearing found that the children had been living in a household where their needs were taking second place to the needs of the adults and where they were being exposed to the risk of significant harm. The threshold criteria had been satisfied.
Following an agreement between all the parties it was decided that final care orders would not be sought but a package of support would be put in place including counselling and therapy with a view to helping the parties to address the identified deficiencies in their care of the children.
The court now had to determine what orders needed to be made. The evidence demonstrated that the family had engaged well with the support package and that the children were making exceptionally good progress. The care plan now proposed was for the children to gradually be rehabilitated to their immediate family and for the support package to continue including therapy by Skype.
The package of measures on offer was impressive and could only minimise the risks but the care plan would only be endorsed if the Crown unequivocally agreed that they would remain in place until they were no longer needed.
Rehabilitation would be challenging and there was no guarantee that the family would be able to put into practice what they had learned on a theoretical level. To carry out such dramatic changes without the structure and supervision of the court process would not be appropriate. A delay in bringing finality to the court process was both appropriate and necessary in these circumstances.
The case had demonstrated a number of deficiencies in the child protection procedures in the Falkland Islands although being a relatively straight forward case for practitioners in England and Wales it had been unusual on the islands. It was submitted that due to these deficiencies the Crown could not be trust to exercise parental responsibility vested in them responsibly or appropriately and, therefore, a supervision order alone would not be sufficient to ensure their well being.
The Supreme Court of the Falkland Islands had the same powers as the High Court of England and Wales and, therefore, had jurisdiction to make wardship orders. In the right case it was legally possible for wardship and supervision orders to run alongside one another.
The impressions given of the social services department on the islands was one of complete disharmony and discontentment with a lack of any proper management. There was considerable merit in the submissions made by the parents: the Crown was not in a position to properly and appropriately exercise parental responsibility. The interests of the children would be best served by an interim supervision order and by making them wards of court.