(County Court; Munby J sitting as a County Court judge; 18 April 2006)  FLR (forthcoming)
The child was taken into care at the mother's request when she was 13, having frequently absconded from her home in dangerous circumstances. The child continued to abscond, first from foster carers, then from a residential unit in her home city, then from a foster parent based in the South West. The child was known to have had frequent sexual contact and admitted to some drug abuse. Eventually the child was placed in a residential unit in the South West, from which she did not abscond. The local authority care plan aimed for an attempted rehabilitation with the mother within 3-6 months, but contemplated the possibility that the child might have to remain in the South West. The local authority expert was opposed to any further change for the child, particularly a return to her home city. The placement panel refused funding for a continued stay in the South West. At the crucial meeting none of the paperwork in the case was referred to by the panel. The local authority did not alert the child's guardian or any of parties to the potential difficulties concerning continued funding of the placement, merely informing them of the decision some time after it had been taken. When the care plan came before the court, the mother and the guardian were opposed to the plan, while the child supported a return to her home city, with reservations about some details of the plan.
The local authority care plan was not in the child's best interests and was not approved by the court. The local authority had failed to make full and frank disclosure and had shown no appreciation of the significance of its failure either to inform the guardian or the mother of the progress of the case or properly to involve them in the decision-making process. The court was critical of both the approach and the practice of the placement panel, the approach of the local authority and the content of the care plan. A decision of such fundamental importance could not be taken in accordance with a procedure as defective as this one, namely a procedure under which the panel decided without having read any of the relevant papers, on the basis of a short oral presentation by the social worker and after no more than 10-20 minutes of discussion and consideration. Some meetings of the panel might not merit detailed paperwork or extended discussion, some would require a completed pro forma but no more, but decisions such as this required much more than this panel seemed to consider necessary. The child's expressed views carried only limited weight given the child's history of exposing herself to severe risk and of choosing options plainly contrary to her own best interests.