(Court of Appeal, Hallett, Elias, King LJJ, 8 November 2016)
Public law children – Care proceedings – Appeal from care and placement orders – Unrepresented parents - Care plan for adoption – Whether the judge failed to consider long-term adoption
The father’s appeal from care and placement orders in relation to the two children was allowed.
The parents, of South Indian origin, and their two children, now aged 7 and 4 came to the attention of the local authority when the father lost his job and was unable to provide for the family. The parents had been refused leave to remain by the immigration authorities. Financial support was provided after the children were made subject to a child in need plan. However, the parents were in conflict with the local authority due to their belief that the local authority was wholly responsible for providing for them. The father exhibited extreme behaviour and threatened to jump off a bridge if they were not given a new house and financial support.
Attempts were made to work with the parents but the local authority initiated care proceedings due to the parents using the children as a means to put pressure on the local authority to give them more money with a wholly callous disregard for their emotional well-being.
The children were removed from the family home and placed in a culturally appropriate foster home. The parents refused to sign a contact agreement and no contact took place. During the proceedings the mother became pregnant and travelled to Singapore.
All the evidence indicated that the local authority throughout anticipated that the children would be rehabilitated to their parents’care. By November 2015 the local authority recommended that the children should remain in long-term foster care. Shortly after that recommendation changed to one for adoption. The guardian reluctantly agreed to the amended care plan on the basis of the children staying together and that the search for an adoptive placement was time limited to 12 months. If no placement could be found they would remain in long-term foster care.
At the final hearing the parents were unrepresented and the mother did not attend. Significant findings of emotional abuse were made and the judge approved the local authority’s care plan without making any mention of long-term fostering. Care and placement orders were made. The father appealed.
The appeal was allowed and the case was remitted for reconsideration.
The Court of Appeal noted that if the father had been represented there would have undoubtedly been a heavy focus on a care plan of long-term fostering as opposed to adoption. Judges faced with litigants in person had to be alive to issues which should and would have been raised if the parent had been legally presented. Similarly local authorities were under an absolute obligation to ensure that the court considered all matters relevant to the child’s welfare even when it might undermine their forensic goal.