10 October, 2017
The case of A Local Authority v The Mother & Another (2017) EWFC B59 raises interesting questions. Could the public money that a Local Authority expends to remove a child from their parent, be better invested at a much earlier juncture in the social work process, in the sourcing and commissioning of therapeutic care to the struggling parent/ parent-to-be?
In the above case, HHJ Wildblood QC heavily criticised a Local Authority for spending money on the issuing of legal proceedings and the commissioning of medical evidence when the outcome, by that late stage, would inevitably be removal of her child.
The case involved a vulnerable mother, who had herself experienced neglect, sexual and emotional abuse throughout her childhood. She had already suffered the removal of one child, and faced losing her second child to adoption within a 6 month period. On the evidence presented HHJ Wildblood QC felt constrained to find that that the risks to the child, if she were returned to her mother's care, were too great, and that only a Placement Order with an underlying Care Order would satisfy the child's paramount interests. He dispensed with the mother's consent to the child being placed for adoption.
HHJ Wildblood QC commented;
"I have seen a lot of wringing of hands as people speak with regret about the sadness of this case. I express that sadness and regret myself. Once again I have heard psychological evidence obtained at considerable cost expressing that any progress that the mother might now make is beyond the timescales for the child."
He went on to describe the case as;
"a truly wretched public law case involving another young mother with a background of extreme abuse and deprivation who had not been offered therapeutic support in a timely fashion" and expressed his deep sadness at the mother's predicament. He made it clear that he laid no fault at her door, stating that it was clear that she had made some positive changes, but the timescales and the longer prognosis of her parenting, lifestyle and functioning were too uncertain to meet the child's needs for permanency and stability at this late stage in the proceedings. However, he opined that had the mother been referred to relevant therapy before the birth of her children, there would at least have been a prospect that the outcome of the case would have been different.
He recommended to anyone reading the judgment to ask themselves 4 questions:
HHJ Wildblood QC has already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how to facilitate and access therapy with a view to doing his upmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. He makes clear that he has been banging the drum about therapeutic intervention for over 3 years now, and it would seem that lessons are not being learnt.
His proposal however raises some interesting questions. For example, there will be some parents who flatly refuse to engage with therapy even if offered. There will be other parents for whom standard therapeutic involvement is not recommended by medical professionals.
Then there is the issue of cost. Rarely will a parent with serious and longstanding emotional difficulties be "cured" sufficiently to meet a test for parental capacity, following a 10 week course of therapy. Some issues can take years to untangle, so who would foot the bill?
If Children's Services are to fund adult therapy for child protection matters then Local Authorities might want to look at how they use funds between themselves and Adult Services. On the current criteria these people are unlikely to reach the threshold for adult services' intervention, so is this workable?
Therapy falls generally to health budgets. If the NHS were encouraged to engage with HHJ Wildblood's proposals also, then this would feed into the current push within professional and political circles for an integrated social care system, but the complexity of this issue and the potential significant restructuring would require addressing at Central Government level. HHJ Wildblood's aims are laudable and could very well lead to better outcomes, but whether they are achievable without serious consideration and restructure remains to be seen.
The full ruling is available here: http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed180307