In a judgment delivered on 13 September 2017 in the Family Court (A Local Authority v The Mother & Anor  EWFC B59), His Honour Judge Wildblood QC raised an issue which frequently arises in care cases – in which a local authority is seeking to share parental responsibility with the parents and possibly to remove the children from their care.
A recurrent feature in many of these cases is that the parents themselves, whether, as so often, they have suffered trauma in their earlier lives or for other reasons, have a pressing need for support and often therapy to turn their lives around. Such therapy can often take time and involves much expense. However, if the root causes are not addressed in a timely fashion then history repeats itself time and again often resulting in one child after another being removed from the parents. The pain associated with this only serves to exacerbate the parents’ terrible predicament.
Such was the case before the learned judge. The mother in the case, which concerned a 5-month-old baby, had suffered neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse throughout her own childhood. Prior to this case, she had already had one child removed from her care after he had been exposed to abusive and neglectful parenting and the plan for him was one of adoption.
The Judge accepted that no ‘on the ground’, practical support would enable the mother to parent safely, at the point when the court was making a decision about the second child, and the timescale of the therapy that the mother would require would simply leave the baby with uncertainty as to her future for far too long. The Court simply had no proper alternative but to make a care order for the second child and to approve a plan of adoption for her too.
The Judge made clear his firm view that if the mother had undergone therapeutic intervention at a much earlier stage, the outcome might possibly have been different.
He invited those reading his judgment to consider the following questions:
i) Is it right that the mother should not yet have been offered therapy, particularly bearing in mind that her first child had been born three years ago and was himself the subject of lengthy proceedings?
ii) If she had been offered therapy at an early stage, was there not at least a possibility that the outcome of these proceedings might have been different?
iii) Even if the outcome would not have been different, would not an attempt at therapy make these proceedings more satisfactory?
iv) Has the money that has been spent on issuing proceedings (£2,055 is the cost of issuing a care application) and on psychological evidence (over £2,000) been well spent when the expenditure is incurred before attempts at therapeutic support have been made in cases of this nature.
It was plain that the Judge felt extremely strongly about this point and it is indeed a situation which practitioners in the field come across on a regular basis. It is to be hoped that we can all learn lessons going forwards.
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