When adopters know best!
Sometimes a potential solution to a child’s problems can seem blindingly obvious to a parent. Adele’s is one such story.
She had been placed with Henry and Jane when she was almost 4 and she had been removed when she was 2 years old.
Her behaviour was frequently challenging but when she physically assaulted Henry in 2016, the tipping point had been reached. Her parents told the local authority that she had to be accommodated. They simply couldn’t be safe and keep her safe if she lived with them.
But they still wanted what was best for her. They believed that if she could go to a private school that understood her she might make it safely through her teenage years and achieve academically.
They approached the local authority. The County Council said “No.” They believed that she could stay in a foster placement and continue at the same school – despite the evidence to the contrary.
Care Proceedings were started and the case came before a County Court judge with a track record for making thoughtful decisions. He ordered that there should be a report from a child psychologist.
Her report set out her views that Adele is “struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder.”
She went on that “a review of her behaviour over the last year is beginning to suggest that there is a consistent pattern of behaviour whereby she refuses to return to carers when she has left them”. Her assessment is that “Adele is also struggling with anxiety, depression and panic”.
“We now need to act firmly and quickly to prevent this from happening with Adele. The adoptive parents’ fears are realistic that the matter could run out of control”.
As to the type of placement, her view was that Adele was a child who needed “a secure, unbreakable base with strong containment, and she also needs psycho-therapeutic input so that she can start to make sense of the confusion and anxiety that is making her depressed”.
Adele was described as a “very confused girl in an increasingly chaotic situation”.
Then the placement with her foster carers broke down. The local authority had determined that these were foster carers who could meet Adele’s needs.
She came to the view that a residential private school was the best outcome in all the circumstances.
The local authority view continued to be that she could continue to receive an education at the same state school. But the school considered that she could not remain there. The local authority chose another state school. There was no evidence to indicate that the new school proposed had the ability to contain her extreme behaviour.
The local authority simply was not prepared to follow the recommendations of the child psychologist.
In care proceedings, there are strict limitations on the ability of the court to either manage or change the local authority plans.
The judge was clearly unimpressed by the local authority. He floated the idea that Adele could be a Ward of Court.
In Wardship, in very simple terms, the child becomes a Ward of Court and the court’s consent is required for any important step in a child’s life.
In a previous case, Re K, the court was faced with parents who were not prepared to accept expert evidence and had to determine the best way to provide for the needs of damaged children. Hedley J determined that the only way to ensure that the needs of the children were met and that constructive dialogue could take place between the local authority and the parents, was by the making of a Wardship Order.
In Adele’s case, the local authority was not prepared to accept the recommendations of the expert both in regard to placement and with regard to education. We submitted that Wardship was the correct route for the best interests of Adele to be met. We submitted that the care proceedings should be dismissed. Adele could be accommodated pursuant to Section 20 and that she should then be made a Ward of Court.
We will never know what the judge would have decided on whether to make her a Ward of Court. Faced with a situation that was spiralling out of control, the County Council agreed to place her in the private school chosen by Henry and Jane.
There are two obvious benefits. It is massively cheaper than placing her in a therapeutic residential home and it appears to be working. Adele sees Henry and Jane. There’s still a need for Adele to have some therapy. But she’s still there.
It took a bold judge to hint at a way forward and we won’t rest in trying to press our client’s case.