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“Welfare of the child : Parental involvement”

There was quite a lot of debate about the wording of the new section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

 

You may recall, in the distant mists of time, that the Family Justice Review were asked to consider whether we should incorporate into English and Welsh law the sort of provision that Australia introduced, of there being a starting point in law that it is good for children to spend time with both parents.

 

The Family Justice Review decided not to, but the Government decided that it did want to consult on whether something along those lines was desirable.

 

I wrote about the consultation nearly two years ago, here

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/06/13/co-op-good-with-kids/

 

 

There were four options consulted on (none of them being the presumption of equal time or shared time that the media reported on, and that the fathers’ rights lobby were asking for. I’ve tried in this article to not split it on pure gender lines – I think that all parents who don’t live with their children would like the Court to have in mind that spending a lot of time with both parents is better for a child than artificially restricting one parent’s time with their child)

 

  • Option 1 requires the court to work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents – unless the evidence shows this not to be safe or in the child’s best interests
  • Option 2 would require the courts to have regard to a principle that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 3 has the effect of a presumption by providing that the court’s starting point in making decisions about children’s care is that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 4 inserts a new subsection immediately after the welfare checklist, setting out an additional factor which the court would need to consider.

 

The Government decided to go with option 1, but this got diluted further in the parliamentary process, until we ended up with this

 

Children and Families Act 2014

 

Section 11Welfare of the child: parental involvement

(1)Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 (welfare of the child) is amended as follows.

(2)After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A)A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

(2B)In subsection (2A) “involvement” means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.”

(3)After subsection (5) insert—

“(6)In subsection (2A) “parent” means parent of the child concerned; and, for the purposes of that subsection, a parent of the child concerned—

(a)is within this paragraph if that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm; and

(b)is to be treated as being within paragraph (a) unless there is some evidence before the court in the particular proceedings to suggest that involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering harm whatever the form of the involvement.

(7)The circumstances referred to are that the court is considering whether to make an order under section 4(1)(c) or (2A) or 4ZA(1)(c) or (5) (parental responsibility of parent other than mother).”

 

 

[If you want a quick explanation – there’s a presumption that it is good for a child to have involvement with both parents (unless it would cause harm or risk of harm to the child), but that involvement can be ‘of some kind, direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time’.  

It is probably worse for non-resident parents than the current Act, which tended to be interpreted that direct contact for both parents is a good thing for the child, if it can be done safely]

 

I’m grateful to Noel Arnold for alerting me and others to the fact that these provisions are not yet in force, and indeed, aren’t in any of the commencement orders (that’s the thing that turns a part of the Act from words into actual law to be followed)

 

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/all?title=children%20and%20families%20act%202014

 

Those commencement orders roll out various parts of the Children and Families Act 2014 at various stages this year – 1st April, 22nd April, 13th May, 25th July, 1st September.

 

Clause 11 doesn’t appear in any of those, and the suspicion therefore is that it won’t be rolled out this year (My own suspicion is that it may not be rolled out at all, as happened with the “no fault divorce” provisions enacted in 1996)

 

 

It does appear a little odd to me that this fairly anodyne provision can’t be rolled out at the same time as the change of Residence and Contact to “Child Arrangements Orders” (Translation for Eastenders writing staff “They’ve changed Custody and Access to Child Arrangements Orders” )

 

I’m not sure what else would need to be done to make those provisions ready to go, and it suggests to me a measure of disquiet that the provisions are not really useful to anyone and would do more harm than good if released into the wild.

 

There’s a risk, in fact, that for a parent whose contact would be safe, but the parent who lives with a child is hostile to anything more than a birthday and christmas card, the s11 change might make this something that the Court could more easily countenance than the existing position that there ought to be direct contact. There’s statutory sanction for the fact that involvement can include ‘indirect’ contact.

 

They also seem to set up a situation in which parental responsibility should not be given to a parent (really only a father, since mothers get it automatically) if there’s a risk of harm. That risk of harm isn’t then balanced against the risk of harm if it were not done, or against the possible benefits to the child of doing so. Or if there’s a risk of harm flowing from the mother towards the child as well as from the father towards the child, so that there might be harm to the child either way.

 

Or indeed that the risk that would warrant not making a parental responsibility order or a Child Arrangement Order that provides for contact flows from that person at all. For example, if a mother wrongly believed that a father was a paedophile and the Court found that he wasn’t, but that having contact would cause the mother emotional distress and anxiety that would impact adversely on the child, the father’s request for contact could be classified as one that puts the child at risk, even though he has done nothing wrong.

 

There must be a degree of doubt whether rolling out a revised section 1 (via giving s11 Children and Families Act a commencement date) might undermine the existing body of caselaw which was determined under the current s1

 

For example,

 

“The Courts recognise the critical importance of the role of both parents in the lives of their children. The courts are not anti-father and pro-mother or vice versa… unless there are cogent reasons against it, the children of separated parents are entitled to know and have the love and society of both their parents. In particular the courts recognise the vital importance of the role of non-resident fathers in the lives of their children and only make orders terminating contact when there is no alternative”

Re O (A child :Contact :Withdrawal of Application) 2003 1 FLR 1258

 

Or

 

“It is almost always in the interests of a child whose parents are separated that he or she should have contact with the parent with whom the child is not living”

 

Re P (Contact: Supervision) 1996 2 FLR 314

 

Or

 

“No parent is perfect, but “good enough parents” should have a relationship with their children for their own benefit and even more in the best interests of the children. It is, therefore, most important that the attempt to promote contact between a child and the non-resident parent should not be abandoned until it is clear that the child will not benefit from continuing the attempt”

 

Re S (Contact: Promoting Relationship with Absent Parent) 2004 1 FRL 1279

 

Or

 

“Contact between parent and child is a fundamental element of family life and was almost always in the interest of the child… there is a positive obligation on the state and therefore upon the judge, to take measures to maintain or to restore contact”

 

Re C (A child : suspension of contact) 2011 2 FLR 912

 

I would be very reluctant to have any of those vital principles, which were determined under the old s1, weakened or put in doubt by a changed s1 with a slightly different emphasis.

 

[I am sure that some non-resident parents will feel that these principles didn’t seem to get much of a look-in when their own case was decided before a District Judge, but they are principles that can be relied on and pushed under the Court’s nose at the moment, and they are important ones]

 

I have to say that I greatly prefer the current section 1 of the Children Act 1989, which is just plain and simple that when deciding anything that affects a child, the Court’s paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare.

 

If and when s11 comes into force, all we have is an embroidering of that position which if anything makes it less clear and less meaningful. It certainly isn’t a victory for those lobbying for a fairer and more equal treatment for parents who don’t live with their children.

 

[I have to confess that it has never sat comfortably with me that portions of an Act go through parliamentary scrutiny and royal assent, and in effect get voted on by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and win that democratic approval, but ultimately become law on the decision of a single government minister to push the “Release the Clause” button or not. But here, I’d be happy for the button not to be pushed – I think that the clause makes things worse for non-resident parents, and they really didn’t need the deck stacked against them]

Applying for contact AFTER a child is adopted

The family law provisions of the new Children and Families Act 2014 come into force on 22nd April.

The Act itself (as opposed to press releases boasting about how it will solve everything, give us free energy, a perpetual motion machine and bring peace and harmony to both the Middle East and the pro and anti-Europe wings of the Tory party) can be found here

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/6/pdfs/ukpga_20140006_en.pdf

There’s a LOT of it, so am going to try to tackle it in chunks. Today’s topic is going to be the new section 51A of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which makes provision for applications for contact AFTER an adoption order has been made.

Historically, Courts have been able to consider applications for the contact that a parent would have POST-ADOPTION, but that application and determination of it would have been BEFORE the adoption order was made. Thus, the adoption order would in effect be the last time the child would be the subject of litigation, and the Court’s involvement in their life would end.  (There are exceptions – as we saw in Re W the President was willing to overturn an adoption order to hear an appeal, there are adopters who end up being involved in subsequent care or private law proceedings themselves, but generally, once the adoption order itself was made, the Court were done with the child)

So, what about post 22nd April? Well, s9 of the Children and Families Act 2014 says this :-  [bold bits are mine, for emphasis]  – and it is important to note that this doesn’t just apply to adoption orders made after 22nd April, it applies to ALL adoption orders

9 Contact: post-adoption

(1) After section 51 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 insert—

“Post-adoption contact

51A Post-adoption contact

(1) This section applies where—

(a) an adoption agency has placed or was authorised to place a child for adoption, and

(b) the court is making or has made an adoption order in respect of the child.

(2) When making the adoption order or at any time afterwards, the court may make an order under this section—

(a) requiring the person in whose favour the adoption order is or has been made to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order under this section, or for the person named in that order and the child otherwise to have contact with each other, or

(b) prohibiting the person named in the order under this section from having contact with the child

(3) The following people may be name d in an order under this section—

(a) any person who (but for the child’s adoption) would be related to the child by blood (including

half-blood), marriage or civilpartnership;

(b) any former guardian of the child;

(c) any person who had parental responsibility for the child immediately before the making of the adoption order;

(d) any person who was entitled to make an application for an order under section 26 in respect of the child (contact with

children placed or to be placed for adoption) by virtue of subsection (3)(c), (d) or (e) of that section;

(e) any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year.        [This has a cut-off of not applying if it was more than 5 years ago, but seems to me that it would potentially cover relatives who cared for the child, foster carers, and possibly siblings]

(4) An application for an order under this section may be made by—

(a) a person who has applied for the adoption order or in whose favour the adoption order is or has been made,

(b) the child, or

(c) any person who has obtained the court’s leave to make the application.

(5) In deciding whether to grant leave under subsection (4)(c), the court

must consider—

(a) any risk there might be of the proposed application disrupting

the child’s life to such an extent that he or she would be harmed

by it (within the meaning of the 1989 Act),

(b) the applicant’s connetion with the child, and

(c) any representations made to the court by—

(i) the child, or

(ii) a person who has applied for the adoption order or in whose favour the adoption order is or has been made

Obviously, there’s a lot there, and it is written in Law not English.

The nub of it is, a birth parent, or someone with whom the child has lived for at least a year, can apply for an order for contact with that child, including staying contact, and the application can be made AFTER the adoption order is made.  They will need Leave of the Court to make that application – i.e there is a two stage test – can you persuade a Court to give you permission to make an application for contact, and then the Court deciding whether your application succeeds and you GET contact.

Leave applications are tricky – if you imagine that there’s a high jump bar, and that the parent will get leave if they can jump over it, and won’t get leave if they can’t, that’s a helpful way to look at it. The problem is, making sure that everyone knows exactly how high that bar is set and that a Judge doesn’t end up setting it too high, or too low. (That has been the subject of much of 2013s  law developments, with the Court of Appeal concluding that the bar on leave to oppose adoptions has been set too high for parents and needs to be adjusted to make it a fair test)

This test is contained in s51(5) which says that the Court MUST consider whether granting permission might disrupt the child’s life to such an extent that they would be harmed by it  (note that this is NOT whether contact would cause that harm, but allowing the ARGUMENT about contact would cause that harm). The wording here is strange, in that the reference to ‘harm’ then says in the meaning given in the Children Act 1989.  Does that therefore mean ‘significant harm’?

The Court MUST also consider the applicant’s connection with the child, and any views expressed by the child or the adopters.

You would have to say, in light of Re B-S, Re W et al of 2013, it is at best uncertain as to how any application for leave under s51 to apply for a contact order post adoption order being made would go. What we DO know is that the application would have to be served on the adopters (presumably via the Local Authority, as the parents won’t know the adopters address), and they would be represented in the leave argument hearing.

We don’t know whether public funding would cover a parent making a s51 application – it certainly isn’t automatic, which puts the parents in the hands of the generous discretion of the Legal Aid agency in making that decision. The adopters won’t automatically get legal aid to fund their legal costs either, even if they financially qualify.  That probably leaves the adopters going cap in hand to the Local Authority asking for help with legal fees, or paying out of their own pocket, or trying to represent themselves  (I honestly can’t see how the latter would work, particularly if the parent is representing themselves too)

In reality, a leave application can need the filing of evidence and a few hearings before the fight itself can take place. Note that in this leave requirement (unlike revocation of an SGO or Placement Order or leave to oppose adoption) there’s no requirement on the parent to show change or significant change since the order was made – they can just say that they want to have contact with their child.

The leave application can be a worrying and anxious time. It can potentially unsettle the child.

So my question really is

For a birth parent – is this a power that is potentially going to end up in you being able to get contact with your child post adoption, in which case it would be a good thing for you, or is it a ‘fake’ potential avenue that is actually a dead end just putting you through stress and optimism and then disappointment as each and every application for leave is refused? If it is the latter, why even put it in the Act?

For adopters – how does having this provision, knowing that you could be drawn into court proceedings and having to file statements and have arguments in court about contact, after the adoption order was made, make you feel?  And again, are they applications that have a chance of being made, or are you going through stress and anxiety for nothing?

Unless you are actually going to make s51 contact orders on parents applications after the adoption orders being made, it seems to me to just cause emotional pain to the parents because of false hope, and emotional pain and anxiety to adopters as they go through the process.  Does that then suggest that Parliament envisages that in some cases (not just the exceptionally rare ones) parents will succeed in these applications and get their contact?  And how will that change the character of adoption?

And in a final round-up, what prevents a parent who fails to get leave under s51 making another application next year, or the year after, or the year after that? They may never get their s51 leave, but they could hope to make life awkward and difficult for the adopters, maybe get the adopters worn down to offer a compromise or agree the contact sought.

Well, what “stops” this sort of hopeless, frivolous or vexatious litigation in the Children Act 1989  (and ‘stops’ is a bit strong) is section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, which gives the Court the power to say to a person who is making those applications, you can’t make them any more – or not without leave of the Court anyway

s91 (14)On disposing of any application for an order under this Act, the court may (whether or not it makes any other order in response to the application) order that no application for an order under this Act of any specified kind may be made with respect to the child concerned by any person named in the order without leave of the court.

Two problems with this

1. s91(14) applies to orders or applications made under the Children Act, whereas a s51 application is made under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 – there’s no provision similar to s91(14) under the Adoption and Children Act  (why would there be? Up until now, all applications ended once the adoption order was made)

2. Even if it did, all it does is turn the 2 stage test?  (May I make the application, can I have contact?) into a 3 stage test (may I ask whether I may make the application, may I make the application, can I have contact?)   And stage 1 still involves the adopters being notified, and having to come to court and fight the first stage, so really, what difference does it make?

So, to stop s51 applications being rained down on the adopters, the only real mechanism is to apply to the High Court to have the applicant declared as a vexatious litigant.  That forbids them from making any Court application without permission of the High Court   (so, we are back to the 3 stage test, with the problems already discussed)

[if you are interested further in the concept of vexatious litigants, this is a good speech on the topic, which gives the history and some projections for the future  http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/media/speeches/2006/speech-mor-30062006 ]

You also need to bear in mind that the current caselaw on making contact orders against adopters is not terribly helpful to parents. It has effectively two strands  – if the contact is agreed don’t make an order, and if the adopters don’t agree the contact there would need to be very compelling reasons to impose it on them.  (Are those guidelines dead in the water now that s51 is upon us? Is there genuinely a different ethos in Parliaments, and thus the laws view on making contact orders against adopters? We’ll have to wait and see how the Court of Appeal views this)    .

 
 
ADDENDUM EDIT
 
 
I am aware that my analysis of this has probably stirred up feelings of hope for birth parents and a degree of anxiety for adoptive parents. I am also aware that the Adoption Tsar, Martin Narey, considers that the provisions of s51 are primarily about allowing adopters to control contact and that there is no need for anxiety. I don’t want to make people worried unnecessarily, I’m not interested in scaremongering.
 
But, the power of the Court to make an order for contact AFTER the adoption order has been made is one that is within the new Act, and the power for a birth parent to seek to make that application is also there.  (I have seen the new application form, and it also makes it clear – there’s a box to fill in if you are a biological parent, and a box to fill in if the adoption order has already been made)
 
For me, the wording in s51A is clear – an order about contact can be made AFTER the adoption order is made, and an application can be made by a parent. The parent needs leave, and we simply don’t know at this point how the Courts will approach that leave decision. Post Re B-S, any application for leave is not as hopeless an application as it would have been a year ago, and the same is possibly true here.
 
For the child, it is certainly the case that contact post adoption won’t be ordered unless the Court look at it carefully and decide that it is in the child’s best interests (and the burden falls on the person seeking that contact). But for the adopters, and the parents, the actual leave application can still be stressful and anxious – both will have to attend Court and won’t be sure of the outcome.
 
As discussed in the blog immediately after this one, it seems highly likely that a biological parent won’t get legal aid to make the application – whether that makes things better or worse from an adopters point of view is hard to call.

 
 

Scissorhands versus Scissorhands

An imaginary judgment   [it has been a while, and I always like doing these].  This is like a Kramer versus Kramer for whimsical emo kids…

The Court is dealing today with an application by a father, Mr Edward Scissorhands, for contact with his son, Vincent. Vincent is just 3 months old, and lives with his mother, Kim Scissorhands. The parents have been estranged since the latter stages of the mother’s pregnancy with Vincent, and live apart.

 The unusual feature of this case is a stark one. Mr Scissorhands suffers from a unique physical disability, in that he does not possess hands with opposable thumbs and fingers, but rather a series of blades, five on each hand, the longest of which is approximately eighteen inches long.  Mr Scissorhands has learned, throughout his life, to use these ‘blade fingers’ with precision and accuracy, and the Court has been shown photographs of ice sculptures made by the father, which show both a high degree of artistic skill and control over these fingers.

 It is common ground in this case that Mr Scissorhands is a warm and kind man, who loves and adores his child and that he would be a positive influence and a good role model – his forebearance, inner strength, his kind heart and the way he has overcome what for many people would appear insurmountable obstacles, all do him enormous credit and would be a fine example for his son.

 Nor is there any ill-will or animosity between the parents, save for their disagreement as to whether contact can safely take place.

 The issue is whether, despite Mr Scissorhands knowledge of childcare and desire to put that knowledge into practice, he would be physically capable of doing so safely.

 It is factually correct, and Mr Scissorhands accepts this, that he could not hold his son, nor safely touch him, and that as a result, things that many parents take for granted, such as cuddling, tickling, hugging, changing a nappy, holding the child’s hand when crossing a road, are not possible for him.

 He was asked, by counsel representing the mother, for example, to demonstrate whilst in the witness box, how he would play a game of “peekaboo” and this resulted in several minor, but nonetheless real, cuts to his forehead, which would of course be not desirable for either the father or the child in what is ordinarily a happy and joyful interaction.

 The father’s face, I should add, does bear healing scars in a multitude of places, caused by inadvertent brushes of the scissor blades on his own face. 

One cannot easily ignore, despite understanding that the father would exercise all possible caution and care and would have no intention to cause any harm to Vincent, that if such accidental cuts have happened to the father, causing facial scarring, that it is a risk that cannot sensibly be ignored that a cut might happen, completely accidentally, to Vincent.

 I am invited by the mother to find that the father, not as a result of any culpability on his part but as a result of his unique personal characteristics, would pose a risk to Vincent in unsupervised contact, both in terms of an inability meet his needs  (he would be unable to hold or comfort Vincent if he were distressed and would be unable to change him, feeding him would potentially be manageable though difficult) and the risk of an accidental injury occurring.

 I have to confess that I found this aspect difficult. To make a finding of risk against a father where there is no culpability on his part, appeared at first blush to be harsh, and I had to take care in approaching this.

 However, I have to turn my mind to the test that the House of Lords set for assessing the risk of harm  (although this applies to public law proceedings, it is still pertinent in this private law case, considering as it does how the Court is to tackle the issue of future risk)

 Lord Nicholls in Re H [1996] AC 563 at 585F set out a likelihood of harm as: “a real possibility, a possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored having regard to the nature and gravity of the feared harm in the particular case.”

 It is not necessary, in determining whether there is a risk of harm to the child (as I must, this being not only a live issue for the Court to determine, but one of the relevant factors in the Welfare Checklist which I must have regard to), that is the basis on which I should approach it  – on the balance of probabilities, with the burden of proof being on the person who asserts risk (in this case mother) is there evidence of a risk that cannot sensibly be ignored.

 I have to answer that question in the affirmative. There is a risk that unsupervised contact would cause harm to Vincent, notwithstanding that father has no wish or desire to cause such harm and that he has nothing but love and warmth for Vincent.  When considering the harm element of the welfare checklist, I am not obliged to consider any mens rea or intent on the part of the parent.

 My conclusion is that Vincent would be at risk of harm in unsupervised contact and that the risk of harm could not be safely managed, despite any assurances that father could give. The harm would be in effect, outside of his ability to control, no matter how careful he would be, a momentary slip would cut this fragile baby.  A baby of 3 months needs to be changed, and comforted, needs to be cleaned, needs to be fed and held. The father, despite his clear desire to do so, is simply not in a position to do that safely.

 I am therefore driven to conclude that unsupervised contact for this father is not possible.

 I turn then to supervised contact. The mother is not willing to supervise the contact (and of course, directing an estranged parent to supervise the contact of their ex partner would be wholly unusual and indeed undesirable).  Nor are any members of her family willing to do so.

 The father has no family members who could undertake this task.

 Neither parent is in a financial position to fund the supervision of contact themselves.

 I have obviously then had to grapple with the fundamental principle that contact with both parents is vital for a child and that contact should not be ceased unless there are compelling reasons for this, only in exceptional circumstances, where there was no alternative. There is a raft of case law to that effect, the most recent being

 IN THE MATTER OF C (A CHILD) sub nom AL v (1) JH (2) C (A CHILD BY HER GUARDIAN) (2011) [2011] 2 FLR 912

 And therefore, a deal of thought has been given to whether some legal underpinning which ensures that there will be a supervisor for father’s contact, to allow him to have supervised contact until such time as Vincent is old enough to (a) not require such ‘hands on’ care and (b) to be in a position to recognise the need to be careful around his father and have the ability to keep himself safe.

 Having established that no family members can supervise the contact, that leaves only professionals.  A supported contact centre would not offer the degree of supervision that is required here – it must be more than merely ‘pop in’ or observed contact, there is a risk management function here.

 Whilst the Court could potentially make a direction for the Local Authority to prepare a report under section 7 of the Children Act 1989, and recommend to them that they prepare some observations of supervised contact, that would be only a short term solution, at best securing two or three supervised sessions of contact.

 Can they be obliged to supervise the father’s contact on an ongoing basis, as that is what is needed here?

 The answer, sadly, is that they are not.

 I cannot compel them under section 11 (7) (d) of the Children Act 1989, since I am not able to place conditions on contact that apply to third parties (as a result of s 11 (7) (b)

 I have been pointed to Family Assistance Orders pursuant to section 16 of the Children Act 1989, where the Court can order a Local Authority to ‘advise assist and befriend’ a family. Does that go so far as to require the supervision of contact?

 The case of S V P (CONTACT APPLICATION: FAMILY ASSISTANCE ORDER (1997)  1997] 2 FLR 277 suggests that a Court going over and above the requirement to advise, assist and befriend component of a Family Assistance Order goes too far.  Whilst I could invite the Local Authority to supervise contact under such an order, I cannot compel them to do so. I can direct s16 (4A ) for the LA to give advice and assistance regarding establishing, improving and maintaining contact, and direct for them to prepare a report s16 (6)

 Additionally, the FAO only lasts for 12 months, and what is required here is something much longer lasting.

 There is a temptation to consider making the FAO, directing that the father have supervised contact, and that the LA report in 12 months; and that is something I will store on the back burner for the moment. 

 I have also considered whether I could reasonably make an Interim Care Order (under which the Local Authority would have a duty to promote the father’s contact, and thus would have to provide supervision of it), but I cannot make such an order of the Court’s own motion, save for alongside a section 37 investigation. I could make more than one such order, if the section 37 report was in my judgment insufficient.  

 RE K (Children) 2012   [2013 1 FCR 87]  being authority for that point.

 But in my view, the most that could be achieved by doing so, would be to obtain a series of supervised contact sessions, and information about whether father could have meaningful contact in such a setting. It does nothing to secure the provision of ongoing supervision of contact; which would only happen if either the Local Authority wished to do so voluntarily, OR they voluntarily applied for a Care Order and one was made in due course.

 I have made enquiries of the Local Authority, and not surprisingly, they take the view that Vincent is being well cared for by his mother and that a Care Order is not required to protect him. They do not volunteer to either supervise his contact, other than as a ‘one off’ nor to issue proceedings.

 To make an Interim Care Order purely to facilitate contact appears to me, in the hackneyed phrase to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. 

  [Author’s note, I think I can recall a case several years ago where this was done and supported by the higher Courts but I can’t now find it – if anyone recalls it, please nudge me. It might be Re M (Intractable Contact Dispute :Interim Care Order 2003, [2003] 2 FLR 636 where the Court sanctioned a removal under an ICO and a section 37 to try to resolve an intractable contact dispute. I think it probably is. ]

 I thus, it appears to me, cannot order the Local Authority to provide the supervision of contact, and the best statutory provision is to make an order for weekly supervised contact, make the Family Assistance Order for 12 months and direct the LA to report on their work in 12 months time, adjourning any final decisions until that point.

 It must be open to question whether the Court could utilise the same rationale as in Re K (Children) 2012, to make repeated Family Assistance Orders where the report does not cover what is desired  (i.e reports on the quality of that supervised contact and some ongoing commitment to supervise in the future)     – the Court of Appeal in Re K took the view that as there was nothing in statute to PREVENT repeated s37s, it was lawful to do so, and that therefore could be argued in this case, were I to do so.   Thus, a succession of Family Assistance Orders could potentially be made, leading to many years of litigation, albeit litigation only revisited annually.

  Instead, however, I make an order that the mother should make Vincent available for contact with his father once per week for two hours.

 I am entitled, under section 11 to make directions as to how that section 8 contact order will come into effect, and those of course include the handover venue.

 Very well, I have determined, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, and the welfare checklist, with Vincent’s welfare being my paramount consideration, that the handover venue should be the reception area of the Local Social Services offices. The father is not to have unsupervised contact, and is not to leave that reception area with Vincent without the express approval of the Local Authority. Those are matters that I direct, pursuant to section 11 of the Children Act 1989

 I will ensure that a transcript of this judgment, which indicates that Vincent would be at a risk of serious harm if the father’s contact were not supervised, and that any professional who knowingly allowed Vincent to come to that risk would, in my judgment be negligent. 

 I trust to the goodwill and sensible nature of the Local Authority staff that they would not allow Vincent to be subjected to a risk of significant harm that a Judge has carefully determined cannot sensibly be ignored.  I am sure that they will step in and make sure that Vincent is watched and observed and kept safe during the two hour period when he will be in their reception area (or such other venue as they choose to transport him and the father to)

 The parents, may of course, vary the handover location by agreement.

 I am certain that any reasonable Local Authority, mindful of their duties towards a child in need (and I find that Vincent is such a child) in their immediate proximity would conduct their section 17 assessment of his needs REASONABLY and conclude that he needs to have the relationship with his father that the Court have determined is vital for him, and that in order for him to be safe, there is a need for services, in the form of supervision.

 If I am wrong in my certainty, then another Court will look at this case, either by way of judicial review, or a civil claim for negligence.

 Thank you all for your time. 

 

 edward scissorhands

 

 

[As ever with my imaginary judgments, all I did was have the kernel of an idea – what would happen in Court if Edward Scissorhands have a baby? And then run with that, with no idea of how my imaginary Judge would get herself out of this predicament that I had cheerfully dug for her.  I didn’t get on to the disability discrimination aspects, though it does seem to me that it is solely the result of father being physically disabled and not having hands, that has resulted in him not having unsupervised contact. 

 

The joy of this draconian decision (which occurred to my imaginary Judge, who I think is called  Judge Knott-Lestyebe  is that not being a party to the proceedings, though the LA would want to appeal it, they may struggle to do so.

 

Although even this footnote now gets its own footnote  – a person who can show that they are a person interested, aggrieved or prejudicially affected by the judgment may appeal with leave  Re M (Prohibited Steps : Application for Leave} 1993 1 FLR 275.  

Of course, this is all mere fiction and fancy and any lawyer will recognise the most ridiculously far-fetched element of the whole piece – there is no way that post LASPO either party would have had counsel ]

 

Family preservation versus child rescue

I was kindly sent Dr Peter Dale’s response to the Government consultation on contact with children in care, and sibling placement in adoption.

 

I blogged about those consultations here :-

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/23/we-are-family-ive-got-all-my-sisters-with-me-or-beware-of-the-leopard/ 

 

 

Anyway, here is Dr Dale’s response.

 

http://www.peterdale.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ContactPaperResponseAug2012.pdf

 

 

Whilst I don’t agree with absolutely everything Dr Dale says, I like to read things that I don’t agree with, and I particularly like reading things that make me change my view about things.  This document did that, and for that reason, I commend it to you.

 

It also chimed with some things that were in my mind about where we are currently headed with family justice, and my overriding uneasy impression that there’s nothing in the Family Justice Review or the legislation and practice that’s going to flow from it which is about the fundamentals of whether Society wants what we’re currently doing, and whether we ought to step back from the 1989 Act and see how it is working. 

 

Not in terms of processes, and costs and times – it’s awful on all of those things, and that’s what the Family Justice Review has focussed on, but on the bigger issues of whether the whole interaction between State and parents is what the general public would want, or whether, as is alleged by critics of the system it has created a horrible sense of injustice and unfairness where professionals are powerful and parents are powerless.

 

Are the people working within the Family Justice System out of step with what society as a whole would think about when the State ought to intervene and care for your children, and what is child abuse, and what is what Hedley J described in Re L as Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent.

 

 

It’s always a good thing, I suspect, to question that. It’s very easy to assess any case against the backdrop of your own experience, but even when that experience seems quite large, it is really just tiny and trivial compared to the overall numbers of care proceedings.

 

And whilst I can look at the risks of harm in a case and have a good feel for whether the Courts I appear in will consider it manageable or not manageable, that gives me no proper sense of what UK society as a whole would think.

 

I think that most people in the UK would agree that children should not be sexually abused  (although even on that, one person’s view as whether a man who five years ago groped a fifteen year old daughter of a previous partner is now a risk of sexual abuse to his own baby boy is probably going to differ from anothers),  but I suspect that there’s a multitude of views on physical abuse and where the line is drawn between parental chastisement and abuse  (I think most people would say no to broken arms and legs, but there would be a difference of opinion about bruising) and neglect would be very hard to get a consensus on, and emotional harm even more so.

 

Is there a value in care proceedings calibrating themselves against what the general population or society at large would consider to meet Significant Harm?  Where do we want, as a society, to draw the line of ‘this is unusual or not very good parenting but let them get on with it’  against ‘this child can’t stay at home

 

I think it’s something that’s not really been attempted, and I’d be interested in the results. Should a parent not have a clear idea, long before they ever meet a social worker, of what sort of parenting falls so below society’s standards that the State would intervene?

 

I would like to hope that if you pulled out a random judgment from any care case decided by any  Court in the country since the Children Act came into being, and gave it to a journalist, they might think at worst  “well, that could have gone the other way, and it was finely balanced. I might disagree, but I can see why it happened” but would never think “god, that’s just outrageous, how could they have possibly not got those kids back? This is a scandal”  

 

I’d like to hope that, but I can’t say for certain. Maybe of 1000 random cases, there’d be one that produces the ‘outrageous’ reaction, maybe 60, maybe 300.  We have no way of knowing.  I suspect, hand on heart, that there are more ‘outrageous’ cases than I’d like to believe, but less than the Hemming/Brooker camp would believe.  But either of us could be wrong. We might both be (and probably are)

 

I’d like to see, for example, the collation of anonymised threshold documents from every case, so that research could be done on whether this fluctuates over time and between areas, and to have a proper sense of what it is, in  a family justice system that results in Care Orders being made.

 

Anyway, enough about me, on with Dr Dale.

 

He opens with this :-

 

“there are major philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural differences as to what constitutes a child’s “best interests”. Such differences are apparent throughout the history of childcare literature, and dominant viewpoints rise and fall. The field of child protection in general, and specifically permanent separation/adoption, is permeated by variations and polarities of apparently reasonable opinion. Over time the social policy pendulum has swung back and forth across the continuum that has “familypreservation’’ principles at one pole; and “child rescue” principles at the other. Each position is internally logically consistent and can call on research to support its belief systems (as to what is “best” for children). Notably each paradigm/mindset when implemented gives rise to unintended negative consequences (which may only become apparent over time).”

 

 

And I think he is completely right. I suspect, as he believe, that we are in a period of “child rescue” being the dominant thinking, and that this is colouring Government thinking on the Family Justice Review, on adoption scorecards and on these consultations.

 

[Cynically, if you’re in the Government, and you’re imagining the headlines for ‘another Cleveland’ or ‘another Baby P’ and had to choose one of those two to encounter, I suspect most ministers would choose another Cleveland.   I’m sure it has never been as overt as that]

 

 

Dr Dale talks at some length about the risks of ‘child rescue’ and I think it is worth setting them out in full, because they are well constructed and interesting.

 

“In essence, what the DoE/Narey report recommends is a reinforcement of “childrescue” principles and practices that in the 1940s–1960s saw thousands of children in state care being forcibly emigrated to places such as Australia, Canada and South Africa without the knowledge of their parents (and without any continuing contact). Of course, at the time, the agencies involved (including Children’s charities such as Barnardos) considered that this was “in the best interests” of these children. History informs us otherwise (Humphrey 1996).

 

It is of note that compulsory adoption, and adoption without contact, is anathema in Australia and New Zealand because of the history of mass forced adoption of Aboriginal and Maori children known as the “Stolen Generation(http://reconciliaction.org.au/nsw/education-kit/stolen-generations/). The South Australian government formally apologised on 18 July 2012 for this history of forced adoption. The following notice appeared in the South Australian press on 14/7/2012:

Government of South Australia: Forced Adoption Practices.

“On behalf of the South Australian Government the Premier, the Hon Jay Weatherill MP, will deliver a formal Apology to mothers and fathers whose children were removed because of forced adoption practices from the past, and to people who were separated from their parents as infants as a result of those practices. The Apology will be delivered at the South Australian Parliament from 11am on Wednesday 18 July 2012.”

1.4 I predict a UK government apology for recent and current practices of forced adoption in about 30 years time.

1.5 In this context, the proposals in the DoE/Narey paper are technical measures to further implement “child rescue” principles, policies and practices. In my view, a broader theoretical perspective is required to ensure that the proposed changes do not have adverse outcomes and unintended negative consequences.

 

It is always worth a reality check, and this whole section is one.  Maybe we will recoil in horror in 30 years time at the idea of forced adoptions.

 

It may well be that in years to come, the concept of the State adopting children against the will of the parent may be something that boggles the mind, just as reading that in the 1940s-1960s the State took children in care and forcibly emigrated them to the other side of the world boggles the mind now.  I’m sure that nobody involved in that practice at the time thought that they were doing anything other than something that was good for the children, even if with the passage of time it now seems unfathomable, and we can’t disregard the possibility that in time, things that seem ‘good practice’ now will become anathema.

 

For that reason, I would support a family justice review that didn’t look just at processes and system but the whole overarching philosophy of how the interaction between State and parents who are considered to be not meeting their children’s needs should take place. What does Society want from a family justice system?  How much help does Society want to give struggling parents? More than is delivered at present, I suspect.

 

 

There’s some very detailed deconstruction of the Kenrick research that colours so much of the Government consultation on contact. I’m not going to get in the ring between Dr Dale and Kenrick, but I would suggest that at the very least, and as with any research, accepting it uncritically is not wise to do. If you’re involved in any way with contact between children and parents, I think Dr Dale’s analysis of this is worth reading, even if you eventually settle more on the Kenrick side of the debate, because it is a properly constructed assessment of the other side of the coin.

 

 

Some more on compulsory adoption here :-

 

1.45 Compulsory adoption is often referred to as being the most draconian outcome in UK law since the abolition of the death penalty. In cases of murder, the death penalty was imposed following a finding of guilt by a jury at the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt). The outcome of compulsory adoption occurs on the basis of findings by a single judge at the lower civil level of proof (balance of probabilities). In both scenarios, miscarriages of justice are known to occur.

 

1.46 In the same way as a hanged man cannot be revived and reprieved, children who have been wrongly subject to compulsory adoption cannot be returned to their innocent parents. [e.g. Norfolk County Council v Webster [2007] 2 FLR 415]. In the sad case of four-month-old baby Jayden Wray in 2012, two parents were accused of his murder; and had a new baby removed from their care with a plan for adoption, until it was confirmed that Jayden had in fact died from undiagnosed rickets. (LB of Islington v Al Alas and Wray [2012] EWHC 865 (Fam).) Faster compulsory adoption raises risks of inadequate investigation in complex medical cases; proper exploration of alternative (less draconian) placements (e.g. kinship care); and scrutiny of the judicial process.

 

 

 

[As someone within the system – and I am trying here to be honest in accepting that that doesn’t necessarily put me in the best position, I think cases should be determined on the civil standard of proof and by a Judge, rather than to the criminal standard and before a jury – but I do think that a proper debate about this to reach a consensus as to what Society thinks is legitimate. And if Society had a different view to me, the law ought to be looked at.   I can see an argument that can’t be dismissed out of hand  that if a person is accused of stealing from a shop, they can insist on a trial by jury and the criminal standard of proof, but can’t get that for a determination of whether they’ve abused their child]

 

I share Dr Dale’s fears that we are rushing into a faster resolution of the most drastic step that the law can take in a persons life, without having first done the most basic exercise of  “Is the system actually getting the right answers now?”

 

 

As Billy the Kid once said  “Speed’s fine, partner, but accuracy’s final”  

 

I know the stats about the high proportion of cases where the order sought by the Local Authority is the one made by the Court, and also the NSPCC research on the children who were rehabilitated home having too high a proportion going on to suffer further significant harm, or to go on to come back into care.

 

But I am troubled by the fact that we don’t have a clear sense of whether we currently are on the ‘family preservation versus child rescue’ scale is a place where society and the general public would be content with, if they knew.

 

I would like to think that if there were some huge detailed investigation whereby proper impartial researchers with access to proper information and data would conclude that in the vast majority of cases, Courts make Care Orders for proper reasons and that whilst mistakes are made and every one is a human tragedy, they are rare and the appeal process rectifies them.

 

But I have to accept that I am within the system, and maybe I believe that because the alternative is too hard to contemplate. Those outside the system, certainly a significant body of them, believe the opposite, that a proper root and branch investigation would show that the State is letting families down, removing them for insufficient reason and not doing enough to support them, and that social workers are mistreating parents.

 

Dr Dale’s consideration of the case of Re K (A Child: Post Adoption Placement Breakdown) [Neutral Citation Number: [2012] EWHC B9 (Fam)].  Which I have blogged about here    

 

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/30/forensic-ferrets-or-standing-in-the-way-of-beyond-parental-control/

is very interesting. That’s clearly a case where judicial scrutiny of a case has led to the Judge determining that the Local Authority’s treatment of the parents was ‘not only inappropriate and wrong but cruel’    and it’s easy to see, when you read cases like this, why the people who rail against Local Authorities have a point.  Sometimes Local Authorities behave extremely badly. What we don’t know, is how often.

 

This is not the sort of thing that should happen, but it still does, and we have no way of knowing, without a proper independent look at the body of care cases as a whole whether this is an awful aberration (as I would claim) or an illustration of how social workers behave and usually get away with (as the forced adoption camp would claim).

 

3.23 If the UK practice of compulsory adoption continues with no direct contact for the child with natural family members during childhood, I predict in the not-too distant future, an increase in the phenomenon of adoptive parents being rejected and abandoned by their alienated adoptive children who ‘vote with their feet’ and return to their natural families. This is a tragic outcome for all three parties in the ‘adoption triangle’. It is one, in my experience, that adoptive parents are not warned to expect by social/adoption workers.

 

 

 

I suspect that the consultation, as I hinted darkly, is already a done deal, that the new thinking is all about ‘child rescue’   – I note that there’s nothing being launched by the Government to measure the statistics of children successfully rehabilitated to the care of parents, or of interventions with troubled families that avoid the need for care proceedings, or a league table congratulating Local Authorities for being able to keep children within the family.

 

 

It would be nice to have an emphasis on the importance of ‘family preservation’ and balancing it properly against ‘child rescue’ on the basis that it is the right and proper thing to do, rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to another Cleveland, Orkney or Rochdale.

I wish I was Special, you’re so very Special (Guardians)

 

 Some musings on Special Guardianship, and particularly what the ‘character’ of such placements are when it comes to working out level of contact

 

 

I did an SGO hearing this week, and two things struck me on it. 

 

The first, is quite simple, but struck me for really the first time. We did the hearing, which involved broad agreement and ample praise about the placement itself and the making of an SGO, but then quite a bit of to-and-fro and drawing up preambles about contact. We then had a very short hearing, the orders made as drafted, and as I left, and thanked the Special Guardians, they remarked “is that it? What happens now?” and I told them about the order, and keeping it safe and whatnot.

 

But it really did strike me, that we are making an order for a child to live permanently with a family member, and there’s nothing like the ‘celebration’ hearing that there is for an adoption hearing, when the system has a hearing that isn’t about detail, or wrangling, or dispute, and is just a simple hearing which the child and the carers attend to just formally recognise that this is important and should be a sense of occasion. Should SGOs end, as they do now, with a whimper, rather than a bang?

 

 

The second, is more complex, and potentially more interesting (if you are a geek), and I would thank counsel for the mother for raising it.  [I won’t name her, but it was a fascinating issue – well, to me at least]

 

The question, in simple terms, is this :-

 

When determining the level of ongoing contact, do SGO placements have a particular character, or is the contact just determined on a case by case basis?

 

 

To illustrate – here are three possible outcomes for children who are subject to care proceedings if they don’t go home, and three possible levels of contact.  From the relatively narrow cross-section I have done, I can readily match them up, but is that just a result of a narrow cross-section, or local practice, or is it reflective of the placements having a particular character which produces a particular contact regime

 

Adoption with a stranger

SGO with a relative / foster carer

Long-term fostering with a foster carer

 

 and three possible contact quantums

 

Six times per year

Two or three times per year

No direct contact or once per year

 

 

Maybe you haven’t matched them the same way I did, based on my narrow experience; but it does seem to me that there’s something of a spectrum of character (and frequency of contact) which starts with Adoption (and low contact at one end) and Long-term fostering (and six or so sessions of contact at the other).

SGOs come somewhere on that spectrum, but are they (as I was arguing), closer to Adoption, being a form of permanence, or as the parents were legitimately arguing, closer to long-term fostering?

 

On the one hand, one can see the parents perspective that it feels peculiar to have a higher level of contact if your child is placed with a stranger than if the child were placed with a member of your family; on the other that managing contact where the child is in the care of the State is different than when the child is permanently cared for by an individual who has legal responsibility for them. 

 

 

So, does an SGO placement have a particular form of character, which makes it Permanence, and this has an impact on the right sort of contact for that child?

 

Or, is the character of the type of placement completely irrelevant in SGOs and the right level of contact falls completely on an analysis of the particular case?

The original White Paper is interesting here – look at this bit (my underlining):-

 

“5.10 The Government will legislate to create this new option,

which could be called “special guardianship”. It will only be

used to provide permanence for those children for whom

adoption is not appropriate, and where the court decides it is in

the best interests of the child or young person. It will:−

give the carer clear responsibility for all aspects of caring for

the child or young person, and for making the decisions to

do with their upbringing. The child or young person will no

longer be looked after by the Council; provide a firm foundation on

which to build a life−long permanent relationship between the

carer and the child or young person; preserve the legal link

between the child or young person

and their birth family; be accompanied by a proper access to a full

range of support services including, where appropriate, financial

support.”

 

 

Now, I’m not at all sure that SGOs are ‘only used to provide permanence for those children for whom adoption is not appropriate’  but that does suggest that “Permanence” was in the mind of those who constructed the Act and concept.

What we do know, in terms of character, is that SGOs are not just a family member version of Adoption. The Court of Appeal made that plain in RE AJ (A CHILD) (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 55  and also RE S (A CHILD) (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 54

 

Special guardianship orders did not effectively replace adoption orders in cases where children were to be placed permanently within their wider families. No doubt there were many cases in which a special guardianship order would be the appropriate order, but each case had to be decided on what was in the best interests of the particular child on the particular facts of the case

And in terms of contact, certainly the Court treat the views of adopters and SGOs differently.

 

Compare RE L  (A CHILD) (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 196 which dealt with Special Guardians who were appealing a contact order being made that they had opposed and the Court of Appeal upheld the original contact order

 

With  RE R (A CHILD) (2005) [2005] EWCA Civ 1128  where the Court of Appeal held that making contact orders in the teeth of opposition from adopters was highly unusual, and effectively wouldn’t be done unless the Court considered the adopters were objectively and subjectively unreasonable.

 

In Re L – the contact order and various conditions, had been at the behest of the Local Authority,  and the grandparents were deeply unhappy about it. They sought to argue that, in terms, if the Court were making an SGO they ought really to let the Special Guardians get on with it, and not fetter their exercise of parental responsibility.

 

This is what the Court of Appeal said about that  (underlining mine)

 

33. There is in my mind no doubt that GP are correct in their understanding that the SGO confers parental responsibility upon them to a greater extent than they enjoyed under the residence order. It is apparent to me that the special guardian can trump the exercise of parental responsibility by a parent. The Local Authority have no parental authority and never have had in this case. Often a SGO will replace an existing care order and then by virtue of s. 91(5A) of the Children Act 1989 the SGO discharges the care order. All of this sits comfortably with the philosophy which lies behind the introduction of this new form of order. It is intended to promote and secure stability for the child cemented into this new family relationship. Links with the natural family are not severed as in adoption but the purpose undoubtedly is to give freedom to the special guardians to exercise parental responsibility in the best interests of the child. That, however, does not mean that the special guardians are free from the exercise of judicial oversight.

 

34. S. 14B(1) requires the court when making the SGO to consider whether a contact order should also be made. The obvious beneficiaries of that contact order are the natural parents who have been sidelined but not totally displaced by the making of this order. If a contact order is made then it can be hedged about with conditions see s. 11(7) and s 14E(5) of the Act. S. 14B(2) also permits the court to give leave (and by implication, therefore, to refuse to give leave) for the child to be known by a new surname. It follows as night follows day that the court has the jurisdiction to make the orders set out in paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the judge’s order and GP’s attack has, therefore, to be one directed at the manner in which the judge exercised the discretion she so clearly had.

 

 

What the Court effectively decided here was that the views of the SGO about contact were not binding or final, and where it was appropriate to make a contact order in the teeth of opposition from the SGOs (or prospective SGOs), the Court could do so.

 

Wilson L.J did express a measure of disquiet about contact being imposed in the face of such opposition, before concluding that it had been a matter for the trial judge, not the appellate Court :-

 

67. I have however felt some, if transient, hesitation about the proper approach to the only other substantial part of the grandparents’ appeal, namely their objection to the order for supervised contact, outside the home and in their absence, between E and the mother. For example I have asked myself whether the judge sufficiently factored into her reasoning either the profundity of the grandparents’ opposition to such contact; or their sense of outrage in the event that their conviction as to where E’s interests lie were to be overruled; or their apparent state of emotional exhaustion; or the importance for E that the pressures upon them should not become insupportable.

Would I (so I have wondered) have made an order, in the teeth of opposition of that character, that, in accordance with the detailed provisions of the “Package of FamilySupport” annexed to the order, a child then less than four years old should, on 5November 2006, i.e. only two months after the date of the order, be collected by a”contact supervisor”, whom the child will be likely to have met only twice, and takenaway for four hours to meet the mother for the first of the six occasions of contact?

68. But, almost as quickly as they have crept into my mind, I have had to remind myself that such questions are not aptly posed to himself by an appellate judge. The essence of our system for such determinations of issues as depend upon the exercise of a discretion is that it is for the trial judge to conduct the exercise by evaluation of the rival arguments following full exposure to the evidence by sight and sound. The role of the appellate court is limited to an enquiry into whether the judge’s reasoning betrays error in the manner of her or his conduct of the exercise or whether the determination must be the product of such error in that it is plainly wrong.

 

 

What is left unsaid, is how much weight, if any, ought to be given to the views of the prospective carer.

 

The views of the prospective SGOs (and equally, the views of the parents) don’t expressly come within the Welfare Checklist that the Court must consider, but it would be hard to imagine that a Judge would not take into account, say, that the SGO was willing to countenance contact three times per year and the parent wanted twelve. Both of those views must form some part of the decision-making process.

 

It is interesting*, of course, that in Re L, the Court of Appeal decided that the legal powers to make a contact order alongside SGO existed, ergo it was a judicial discretion to make them in the teeth of opposition, whereas in Re R, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that the legal tools were there to make a contact order alongside adoption but imported a rule of thumb that to do so in the face of genuine opposition from the adopters would be highly unusual  (not quite a rebuttable presumption against contact orders in adoption cases, but not a great distance from that)

 

[*to me, not necessarily universally]

 

So, it is plain that there is some distance on the spectrum between Adoption and SGO, and in the way the Court will treat such placements when considering contact.  But how much distance remains uncertain.

 

[I know that there are some Family Placement folk who read this blog, and I would really welcome some views on it.  I’m mindful that SGOs have been legal for about eight years now – I think the Adoption and Children Act 2002 that introduced them got phased in, in 2004; and that probably the majority of children who have been made subject to SGOs remain so, being still children. I wonder how much, if any, research has been done to examine children’s experiences of SGOs, and where that research might take us.  Is there some part of the contact process which differs in a case of Permanence  (where the child’s needs are being met, legally and on the ground, by individuals, rather than by the State?) ]

 

 

 

 

Post-script

 

I was wrong, in a discussion with my wonderful significant other this week, about how hard it is for a parent to over-turn an SGO once made. I said it was relatively easy, and she thought it would be very hard.

 

I’d thought that the application would just be a straightforward section 10(9) leave application  (i.e that if you had a good enough case to argue about the Court discharging the SGO, you’d be able to argue it) but I see now from  RE G (A CHILD) (2010) [2010] EWCA Civ 300  that the Court of Appeal have ruled that it is appropriate to use the Warwickshire  test   from WARWICKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL (Appellant) v M (Respondent) & (1) M (2) L (BY THEIR CHILDREN’S GUARDIAN) (Interveners) (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 1084  that test being  (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much)  “the law says you have to have a mechanism that lets you challenge this order at a later point and there’s a hurdle to get over, but the Courts are blowed if they are going to set you a hurdle that any actual human being could ever get over, in order to use that mechanism”

 

Using the Warwickshire test makes it very hard, without question.  

So, my wonderful significant other was right, and I was wrong. Not for the first, nor I fear the last time.

We are family, I’ve got all my sisters with me… (or “Beware of the leopard” )

 An analysis of the Government’s consultation on placement of siblings and contact post placement

 

The Government, as is their usual way, published consultation documents on a Saturday, and gave everyone just over a month to respond. [This is becoming closer and closer to Douglas Adam’s jaded viewpoint on planning consultations]

 

” But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

“Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

“But the plans were on display …”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard

 

But I digress…

The consultation on sibling placements can be found here:-

http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/s/placing%20children%20in%20sibling%20groups%20for%20adoption%20a%20call%20for%20views.pdf

and the one on contact arrangements for children can be found here:-

http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/r/contact%20arrangements%20for%20children%20a%20call%20for%20views.pdf

and Martin Narey’s interview about these consultations is here:-

http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/doc/m/martin%20narey%20transcript%20on%20adoption.doc

Now, if you were in two minds about whether you wanted to be involved in yet another consultation document, particularly where minds have probably already been made up, as is traditional with government consultations, let me take you to Martin Narey’s interview and his views about the benefits of contact :-

 

The evidence shows, actually, that contact does not necessarily encourage reconciliation with the birth family. More broadly, the evidence is mixed. I think the most famous piece of research is from Mackaskill, which showed that contact was of benefit to children in 12%, and had positive and negative aspects in more than 50% of cases, but had a very negative effect on the child in 25% of cases. In short, contact is more likely to be damaging than beneficial to a child. The key is to make a decision on each individual case. My view, and this is a view on which Ministers have yet to make a decision, is that we’ve got to look carefully at the presumption in the 1989 Children’s Act, which says that local authorities must endeavour to promote contact between a child in care and their birth family.

Now before people are alarmed, I am not suggesting that in the overwhelming number of cases when a child first comes into care that there won’t be contact. It would be ridiculous to suggest so. But we just need to make sure that on every occasion, we grant contact because it is in the interests of the child. That’s the absolute, exclusive priority we have and sometimes, practitioners have told me frequently, we make decisions on contact which aren’t in the interests of the child. Sometimes that’s about the amount of contact. I have met so many practitioners who are, the word I would use carefully, is ‘horrified’, they are horrified at the amount of contact that infants have to undergo. Sometimes having contact every day of the week, two or more hours, preceded and followed by a long journey across town, it’s traumatic for them.

If you disagree with that, and I suspect there may be people on every single side of the family justice system who DO disagree, you’re going to need to say so, otherwise some important things are going to flow from this.

[I have little doubt that for some children, contact is bloody awful, but I think it is incumbent on the LA and the Court to determine that with evidence contact is not in a particular child’s interests, rather than any shift about the general presumption that contact is a good thing]

I actually think, to let you know that I’m not just knee-jerk against any idea of change, that the consultation document on sibling placements talks a lot of sense.

Whilst in an ideal world, we might want to keep siblings together if they can’t go home (and I have blogged about this before), that simply isn’t the world we are living in. We are walking into a  McDonalds with a shiny pound coin in hand  and expecting to have a Michelin starred experience.

Julie Selwyn (2010)7 found that sibling groups of three or more children were placed, on average, a year later than most children who are placed for adoption in England.8 Analysis of prospective adopters and children on the national Adoption Register shows few adopters willing to consider adopting more than one child at a time. This means that children in sibling groups are less likely to find a secure future home quickly, and may suffer harm as a result.

And This is only part of the picture. It is also genuinely difficult to find adopters who will take sibling groups of three children or more. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) has indicated that as demand for potential adopters increases, some are pulling back from the more challenging children, including sibling groups. Data from the Adoption Register in 2011/12 shows that of the 2536 children referred to the Register from England, 1318 (52%) were single children placements; there were 349 groups of two siblings, 71 groups of three siblings, four groups of four siblings, and there was one group of five siblings. There were 270 people on the register able to adopt groups of 2 children and 21 able to consider groups of 3 children. Some adopters do go on to adopt a sibling born later thus achieving placement of siblings.

 

Yes, you read that right. There are 21 carers on the national register who have expressed an interest in adopting a sibling group of 3 or more. I think I could genuinely take half of those with just my current batch of cases; and I’m just a small portion of one Local Authority.

The consultation document wants to tackle it from both sides, what might be deemed ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ – how can we attract more potential carers who are amenable to sibling groups, how can we convert more people who want to adopt 1 child into adopting a larger group, and is it sensible to cut down the amount of cases that are coming into the system hoping for an adoptive placement of 3 siblings together when that is just unfeasible? And part of that is tackling the general assumption that sibling groups should always be placed together and getting into the nuts and bolts of whether that is right for this family.

Narey talks about the distance between the numbers of children looking for sibling placements and the number of placements available as ‘a gulf’ and I absolutely agree.

The document identifies the problems and throws the doors open to sensible solutions and practical proposals – it seems to me to be a genuine attempt at consultation and to ventilate this very difficult issue with a view to coming up with some ideas. It doesn’t seem to start with a fixed plan with which people are invited to enthusiastically agree or else shut the hell up.

The contact consultation document, I respectfully suggest, is a little further down the route of “we have already got a good idea what we want to do, but we’re obliged to consult with the great unwashed about it”

This is up front and centre at paragraph 3 of the consultation:-

The Government thinks that it is time to review practice and the law relating to contact to make sure that arrangements are always driven by a thorough assessment of what is in the child’s best interests. There is growing concern that contact arrangements are being made that are inappropriate for the child, badly planned and badly monitored. These are being driven by view that contact should take place, rather than on the basis of the individual needs, circumstances, views and wishes of the child. As the number of children in care rises, so the burden and negative impact of poor contact becomes more pressing.

 

Which even I, as a hard-bitten Local Authority hack, driven to distraction about fights over contact taking place five days a week when the parent then only turns up for two; think is somewhat less than neutral in a consultation document  and smacks of an opinion already being formed.

Contact for infants can be particularly problematic. There is pressing evidence that high intensity contact for this group can be stressful and disruptive. Of particular concern is the exposure to multiple carers and the constant disruption to a daily routine. Contact for infants may be arranged for several hours a day for three to five (or more) days a week. Kenrick (2009)14 studied the effect of contact on infants involved in Coram’s concurrent planning project. The study showed that the babies displayed distress before, during and following contact sessions, and that the requirement for frequent contact was experienced as disruptive by the child and carers. The concurrent carers who reported distress and anxiety, described the need for a resting or recovery time of 24 hours to “settle” the child, something which is impossible with such frequent contact arrangements. For infants who have been abused or neglected, the distress from frequent and unsatisfactory contact can make it more difficult for them to recover.

 

I don’t necessarily disagree with this; it’s been a schism between what the family justice system thinks is right level of contact for infants and what the research thinks is right for some time, and it is worth trying to thrash this out, to come to a sensible balance between preserving/building a relationship between child and parent and stability for the child. I think we have probably drifted too far one way on that, and I welcome an attempt to actually pull together the evidence and come to a proper conclusion about where the welfare paramountcy principle should stand on contact for infants (on the Justice Munby end of the scales – five times per week of four-five hours, or on the Kenrick end of the scales, or somewhere between). I just wish it had been couched as a debate, rather than a declaration of war.

Statutory guidance can be strengthened to ensure more consideration is particularly given to the purpose of contact for infants. Ensuring that arrangements are appropriate to their age and stage of development and they are not, for example, subject to long journeys. Each case will need to be decided on an individual basis, however we should like to propose that a good starting point might be that children under two are rarely exposed to contact more than 2 or 3 times a week and for sessions of no more than 2 hours

 

I wonder if the Government have thought through the inevitable consequence of this that there will be a far greater clamour from parents, Guardians and Courts for less separations (since the impact of separation appears far greater with 4-6 hours contact a week than it is with 20-25 hours contact per week) and thus a huge increase in risks being managed at home, parent and baby placements and residential assessments. I’ve spoken before about the law of unintended consequences and I think this is a massive one.

 

22. We also plan to look again at the duties on local authorities in primary legislation to allow children in care reasonable contact with their birth parents and to promote contact for looked after children. We think that these duties may encourage a focus on the existence and frequency of contact arrangements, rather than on whether they safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. This could remove the perceived presumption of contact in all cases and help local authorities to take a case-by-case decision about the best contact arrangements for the individual child. We recognise that these duties were introduced because some local authorities did not previously make adequate arrangements for contact, and we do not want to see a return to contact being exceptional rather than the norm.

23. Alternatively we could look at replacing the duties with a new requirement that local authorities consider contact arrangements that have a clear purpose documented in the child’s care plan and are in the child’s best interests. The intention would be to ensure that arrangements are made in the child’s best interests, taking account of views and wishes of all concerned, and aligned with the longer term plans for the child.

And on post-Placement contact

36. We need to ensure that contact arrangements change as a child’s circumstances change and that they are consistent with plans for the child’s future. We also want to discourage the practice of making informal arrangements or ‘deals’ outside of the court process. In order that contact arrangements are, and remain, fit for purpose, we could look at existing provisions for reviewing contact and ensure a formal review and decision making process takes place at each of the points set out above. We could look at existing guidance and regulations and consider where and how these can be strengthened.

37. There could be particular scope for this at the point of placement order. At present, there is no presumption for or against contact with the birth family at this stage. We could introduce a presumption of ‘no contact’ unless the local authority is satisfied that contact would be in the best interests of the child. For example, this might be the case where an older child, with the backing of his or her adoptive parents, expresses a wish to meet his or her birth parents.

And specifically on post-adoption contact

 

49. One option may be to provide that the court can on application for an adoption order make an order for no contact. This would give adoptive parents recourse where informal contact arrangements were causing difficulties, but this would only take effect once an adoption order has been made. Post-adoption contact should be exceptional but in a minority of cases it may be appropriate, for example in the case of an older child. What should govern such contact arrangements is what is in the best interests of the child.

50. In addition to introducing a “no contact” order, we could amend legislation to create a new more demanding ‘permission filter’. This would raise the bar for any birth parent to make an application for a contact order. Criteria for granting permission already exists therefore we could explore how this might be strengthened.

If you don’t speak up, you can’t complain and whinge when this agenda gets pushed through into legislation and binding guidance. You have until the 31st August. Good job nobody who will want to reply would be on holiday during any of that time…

My kith and kin, oh I have sinned

Research on Contact in kinship placements

An organisation called Family Rights Group, who are a charity advising parents who are involved in care proceedings have commissioned some interesting research about contact for children who are living with family-and-friends carers.  This is something which has become more prevalent over recent years (and ought to be generally viewed as a good thing that children who can’t live with their birth parents are cared for by family members rather than by the State) and is likely to continue to increase, particularly as the pressure on the demand for foster carers builds up.

 

This report is interesting, because it addresses commonplace experiences in the family justice system from a group who really have the quietest voice in the care proceedings – the family members who step in and care for the child either as an interim measure or permanently, and who are doing such a massively important role yet have very little input into the arrangements that are being made for the child who will be living with them.

 

I think that the research and the report is valuable because it doesn’t come in with any fixed agenda, but is rather an attempt to look at the issues of contact where a child is placed with a family member from each viewpoint and to see what could be done to make it work better for everyone. 

 

If this is reflective of Family Rights Group generally, they come across very well – thoughtful but practical and providing proper sound advice without being politicised on the “parents bad  / social workers wicked” spectrum. I suspect that they have quite a lot of sensible advice to offer to people and more professionals and clients could benefit from what they have to offer.  

 

 

The report can be found here : -

 

http://www.frg.org.uk/managing-contact-with-parents-and-relatives-for-children-living-in-family-and-friends-care-arrangements

 

 

The accounts that the kinship carers give of how the children came to be living with them, and the varying relationships that they had with Local Authorities, ranging from support to resistance and opposition, are interesting and worth reading. (It is also noteworthy how ambiguous some of the placements were in relation to whether the child was ‘looked after’ or not, which has obvious financial implications for the carer and the LA involved)

 

 

“Where the initial legal arrangement was clear, the carers interviewed had taken the children under a variety of different legal arrangements, including interim care order,interim residence order, under s.20 Children Act 1989 as looked after child, under private fostering, and as a private family arrangement. There seemed to be no standard legal route that would be followed by children going into a family and friends care arrangement. Research carried out by Family Rights Group with Birmingham University

(2009) suggests that this might be a consequence of different local authorities having vastly different policies for working with family and friends placements, where such policies exist at all.1 This survey of English and Welsh local authorities revealed that most councils (69%) did not have a written, coherent approach to working with family and friends care. Where policies did exist, they encouraged different approaches to the legal status of children placed with family and friends carers: a few recognised that children placed there by the local authority should be treated as looked after, and their carers

supported as foster carers, but others discouraged the use of family and friends carers as foster carers in almost any circumstances.”

 

 

 

The research makes some recommendations, from the perspective of family and friends carers about contact, and how this should be managed :-

 

Good practice in contact – recommendations from family and

friends carers’ perspectives

 

The following recommendations for good practice derive from the experiences of contact which family and friends carers have described in this chapter. The recommendations draw upon carers’ observations of what has worked well in contact, what could have improved the experience of contact, particularly for children, and ideas from carers themselves on what would be good practice in contact.

 

Carers recommend:

Ø That local authorities should be clear with family and friends carers about the legal arrangement of the child’s placement with them, and the legal basis for any restrictions that they are asking the carers to impose on the child’s contact with parents. They should explain why these restrictions are necessary for the child’s wellbeing. Carers should be informed whether the child is subject to a child protection plan or not, whether the child is looked after or not, and who holds parental responsibility for the child.

 

Ø The experience described by three interviewed carers of having to resist the separation of siblings by the local authority indicates that local authorities should give careful consideration as to whether a decision to separate siblings will be in the best interests of the children, particularly where there is a family and friends carer who is willing to keep the siblings together, given that placements where children are placed with siblings are less likely to be disrupted than placements where children are placed alone,2 and given also that a plan to place one or more children for adoption could result in the permanent loss of contact with siblings placed elsewhere.

RESEARCH STUDY

2 Mullender, A ‘Sketching in the background (1999), Mullender, A ed. We are family: Sibling relationships in placement and beyond BAAF 1999

 

Ø Local authorities should consult the carers, and where possible the child, before setting up any contact arrangement. The arrangement should take into account the carer’s and the child’s views on what will make the contact safe and enjoyable, whether it should take place in the carer’s home or another venue, what level of contact will be sustainable for the carer and the child, and the procedures that should be followed if the arrangements need to be changed should be specified.

 

Ø There should be an expectation that it will be adults rather than children who have to bear the strain of contact, for example where long distances need to be travelled, or in arranging the time of contact. Consideration should be given to how contact fits into the child’s routines and activities.

 

Ø Where the local authority is involved in the contact arrangement, there needs to be good communication between carers and social workers about the risks to the child from contact. Social workers must inform carers about any potential risks, and the carer must inform the local authority about any risky incidents.

 

Ø Carers and children must be taken seriously and listened to if they report concerns about problems with contact, such as the child’s opposition to the arrangement.

 

Ø The local authority, carers, parents, and where appropriate children should draw up a contact agreement, which spells out not only where, when and how often contact will take place, but also what will happen if either party is unable to keep to the agreement, or shows up late, or does not give notice of not attending contact. Clear direction from the local authority would assist with this.

 

Ø Where carers are asked to participate in letterbox contact arrangements, they should routinely be provided with information and guidance about what this involves.

 

Ø Decisions by the local authority not to include a willing carer in contact arrangements, and not to inform the carer about what happens within contact they are not part of, need to be carefully considered. The reasons for not including or informing the carer should normally be explained to the carer.

 

Ø Where a local authority has set up a contact arrangement, they should consider how the support might continue to be available for the carer even after the local authority has ended its formal involvement, eg by having a specialist kinship worker who can be available for consultation, or by providing a duty service the carer can call.

 

Ø Given that local authorities set up some arrangements which appeared to be potentially quite harmful for children, carers should have a vehicle for raising valid objections to contact arrangements which they believe will be damaging for children.

 

Ø Local authorities should have an information package that is provided to family and friends carers, which includes advice about contact and a template for a contact agreement. Where possible, carers should be offered access to a tailored preparation/induction course for family and friends carers, such as is now being designed by Family Rights Group and The Fostering Network.

 

 

 

ØCarers find a lot of support in being able to discuss contact with other family and friends carers, whether this is a group which meets in person or an online forum, and carers with experience of contact can provide other carers with valuable advice on this difficult and sensitive topic. Carers should be encouraged to join or set up their own support group, or to join Family Rights Group’s online forum.

 

 

 

The report also considers parents experiences with family and friends carers, and makes some recommendations from their perspective : -

 

Good practice in contact – recommendations (parents’ perspective)

 

The following recommendations for good practice derive from the experiences of contact which the parents of children placed with family and friends carers have described in this chapter. The recommendations are based both upon the parents’ descriptions of their experiences, and upon their concluding suggestions for what could be done to improve contact in these circumstances.

 

We recommend:

 

Ø That local authorities ensure they are seen to be even-handed with parents when children are placed with family and friends carers and contact arrangements are being made. We recognise that for some parents the experience of losing their children will make it difficult if not impossible to feel that they are getting a fair deal. In addition, the adversarial nature of court proceedings can make the working relationship between parents and social workers difficult to manage. However, social workers have to ensure that contact arrangements are decided according to the child’s needs, and do not unnecessarily become part of any conflict with parents.

 

Ø Restrictions on children and parents showing affection to one another, or on children being informed of the enduring love of another parent, during contact needs to be justified. The purpose of contact supervision is to prevent the child being harmed, emotionally, physically or otherwise, and parents should be prevented from showing affection to their child only if this would be harmful.

 

Ø Where parents wish to correspond with their child, or pass on gifts, then any restrictions should be stated openly and explained to the parents. It is unfair to both parents and child to prevent this without explanation.

 

Ø Where local authorities have been involved in removing a child from their parents, and placing the child with family and friends carers, then the local authority should have a duty to remain involved long enough to ensure that contact arrangements are working. There should be a way for parents to bring in the local authority where contact arrangements are not going according to an agreed plan, or where they are not beneficial to the child.

 

Ø Consideration should be given to parents who are anxious about their child’s wellbeing, possibly because of limited or no contact, having the opportunity to receive independent information about the child.

 

 

The report then approached matters from the point of view of professional practitioners (i.e social workers)

 

The practitioners made the following recommendations for good practice in contact:

 

Ø In making decisions about contact the focus should be on the benefits to the child, and not the adults.

 

Ø Parents and carers should try to ensure that they are saying the same things to the child, as failure to do so can lead to confusion for the child and conflict between the parents and the carers.

 

Ø There should be clear guidelines and expectations about contact. It helps if the practitioners can meet and talk to the birth parents first, setting out the groundrules, and the possible consequences of their actions to the parents. There should be a review of how contact is going, and any problems should be dealt with in between contacts.

 

Ø The role of carers in helping children to feel secure in contact should be recognised and supported.

 

Ø Notes should be taken of how the child appears to be, not only during contact but before and afterwards as well.

 

Ø Family Group Conferences and mediation should be considered, particularly where it is difficult to agree a contact arrangement or to sort out problems.

 

Ø In unusual circumstances, where approved foster carers become family and friends carers, they may need to be supported to think about contact differently from the way they are used to.

 

Ø Where court guardians make recommendations about contact they should have to justify it as being in the best interests of the child, and be held accountable for the consequences of the contact for the child.

 

Ø The arrangements that will be in place for contact after proceedings, eg whether or not it will be supervised and where it will take place, should be tried out before the end of proceedings.

 

Ø Careful consideration should be given to the suitability of the venue being used for contact, eg a children’s centre might be more suitable than a contact centre for contact involving younger children, if it is more geared towards providing play facilities for children.

 

Ø Although contact can be part of a ‘children in need’ plan, when the children in need team no longer need to be involved there should be another lead professional to take on responsibility for the contact.

 

 

 

And then drawing all of these various strands together, these conclusions :-

 

Considering the views of parents and carers, and the suggestions made by practitioners, we recommend that the following principles are observed when arranging or participating in contact arrangements:

 

i Make the child’s needs the first consideration. A step towards doing this can be for the adults to put themselves in the child’s place, and think about contact issues from that perspective:

• What will the child’s earlier experiences of their parents and others mean for

contact arrangements?

• What pressures might the child feel they are under?

• What could be done to make contact more enjoyable for the child?

This is a step that should be taken by all of the adults involved in arranging the child’s contact. Practitioners need to ensure they are focusing on meeting the child’s needs. Carers need to understand why it might be important to a child that they have contact with parents, even where the carers may themselves feel angry with those parents. Parents need to understand that it might be in the child’s best interests to have less contact with them than they want and the importance of routine. For example, a contact plan that resulted in a child spending part of each week with four different carers, staying

overnight with three of them, was probably drawn up to meet the demands of the adults and not the needs of the child.

 

ii Good communication is paramount. All parties who are involved in contact need to ensure that everyone is kept aware of contact arrangements and any changes to those arrangements. Good communication could involve:

 

Practitioners consulting parents and carers about contact arrangements, and

meeting with them to discuss how contact is working out

 

• Using Family Group Conferences to make arrangements for a placement,

including arrangements about contact. Family Group Conference or mediation

can also be used to assist communication between parties who are in

disagreement about contact.

 

• Drawing up a contact agreement, specifying: where, when and with whom

contact will take place: What will happen if it cannot take place? What behaviour would be considered inappropriate in contact? What indirect contact can take place and how often? Etc.

 

 

iii Recognise the loss that parents face. While parents will have legal rights to be kept informed and involved in decisions being made about their child, which will be determined by the child’s legal status, regardless of legal status there should also be an underlying principle that parents should be kept informed and involved in significant decisions, unless their involvement would be harmful for the child. There needs to be recognition of the loss that parents have faced, and practitioners need to continue to support parents to manage contact and manage their feelings.

 

iv The venue and the contact arrangements should feel safe for the child and the carers. Where contact is unlikely to be safe, then there should be a risk assessment to help plan what could make it safe, e.g. does it need to be supervised, what would be a safe venue, can it happen safely at all?

 

v Access to good information and advice. Both parents and carers who were interviewed felt that it was important to have access to good information as early as possible. An information pack could give parents and carers basic details about the legal position of family and friends care placements, and suggest where to get more detailed information and advice.

 

vi Monitoring procedure. There should be a procedure for monitoring how a

proposed contact arrangement is working out. This could involve a trial period before any court order for contact is made or a period where practitioners meet with the parties to find out from them about any difficulties.

 

 

 

 

My overall impression of this report is that it is heavy on common sense practical proposals arrived at by listening to the people who are living through these experiences, and light on dogma, speculation and cod-psychology. I hope that it reaches the audience it needs to.

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