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Removal from grandparents under Interim Care Order

This is a curious appeal (I have to say that my gut feeling is that the grandparents were damn unlucky to lose this appeal, but of course the Court of Appeal have the benefit of seeing the papers and hearing the full argument. And each time I read the appeal judgment, my view that the grandparents were damn unlucky increased.  )

 

Re T (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed144754

There are two issues of wide import

 

1. That the test for removal under an ICO from grandparents is exactly the same as for removal from parents.

[Most of us thought this and worked on that premise, but it is helpful for the Court of Appeal to formally confirm it –  in short terms – the child’s safety must require immediate separation]

2. That the original trial Judge had not been fair in curtailing the time for the parents to seek a Stay application before the Court of Appeal – and had gone too far.

 

A stay, for those readers who are not lawyers, is an application that can be made to say “Don’t take the action that the Judge ordered, because I intend to appeal that order, and things should stay the same way as they are now until that appeal can be heard”  (think of it like a ‘stay of execution’)

In this case, a judgment concluding that Interim Care Orders were made and that the children could be removed by social workers was announced on Friday 30th January. Counsel for the grandparents immediately applied for a stay  (don’t remove the children until I can get before the Court of Appeal) . The Judge granted a stay until 2.30pm on Monday 2nd February, but didn’t send out his judgment until 1.00pm on that Monday. Even if counsel happened to be free and immediately available to look at the judgment the second the email arrived, that only gave 90 minutes to read it, draw up an appeal notice and lodge the appeal. Oh, and get before an Appeal Court to ask them for a stay. And have that application heard and decided. Ninety minutes doesn’t perhaps seem like a fair amount of time for that.

Mr Elliott of counsel seems to me a top bloke, but I don’t actually believe that he is the Fastest Man Alive (as anyone will know, that is Barry Allen. And yes, The Flash is faster than Superman)

 

except maybe Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash

Although counsel asked for the stay to be continued for longer, the Court were only prepared to grant him an extra ninety minutes. Thus, by the time that the grandparents case for an appeal was able to be considered, the children had already been removed – that must have massively damaged their prospects of success.

If the Court had been reasonable and granted the stay for say 24 hours after delivery of a judgment that was known to be likely to be appealed, that injustice would not have occurred.

14. Before descending to the merits of the appeal itself, it is necessary to dwell for a short time on the procedural progress of the appeal and in particular upon the paternal grandparents’ application for a stay of the interim care order to allow them to issue papers in the Court of Appeal and make application to this court for an extension of any stay until at least the permission to appeal application could be determined.

15. The sequence of events is that the judge, as I have indicated, announced his decision to make the interim care order on Friday, 30 January, but did not hand down his judgment until it was circulated by email to the advocates shortly after 1 pm on Monday, 2 February. On the application of counsel, Mr Mark Elliott, who has conspicuously and very effectively stood up for the interests of the paternal grandparents in these proceedings, the judge granted a stay on Friday, the 30th until 2.30 on Monday, 2 February. It became clear during the course of the morning of the Monday that preparation of the judgment was to an extent delayed and the judge therefore extended the stay to 3 pm on that day.

16. At the hearing which took place shortly after the judgment was circulated and I should indicate for these purposes the scale of the judgment, it runs to some 31 closely reasoned pages and amounts to 120 paragraphs the judge was asked to extend the stay until 3 pm on the following day, 24 hours later. However, the judge declined to do so and was only prepared to extend the stay until 4 pm on that day, 2 February. Counsel, Mr Elliott, those who instruct him and his clerks, were engaged in a process of trying to make contact with the Court of Appeal in order that their application for a further stay might be considered by this court. They were told that such an application could only be entertained if a formal notice was filed, and it simply was not possible for them to get the paperwork in order by 4 pm, when the judge’s stay expired.

17. The Local Authority were mindful of the procedural and professional difficulties that I have described, and they in fact allowed a further hour’s extension to 5 pm, but at 5 pm on 2 February, the children were removed from the paternal grandparents’ care. At shortly before 7 pm, Mr Elliott was able to make an oral application to the out of hours Lord Justice on duty on that night, but by then the children had been removed and the stay application fell to be considered in the colder light of day subsequently, and on that basis it was considered by me on 7 February, when at the same time I initially refused permission to appeal, and so the question of a stay did not arise.

18. I go through that procedural chronology for this reason: Mr Elliott as his fourth ground of appeal complains that the sequence of events and the limited stay granted by the judge was profoundly unfair to his clients, and also I think his submission is that it was not a procedural course which was in the best interests of the children. It effectively prevented an application for a stay being made to this court until the children had been removed.

19. In short terms, I think Mr Elliott’s point is very well made. This was not a case, happily, where the children were in any situation which could be described as immediate risk of physical harm. There was no emergency in that sense. The children had been living for a very substantial period of time in the grandparents’ home. The grandparents, we have been told, despite some concerns on the part of the social workers to the contrary, had not behaved in any unreasonable or worrying way in the intervening period between the Friday, when they heard that the order was to be made, and the Monday when judgment was handed down.

20. From the perspective of this court, it is difficult to see why Judge Meston felt unable to grant a stay of sufficient length to enable an application to be made to this court. It is well known, and has been the subject of judicial comment by judges of this court over a significant period of time, that judges at first instance, in a case which does not have the characters of a 999 emergency, should be encouraged to establish a short but reasonable stay to their orders in cases such as this so that an application can be made to this court. Judge Meston, hearing the case as he was on a Monday, might reasonably have contemplated a stay measured in the length of two or three days to allow an application to be made to this court as I have described, and not to do so seems to my eyes to be entirely unwarranted.

21. It is not – I do not think Mr Elliott argues it in this way – a ground of appeal that would lead me to hold that the judge’s overall order about the making of the interim care order should of itself be set aside, but insofar as I need to, I would agree entirely with the criticism of the judge’s process that is made in ground four.

 

On the facts of the case itself, the removal was not an emergency one – the Court had decided that the children’s needs were not being met but their safety wasn’t in jeopardy.

For my part, I’m not convinced that the ‘child’s safety requires immediate separation’ was borne out, but the Judge thought that it was, and so did the Court of Appeal.

 

My reading is more that the Local Authority were arguing that their assessment of the children’s needs was being hampered by them being with their grandparents and that removal into foster carer would allow for a better assessment. (I have heard that argument posited before, and I’ve always thought that it doesn’t meet the legal test for removal)

26. In addition, it is plain that Judge Meston in the course of his judgment considered that the plan to have these two children assessed in a neutral venue with skilled foster carers was a helpful step for the Local Authority to take. It would provide helpful, vital, information for those charged with drawing up any plan for the children’s future. It would also, if the grandparents were to become once again the full time carers of the children, give the grandparents much needed information about the sophisticated needs of these young children.

27. But again, it is plain on a reading of the judge’s judgment, and it is the submission of the Local Authority and the guardian in this case, that the judge did not make the order simply because he favoured the process of assessment that was available; he made the order, it is submitted by those who oppose the appeal, because he considered that the test of “safety demanding immediate separation” was met.

28. It is therefore necessary to see what the judge did or did not say about the level of harm to which the children were currently exposed in the grandparents’ home. Before descending into detail, it is helpful to summarise the case that is put by the Local Authority and the guardian. They do not assert that the grandparents themselves are fresh sources of significant harm to the children.

29. The case that is put is that these children have been profoundly damaged in an emotional and psychological way by the experience that they have previously lived through, and that in the care of the paternal grandparents, the need for enhanced parenting is not being met, and that despite their best endeavours the grandparents are simply not able to provide the sort of care that the children need, that the children’s behaviour is deteriorating and has been seen to deteriorate over time and contact which is supervised at times when the mother has observed them, and also more generally when observed by social workers. The Local Authority’s case, to put it in lay terms, was simply that “enough is enough”, the time has come when it is no longer in the children’s interests to be exposed to further deterioration in their emotional wellbeing.

 

[I interrupt. This is smacking to me of that rather insidious ‘reparative care’ argument…]

30. In the course of his submissions, Mr Hand has taken the court to a number of parts of the judge’s judgment where he refers to evidence about harm to the children that he has heard from the social worker and from the children’s guardian, and to findings that the judge has made. It is not necessary for me to turn to those parts of Mr Hand’s submissions which in my view did not advance his case to any great extent, but at paragraph 108 of the judgment, the judge said this:

“The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

The judge had already made findings in a number of places about the need for the children to have enhanced parenting. He said at paragraph 107:

“They are also said now to require reparative care, with a high standard of skill, insight and consistency.”

[Yes, there’s the reparative care bit]

31. Looking back to an earlier stage of the judgment, in paragraph 92, the judge there lists the findings that the Local Authority sought in relation to the grandparents. Most of those are not directly relevant to the issue of harm to the children now, but the judge does say this at subparagraphs 9, 10 and 11:

“(9) The Local Authority point to the deterioration in the children’s behaviour since September shown by the mother’s statement, the contact records and the school reports.

There is no doubt that there have been serious problems in the children’s behaviour which was noted by almost all the professionals. As was said by the social worker, it was not suggested that the grandparents have been the cause of this behaviour but that their ability to manage it is limited. As was said by RP, J has sought attention by a level of negative behaviour which is not normal for the behaviour of a four year old, and she described his behaviour as escalating without strategy and routine.

(10) The Local Authority contend that the paternal grandparents struggle to set appropriate boundaries for the children. In the parenting assessment J was noted to be violent to L without there being any reprimands or other consequential for his action. In general his behaviour is challenging.

Clearly the behaviour of J, in particular, has been remarkably difficult for the grandparents to deal with, and if it continues there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.

(11) The Local Authority submit that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption in their lives to date because of the care provided by the parents, and that the children have a heightened need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. L also has special educational needs and requires better than good enough parenting which the grandparents are not in a position to meet. In this respect it is submitted that the paternal grandparents are not in a position to meet those needs for the rest of the children’s minorities.

There is no dispute that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption and there can be no dispute that they have a particular need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. The evidence overall does raise very real doubts about the abilities of the grandparents to meet the children’s particular needs.”

32. Of that material, Mr Hand in particular draws attention to subparagraph 10, where focus is placed upon the behaviour of J and the fact that the grandparents find that behaviour remarkably difficult to deal with. Within that subparagraph, I would stress the following; the judge says:

” … if it continues, there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.”

Pausing there, that is a plain highlighting by the judge of a profoundly important long term factor in the case. The starting point for any consideration of a child’s welfare is that it is normally likely to be in his or her interests to be brought up with and continue to live with any siblings. What the judge identifies at subparagraph 10 is a potential for J’s behaviour, if it continues to deteriorate or even be maintained at its current level, to call into question his ability long term to find a home with his sister.

33. The judge, having made those particular findings, moves on in his judgment to cast them within the test of identifying safety requiring immediate separation. The judge says this at paragraph 103:

“At this stage and on the evidence available I do not propose to rule out the paternal grandparents from further consideration as potential carers for the children (or either of them). They are devoted grandparents who have been prepared to take on the children, and they might have taken a more constructive position had they had legal representation at an earlier stage and perhaps, thereby they might have obtained more support from the Local Authority. They almost certainly now represent the only chance of keeping the children within their birth family. Although there is considerable force in the criticisms of the grandparents it is necessary to be cautious before deciding that they are not, and could not become, a realistic option (even if that turns out to be an option to be considered for only one of the children). At a final hearing the realism or otherwise of that option is likely to depend upon (among other things): (a) evidence that their attitude to the inevitable constraints and intrusions of Local Authority involvement really has changed, and that any improvements are not superficial as the social worker suspected they were; (b) further (and better) evidence about the grandmother’s medical condition and prognosis; and (c) the availability of effective measures to protect the children from harm in the longer term.”

There the judge, as well as stating that he is not ruling the grandparents out, does identify serious deficits in their ability to care that require attention in terms of further evidence at the hearing.

34. Turning to the harm in relation to the children, the judge says this at paragraph 108:

The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

35. Drawing matters to a conclusion, the judge describes his analysis at paragraphs 113, 114, 115 and 116, before stating his conclusion at 119:

“113. I accept the fundamental arguments advanced by the Local Authority and guardian that it is now essential and urgent for the long term needs of the children to be assessed to inform the final care plans, and that in the circumstances of this case the necessary assessment cannot properly be carried out while the children remain in the care of the paternal grandparents.

[interruption – of course, that’s not a safety issue]

114. Secondly, the Local Authority and guardian argue that the evidence of the children’s continuing and deteriorating behaviour, not least towards each other, shows the extent to which the children have been damaged in their upbringing and shows the limited ability of both paternal grandparents to understand and manage the children’s situation and needs. In essence the contention of the Local Authority and guardian was that the situation is bad and could get worse; and although there has been no obvious emergency that requires immediate removal of the children, there has been a growing level of concern and the situation is serious and urgent enough to justify such a removal.

115. In looking at the evidence overall including the incidents and difficulties indicating harm to the children and the risks of harm, I have tried to assess whether these are really long term welfare concerns, rather than concerns which involve a current risk to safety.

[That’s really the nub of the case – these could all be categorised as long term concerns, rather than immediate safety ones]

116. I accept the evidence of the social worker and guardian that things cannot remain as they are. The concerns of the Local Authority are valid and are justified by the evidence. The need to understand, manage and address the problems and needs of L and J and the potential for further damage to them outweigh the arguments for leaving the children with the grandparents in the hope that the grandparents continue to control their attitude to the Local Authority and their reluctance to cooperate, and in the hope that the grandparents can shortly acquire the skills and insight they lack.

119. In the light of all the evidence I have concluded that there is sufficient concern about the children’s emotional and psychological safety to justify the orders sought for the reasons advanced by the Local Authority and guardian. I have therefore decided that it is necessary and proportionate to approve the proposals of the Local Authority for removal of the children.”

Given the importance of a finding that the child’s safety require immediate separation, this seems somewhat thin.

36. Mr Elliott in his submissions to the court accepts as a matter of fact that the judge did identify harm of the nature that I have now described, and did seek to cast it in the context of current safety needs, but he submits that the element of harm that is identified simply does not come within what the case law requires. He says this is emotional harm and at no stage does the judge identify why at that date, in January 2015, the children required removal from the home because of the impact on their emotional wellbeing, when that had not been sought at an earlier stage and when the court was going to look at the whole question of the children’s future wellbeing only some four months further in the future. He submits that the judge simply did not achieve findings that got as far as identifying the children’s immediate safety needs, in emotional terms, requiring removal on that day.

37. I am bound to say, when I granted permission to appeal and when I heard Mr Elliott’s submissions this morning, I too could readily identify the dislocation that he draws attention to between the judge on the one hand saying “I do not rule these grandparents out as long term carers,” but on the other hand saying nevertheless the children’s circumstances require immediate removal.

38. Having now had the benefit of being taken to the detail of the judgment by Mr Hand in the way that I have described, I take a contrary view. The judge declined to rule out the grandparents at that stage for reasons to do with their long term capacity to be carers of the children. For the judge, the jury was still out on the question of whether or not the grandparents could bring themselves to meet the needs of the children long term, and the issues that the Local Authority had sought to identify, which included matters to do with the grandmother’s health, the ability of the grandfather to devote himself more fully to the care of the children alongside his laudable and clear desire to work hard in his chosen trade, and other matters, were long term issues that required further investigation.

39. They are, I now accept, separate matters from the immediate wellbeing of the children, and I can see how this experienced family judge, who had become immersed in the evidence of this case over the course of five days, who said that he was considering the test of safety requiring immediate separation, could come to the view that the children’s safety in emotional terms did indeed require separation at this stage.

40. For me, the elements of the evidence that I have drawn attention to, that we have been led to by Mr Hand, establish the context within which the judge’s decision can be seen to be justified in evidential terms, and also justified as a conclusion. In particular, paragraph 92 subsection 10, to which I have already drawn attention, is striking. The judge there is identifying the status quo in the grandparents’ home, where J was behaving in a way that the grandparents found remarkably difficult to deal with, but also in a way which had “serious implications for his development”, and which might, if it was allowed to continue and consolidate, pass the point of no return so that the option of this boy being able to grow up in the same home as his sister might be lost, in terms of safety in emotional terms, requiring immediate separation. To my eyes, that point alone would justify the order that the judge made.

41. Secondly, I have already described the approach of the judge and the experience of the judge. Where a judge correctly identifies the legal test, says he is applying it, and says he has the evidence which justifies that conclusion, and is able in the course of the judgment to refer to that evidence, this court should be slow to interfere and say he is wrong. There is no indication here that there was an error of principle in the judge’s conclusion, and to my mind he should be given a substantial margin of respect by this court in having conducted the exercise that he said he had undertaken.

I think the grandparents were unlucky here – I would have been fairly confident about their appeal had I been them, and fairly doubtful if I had been for the Local Authority.  Interesting that MacFarlane LJ thought that in and of itself – J’s behaviour might lead to him and his sister not being able to be placed together in the future as being sufficient for a finding of ‘safety requires immediate separation’.  I see that particular formulation being deployed in future cases.  How does one assess a ‘might’?  Is it necessary to show that it is more likely than not to happen, or is it sufficient to be a risk that cannot sensibly be ignored?

This is what Lord Justice Ryder had to say on the issue

44. The judge identified the correct test in principle. He was perhaps less clear in a detailed judgment about his analysis of the findings that he made and the prima facie evidence that existed. This court has, however, been assisted by the submissions of counsel for the Local Authority, the children’s guardian, and the appellant paternal grandparents. It is now sufficiently clear that the judge accepted the evidence of the Local Authority witnesses and the analysis of the children’s guardian that the children had suffered significant emotional harm in the care of their parents, and importantly that that harm had continued in the care of the paternal grandparents. The behaviour of the children as between each other, in particular from the child J towards his sister, had continued and deteriorated in the paternal grandparents’ care, to the extent that one of the risks identified was that as a consequence of their behaviour, the children may have to be separated such that they might not be able to be cared for together by anyone. That was capable of being characterised as a safety question that demanded immediate separation; i.e. to put it colloquially, enough was enough. 

Let us hope that ‘enough was enough’ does not become the latest soundbite to be shoved into every submission and skeleton argument in the next six months.

Note also the continuing trend of the Court of Appeal to move away from where they were on appeals post Re B, where a judgment needed to be a stand-alone document explaining and making plain why a decision had been made to a position where now the Court of Appeal are willing with a judgment that is thin in places to open up the luggage of the case and have a good rumage around to see if there are garments within that could cover the barer patches of the judgment so as to preserve its modesty.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

6 responses

  1. Jerry Lonsdale

    Oh now come on Judges, there are many other plausible options here to assess children while they remain the care of these Grandparents,

    I was happily involved in a case this week on the Home Turf of Mr Sus, the Judge was robust in refusing an ICO in the scope of the proceedings, rationale was that, in his view there were other options open to the Authorities and those options were in fact being carried out,

    I often criticise the Authorities when their only options seems to be removal removal removal, come what may those kids must go, if the situation is not a 999 like this present case then surely more sensitive approaches should be made by the Local Authority, and I should add by the Guardian as well, I feel time is now such that GAL’s should be using their own thoughts and powers of pursuation to prevent what seems the inevitable, again a matter raised with my case this week!

    Why in this case a child assessment order was not sought remains a bit of a mystery, surely that level of thinking would have kept the status quo the same, what sort of impact would it have on the children if and when the assessments are concluded that the children can ultimately be returned to the grandparents! surely that warrants a greater exploration, could it be that the writing is already on the wall for these grandparents.

    As for the Stay, well that is simply placing the bar so bloody high even with rocket powered boosters there was no chance the Grandparents would have been able to get over the bar, or even satisfy the court, any court really, for those who know these courts, simply trying to get an answer to a basic case query can take almost a day and some, even with the power of a fax machine sadly knocking on the appeal courts door is often led with the usual “Your Names Not Down Your Not coming In”

    I think is memory if my serves me right the last time a significant stay request was thrust into the limelight was in the Re. G v Nottingham case back in 2008, Munby J as he then was managed to do the whole case [JR] within 8 hours of the first ICO order being made. child remove AM – Child returned to parent PM, don’t quote me though, my grey matter has diminished somewhat over the years 🙂

    • You just about covered it … McFarlene seems to have gone in the turn this last year, he used to be one of the good guys but seems to be getting more destructive cause by case Ryders going the same way …
      It seems to me it’s not about child welfare anymore, it’s about the here and now and hang the consequences for the child later on

    • The more I read the case, the more I think that there should have been an alternative to the removal. Perhaps I am missing a nuance that I would have seen had I read all of the papers and heard the evidence, but it ought to be clearer in the Court of Appeal judgment why removal was a proportionate response to the risks involved.

  2. One of the most dangerous things that a court can order for a child is so called “care” ! Apart from statistics showing how nearly half children in care end up as prostitutes or in prison judges nowadays often rule that being in care “is so awful” (my words not their’s!) that care leavers are not fit to be parents so their babies are snatched from them !
    There was no evidence in this case that grandma posed a worse risk than the care system or indeed any significant risk at all but children must continue to be seized to perpetuate a disgusting sysyem and all those parasites who live off it !

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