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One last chance

RE C (A child: Refusal to make Interim Care Order) 2016

The High Court had to consider an application for an Interim Care Order. At the time Holman J was considering it, the child was in foster care, having been removed by the police under Police Protection.

The mother had long-standing drug addiction problems and was accepting that she wasn’t able to care for her child. She was trying to get herself into a clinic for rehab. Her brother, who had similar problems, had entered into the family home, in breach of a restraining order, and attempted to strangle the mother whilst she was holding her son (who was 4 years old)

The issues before the Court were whether the child should go into foster care, or whether the child should be with grandmother – with mother and the maternal uncle staying away from the home. Doubts were raised about whether she could be trusted.


  1. The essential question today is whether or not the grandmother can be relied upon to keep her own daughter, the mother, completely away from the home, and completely out of any contact of any kind with C, apart from supervised contact arranged by the local authority. The local authority and the guardian (who has not yet had an opportunity actually to meet anyone in this case, apart from observing part of the hearing today) both say that the grandmother cannot be trusted. They rely in particular on the episode last Thursday when they say that the brother was seen upstairs in the house and the grandmother denied that he was there, although they say she must have known that he was there. There are a number of other respects in which she is said to have been devious with the local authority, or at the very least not upfront with them. Further, it is said that she was either naïve, or is now being dishonest, when she says she did not appreciate the full extent of her daughter’s drug taking.
  2. I have to form a judgment about that. I did hear from the grandmother at some length this afternoon. I myself am not persuaded that she cannot be trusted. I will require her formally to give to me from the witness box the undertakings that have been drafted and discussed. I wish to make absolutely clear to her and to the mother, and for all to hear and understand, that if there is the slightest breach, the slightest breach, of any of these terms and conditions, C is likely to be removed at once and made the subject of a further interim care order, and that will almost certainly be the last time that he lives within his family. Therefore, the grandmother needs to understand that this is now very serious indeed and she is absolutely on her mettle and on trust.
  3. There is a further point that was made by Mrs Brown on behalf of the local authority, which I fully understand and which indeed has concerned me. That is the risk of C becoming what might be called a “yoyo” child. The fact is that he was removed under a police protection order last Thursday. He has now been fostered for about five days. Under my proposed order, he will in any event remain fostered for another week in order to give to the mother a sufficient opportunity to make and implement arrangements as to where she goes. Therefore, already he has been removed from home. If he were now to return home, the point made by the local authority is that there is a high risk that he will have to be removed again. I do appreciate that; but it does not seem to me that, if it is otherwise right that in the interim he should be entrusted to his grandmother, that should be prevented simply because of the delays in this interim decision being made due to court availability.
  4. I completely understand the concerns of the local authority and of the guardian. I wish to stress that I am not in any way starry-eyed. I appreciate that there is a definite risk here that these arrangements will break down and that C will have to be removed again. But I do not feel that the requirements of the authorities that the stage has been reached when he must be removed, and kept removed, from his established home have yet been met. For those reasons, I shall make an order in the terms already discussed.

The Judge made a careful assessment of the grandmother, and decided that she should have the opportunity to care for the child. He then did something unusual (but both clever and kind) and put both mother and grandmother in the witness box and asked them a series of questions.

Well worth a read

The mother – SwornBy THE COURTQ. So, you are [name], the mother of [name].

A. I am.

Q. All right. Do you undertake to me, that is, promise me, the court – this is not the local authority now, it is promising the court – first, that not later than noon next Tuesday, 2nd February, you will totally vacate the premises at [address stated].

A. Yes, I will.

Q. Secondly, that once you have vacated, you will not until further order of the court return to [address stated] or enter at all the road which is known as [road name stated].

A. I will.

Q. You promise me that?

A. I promise I will.

Q. Third, do you promise me that until further order of this court you will not in any way contact, communicate with or come into the presence of [the child, named], save for the purpose of supervised contact under arrangements made by the Birmingham City Council?

A. I promise.

Q. Now, do you understand that if you break those promises, in the first place, you will be in contempt of court and could be punished, but secondly and more importantly, you really will have absolutely lost for all time any prospect of [the child] either living within his family or living with you? Do you realise that?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. This is,—

A. Serious.

Q. —to put it bluntly, your last chance. Do you understand that?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. So, if you break this and you are caught, the consequences will be very grave. Do you understand that?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. You give me those promises?

A. I promise.

Q. All right, thank you very much. Will you come up, [the grandmother] please.

MR PEARCE: My lord, I hesitate to rise, but the prescription needs to be collected and the chemist, I am told, will be closing at 7:00 and I am mindful of the traffic.

THE JUDGE: Yes, well, we will be gone within a few minutes.

MR PEARCE: I am grateful.

The grandmother – SwornBy THE COURTQ. Are you [name]

A. Yes.

Q. Of [address stated]?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you undertake to me, that is, promise me, the court – this is not the local authority, it is the court – first, that after noon next Tuesday, 2nd February, you will not until further order of the court in any circumstances permit [the mother, named] or [the brother, named] to enter the premises at [address stated] or its garden?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. They are just not allowed into the road at all, let alone into your house. [The mother] has got a week to make arrangements. Second, you will not until further order in any circumstances permit [the child, named] to have any contact or communication with or come into the presence of [the mother, named] or [the brother, named]. Third, you will, once he is returned to your care, care totally for [the child] and ensure that he is kept clean, well fed and appropriately clothed.

A. Yes.

Q. Fourth, you will not permit him to sleep or reside at any other address than [address stated], except with the prior written agreement of the [local authority, named].

A. Yes.

Q. If a situation arises where he wants to go and stay with a friend or something like that, I am not ruling it out, but they have got to agree in writing first, all right. Five, unless he is ill, you will punctually deliver [the child] to and collect him from the nursery – you know where the nursery is, it will be written in—

A. Yes.

Q. —at all sessions which he is due to attend, all right—

A. Yes.

Q. —day in, day out, whenever he is supposed to go. This is a very important safeguard because it means he will be seen all or most weekdays by the nursery, of course—

A. Yes.

Q. —and they will be asked by the [local authority, named] to keep a very close eye on him, of course, so he has got to go, all right.

A. Yes, yes.

Q. Six, you will permit social workers of the [local authority, named] to enter the premises at [address stated] at any time, whether announced or unannounced, and inspect any part of the premises. I anticipate they will make unannounced visits.

A. Yes.

Q. As far as I am concerned, if they have got the manpower or the womanpower, they can do it late at night, very early in the morning, weekends, whenever they like in order to check, all right, and you have got to let them in. Seven, you will not leave [the child] unattended in the house with your husband. That is not intended to be unkind to him, but because he is not entirely well. Eight, you will not permit any person to sleep at the premises at [address stated], except yourself, your husband and [the child] without the prior written agreement of the [local authority, named].

A. Yes.

Q. If you want to have a little friend of his round or something like that, or a relative of yours wants to come and stay, you can ask [the local authority] and I hope they will agree, but you are not to otherwise allow anyone to sleep there. Nine, you will not without the prior written agreement of the [local authority] permit any person to enter the premises at [address stated] who is not either a relative or an established personal friend of yourself or your husband or a person who needs to enter in the course of his profession or trade. So, you can permit your own relatives or an established personal friend of yourself and your husband or a professional person, such as a doctor, or a person who needs to enter in the course of his business or duties, such as a tradesman or meter reader or if you need to get a plumber or anything like that. Do you give me all those promises?

A. Yes.

Q. I want you to understand that I have made a judgment about you. I am reposing trust in you. I think in fact you are lucky, because I think a lot of other judges would not have done, but I have been doing this for a long time and I am broad shouldered and I am prepared to take responsibility for this decision, which they think is too risky, but I am prepared to take responsibility for it. They will be watching you like a hawk. This will be reviewed in four to six weeks anyway to see how things are going, not by me because I will not be here. If in the meantime they discover that there has been any breach of any of that, they will be round here like a shot, that is obvious, and I am afraid you will not be given another chance. So, this is the last chance for you as well as for [the mother]. Do you understand that?

A. Yes.

Q. Well, do not let me down. Thank you very much. You can go back


About suesspiciousminds

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

3 responses

  1. ashamedtobebritish

    Jerry said yesterday this was the oddest judgement … I’m inclined to agree, very strange

    • I was a bit surprised when I was reading it (the title of the case rather gave away that the ICO wasn’t going to be made, and from the first few paragraphs I couldn’t see why), but it really just boiled down to a Judge thinking that if he stressed clearly enough to the famiily that this was their absolute last chance they might respond in the right way. Brave, because if the uncle pitches up and the toddler gets caught up in a physical scuffle, it will be on the Judge’s shoulders, but I don’t mind seeing Judges be brave like this.

      (should have made the residence order though…)

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