Extraordinary, juice like a strawberry
The Court of Appeal in Re S-F (A child) 2017
Manage to go through the gears from – it might be helpful to see the Agency Decision Maker’s Hofstetter decision record as to how the decision as to adoption was reached to ‘it is good practice for the LA to provide that’ to ‘it is bad practice if they don’t provide it’ in the space of a single paragraph.
So from here on out, it is bad practice for a Local Authority not to file and serve the Hofstetter record when they lodge a placement order application.
Also, I’ve got this gold ring with writing on it that I need you to get rid of if you have a moment, the one that says “One ring to rule them all” – so if you could just dispose of that for me, that’d be just peachy. Thanks!
(The Hofstetter document case http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2009/3282.html Hofstetter and Another v London Borough of Barnet 2009
132.I appreciate that the Agency Decision Makers are very busy and the potential advantages both in saving time and resources, and in avoiding arguments based on differences of expression, that flow from them adopting the reasons for a recommendation. But in my view before that course is taken the Agency Decision Maker must consider with care, in the light if his or her role and the wider information he or she has, which of the reasons underlying the recommendations he or she is adopting and why this is the case.
133.Perhaps particularly when, as here, the recommendation for the qualifying determination and the decision in the case are the same, I suggest that, with a view to ensuring that the Agency Decision Masker approaches the making of the decision in the case, and thus a reconsideration of the case, with an open mind, and as the decision maker, it would be a good discipline and appropriate for him or her to:
i) list the material taken into account,
ii) identify the key arguments on both sides,
iii) ask whether he or she agrees with the process and approach of each of the relevant panels and is satisfied as to its fairness, and that both panels have properly addressed the arguments,
iv) consider whether any information he or she has that was not before a relevant panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation,
v) identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendations that he or she does, or does not, wish to adopt, and
vi) state (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference, repetition or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for his or her decision, when informing the prospective adopters of that decision.
This is a fact and issue sensitive exercise. But in my view it, or a similar approach, should assist the Agency Decision Maker to identify the issues, the factors that have to be weighed and importantly his or her reasons (rather than those of others) for the decision that he or she is charged with making as the Agency Decision Maker )
Here is what the Court of Appeal say (in Re S-F) about it now being bad practice if the ADM minutes of the decision making process are not filed and served. Note the line about the record being ‘susceptible of cross-examination’
11. The permanence report and the agency decision maker’s record of decision contain the required analysis and reasoning which is necessary to support an application for a placement order. They are disclosable documents that should be scrutinised by the children’s guardian and are susceptible of cross examination. It is good practice to file them with the court in support of a placement order application. Given their importance, I would go further and say that it is poor practice not to file them with the court because this is the documentation that records in original form the pros and cons of each of the realistic care options and the social work reasoning behind the local authority’s decision to apply for a placement order.
Ryder LJ also reminded practitioners about Re B-S (in case anyone has forgotten it) but does so with punchy language
The proportionality of interference in family life that an adoption represents must be justified by evidence not assumptions that read as stereotypical slogans. A conclusion that adoption is better for a child than long term fostering may well be correct but an assumption as to that conclusion is not evidence even if described by the legend as something that concerns identity, permanence, security and stability.
And stresses that the evidence and analysis has to be centred around the particular child, not merely relying on general thinking for children of similar ages and characteristics. What is right for THIS child, and why is that said to be right?
In order to have weight, the proposition that adoption is in the best interests of the child concerned throughout his life and is preferable to long term fostering should be supported by a social work opinion derived from a welfare analysis relating to the child. If appropriate, the conclusions of empirically validated research material can be relied upon in support of the welfare analysis, for example: research into the feasibility and success of different types of long term placements by reference to the age, background, social or medical characteristics. As this court has repeatedly remarked, the citation of other cases to identify the benefits of adoption as against long term fostering is no substitute for evidence and advice to the court on the facts of the particular case.
The Court of Appeal also criticised the LA for stopping their family finding once they were aware that an appeal was pending – the appeal took ages to be heard, and therefore the Court didn’t have up to date evidence about the family finding process. (Candidly, I’d have done the same as this LA – you’re not going to find any matches for a child whilst there’s an appeal pending, and you can’t do anything with a potential match even if you find one. But don’t do that in the future – keep up the fruitless and time-consuming search for a match, just so you can tell the Court of Appeal that no prospective adopters want to be matched with a child whilst they know there is an appeal pending and that nobody knows how long the appeal process will take)
5. It is a matter of regret that in the six months that has intervened between the order complained of and the appeal hearing the local authority did not see fit to undertake concurrent planning in order that they might know about the success or likelihood of success of a search for an adoptive placement. The appeal after all is being heard at a time when the local authority would have abandoned its search for adoptive carers, the child having been with his foster carer for six months. The irony of that circumstance appeared to be lost on the local authority until it was pointed out. It is no good saying that appeals should not take so long. I am sure everyone would agree but local authorities have statutory care planning and review obligations and that includes consideration of the adverse impact on a child of delay. If it is the case that a welfare analysis necessitated a time limited search for adoption, the same analysis should inform the local authority’s planning process over the same time period