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Our child care lawyers are able to advise and represent children, parents, grandparents and other relatives or carers in cases where social services are involved with children and there are care proceedings.
Here are summaries of some of the cases we have worked on:
Case Study: Helping a teenage girl remain in a long-term foster placement
We were instructed directly by a 16-year-old girl who was subject to a care order. She had been placed with the same foster carers since the order was made 12 years before. A complaint against the male foster carer was made by another young child subject to care order in placement and as a result, the Local Authority sought to deregister the foster carers.
The Social Worker’s recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker was to have the our client removed from her foster placement. Before this decision was approved, our client was told that she would have to be moved (with three days notice). We applied for an injunction order preventing her removal, and also applied for an order substituting the care order for a residence order and/or supervision order in the event that the placement was deemed to have become unlawful.
Following commencement of proceedings and the injunction order being obtained the Agency Decision Maker refused to ratify the foster carers being reregistered and ultimately the Local Authority agreed that the child could continue to remain in placement as a looked after child under foster care regulations. The proceedings were conducted in the High Court Leeds District Registry.
Case Study: The Human Rights issues involved in ‘out of authority’ placements
In a growing number of cases, Local Authorities are placing children in “out of authority” placements. This is costly for Local Authorities and in most cases these placements are used in emergencies only, lasting fewer than 28 days. As a result, children are moved a second time shortly after removal from their parents’ care.
Switalskis represented the interests of the children within care proceedings before the High Court Leeds District Registry in Re: B. The children had been in their agency placements for six months. Two of the children had been moved once already. The proceedings were anticipated to conclude within three months, with anticipated plans of long-term foster care.
In an attempt to maintain the status quo and stability for the children until long term placements were identified, an application was made under the Human Rights Act 1998 sections 7 (1) (b) and 8. We aregued that the Local Authority would be acting unlawfully in moving the children again at this stage within proceedings: it would be a breach of the children’s Article 8 right to family life, even though that family life was currently within a foster placement.
The Court accepted that on a welfare basis the children probably should not have been moved. If the application could have been brought under the Children Act 1989 the outcome may have been very different. There is no power under the Children Act for a Court to determine placement once an interim care order is made, save for purposes of assessment. However, unfortunately under the Human Rights Act welfare is only one of many considerations, and the Local Authority successfully argued that the impact of the financial implications on their wider duty to all children within its locality meant the Local Authority was not acting unlawfully, nor breaching the children’s rights.
The Court found that the balance fell in favour of the children being moved when considering matters as required under the Human Rights legislation. As representatives for these and other children we were, and remain, concerned that in the current economic climate finances will play an increasing role in Local Authority decision making, with the individual needs of the children being effectively ignored. The combination of restricted powers of the Court, and the more limited role of CAFCASS, taken together with the current emphasis on concluding cases quickly means that child care solicitors must be more vigilant than ever in order to ensure that plans for children are appropriate and, where necessary, challenged.
Case Study: Representing children who have suffered abuse
We represented three teenage children in the Court of Appeal in an unusual case. The three children were the subject of care orders. The physical abuse the children had suffered at the hands of their parents was extreme, being described as torture by both the family and criminal courts. The parents had both been convicted of criminal offences related to the abuse and were at the start of the case still both serving prisoners. At the conclusion of the care proceedings the Judge made an order allowing the Local Authority to terminate contact between the children and their parents. There had been no contact of any form for a number of years.
At the end of 2011 the parents were erroneously sent copies of review minutes which stated the children’s wish to have contact with them. The Local Authority view was that, even as teenagers, the children’s wishes should not be acted upon as the parents were still not acknowledging the harm the children had suffered and so contact would be very damaging. The parents both applied for contact orders. The High Court Judge met with the children and established their views: why they wanted contact, and how they hoped it could take place. The Judge expressed some concerns that even if he were to allow contact, the prison Governors would still have the ability to prevent contact taking place, as the children were the victims of the crimes for which the parents were sentenced.
It was argued on behalf of the children at the hearing, that given their ages it would be better to establish contact now, in a supported and controlled way rather than to leave it until they reached 18 years old and would have to make arrangements directly with no real support in place. This was especially so for the twins who were to turn 18 within a month of the final hearing. The Judge felt in this usual case that, even though the children’s views were clear it was not appropriate to acquiesce to them: the parents had not accepted the harm suffered and the children were hoping for answers from their parents they would not receive. On balance the Judge felt the children’s welfare meant the order allowing termination of contact should continue.
Of particular note is the essence of the Judgment that, whilst the wishes and feelings of older children hold increasing weight when undertaking the necessary balancing exercise to determine the welfare test, it is open to the Court to determine whether other factors outweigh those wishes and feelings.
Case Study: Acting for Grandparents
We acted for a grandmother who already had a Residence Order in respect of one grandson who suffered from ADHD. She stepped into the breach to look after other grandchildren when they and their mother were about to be evicted from their property in a different area, due to the behaviour of the family. When the children’s mother then sought return of the children the Local Authority in which she and the children had resided threatened to instigate care proceedings as they believed the mother could not properly care for the children and they were at risk.
We applied ex-parte for an Interim Residence Order and Prohibited Steps Order in a different area. The mother simultaneously applied for the return of the children and a search and find Order at her local County Court. There were hearings in mother’s local County Court when the issue of the correct venue was argued and we succeeded in retaining the proceedings in grandmother’s local County Court and also obtained an Interim Residence Order and a Prohibited Steps Order on her behalf in respect of all four grandchildren. Thereafter the Court ordered that the two Local Authority Social Care departments cooperate with each other and provide reports but initially the grandmother’s Social Care department were disinterested and there were conflicting reports produced by both Social Care departments. The children were described by all professionals as having a large number of issues to be resolved. After a number of hearings involving many professionals and representatives and the legal departments from both Local Authorities a Residence Order was granted in favour of the children’s grandmother in respect of all the children with a Contact Order in favour of mother and a Supervision Order.