The child (referred to as ‘A’) was born in 2015. She has lived and thrived in foster care since summer 2019.
A suffers from a number of complex disorders which result in significant developmental, educational, physical and medical needs, for example, she takes no food by mouth, and is fed by a tube. A is under the care of a speech therapist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietician, continence nurse specialist, orthoptist, community paediatric nursing and consultant paediatrician. (A’s complete history, needs and complex health issues are explained in detail in the full judgement.)
Her family have a lively and devout religious belief, attending their place of worship regularly, and a traditional outlook. Women in the family tend to dress traditionally. Life centres around the family and place of worship. Her family routinely holidays for six weeks each summer to spend time with their extended family and experience life in their country of origin.
A’s parents always struggled to fully and safely meet and understand A’s complex physical and developmental needs. A specialist foster placement was identified in the summer of 2019. The parents visited and have at all times since then expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the excellent care provided for A by her current specialist foster carer.
As mentioned at the outset of this article, the initial plan was for adoption and to seek an adoptive placement that would be open to direct and indirect contact, but that they would prioritise finding an alternative permanent placement over the promotion of family contact. The case was listed for final hearing in November, but had to be adjourned to January 2020 as it became clear that the requirements of a placement application had not been properly fulfilled and that application by the LA had to be withdrawn.
The Court directed that a fresh CPR including a proper balancing exercise and agency decision maker decision (ADM) should be undertaken, if the LA wished to continue to pursue adoption. It quickly became clear that while there was a strong emphasis on the advantages that ‘permanence’ could be argued to offer A via adoption, and a concession that direct contact was in A’s interests, the LA’s documentation still lacked critically important considerations of key issues.
A further, third, opportunity was given on the first day of this hearing to the LA to include matters that it said had been considered but just had not been written into the fresh CPR. An expanded ‘balancing exercise’ section of the CPR in tabular format was then provided on the morning of the second day of this hearing. Despite this fresh effort, it remained the case that key issues were significantly lacking or wholly inadequately covered, and in particular matters relating to A’s rich national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities and heritage, the harms and losses of losing all legal connection and/or meaningful contact with her birth family.
The LA confirmed that it would no longer be pursuing a plan for adoption and sought to withdraw its second placement application.
So, a thorough CAR/CPR was undertaken, assessing the welfare needs, in line with the Welfare Checklist? Not quite….
Overall, the local authority’s evidence was described as “an effective demonstration of confirmation bias”. The virtues of the permanence and security of a ‘forever family’ were sketchily asserted, and additionally appeared to blind the social workers to the need to address those specific aspects of A’s needs and characteristics that did not fit with that proposal, and prevented any real analysis of permanent estrangement from her birth family.
There was no consideration whatsoever that adoption would result in a drastic end to A’s ability to grasp aspects of her heritage, experience the warmth and breadth of her birth family, feel and benefit from the sense of belonging to this large loving family with rich and coherent traditions.
The LA’s approach was starkly epitomised in the following quotation and sole rationale in the initial ADM report: ‘given A’s age the only permanency option viable for A is adoption’. This assertion was made without any supporting analysis, let alone consideration of what other options might exist and how any option does or does not meet A’s needs and welfare interests.
These observations, and the LA’s failure to meet these requirements of well-known law, become particularly pertinent given the local authority’s fundamentally flawed application for a placement order that led to the first final hearing being adjourned.