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Home > Judgments > 2012 archive

A Council v M & Ors (Judgment 2: Welfare) [2012] EWHC 4242 (Fam)

Welfare hearing following fact-finding judgment. Care orders made, together with section 34(4) Children Act order. Application for section 91(14) Children Act order refused.

This case followed on from a judgment given in a fact finding hearing in relation to the two subject girls – B, aged 17, and C, aged 7 – and their 18 year old sister, and her 1 year old daughter.  That fact-finding hearing is summarised here.

This part of the hearing concerned decisions relating to C's welfare, there being general agreement about orders in respect of B, who was to remain a ward of court until she turned 18.

The children's mother lived with B, but C had been accommodated in foster care. Since the judgment, the mother had been charged with five offences of child cruelty to which she intended to plead guilty, including the artificial insemination of her oldest daughter. Despite a reporting restriction having been put in place, the mother had taken to the internet to post comments on her treatment by the local authority and had created a Twitter account for her youngest daughter, which she used to publicise her own grievances.

The mother applied under s.38(6) Children Act for further assessment by Resolutions. The judge, Jackson J, considered that the prospects of success for the mother were not good, and that, in any event, he had ample information with which to make a decision.

The court heard evidence from the social worker, psychologist, mother and the Children's Guardian. The judge considered that the mother represented a significant risk to any dependent child in her care. He considered that there was no possibility of her being able to parent C at any foreseeable point, and moreover that she was unlikely to be able to accept this finding. He therefore made a care order in relation to C and approved the local authority's care plan.

He considered that, given the above and the mother's powerful personality, there should be a gap of 6-12 months without contact to allow C to settle. For a resumption of contact in the future, the judge required that the mother would have to acknowledge that C needed to be where she was. He therefore made an order under s.34(4) Children Act giving permission to the local authority to withhold contact between C and her mother.

The judge refused to make a s.91(14) order, but reserved any future applications concerning the girls to himself and required that such applications should not be served on the other parties, but should be referred to him in the first instance.

Summary by Gillon Cameron, barrister, 14 Gray's Inn Square
___________________________

Reporting restrictions
A reporting restriction order was made on 17 July 2012
This judgment may be published in this form on the basis that the family members are not identified

Neutral Citation Number: [2012] EWHC 4242 (Fam)
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE       
FAMILY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
Date: 17/07/2012

Before :

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE PETER JACKSON
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Between :

A Council Applicant

- and - 

M

- and –

F

- and -

A

- and -

B, C and D Respondents
(by their Children's Guardians)  
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ms Mary Lazarus the Local Authority
Ms Carol McMillan for the Mother (M)
Ms Sally Bradley for the Father (F)
Mr Anthony Jerman for the eldest child (A)
Ms M Hancock for the second child (B)
Mr Martin Downs for the Children's Guardian for B and the third child (C)

The names of solicitors are omitted in the interests of confidentiality

Hearing dates: 9 July to 17 July 2012
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

JUDGMENT 2 (welfare)
NOTE ON REPORTING RESTRICTIONS
This judgment is the second in a series of four.  It was given on 17 July 2012 but was not made public to protect the children concerned and because of the pending criminal trial.  It is now handed down publicly in an anonymised form, together with the first and third judgments, so that the matter can be reported, but without identifying the family.  The fourth judgment, which will deal with the question of the legal status of the child C, will be published in due course.

Reporting restriction orders were made on 21 February 2012, 17 May 2102 and 17 July 2012.  The last of these remains in force and prevents publication of

(a)  the names and address of any of

the Children whose details are set out in the order;

the Parents, whose details are set out in the order;

(b)  any picture being or including a picture of either the Children or the Parents;

(c)  any other identifying details relating to the Children or the Parents, and in particular descriptions of them as being connected with any of the following geographical areas: [two towns]; [the county]; [the region of the country]; [foreign country X]; [foreign country Y].

IF, BUT ONLY IF, such publication is likely to lead to the Children or Parents being identified as being or having been:-
 
i. parties to proceedings in the Family Division of the High Court;

ii. in foster care, or provided with accommodation by a local authority;

iii. adopted from or having adopted children from X or Y;

iv. involved with artificial insemination;

v. involved in a dispute over the circumstances of conception of a child;

vi. concerned in criminal charges brought against M

The full text of the order is attached to Judgment 3 in this matter.

26 April 2013


Mr Justice Peter Jackson:
1. I am concerned with two girls: B, aged 17, born in 1995, and C, born in 2004, and now aged seven and a half. 

2. On 8 March 2012 I gave a fact finding judgment in relation to these children and their sister A, now aged 18 (born in 1994), and her son D now aged one (born in 2011). I will not repeat the history described in that judgement.  It was highly unusual.  The proceedings in relation to A had come to an end when she turned 18 and those relating to D are continuing separately. 

3. In relation to B there is general agreement about the orders that must now be made.  The issues concerning C are these: Firstly, whether she should return to the care of her mother, or remain in her current foster home as a permanent long term placement, now under a Care Order but perhaps under another order in future, such as a Special Guardianship Order.  Secondly, if C remains in the foster home, what contact should she have with her mother and siblings?  Thirdly, is a further assessment necessary for the purposes of these decisions? Fourthly, should there be an order restricting further applications to court?  Fifthly, what should be done to clarify C's  legal status?

4. I will next summarise events since the last hearing.

5. The mother has been charged with five offences of child cruelty. Three relate to the artificial insemination of A, one to leaving C in A's care in 2009 when she and B went to the USA, and one to cruelty to C.  On 3 August 2012 the mother will appear at Crown Court for the first time and she says that she intends to plead guilty to three of these charges, albeit on the basis of different facts to those found by this court.  A sentence of imprisonment in due course is a real possibility. 

6. The mother and B moved to a new address in April.  A and D continue to live in a foster home.  Contact arrangements now consist of the mother seeing C fortnightly for supervised contact, B seeing C weekly with supervised contact, and A and D seeing C in C's foster home from time to time.

7. The mother has filed a statement in these proceedings making some admissions.  B has filed a similar statement in step with the mother's change of account. 

8. B has engaged with an independent social worker but she remains deeply mistrustful of social services, as does her mother. 

9. Dr C has provided a psychological assessment of the mother and children.

10. The mother has breached the Reporting Restriction Order that was then in force by publicising views on the internet that are very different from those set out in her statement.

11. In so far as the threshold in this case is concerned it is, as I have already indicated, plainly crossed.  There is no significant dispute about this. My threshold findings broadly follow the summary prepared by the local authority and I shall now record them. 

a. At the time that the local authority took protective measures in relation to C and B on 5 July 2011, they had suffered and were likely to suffer significant harm, in that the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to care that they had or would be likely to receive was not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give them.

b. Both girls were exposed to M' temperament and attitude, and to her controlling personality leading to distorted relationships within the family. 

c. Both girls were raised in a home where the elder sister A was exploited by M to become pregnant to satisfy M' determination to have a fourth child. 

d. B was co-opted into involvement in this plan and her subsequent denial including attempts discredit A causing serious damage to her relationship with her older sister. 

e. C has suffered physical abuse, inappropriate punishment, social isolation and oppressive control.  As a result C has suffered emotional damage with life long implications shown by a needy and avoidant attachment pattern, and symptoms of Oppositional Defiance Disorder including distressed and challenging behaviour requiring therapy and skilled care to repair the damage.  The harm to C goes beyond the legacy left by her pre-adoption experiences. 

f. B was also exposed to the Mother's abusive care of C, isolating limitations upon her socialisation and deprivation of her relationships with her adopted Father and wider family.  As a result B has suffered damage to her emotional development and loss of significant family relationships.

g. M has not accepted the significant findings against her in relation to the harm towards her children. 

12. That concludes the threshold findings.  I have not made reference to the educational consequences of home education, as to which I make no findings either way.

13. I next consider the application made by M for further assessment under Section 38(6) of the Children Act.  She seeks an adjournment of the proceedings in order for an assessment to be carried out by the organisation known as Resolutions, which is well regarded for its ability to work with parents who do not accept findings but who may be able to be helped to parent safely and particularly where there are strong support networks.  This application has been made twice before in these proceedings, in each case unsuccessfully.  It is opposed on this occasion by all professionals concerned with C and I dismiss it once again.

14. My reasons are that C needs an urgent decision about whether she will remain in foster care.  She needs stability, and she needs to start on a process of therapy to help her understand what has happened.

15. Next, having considered the position of the mother at this hearing, the prospects of a favourable outcome of such an assessment can, in my view, be discounted for practical purposes. 

16. Thirdly, the purpose of ordering a further assessment is to provide the Court with necessary information in order to make this decision.  In my view, the Court has ample information with regard to C's family situation.

17. During the course of the hearing, I have heard evidence from the Practice Manager at the Adoption and Permanence Team, the senior social worker, Dr C (psychologist), the mother, and the Children's Guardian.

18. I was also able to meet B who came to Court and spoke to me, and gave me a letter which she had written. 

19. In making decisions the welfare of B and C is of paramount importance.  I also have in mind the right of all family members to respect for the family life that exists between the mother and the children.

20. The central question concerns C's future placement. 

21. As to C's wishes and feelings, she has divided loyalties.  She has strong ties to her mother, but these are ambivalent.  At times she enjoys being with her mother, but there are aspects of her mother's behaviour that she plainly finds uncomfortable.  C has benefited from good care in her current foster home and she has begun to develop ties with her foster carers.  Given her experiences C's wishes and feelings do not strongly speak for any particular outcome. 

22. As to her emotional needs, C has, as I have said, an urgent need for stable nurturing parenting from carers who can deal with her oppositional behaviour. Her relationship with her mother will remain important to her. She also has an important relationship with A and with B. 

23. At the heart of the matter is an assessment of the mother's ability to meet C's needs and the issue of harm.  It is right to acknowledge M's obvious strengths.  She is an intelligent, articulate and determined person. Her actions in retrieving the children from orphanages should be acknowledged, and her commitment to their education.  The children are undoubtedly very important to her, and the fact that they are all delightful children shows evidence of some good parenting.

24. Unfortunately M's own needs have got in the way in a number of serious respects.  An example would be her disregard for the controls designed to protect children from abroad in respect of her adoption of C from country Y. Then there is her obsession, there is no other word for it, with having a fourth child, leading to the gross abuse of A, into which B became sucked.

25. Nothing in the evidence that is now available, in particular the assessment by Dr C of M in a psychological respect, causes me to change the view that I expressed at the earlier hearing which is that M represents a significant risk to any dependent child in her care.  If anything, that has become clearer. 

26. An important aspect is her response to the original findings.  On her behalf it is said that she has to some extent acknowledged the findings and indeed that she intends to plead guilty to certain criminal offences.  I refer to the Position Statement filed on her behalf and confirmed by her in her evidence as representing her views as at mid-May.  It is a disconcerting document in which M makes partial acceptance of some of the findings, while at the same time throwing responsibility for having thought up the artificial insemination idea upon A, maintaining that she herself had tried to become pregnant and referring to the unfairness of the family being "torn apart and stolen away"… "just because a parent makes a mistake".   In reference to her protracted lies she turns even that on its head in saying that she had to choose between two of her children, something that no parent should have to do.

27. Were there any doubt about her true attitude, it has been resolved by M' subsequent resort to the internet. Earlier this month it was discovered that she had posted a lengthy comment on the website entitled The Secret World of Child Protection. That post on 21 June 2012 contains an account of the injustices that M describes her family as having undergone, with attacks on social workers, midwives, the police and Mr and Mrs P.  But in truth this document is another attack on A, because of the way it contradicts her account.  (I do not suppose M has considered what A would feel if she came upon that posting.)

28. She speaks of there being "no danger or risk" to B or C, and of "the nightmare starting on that day", meaning the day on which she was found out.  The children's nightmare had of course started many years earlier. 

29. Next, on 24 June 2012 the mother created a Twitter an account entitled "Freedom for [C] : Mother who has been forcibly separated by UK SS from her youngest daughter, [C], since 5 July 2011. She is 7½  and wants to go home."

30. The web page contains a photograph of C and B taken by B on a contact occasion, and used by her mother without reference to B or indeed C.  Snippets of remaining text make clear that the Twitter account was another way for M to publicise her grievances.  All of this is clear evidence of Dr C's description of M's ability to reconstruct reality to meet her own needs, without any understanding of the effect that it has on other people.  These as it happens were plain breaches of the reporting restriction order which had been put in place for the protection of the family.

31. Insofar as her evidence was concerned, I do not doubt that M is sad and shaken by what has occurred, and also angry, but in the sadness I could detect no real sign of remorse.  On 3 July 2012 M met her criminal barrister and on 5 July, a significant anniversary within the family because A had been adopted 18 years earlier, she wrote a letter of apology to A. Making all allowances for how difficult apologies are, this document is a self-centred production.  It may meet M's needs, but can scarcely meet A's, with its references to "closure", diabetes and so forth. 

32. My reason for drawing attention to this information is because it is an example of the risks that M is capable of posing.  As Dr C put it, she has not yet begun the process of moving on or understanding what she has done and is preoccupied with finding other reasons for her actions.  She complains of what she describes as "mud-slinging" and of "hate crimes" against her. The overall position is that M truly believes or has persuaded herself that her predicament arises from the fact that "I am different". This self-pitying attitude demonstrates that she lacks the ability to meet the needs of these needy children, and taking the fullest account of Ms McMillan's submissions, I conclude firstly that there is no possibility of M being able to parent C safely at any foreseeable point in the future, and secondly that she is highly unlikely to accept this, and that C must be protected accordingly.

33. I turn to the question of contact.  Contact between M and C is a mixed picture with some good occasions and some less good and occasionally, as on the 5 July 2012, disastrous.  I am satisfied that there is a direct effect on C of contact with her mother, who is someone with a powerful personality, a personality which must be extremely potent to a child of C's age.  Having considered the evidence, including the views of professionals, I am in no doubt that it is not currently in C's interests to have contact with her mother. 

34. It is a very serious thing to prevent a child and parent having contact with each other, but it is necessary here for there to be a substantial gap, probably in the order of 6-12 months to allow C to settle, and to understand that she is not going to be going back to her mother's care. She needs to establish herself in her long term foster home without subtle and less subtle signals from her Mother that she should not be there.  I reach that conclusion without having regard to the possibility of the mother's imprisonment. 

35. I will approve the document that has been prepared which sets out the framework for the resumption of contact in the future. In essence two things will have to be in place: It will have to be right for C, and M will have to have acknowledged that C needs to be where she is. 

36. I now turn to contact between C and A and D.  That is now fortnightly or thereabouts and it will become monthly or thereabouts.  It is important to C, and should continue.

37. I next consider contact between C and B – now weekly. Recently this has been going well and these girls are fond of each other.  The care plan, which is considerably more liberal than Dr C's original advice, proposes that this contact should take place during school holidays, every 6 weeks.  I have heard rather a lot about this issue and the Local Authority have agreed to incorporate my decision into the care plan.  

38. I accept that the significance of contact for C and A on the one hand, and C and B on the other, is rather different. A was more involved in C' upbringing. B is currently aligned with her mother.  Different arrangements for contact in the immediate future reflect these differences. 

39. I believe that B can generally be trusted to continue to behave well when she sees C, but if she does not or if she allows her mother to intrude on the arrangements, the arrangements will have to change. I do not believe that there is any need to add a different frequency to the other differences. Although this decision is substantially about C's interests, B's interests must also be considered.  I believe that a reduction from weekly to monthly meets the overall needs of the situation and I will request the Local Authority to change its care plan to record its intention that contact will take place roughly monthly, that is a similar frequency to A's contact,  with meetings arranged in holidays or term time as seems best.

40. I hope that there will be able to be a progressive relaxation. I hope that B will soon meet C's foster carer and that as the relationship between B and A recovers, joint visits to see C may become possible.  These three girls are extremely important to each other and as much family life should be preserved for them as is possible, even though it will not have their mother at its heart.

41. Overall this represents a level of contact that the foster placement seems able to absorb, but matters are always subject to review in the light of experience.  The significant reductions are undoubtedly necessary to secure C's placement in the new home.

42.  I will therefore approve the Care Plan for C with the necessary amendments, and make a final Care Order in favour of the Local Authority in relation to C.

43. Whatever the outcome of the debate about C's status under her adoption, the order will reflect the fact that the mother will be treated by the Local Authority as if she formally had parental responsibility.

44. In the light of my decision, I will make an Order under Section 34(4) Children Act giving permission to the Local Authority to withhold contact between C and her mother.  I will not limit it in time, but it will be subject to the framework that I have already referred to.

45. I next address the recommendation of an Order under Section 91(14) of the Children Act. 

46. All the professionals who gave evidence referred to the fact that these proceedings have been on foot for the past year, and the benefits to C in particular of restricting applications so that she could have a period of calm. Much the same might be said for B, who has had all too much involvement in discussions which are necessary, but painful. 

47. The recommendation is that there should be an order for over one year, it is suggested 15 months.  I understand why the matter is raised, but barring people from access to the Court is an exceptional step.  It should only be put in place where necessary.  I am not going to make an order in this case because I do not think it is necessary in the light of the order that I will make, which is to reserve any future applications about these two girls to myself, and direct that any application made by M between now and 1st October 2013 is not to be served on any other party, but to be referred to me on issue for directions or a decision.  This enables M to make an application if the situation warrants it, but understanding that I am only likely to allow it to proceed if there is some significant change in circumstances, or other reasons to allow litigation to start again within the next 14-15 months.

48. I now turn to B.  Identifying the orders that are required is not problematic.  B will remain a Ward until she turns 18.  I will give directions on the basis of the list that has been prepared.  I will direct that B is to live at her current home or at any other address agreed between her, M, F and the Local Authority.  I will make directions requiring M to keep F and the Local Authority informed of any proposed change of address at no less than 21 days in advance, and to inform F of any medical emergency, and to keep the Local Authority and F informed promptly of any arrangements that are proposed for B if M is for any reason unable to look after her.

49. I will make an Order preventing B leaving the jurisdiction unless it has been agreed by the Local Authority and F, but I will immediately give permission for B to travel to New York for her college trip in March 2013, provided the full details have been provided to the Local Authority 21 days in advance, and on condition that the mother should remain in England during the duration of that trip.

50. I do not think it is necessary for any other orders in respect of B.  Wardship is an unusual status these days, but it is warranted in B's case.  Happily and to M's credit, B has met with her father on a couple of occasions.  I hope that that continues; F is doing all that could be asked of him. 

51. Although those are the only practical matters, there are a number of things that need to be said in relation to B.

52. First she is in an impossible position.  Her mother and A are bitterly estranged, and she is in the middle.  C has been removed, and will not be returning.  B herself went back home at the worst possible moment, even if it is something which she herself wanted.

53. Next, B is a remarkable young woman and her college attendance is a credit to her - which of us could have coped with her situation as well as she is doing?  She is not in a position where she is capable of developing a truly independent point of view.  She is bound to be strongly influenced by her mother's preoccupations, in the same way as she was dragged into her mother's abusive behaviour towards A, which was nothing less than abusive towards B herself. 

54. Like Mrs Justice Macur, I was very impressed by B.  Dr C accurately describes her "breezy inconsequential way of coping". There are signs of evidence of strain, but there is no sign at all of lack of depth of feeling. As she wrote about C: "I love her even if I don't always say it or show it".  Dr C readily apologised to B if his professionally framed report gave a different impression. 

55. Even if B now necessarily echoes her mother's preoccupations, she has strong feelings which are her own feelings, and which need to be heard.  She obviously needs help with them, because they are a great weight for a person of her age to carry.  Her letter to me was a formal request to consider C's return, but B is smart enough to know that that was very unlikely and what she goes on to say is more in the nature of a lament.  She is sad and angry at Dr C's report, she is scared for C remaining in the foster placement and losing touch.  She has the strongest criticism for social services concerning her first foster placement, and the way in which she sees A receiving more favourable treatment than herself. She writes that her needs are not counted, and her thoughts and feelings not cared about.  The only person that she has no criticism for, seemingly, is her mother. 

56. As B describes it, for her it has been a horrible year.  No child of her age could be expected to see clearly.  I urge the Local Authority to be imaginative in supplying, and if necessary paying for, any help that might be acceptable to B.  She is a spirited and deserving young person, who is going to need help in the years to come and beyond. 

57. I end with a couple of outstanding matters.  I will consider what directions should be given in relation to resolving C's status and I will give consideration with the parties' assistance to the issue of publication of judgments in due course.  The case obviously raises matters of genuine concern in a number of areas that deserve consideration elsewhere provided that can be done without adding to the harm to the children. 

58. There are certain proposals made by the Local Authority for disclosure of information to bodies such as the General Social Care Council and the Local Government Ombudsman, and so forth.  Because M has made a number of blanket complaints against professionals, I approve that initiative in principal, subject to the details. M is a potentially plausible complainer to the uninformed, or those whose only information comes from her.

59. I will in due course approve a note of this judgment as part of the final processes in these proceedings and receive suggestions from the parties as to details which can and cannot be included in the approved versions of the judgments.

60. Insofar as the Reporting Restriction Order is concerned, I will rise in a moment to give the parties a moment to deal with that.  I hope that the judgment in the Reporting Restriction matter will be available to the parties in a few days at most.

61. That concludes my judgment.