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Home > Judgments > 2013 archive

Re J (a child) (Learning Disabled Parent) [2013]

Local Authority application for a supervision order in respect of a child, who it had been decided could remain in the care of his mother, with the appropriate support to be given to her to care for him in the light of her learning disabilities.

The case had been previously considered by the Court in October 2012, at which stage the local authority had sought final care and placement orders in respect of the child J, on the basis that the threshold criteria in the Children Act 1989 s.31 were met. The Court had found that the threshold was met on a limited basis only and had directed a further residential assessment for the purpose of identifying the extent to which the mother could sustain and build upon the improvements that she had been noted to make during her stay at the residential placement.

J was 5 months old at the time that the further assessment was ordered, and had remained in the care of his mother since birth, either at hospital or in the residential unit. Whilst the Court found that at the time that protective measures were instituted, J had been likely to suffer significant harm emotionally due to witnessing his father's violent behaviour to others, and was also likely to suffer neglect, since the mother's admission to the residential unit and the support she had received there, she had gained better insight into the authority's concerns and had separated from the father.

The Court reminded itself of the decision of Hedley J in Re L (2007), in which it was said that the Court must guard against social engineering. In the light of the progress that the mother had made, a further assessment was directed. The outcome of that assessment had been positive, and by the time that the Court was asked to consider the final order in March 2013, agreement had been reached that a supervision order was the appropriate way forward.

Summary by Jacqui Thomas, barrister, 37 Park Square Chambers Leeds



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IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE BT12C00028.
FAMILY DIVISION
PRINCIPAL REGISTRY

First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
London
WC1V 6NP
Wednesday, 13th March 2013.
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Before:

DISTRICT JUDGE CUSHING

A LONDON AUTHORITY 1st Respondent

AM 2nd Respondent

J 3rd Respondent
(by his Children's Guardian)
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Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO
Official Shorthand Writers and Tape Transcribers
Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HP
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MR. R. HOWLING QC (instructed by the Legal Services Department) appeared on behalf of the Applicant Local Authority.
MS. J. GASPARRO (instructed by Goodman Ray) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Mother.
MS. E. VEATS (instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Father.
MS. B. THOMPSON (Solicitor, Osbornes) appeared on behalf of the Guardian.
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J U D G M E N T
(Approved)

THE DISTRICT JUDGE: 
1. This is the second part of a decision about the future of a little boy called J.  He was born in May 2012 and at the time of this hearing he is not yet a year old.  This decision follows on from the decision that I gave on Friday 12th October 2012 and it should be regarded as the second part of one complete judgment, therefore incorporating all that I said in October as well as what I will say today. 

2. I have been provided with a bundle of documents and have been specifically asked to read certain documents contained therein.  These I have read, and I have been referred to particular aspects of the written material for the purpose of this hearing. 

3. What this second hearing is all about is what the arrangements should be for J, and by "arrangements" I include the person with whom he will live, the people with whom he will have contact and the arrangements to support his placement and the contact.  In fact, much has been agreed and I am grateful to Mr. Howling QC for the local authority, Ms. Gasparro for the Mother, Ms. Veats for the Father and Ms. Thompson for the children's guardian for all the preparatory work that they have done outside of court to clarify the extent of the agreement and to try to help the parties to reach agreement on almost everything.

4. The plan for J's future is that he will continue to live with his mother and be cared for by her.  She has done very well in all of the assessments of her parenting and I find her to be capable of meeting J's needs so long as she has access to the support and advice that she readily accepts she requires.  In my first judgment, I made reference to the mother's own difficulties.  These she recognises and has worked effectively, particularly with those who are aware of her learning difficulty and who are able to support her.  In that group of people I include, of course, DK, whose evidence I heard on the last occasion, and the mother's advocate, who has consistently supported her in these proceedings and I hope will continue to offer support in future.

5. The threshold for making an order under s.31 of the Children Act 1989 was found to be passed at the hearing in October 2012.  The question that remained and which I am happy to say I can now determine is what sort of order, if any, would be needed to secure J's welfare.  The answer to that question is found in the evidence, and the local authority has acknowledged that a supervision order will be sufficient to enable them to advise, assist and befriend this family.  The supervision order will last for a year and the local authority has indicated that about three-quarters of the way through that year they will give active consideration at a "children in need" meeting to the question whether the supervision order needs to be continued or whether the support can be provided on a longer term basis by agreement without the need for an order. 

6. In these circumstances, there will be no change in J's main carer, and that will be of great benefit to him because he will be brought up securely in the knowledge that his mother has always been his carer.  He is too young to express his wishes and feelings about that matter, but he has always been observed to be very contented in her care.  She is able to meet his physical, emotional and educational needs with a little support, and, again, with support and advice she will be able to respond to his changing needs as he grows up.  She will undoubtedly need advice to protect him from harm and that advice will be available from the local authority.  So far as J's day-to-day care and all the decisions about his upbringing are concerned, I find that he will be well cared for by his mother and the only public law order which is necessary is the supervision order which I now make.

7. The plan is that the mother will have available to her an offer of respite care from an uncle on the paternal side.  The Uncle was assessed by the local authority and was found to be committed to supporting J's care by his family.  Indeed, he was at one time considered as a potential alternative carer.  The Uncle has the ability to provide respite care.  He will also provide the facility for contact to take place with the paternal family.  He is, therefore, a very important person in J's life, and yet, surprisingly, he does not really know the mother at all.  It will be very important that he meets the mother and gets to know her so that at any time the mother feels the need for respite care of any kind she will have confidence that she can go to the Uncle and will not be judged or criticised but will be supported.  I have no reason to think that the respite care offer is anything other than completely genuine.  In the social worker's statement of 1st February 2013 she found that the Uncle was a person who would be able to bring individuals together to support not only his own relative, the father, but also the mother and J.

8. The local authority has agreed to a number of amendments to its care plan to reflect the matters that we have discussed during this hearing.  Mr. Howling QC will be sending a draft order reflecting the final agreed order, incorporating the frequency of contact that I have said is part of my decision.  The local authority will amend its care plan to reflect the changes to the care plan that they have agreed to make, and I regard that as very important because I expect that the local authority will always look to its care plan rather than any court orders when it comes to consider arrangements for J's welfare and to see whether any amendments to the plan need to be made.

9. In making my decision, I have considered all the matters which I am required to have regard to under the Children Act 1989 and, in particular, s.1 of that Act I have had regard to the importance to J of family relationships and, above all, I have considered J's welfare as being paramount.  So where his welfare is in conflict with the wishes of his parents or any other person I have accorded primary consideration to J's welfare.  That is my decision.
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