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A County Council v L [2014] EWHC 730 (Fam)

High Court application for care order – threshold met by virtue of child being victim of trafficking– additional support for trafficked child

L was a victim of child trafficking, having been brought to this country from Ghana by a couple who were either her parents or posing as her parents. L was placed with another Ghanaian couple and the couple who had brought her left the country within the week. 

The local authority became involved when a health visitor conducted a home visit and found an unrelated child living with the couple.  During a later visit from a social worker, L initially gave a false name and date of birth, then stated that she had been brought to this country by her parents for a holiday.  L's account again changed after speaking to one of the adults in Ghanaian.  The couple she was living with were unable to clearly explain the circumstances in which L came to live with them.  The social worker informed the police, who removed L under a police protection order and she was placed in foster care, where she remained under successive interim care orders.

The case was transferred to the High Court due to the international element.  Case management directions were made in an attempt to obtain more information about L's parents and background; however, information provided from the police, UK Border Agency and the Ghanaian Embassy did not assist in locating L's parents.  A direction provided for a medical assessment of L's age, which indicated that L was aged between 13 and 14. 
 
Following a negative assessment of the couple L had been living with, the local authority's final care plan was for L to be placed in long-term foster care.  L's guardian supported the care plan, but made detailed recommendations as to how it could be improved, which included the local authority continuing to make efforts to locate her family in Ghana, providing L with support in coming to terms with being a victim of child trafficking, and ensuring that L is provided with support and advice as to her immigration status, including funding legal advice.  The local authority accepted the recommendations and were directed to file an amended care plan.

Mr Justice Baker concluded that the threshold was "plainly crossed" by virtue of L being a victim of child trafficking and was satisfied that the only option was for a final care order with a care plan for long-term fostering, with the additional support recommended by L's guardian and accepted by the local authority.  Finally, to avoid any uncertainty about L's age, a declaration was made as to her date of birth.

Summary by Ariel Ricci, barrister, Coram Chambers

__________________________


IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
FAMILY DIVISION

IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989
AND IN THE MATTER OF L (A CHILD)
2014 EWHC 730 (Fam)


Case Number: WD13C01591
Friday, 21st February 2014

Before:

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE BAKER

A COUNTY COUNCIL Applicant

-v-

L (by her children's guardian) Respondent
___________________

MS ANDREA WATTS appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
MS SARA BARTHA appeared on behalf of the Guardian.
___________________

Transcription by John Larking Verbatim Reporters
Suite 91, Temple Chambers, 3-7 Temple Avenue, London EC4Y 0HP
Tel: 020 7404 7464    Fax: 020 7404 7443
www.johnlarking.co.uk
____________________

APPROVED JUDGMENT
____________________
1,468 Words / 21 Folios

This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of her family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court


Friday, 21st February 2014
MR JUSTICE BAKER:
1  These care proceedings concern a girl, L, who has been the victim of child trafficking, having been brought to this country unlawfully from Ghana.  I am today making an order placing her in the care of the local authority, A County Council.  This short judgment sets out the reasons for my decision. 

2  The full history of L's early life is largely unknown.  It is believed that her parents are FG and JA.  All attempts to locate her parents have failed.  The Ghanaian High Commission has provided addresses for her parents to the local authority which duly wrote to those addresses.  The only response received has been from a woman living at the purported father's address who informed the local authority that he was not known to her.

3  On 26 December 2012 L was brought to this country by persons who were either her parents or the people posing as her parents and placed with another Ghanaian couple, DM and LA.  The adults who brought her – her parents or persons posing as her parents – left the country on 31 December 2012.  The local authority received a referral from a health visitor who had conducted a home visit to the property and discovered that a child was living there unrelated to DM or LA.  The local authority started an assessment in accordance with its private fostering guidelines.  On 20 June 2013 a social worker made an unannounced home visit to the property.  L initially gave a false name and date of birth but then stated that she had been brought to this country by her parents for a holiday.  During the interview, L's account again changed after speaking to LA in the Ghanaian language.  LA and DM also gave an account which did not clearly explain to the social worker the circumstances in which L was at the property. 

4  The social worker informed the police who began an investigation and removed L under a police protection order, following which the local authority placed her in foster care.  On 30 July the local authority filed an application for a care order.  Successive interim care orders have been made and L has remained in foster care, although regrettably she has moved foster placements on two occasions.  In view of the international aspect the case was transferred to the High Court.  On 21 October Mr Justice Roderic Wood made a case management order including directions for information to be obtained from the UK Border Agency and A Constabulary.  The Border Agency was only able to confirm the bare outline details of L's arrival in this country as set out above.  The police indicated that they were not intending at that stage to pursue any further investigation.

5  The matter came before me in December and I gave further directions requesting the Ghanaian Embassy to provide a copy of L's passport.  The Embassy replied indicating that it was not in a position to comply with that but did give details of the addresses of L's parents.  It was to those addresses that the local authority wrote with the limited outcome indicated above.

6  I also gave directions at that hearing for a medical assessment of L's age.  That assessment carried out by Dr B concluded that she was aged between 13 and 14.  Subsequently, L has told the local authority that her date of birth was 22 May 2000, which would make her now 13 years 9 months old in line with Dr B's assessment.  The local authority also carried out a viability assessment of LA and DM.  That assessment recommended that L should not be placed in their care or that there should be some contact with that couple if she wished.

7  The final care plan filed by the local authority provided that she should be placed in long-term foster care.   This would involve a further movement for L.  The guardian supports the plan but has made a number of helpful suggestions as to how it might be improved. 

8    First, she proposes that the local authority plan should stipulate that it will have regard to L's express wishes and feelings when identifying a long-term foster placement.  

9    Secondly, she recommends that the plan should provide that consideration will be given to supervised contact between L and LA and DM. 

10    Thirdly, the local authority will continue to explore ways in which L's links with her Ghanaian background can be restored and nurtured.  This involves general links with her Ghanaian heritage but also more specifically ongoing efforts to identify the whereabouts of her family in Ghana. 

11     Fourthly, specific consideration needs to be given to L's particular needs as a victim of child trafficking.  The guardian has identified AFRUCA as a resource that may be helpful in this regard. L's own account of her past seems to be in some ways inaccurate and distorted.  She needs help in coming to terms with the truth and to coping with her circumstances.  In addition, it seems to the guardian, and I respectfully agree, that the local authority social worker is able to access the experience of other professionals who have dealt with cases of child trafficking. 

12    Fifthly, the guardian proposes that the plan should provide that consideration be given to providing L with an independent visitor to address her concerns about her sense of social isolation as a child from another country brought up in our care system. 

13    Finally, the guardian urges the local authority to ensure that L is provided with support and advice as to the immigration status including funding for legal advice.   

14    I am happy to note that the local authority accepts all of these proposals by the guardian and I agree that they should be included in the final care plan and therefore direct the local authority to file an amended plan that expressly refers to these further provisions. 

15  The threshold under section 31 of the Children Act is plainly crossed by reason of the matters of the history set out above.  L has suffered and is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of her experiences as a victim of child trafficking.  I have carefully considered the options having regard to section 1 of The Children Act and to the principles identified by the Court of Appeal in the decision in Re BS.  I am satisfied that there is only one option in this case; namely that L be placed in the care of the local authority.  In my judgment her needs can only be met by such an order on the basis of the care plan for long-term fostering supplemented by the provisions identified by the guardian and set out above.  I therefore make a care order placing L in the care of A County Council.

16  I make two further orders. First, to resolve any uncertainty about her age, I make a declaration that L's birthday was 22 May 2000.  Secondly, I direct that a transcript of this judgment be prepared at the joint cost of the local authority and the guardian and I give permission, first, for the judgment to be disclosed to the police and the Home Office so that it may be utilised in any future police investigation and in connection with L's immigration application, and, secondly, for it to be published in accordance with the President's guidelines on an anonymised basis.  I would be grateful if the local authority counsel, Ms Watts, could arrange for that anonymisation to take place once the full transcript is available and I would ask her to submit the redacted version to me for approval before publication.
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