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A v W and Others No 2 (Welfare) [2017] EWFC 8

Judgment of Theis J in care proceedings in which she (i) refused an application by the mother for further assessment after a fact-finding hearing concerning non-accidental injuries; and (ii) made care and placement orders in respect of two infant children.

The children, MY (20 months) and MN (10 months), were the subject of care proceedings. The parents were in their early/mid 20s. In April 2016 the children had been removed from the parents' care on account of MN suffering severe non-accidental injuries: an acute subdural haemorrhage, a chronic subdural haemorrhage, posterior rib fractures and fractures to the distal right and left femoral metaphases.

There was a long fact-finding hearing before Theis J in November 2016, with judgment handed down in December 2016. That is reported as A v W & Others No 1 (Fact Finding) [2016] EWFC 64 (Fam) and contains the detailed background to the proceedings (paras. 13 to 90) and some consequential findings as to the requirements of the children's welfare (paras.129 to 154). The judge found the father to have caused the acute injuries and both parents to be in the pool of perpetrators for the chronic injuries. Further, she found there had been a failure by both parents to protect the children who were at risk of future significant physical harm and neglect due to the parents' daily drug use, the number of adults staying in the home and significant emotional harm caused by the volatile nature of the parents' relationship and their neglectful behaviour towards the children.

At the conclusion of the fact-finding the mother was given time to consider any s.38(6) application for further assessment in light of the findings, but the judge said, "I have very real concerns about whether she will be able to be in a position to care for the children that would be in their timescales of needing to have security and stability about where their long term care is going to be."

The mother put forward two proposals for an assessment: (1) A residential assessment at the St Michael's Fellowship (not pursued on receipt of correspondence from St. Michael's); or (2) a paper risk-assessment followed by a residential placement.

At paragraphs 12 to 15 of the judgment, the social worker's updating evidence is discussed in conjunction with the existing assessments before the court at fact-finding. The social worker recognised the support the mother had accessed, her recent abstinence from drug-taking and reduction in alcohol consumption, but noted she had yet to receive any professional support other than a few appointments. The mother remained very vulnerable.

At paragraph 21 to 27 the judge offered a brief summary of the law applicable to when the court should make care/placement orders and the approach to a s.38(6) application, which culminated in this statement:

"assessments need to be child focussed, it is not a question of the mother's right to have a further assessment, it is: would the assessment assist the judge in reaching a conclusion or the right conclusion in relation to the children in question, any assessment needs to contribute something to the information that is needed for the ultimate decision (see Re T [2011] EWCA Civ 812 [92] and [95])."

Ultimately, after a discussion of the parties' respective submissions at paragraphs 28 to 33, it was this test that led the judge to refuse the mother's application for further assessment "with a heavy heart" (para.36). She reached that conclusion for the following reasons:

(1) Although the mother had taken recent steps to address her drug and alcohol consumption, as the expert psychiatrist agreed, she was still in the very early stages of accessing this essential support which had to be looked at in the context of the chronic and wide nature of her difficulties. Further, her abstinence would have to be supported by therapy, which had not yet even started (para.38).

(2) The judge had found the mother to be an accomplished liar, who had effectively deceived the professionals over a long period of time. The mother's given reason for lying had been through fear of losing the children. The judge found that, should the children return to be with the mother, "she would remain wanting to present herself in the best possible light, which is very likely to lead her to resort to her previous dishonesty to mask any difficulties she may be experiencing or, more likely, risks that her behaviour would leave the children exposed to" (para.39).

(3) There were very high risks of the mother forming another unsuitable relationship (para.40).

(4) The ISW had produced a detailed report in advance of the fact-finding that did not support the return of the children to the mother's care irrespective of the court's findings as to the perpetrator of MN's injuries (para.41).

(5) The judge accepted the social worker's evidence that MY had experienced neglectful parenting and needed "reparative parenting" (para.42).

(6) The experienced guardian did not support a further assessment or a return to the mother's care (para.43).

(7) The delay caused in waiting for the mother to address her issues and attain a degree of stability, such that a return of the children to her care could even be considered (at least one year), would be detrimental to their welfare (para.45 to 47).

As a result of the refusal of the mother's application and on a consideration of the existing evidence, the judge made care and placement orders in respect of the children (para.48 to 50).

Summary by Thomas Dance, barrister, 1 King's Bench Walk
_________________________________

This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for an anonymised 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 children and members of their 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.

Case No: SD16C00464
Neutral Citation Number: [2017] EWFC 8

IN THE FAMILY COURT
Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 27/1/2017


Before:

MRS JUSTICE THEIS DBE

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Between:

A Local Authority
 Applicant
- and - 
CM  1st Respondent
- and -  
LW 2nd Respondent
- and -  
MY & MN
(By their Children's Guardian EJ)
 3rd & 4th Respondents
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ms Gemma Taylor (instructed by A Local Authority) for the Applicant
Mr Paul Storey Q.C. & Mr Colin Morgan
(instructed by Edward Hayes LLP) for 1st Respondent
Ms Christine Julien
(instructed by Boots Starke Goacher, Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
Ms Anna McKenna
(instructed by Harney & Wells) for the 3rd & 4th Respondents

Hearing date: 16th January 2017
Judgment: 27th January 2017
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Judgment
Mrs Justice Theis DBE:  

Introduction:
1.  This judgment needs to be read together with the judgment I handed down on 15 December 2016 [2016] EWFC 64 (Fam) A v W & Others No 1 (Fact Finding) following a two week hearing (the 'November hearing'). As a consequence, I will not repeat the detailed background set out in that judgment and just draw attention, in particular, to what I said under the welfare heading at paragraphs 129 - 154.

2.  These care proceedings concern two children, MY now age 20 months and MN 10 months. The children were removed from the care of their mother, CM, and father, LW, following injuries caused to MN in April 2016. MN was placed with foster carers, where he remains. MY was placed with the paternal grandmother KY until the conclusion of the November hearing, when she moved to live with MN at the foster placement. MN suffered an acute subdural haemorrhage, and was found to have a chronic subdural haemorrhage, posterior rib fractures and fractures to the distal right and left femoral metaphases. I determined in the December judgment the father had caused the acute injuries and both parents were in the pool of perpetrators for the chronic injuries. In addition, I found there had been a failure by both parents to protect the children who were at risk of future significant physical harm and neglect due to the parents daily drug use, the number of adults staying in the home and significant emotional harm caused by the volatile nature of the parents relationship and their neglectful behaviour towards the children. The mother has filed a notice of appeal regarding the finding that she was in the pool for the chronic injuries to MN.

3.  Just prior to the start of the hearing on 21 November the mother issued a Part 25 application for further assessment pursuant to s 38(6) Children Act 1989. It was, in effect, a holding application dependent on the outcome of the hearing.

4.  During the November hearing there was limited forensic exploration of the need for further assessment of the mother. Mr Pizzey, the independent social worker who undertook a comprehensive assessment of the parents, recognised the difficulties where the findings had yet to be made, but the recommendations from his extremely detailed assessment remained intact at the conclusion of his evidence. He did not recommend either of the parents were safely able to care for the children in the future, even if they were found not to be responsible for the serious injuries to MN.

5.  In his written closing submissions at the conclusion of the November hearing Mr Storey Q.C. on behalf of the mother submitted 'we are unable to approach any organisations before we know the court's findings in relation to the mother's degree of culpability. We will not need long, perhaps four weeks from judgment, to put together a proper application.'

6.  In the December judgment I said the following regarding the mother at paragraph 154 (3):

'In relation to the mother I have very real concerns about whether she will be able to be in a position to care for the children that would be in their timescales of needing to have security and stability about where their long term care is going to be. It is right she has taken some steps. I am told she is living in a safe house, has lined up the various agencies to support her and wants to put herself forward to care for the children. Despite my very real reservations about her ability to work openly and honestly with professionals and the risks inherent with her remaining in the pool of perpetrators for the chronic head injury and fractures I will give the mother a short period of time to consider what steps, if any, she proposes to take regarding the section 38(6) application having considered the terms of this judgment.'

7.  On 15 December 2016, when the judgment was handed down, Mr Morgan who appeared on behalf of CM, presented the court with some information on a number of options for assessment. The one he pursued was a paper assessment by St Michael's Fellowship, who offer residential assessments in this type of situation. Permission was given for the disclosure of certain documents to them to enable them to consider their position, with directions leading to a hearing on 16 January 2017.

8.  In a brief email dated 4 January 2017 Sonia Ackun, deputy manager, responded on behalf of St Michaels stating they could offer the mother and children a 12 week assessment, confirming they would need to meet the mother and social worker in a pre-placement meeting. No other details were provided.  

9.  The Guardian made further enquiries, as set out in her attendance note of her telephone conversation with Ms Ackun on 12 January 2017. It appeared Ms Ackun had read only Dr Keatings and Mr Pizzey's reports, not the judgment.

10. All parties filed skeleton arguments in advance of the hearing on 16 January. Neither the local authority, the father nor the children's guardian supported the mother's application.

11. The father has not attended this hearing, neither has KY.

The updated evidence
12. The allocated social worker produced a statement providing an update for the court. MY had been placed with MN since the conclusion of the November hearing. She was reported as being more settled, better able to concentrate, was 'caring, helpful and affectionate' and MY and MN's sibling relationship was developing and strengthening. She was observed to have 'checking' behaviours (not liking her foster carers leaving the room, wanting to know where MN is), which are commonly observed in children that have attachment difficulties. Her behaviour was noted to regress following contact with her parents, back to 'biting, hitting and throwing things' becoming 'hyperactive, running around, screaming and falling over', not helped by the mother not limiting snacks given to MY as requested. The contact supervisor acknowledged MY is usually pleased to see her mother, although MN has no reaction. The mother was late for contact on 29 December due, she said, to her distress caused by her cousin dying prior to Christmas. He was the son of her mother's sister.  SK observed this was the first she had heard of this aunt or cousin. Little change has been observed of the mother in contact, there is limited effort to sit calmly with the children and develop MY's language. The mother is 'generally exuberant and rough in her play', is unable to impose boundaries (for example limiting biscuits) and does not pre-empt how MY could hurt herself or her brother whilst playing. The foster carer reports the detrimental impact of this on MY's behaviour when she gets back to her care after contact.

13. SK states 'To fully consider the impact that a period in a parent and baby placement would have on both children, the experiences they had whilst previously in the care of their mother must be taken into account. These experiences include; not being responded to, being screamed at by their parents, being left in the care of people under the influence of substances, witnessing domestic violence between their parents; and, particularly for MY, being left for extended periods of time without adult interaction'. SK refers to research 1 which states that in family situations such as those experienced by MY and MN, where parenting was the initial trigger to experience trauma, the children are particularly susceptible to being triggered again by parenting experience. The findings in the December judgment detail that the children had experienced multiple traumatic experiences whilst being in the care of their parents and the inability of the mother to empathise with her children's experience is detailed in the judgment. SK observes that it is through this evidence of the mother being unable to respond to the children's emotional needs that MY learnt she could not rely on her parents to meet her needs and this is likely to have been the trigger for her developing self-soothing behaviour and a level of independence that is unusual for a child of her age. Such presentation is suggestive of MY developing an avoidant attachment style.

14. SK's view is that the mother did not make sufficient changes during the care proceedings to suggest that she would be able to meet the children's needs, as such MY's dependence on the self-soothing behaviours is likely to strengthen if placed in her mother's care which is associated with an avoidant attachment style. Children with attachment difficulties require 'parenting that will help them to experience increased safety and security so they can learn to use their parent as a secure base; as someone they can leave and return to'. This has not been the children's experience whilst being parented by the mother in the past. Ms K considers that whilst the mother will try to do this she does not consider her emotional state is stable enough due to the extent of her previous traumatic experiences, which remain largely unresolved. SK's view, having considered the way the mother is reported to respond to MY's challenging behaviour in contact, is that she is unable to meet MY's emotional needs. Whilst SK recognises that MN doesn't currently present the same attachment difficulties as his sister due to the high level of care he has received with his foster carer he would be at real risk of developing such behaviour were he to live with the mother.15. SK recognises the support the mother has sought to access, her abstinence from drug taking and reduction in alcohol consumption but the reality is she has yet to receive any professional support other than a few appointments. She has only met Ms Logan from Change Grow Live for a ten minute conversation. The mother's chronic history of extensive use of substances as a way of managing difficult feelings and emotions as outlined in Mr Pizzey's report can't be ignored. The mother remains very vulnerable, as illustrated by the recent bereavement which left her feeling overwhelmed and unable to prioritise attending contact or her appointment with Ms Logan on time.

16. In her statement the mother outlines the support she has sought, for example to assist her with breaking the pattern of her previous abusive relationships, her drug use and bereavement counselling. Her recent urine test support the hair strand test that she has been drug free since the end of July. She continues to work with TBR her mental health support worker and is seeking to get advice as to whether her medication can be reduced, but has been unable to get an appointment with her GP. She has returned to her accommodation as the father's bail has been extended to 20th January. She reports this was due to her inability to grieve where she was staying due to her friend having recently lost her mother.

17. A number of documents were produced at the hearing.  They related to details of Calvin Bell, an independent risk assessor based in Devon. His qualifications are summarised and he offered 3 options. A desk top exercise of examining the key papers and providing a provisional opinion as to likely risk and prognosis, and therefore viability of a residential placement, which could be done in a week. An initial viability assessment involving 7 hours interviewing, with a brief report summarising opinion on risk and prognosis which could probably be produced in 10 days. Finally, a risk assessment using the same information collected for the viability assessment, to produce a comprehensive risk assessment report which he expected to be able to produce within three weeks. In his email he said he usually carried out risk assessments whilst the parent is in placement but he can provide a report on risk and prognosis to help inform the court's decision making about whether a residential placement might have any prospect of addressing the risk concerns within the children's likely timescale needs.

18. In opening his application Mr Storey proposed either a 12 week placement with St Michael's Fellowship or an assessment by Mr Bell followed by a residential placement.

19. During the hearing a further email was received from St Michael's Fellowship, from Ronald Akinrinmade, the service manager. He confirmed he had read the judgment, Mr Pizzey and Dr Keating's reports and the application form. His observed there were

'many unresolved issues…many aspects are still live and clearly risk inducing makes me worried, even if they were here, about the welfare of any of the children in [the mother's care]…it is fairly obvious that more than 12 weeks of intervention will be required to make the environment with the mother approach anything like it should be. In truth, parents coming here are much further down the road than seems to be the case for this mother…and I am worried that the children's needs will variously be neglected and negated. I really do not see how a court will be convinced to change the present arrangements for the children in the mother's favour…it will be difficult for us to consider this referral should it be made purely on the grounds that  not much change will be possible in the children's timescales'. He concluded by saying if the court does pursue this a formal referral will need to be made by the local authority, at which point, he says, we can 'begin discussing with their key personnel how risks can be managed (if indeed they can be)'.

20. As a consequence of this email Mr Storey focussed his submissions on an assessment being carried out by Mr Bell.

Relevant law
21. There was no issue between the parties as to the relevant law, which was helpfully set out in a document prepared by Ms Taylor and I remind myself of the agreed legal framework set out in the December judgment.

22. In reaching any decision each child's welfare is the courts paramount consideration under s 1 Children Act 1989 (CA 1989). In relation to the placement application the court is concerned with the lifelong welfare needs of each child pursuant to s 1 Adoption and Children Act 2002, having regard to the matters set out in s 1 (4). The court must consider the Article 8 rights of the children and the parents and any interference with those rights must be proportionate to the risks involved (see Re B (care proceedings: appeal) [2013] 2 FLR 1075, Re C & B [2001] 1 FLR 611, Johansen v Norway [1996] 23 ECHR 33 and K & T v Finland [2001] 2 FLR 707).

23. In considering the placement options for the children the court should undertake an analysis, what has become known as a B-S analysis, of the competing options and when considering a plan for adoption analyse whether anything else will do.

24. In relation to consent to a placement order the court can only dispense with the consent of a parent if the child's welfare requires that to be done.

25.  When deciding whether to give a direction for an assessment under section 38 (6) the court needs to consider whether such an assessment is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly (s 38 (7A)) and have regard to the matters set out in section 38 (7B).

26. In Re G (Interim Care order: Residential Assessment) [2005] UKHL 68 Lady Hale said at [69]

'In short, what is directed under s38 (6) must clearly be an examination or assessment of the child, including where appropriate her relationship with her parents, the risk that her parents may present to her, and the ways in which those risks may be avoided or managed, all with the view to enabling the court to make the decisions which it has to make under the 1989 Act with the minimum of delay'.

27. Such assessments need to be child focussed, it is not a question of the mother's right to have a further assessment, it is: would the assessment assist the judge in reaching a conclusion or the right conclusion in relation to the children in question, any assessment needs to contribute something to the information that is needed for the ultimate decision (see Re T [2011] EWCA Civ 812 [92] and [95]).

Submissions 
28. In support of the application Mr Storey recognises that the jurisdiction that founds his application relates to the court having to be satisfied that there is insufficient information before the court in relation to a significant area of the evidence, which renders it necessary that this be remedied by way of a direction plugging that gap in the evidence. He submits the court would be wrong to exercise its discretion to conclude that nothing but adoption will do where the parents separated in the course of proceedings from what the court found was a volatile and abusive relationship and no attempt has been made to assess the mother's ability to care for the children appropriately outside that volatile relationship.

29. He submits the hurdles that the mother has to leap are 'relatively straightforward'. He relies on the positive comments in the evidence about the mother's ability to care for L prior to her death, as described in Mr Pizzey's report, where she was reported at the time to be doing 'extremely well'. The mother has not been found to be responsible for the acute injuries. Mr Storey accepts the findings of the court regarding the mother are serious and involve a failure to protect but they occurred in the context of a drug-fuelled volatile relationship which is now over. He submits there is no evidence she is in a new relationship, she remains in contact with her mental health support worker and has accessed support to help her. He relies on the fact that but for MN's serious injuries, the local authority were a long way from considering legal proceedings and removal of the children from the parent's care. The children, he submits, deserve the opportunity to be parented by a mother who has much to give them, and her ability to do so can only be properly considered by way of further assessment. Whether this step should be taken must, he submits, be considered in the light of the authorities on proportionality (Re B (Care proceedings: Appeal) [2013] 2 FLR 1075 and Re C & B [2001] 1 FLR 611). It would be disproportionate not to take the step of assessing the relationship between the mother and the children and her ability to care for them in what he describes are her 'changed circumstances'. He relies on the cautious optimism expressed by Dr Keating in his most recent report. In all the circumstances the further assessment sought he submits is necessary for the court to justly deal with these proceedings. The assessments undertaken during the proceedings were without the knowledge the court now has of the mother's drug free period, her not being in any current relationship and she was not responsible for the acute injuries. He submits there is no assessment of her ability to parent in these changed circumstances and her dishonesty in the past and her reasons given by the mother for the dishonesty are not 'uncommon'. The further assessment would, he submits, assist the children better understand the basis upon which decisions have been made about them when looked at in the context of the relatively limited local authority involvement prior to MN's injuries. He relies on what Mr Pizzey states in his report that neither child requires particularly specialist parenting, although Mr Pizzey does recognise that the children require parents who can bond effectively with them. Mr Storey's final position was that in the light of the information from St Michael's he sought an initial paper assessment from Mr Bell which was the 'lightest touch' and would only involve a short delay for the children which would enable them to make further enquiries about other residential placements. He submits the court does not have any assessment of the mother parenting alone, without drugs and in the light of the findings made by the court.

30. Ms Taylor on behalf of the local authority has filed a comprehensive skeleton argument, attaching her closing welfare submissions from the hearing in December. She submits the proposed assessment is not necessary and would not add anything that is not available from the assessments conducted prior to the previous hearing. Mr Pizzey's assessment was comprehensive, there was only limited challenge to the report in the last hearing and he was clear that irrespective of the perpetrator of the injuries to MN he did not support the mother caring for the children due to the history of her emotional difficulties caused by her background, her previous relationships and her dependence on drugs and alcohol. His evidence was clear that she would not be able to make the necessary changes to prevent the likelihood of future significant harm to the children. As he states at paragraph 1.13 'the parents' parenting difficulties and their individual difficulties are so pervasive that either if neither of them committed the injuries to MN, they would not, in my view, be able to make the necessary changes to their individual functioning and in their parenting to parent either MY or MN sufficiently well such as to prevent the likelihood of future harm occurring'. The assessment by Mr Pizzey included consideration of the parents being separated as the mother told Mr Pizzey on the 5th October she and the father had separated four months previously. Ms Taylor accepts the court should give itself a Lucus direction regarding the mother's lies and consider what she says was the reason for doing so but, she submits, there is no basis upon which any professional working with the mother could now rely on and trust her to report matters of concern. The recent drug free period whilst welcomed is only relatively recent and needs to be looked at in the context of the background of long term drug addiction and the failure to abstain from alcohol.  Dr Keating's most recent report stated 'someone with 1 year's abstinence who is active in their own recovery might be considered as showing some signs of stability'. Ms Taylor submits the mother has 'hardly begun' on what is required to demonstrate 'some signs of stability'.

31. She relies on SK's evidence about the needs of these young children, in particular MY's needs for reparative parenting to avoid the risks of developing an avoidant attachment and the inherent risks of moving both children from their current secure and stable placement. This needs to be looked at, she submits, in the context of the reports of the mother's contact with the children and the impact on them of that. She submits the mother is not equipped to meet the needs of these children. Any delay for these children would be contrary to their welfare, MY is receiving the reparative parenting she requires and the local authority plan for a planned transition to a well matched adoptive placement will best meet their welfare needs. The care plan sets out the proposed reduction in contact with the parents and KY.

32. Ms Julien, on behalf of the father, supports the position of the local authority.

33. Ms McKenna relies on what Mr Pizzey sets out in his report at paragraphs 22.42 and 22.44 regarding the risks to the children if they were returned to the care of the parents, either individually or as a couple. She submits that despite the extensive assessments in this case there is no professional support for further assessment of the mother and notes that the very recent email from St Michael's Fellowship endorses that position. The mother's parenting shortcomings are she submits too great that the realistic timescales to assess change stretches far beyond what is reasonable for either of these children. She submits it is noteworthy that the mother's recent statement is silent about her current relationships and there remains uncertainty about the mother's recent living arrangements and her social associations. That has to be balanced against what is known about the mother's history and the conclusions of the assessment that have taken place to date, the current circumstances of the children and the quality of care their welfare demands. She submits there is nothing that gives the Guardian any degree of confidence that the position has changed sufficiently for her to support the application for assessment. 

Discussion and Decision
34. The court is acutely aware of the impact on the children of the decision it is being asked to make, of the requirement to only make orders that are proportionate to the risks and the need, where it is commensurate with the children's welfare, to seek to restore them to the care of their birth family. These are powerful considerations that Mr Storey has rightly emphasised in both his written and oral submissions.

35. The separation of a child from their birth family is a step that should only be taken when the court is satisfied no other evidence or assessment is necessary to enable the court to justly reach such a decision that meets the welfare needs of the child. Mr Storey tempts the court to take the course he proposes, particularly as it will only involve a relatively short delay.

36. It is necessary for the court to stand back, review the material available and ask whether further assessment is necessary to enable it to reach decisions that meet the welfare needs of these two young children. It is not without a heavy heart that I have reached the conclusion that the court does not need any further assessment and the application made by the mother should be refused. This mother had the most traumatic upbringing and the temptation to give her one more chance to care for her children is potent, but it has to be properly scrutinised on the evidence available to enable the court to make decisions based on each child's welfare.

37. I have reached my conclusion for the following reasons.

38. I recognise the steps the mother has taken to access support to assist her and she has been drug free since the end of July 2016, her self-reported reduction in alcohol and her engagement with the support available to her currently. TBR has recently confirmed to the mother's solicitor her recent involvement with the mother. Those are positive steps which the mother should be encouraged to continue. These are some of the steps recommended by Dr Keating that will enable her to seek to establish some stability in her life. However, in my judgment, she is still in the very early stages of accessing this essential support which has to be looked at in the context of the chronic and wide nature of her difficulties. On any view she has been deeply damaged by her past experiences, it is difficult to imagine how she could have had a more difficult background. In his most recent report Dr Keating emphasises abstinence from drugs and alcohol as if she did relapse she will very quickly revert to previous problems and rapidly decline. She has clearly made a promising start with the drugs but her evidence in relation to alcohol was that she had reduced her intake but not stopped, so that risk remains current. Dr Keating also goes on to say that this abstinence is not the only factor in her recovery and she will need therapy to address the underlying issues, which includes her vulnerability to forming unsuitable relationships. That has not really started yet. Dr Keating emphasises the need to properly monitor any progress. As he concludes in his recent report 'Someone with 6 months of abstinence who is demonstrating good involvement in the recovery process might be thought of as showing additional evidence of intention and commitment. Someone with 1 year's abstinence who is active in their own recovery might be considered as showing some signs of stability' [emphasis added]. The mother remains in the very early stages and is some way off 'showing some signs of stability'. I agree with Ms Taylor, in the context of the extent of her difficulties she has, in reality, only just begun. The pervasive nature of the mother's difficulties cannot be underestimated.

39. A further complicating factor of the mother's position is her history of lying. As I found in the December judgment she is an accomplished liar, who has effectively deceived the professionals over a long period of time, even those who have been there to help and support her. I obviously have to consider whether the fact that she lied about matters in the past means is she likely to continue that behaviour or be unreliable about other matters. Her position about her recent drug use is backed up by the drug tests, which supports the conclusion she has told the truth about this. Against that is her reason for the lies in the past; her fear of the children being removed. If the children are returned to her care, even for a short term assessment, it is very likely the same considerations will apply and it is in my judgment very likely she would conceal matters of concern from the professionals again, because of her fear of losing the care of the children. This would be particularly so as she will realise this may be her last chance to care for them. Such behaviour in this case is likely to put the children at very great risk of significant future emotional and physical harm, as it did in the past. Her lack of understanding as to the risks the children were put at in her care were still just dawning on her in her oral evidence (for example, the risks of giving MN to DW so soon after he arrived in the home in the state he was in). Her ability to work with professionals has been seriously compromised by her long standing dishonesty in the past. The powerful force of fear of removal of her children will remain ever present if the children are returned to her care, based on her previous behaviour there is every likelihood the mother will behave in the same way in concealing information. She would remain wanting to present herself in the best possible light, which is very likely to lead her to resort to her previous dishonesty to mask any difficulties she may be experiencing or, more likely, risks that her behaviour would leave the children exposed to.

40. The mother's statement is silent about whether she is in a current relationship and what her current social support is. It does not deal with the findings made about her relationship with BH and what, if any, contact she still has with him. The mother has a history where she has seamlessly moved from one relationship to another, each one being abusive and controlling. She has recently moved back to her flat, to the area where the social contacts she had caused her so many difficulties and the father's flat is only a short distance away. With the background to this case bail conditions alone are unlikely to provide sufficient protection. Without effective and established support, both social and professional, the risks of the mother forming another unsuitable relationship are very high. 

41. The court has the benefit of the comprehensive assessment of Mr Pizzey. His recommendations are clear and he gave oral evidence in November. His evidence was measured and balanced. He remained of the view that whatever findings the court made about MN's injuries he did not recommend the children being returned to the care of the parents, either together or separately. He details in paragraph 3.4 of his report the extensive enquiries he made. His contact with the parents was in late September/early October. By that stage, as the mother made clear to him, the parents had been separated for a number of months. His summary at paragraphs 1.11 – 1.15 are clear and I agree with them. They make it clear the extent of the mother's difficulties, what is needed to address them ('[any parenting work]…would need to be underpinned in the first instance by individual work regarding the impact of their neglectful upbringings upon them, the impact of the abusive experiences they respectively suffered in adolescence and evidence of consistent and persistent abstinences from drug misuse'. 

42. The position of the children and their particular needs are an important consideration. MY has experienced neglectful parenting whilst in the care of her parents. She was left for long periods, exhibited self-soothing behaviour and her emotional needs were severely neglected. I accept the evidence of SK as to her needs; she needs reparative parenting. Unless she experiences consistent and stable parenting that she can rely on to provide the emotional security her welfare requires it is very likely she will develop an avoidant attachment disorder, which would have long term implications for her emotional and psychological health. The recent evidence of the mother's contact show no real sign of the mother listening to and acting on advice, the detrimental impact on MC's behaviour of the mother's actions are clear in the reports from the foster carer. The steady progress MC has made would, in my judgment, be put in serious jeopardy if she was returned to her mother's care, even in the most supportive of settings.

43. MN has only a limited relationship with his mother, as evidenced by his lack of reaction when he sees her. His primary attachment is with his foster carer. Any move he makes from her care will need to be done in a planned way, to best enable him to transfer his attachment to any new carer. His health needs require responsive and consistent care to ensure his development and any changes are effectively monitored. What I consider to be the high risk of breakdown of any placement with the mother would put his emotional and physical welfare at significant risk.

44. The experienced Guardian, EJ, does not support further assessment. Her comprehensive report for the November hearing analysed the placement options in a way which I accept, as I do in relation to SK's analysis.

45. I am satisfied it is not necessary for the court to have any further assessment of the mother. Whilst I recognise the changes she has made, they are only the start to what the evidence demonstrates will be a long recovery process for her. In my judgment even if she continues on the path she is on now it will be at least six months, more likely a year, before there could begin to be any confidence that she is showing some signs of stability. Even then there would be no guarantee that she will be in a position to provide the consistency and care these children require. To consider placing the children with her before then would put them at grave risk of harm, even in the most supportive of settings. She can barely cope with or manage them during contact.

46. When considering the matters listed in s 38 (7B) the welfare needs of these children will not be served by any further delay, however short, as the court does not require any further assessments over and above the detailed assessments already available. I do not consider it necessary to have any further assessment of this mother's ability to be able to care for these children. The evidence I have, from a number of different sources, clearly demonstrate that any placement of these children with the mother, however supportive the setting will put them at risk of harm due to her lack of emotional stability, the high risk of relapse by her to her previous harmful behaviour, her lack of candour and risks to the children's current attachments and ability for form secure attachments in the future. The real issues as to whether the mother can retain abstinence, break the pattern of abusive relationships and engage in work to address the very significant issues from her own childhood and the loss of L have barely started to be addressed. Dr Keating is clear the timescales for abstinence from alcohol and relationships before there can be any confidence about sustained change by this mother, in reality it is a year's abstinence by someone who is active in their own recovery. In my judgment that sustained change and stability is required before there can be any consideration of placement of these two vulnerable children in her care. The risks now do not require any further assessment, the evidence available establishes what they are. Whilst it is superficially attractive to accede to Mr Storey's invitation to adjourn for only a few days for Mr Bell to undertake a paper assessment, I do not consider such information is necessary for the court to deal with this case justly as any placement of the children with the mother, however supportive, will cause significant delay to the children, risk disrupting their current secure placement and have a very high risk of breakdown.

47. In reaching my conclusion I recognise the inherent risks in the children remaining subject to care orders and being placed for adoption as set out in the local authority's care plan, as well as the impact on the children of severing their links with their birth family. That is not a course the court takes without some considerable hesitation. But in circumstances where the evidence demonstrates that they would be at significant risk of harm if placed with their mother and that position is unlikely to change for a considerable period of time, if at all, their welfare is put at significant risk by such uncertain delay.

48. I am satisfied that the court should make a care order in favour of the local authority for both MY and MN.  Only that order will meet their welfare needs having regard to the matters set out in the welfare checklist in s 1 (3). It is a proportionate response bearing in mind the welfare needs of these two children and the risks posed by this mother if she were to care for them.

49. Turning to the local authority's application for a placement order the court needs to consider each child's lifelong welfare having regard to the matters set out in s 1 (4) Adoption and Children Act 2002. The extent of the harm each of these children have suffered and are at risk of suffering, their need for stability in their care and for a decision to be made without unjustified delay are clear. Whilst a placement order would, on the care plan, result in the children ceasing to have direct contact with their birth family, indirect contact is provided for and this loss has to be balanced with orders that will provide the stability their welfare demands throughout their life. The children will be placed together in a planned and supported way as set out in the care plan, which will reduce the risks of breakdown. To her credit the mother recognises that if she can't care for them they should be placed together in an adoptive placement. In the circumstances of this case I am satisfied that the court can dispense with the consent of both parents under s 52 (1) as each child's welfare requires that to be done.

50. I will therefore make a care and placement order in relation to each child and endorse the care plan set out by the local authority, including the planned reduction of contact.

1 Golding, K (2014) Nurturing Attachments Training Resource: Running Parenting Groups for Adoptive Parents and Foster or Kinship cares. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers p 79-95