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A Local Authority v The Mother & Anor [2017] EWFC B59

First instance decision of HHJ Wildblood QC making care and placement orders in public law proceedings. The judge expresses the importance of obtaining necessary therapy for a parent at an early stage, in order to try to avoid a situation where an expert at a final hearing recommends therapy that cannot then take place within the timescales for the relevant child.

The child, G, was 5-months old and living with foster carers under an interim care order. The local authority sought care and placement orders, supported by the guardian. G's brother, B (aged 3) was already living with the foster carers, having been made subject to care and placement orders in May 2017 – 4 months before the final hearing concerning G. His Honour Judge Wildblood QC also made final care and placement orders in respect of G.

The mother was in her mid-20s and living with family members. She had an IQ of 66, but had litigation capacity. She had experienced neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse throughout childhood. The risks to G, if she were returned to the mother's care, were that she would be subject to the same abuse and neglect to which B was subject [§4-6]. The judge expressed his deep sadness at the mother's predicament and laid no fault at her door [§7].

In B's proceedings there had been a psychological report by an expert who then reported in these proceedings. Further, there were reports from Symbol Family Support Services. The judge summarised the conclusions of those reports in the judgment [§12 to 20]. In brief, although it seemed the mother had made some positive changes, the timescales and the longer prognosis of her parenting/lifestyle functioning were too uncertain to meet G's need for permanency and stability.

The judge summarised the clearly emotional oral evidence and the submissions made on behalf of the mother [§22 to 32]. He then offered a concise and helpful summary of the law on making care and placement orders [§35 to 39] followed by the Re B balancing exercise [§40 to 49].

Subsequent to making care and placement orders, the judge concluded (as he had started the judgment [§1]) by expressing the same view he had expressed nearly 3 years before, clearly aimed at all local authorities and all practitioners in this field:

"This case is another example of how important it is that, if therapy is needed, it is obtained at an early stage. Time and time again I see a process whereby the following occurs: a) a Local Authority intervenes and begins making assessment of a family; b) months later proceedings are issued; c) an order is made for some form of expert evidence to be produced (often a psychological report); d) months later the psychological report is obtained which says, invariably and utterly foreseeably, that someone within the family needs therapy and e) it is stated that, by then, the beneficial effect of therapy would be 'outwith the timescales for the child'. In this case, for instance, it would have been perfectly obvious to all that, when the mother was referred before birth, she was a prime candidate for therapy. If therapy were to be obtained at an early stage such as that there is at least a prospect that outcomes in some cases might be different. I have therefore already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how we facilitate and access therapy in this area, with a view to doing my utmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. I ask for as much help as possible with that endeavour."

Summary by Thomas Dance, barrister, 1 Kings Bench Walk
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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 the 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

In the Family Court

BS17C00707

Before:

HHJ Wildblood QC

---------------------------------------

Between:

A Local Authority
Applicant
- and - 
The Mother First Respondent
-and- 
G ( a child, by her guardian) Second Respondent
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Kevin Farquharson for the Local Authority
Mark Williams
for the mother
Sarah Hindle
for the child.
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Judgment

HHJ Wildblood QC:
1. This is a desperately sad case where, for the second time in six months, this mother faces the loss to adoption of a child that she loves deeply. Her grief is very apparent. This is yet another truly wretched public law case. It is also yet another case of a young mother with a background in which she has experienced extreme abuse and deprivation whom, I am told by everyone involved in this case, has not been offered therapeutic support. It may well have been discussed with her in the past but has never been followed through to the point of offer of therapy. I have seen a lot of wringing of hands as people speak with regret about the sadness of this case. I express that sadness and regret myself. Once again I have heard psychological evidence, obtained at considerable expense and so easily expressed, that any progress that the mother might now make is 'outwith the timescales of the child'. But I ask anyone who does read through this judgment to ask themselves these four questions:

i) Is it right that this mother should not yet have been offered therapy, particularly bearing in mind that her first child was born three years ago and was himself the subject of lengthy proceedings?

ii) If she had been offered therapy at an early stage, is there not at least a possibility that the outcome of these proceedings might have been different?

iii) Even if the outcome would not have been different, would not an attempt at therapy make these proceedings more satisfactory?

iv) Has the money that has been spent on issuing proceedings (£2,055 is the cost of issuing a care application) and on psychological evidence (over £2,000) well spent when the expenditure is incurred before attempts at therapeutic support have been made in cases of this nature.

2. So, with support of the guardian, the Local Authority seeks care and placement orders in relation to a five month old girl ('G') who is currently living with short-term foster carers under an interim care order. Also living with those foster carers is G's three year old brother ('B') who was made subject to care and placement orders in May 2017 (i.e. four months ago). The Local Authority therefore intends that G and B should move together to prospective adopters with the mother having only 'letterbox' contact. The mother opposes the Local Authority's applications and argues either that G should return immediately to her care or else that the case should be adjourned while she undergoes a further assessment with an organisation called Symbols. The Local Authority, the guardian and the psychologist, who acts as expert in this case, oppose the mother's contention that there should be further assessment.

3. It is agreed that there are only three options in this case; I have to consider them in an holistic overview, weighing up the pros and cons of each of them. The first option is that G returns to live with the mother immediately. The second is that the case is adjourned to assess the mother and G further. The third is that I make the orders sought by the Local Authority. No party contends that long term fostering is a viable option for G and on the evidence that I have heard and recollecting Re S-F [2017] EWCA Civ 707 in paragraphs 7 to 9, I agree that is so. The mother would find long-term fostering impossible to cope with, she would have grave difficulties keeping to any contact arrangements, her distress would be very obvious to G and to the foster carers and the mother would never be able to accept the arrangement. Of course in addition to those evidential reasons there are the reasons of principle of which Black LJ spoke in Re V [2014] EWCA Civ 913 at paragraph 96 and also there is the important fact that adoption creates a lifelong integration within the adoptive family whereas fostering does not.

4. The mother is in her mid-20's and lives with members of her family. She has been assessed as having a full Scale IQ of 66 but does have litigation capacity. The guardian accurately summaries the difficulties relating to the mother as follows: 'The mother is a very vulnerable and fragile woman with a level of learning difficulty and a deeply troubled childhood. She experienced neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse and was consistently let down and abused by the adults in her life. This, and the mother's learning difficulties, have fundamentally undermined her ability to develop positive parenting abilities. The risks to G are that, if she was in her mother's care, she would experience the same abusive and neglectful parenting that B received. This included extreme emotional volatility, rough handling and physical chastisement, poor supervision and routines. The mother was unable to withstand the rigours of parenting and eventually abandoned B in the foster placement'.

5. The deep sadness of this case can be picked up from this passage in the guardian's report: 'the mother presents as a warm, gentle and extremely vulnerable young woman. She has a range of inherent difficulties in managing life which are now overlaid with extreme grief for the loss of her children. The mother is overwhelmed by her distress and is unable to contain or regulate this. It is impossible to be clear about her instructions and she fluctuates between appearing to understand why she cannot parent to expressing bewilderment at her situation'.

6. After giving her very brief evidence (she said two sentences, I think), the mother wrote me a letter. In it she said this:

'I'm very sorry and remorseful of my actions regarding the events that led to the removal of my children. I would like to make you understand that I love B and G with all my heart. I wouldn't harm my kids. I just struggle at times and feel that I need the right support to enable me to remain…I promise to become a better mother and also help myself to make better decisions and choices for my daughter and son, also for myself. I hope you can allow another chance so I can prove myself'.

7. Whatever else I say in this case I want to make it very clear indeed to this mother that the events that have occurred are not her fault. It is not her fault that she was treated in the way that she was when she was a child. It is not her fault that she has been left with the difficulties that she has. It is not her fault that those difficulties have not healed.

8. However, the overall picture, which I will paint more clearly below, is that the mother was having reasonably positive contact with G for about two months after her birth. That contact, being for no more than two sessions of one hour's duration, was limited. In July the psychologist wrote a report suggesting that the mother appeared to have made progress since the proceedings relating to B and that a residential assessment might be appropriate. With the guardian's advice the Local Authority planned to increase the mother's contact to see how she coped. The result was that the mother disengaged from most contact and plainly did not cope even with that level of increased demand. As a consequence the Local Authority halted the plan for increased contact and, with the support now of the guardian and the expert, contends that only adoption can meet the paramount interests of G. The residential assessment unit has written to say it will still assess the mother, initially in the community, but 'is not hopeful of a positive outcome'.

9. The father of G has played no part in these proceedings and has not involved himself with her. The mother has not identified him and therefore, he has not participated in this hearing.

10. The guardian. In her report the guardian says: 'I have considered the benefits and detriments exercise of the permanence options. I do not consider that it would be safe for G to be returned to her mother, regardless of the legal order or the support available. At G's age she requires a permanent substitute family and long-term fostering would be too insecure an option. I have to conclude therefore that only adoption will provide G with what she needs to develop and reach her full potential'.

11. B – When B was nearly two years old he and the mother went to live in a foster placement together following Local Authority involvement as a result of the neglect from which he was suffering. However, after two months, that fostering arrangement broke down when the mother did not return to the placement and, thereafter, did not attend a large number of the arranged contact visits with B. I managed the proceedings relating to B and made the final orders; there is a note of my judgment at K1.

12. The psychologist was involved in the proceedings relating to B and supported the Local Authority's applications for care and placement orders in relation to him. In her report for those proceedings she wrote that the mother was likely to lack emotional attunement with B, displayed only limited insight into the difficulties and 'would not be able to address concerns within B's timescales'. She said that the 'mother's lack of understanding of B's behavioural presentation can lead to her becoming highly stressed and frustrated through a mismatch of expectations. This has led to her having, in the past, responded to B in ways that are unacceptable such as by swearing at him'. The expert wrote a further report in April 2017, shortly before the final orders were made in relation to B, in which she said: 'sadly, I am of the opinion that the mother will be unable to make and sustain changes with any degree of consistency within the timescales of her unborn child'.

13. In the proceedings relating to B, the mother also underwent a PAMS assessment (i.e. an assessment using the parenting assessment manual software) which concluded that the mother was not able to provide him with the care that he needed or make changes within B's timescales.

14. The guardians in those proceedings, initially another Cafcass officer but then the current Cafcass officer, gave strong support to the making of the orders sought by the Local Authority in relation to B. The previous guardian wrote in his report: 'sadly it appears that it is the co-morbidity of the mother's learning difficulties and unresolved trauma that provides her with a significant challenge. These difficulties continue to underlie poor psychological health, difficulties in considering risk, dysfunctional relationships and networks, poor emotional availability, limited insight in regards to B's needs and inadequate parenting skills and strategies to manage a child that has a need for better than good enough care…I do not believe that the support that would be available to the mother if she were able to consistently engage with such services, would address the difficulties she currently faces, within the timescales of these proceedings or allow for safe reunification'.

15. The expert, first report in these proceedings – The psychologist was instructed to report further in these proceedings and did so in a report dated 5th July 2017 [E14]. In that report she stated that the mother 'presented as more mature, settled, far less demanding and attention-seeking…contrasted to October 2016, engagement with the assessment, focus/ability to concentrate was greatly enhanced…her presentation in July 2017 was thus more focussed…the mother presented as much calmer than previously, her mood state being far less variable and extreme…the mother presented with a remarkable degree of acceptance in terms of the permanency of the loss of B through adoption….contact between mother and daughter is thus a rewarding experience, one that is positive that the mother is managing well…the mother has demonstrated commitment to and attended all but one contact….in the contact I observed I was most struck by her ability to retain her focus on G…mother in discussion displayed a strong identification with G as her daughter, saying that she has always wanted a girl'.

16. However, the expert also said that 'the mother has made limited progress in respect of her understanding and volatility. In order to make progress she needs to be enabled to better express her feelings and emotions / issues that are worrying, upsetting or making her feel angry…there was not a significant altered presentation'. At E21 she went on to list the risks that arise in relation to the mother's parenting, based on background factors. At E22 the expert recommended that 'the most likely successful intervention to effect change, offer support whilst also providing a staged assessment providing for increased independence of mother and G (if successful) from highly supervised residential assessment to living in the community…is that offered by Symbol Residential Parenting Assessment (Kent) who are particularly skilled /offer a specialism in working with parents with learning disability and/or additional needs. Their multi-disciplinary team approach would ensure the mother receives the therapeutic counselling support her needs require…alongside courses / learning independent living, personal development work, e.g. assertiveness and parenting skills /knowledge e.g. re child development / play etc.'

17. Symbol – initial report – Not surprisingly a referral was made to Symbol Family Support Services to see if they would take the mother and G. In a report at E31, dated 14th July 2017, a member of the assessment team at Symbol wrote: 'Symbol note the positive changes that the mother has reported to have made since the assessments with regard to her care of B. Also, given G's young age Symbol is able to offer a residential assessment at our unit in Newington, Kent. The mother would be subject to 24 hour support and supervision whilst caring for G. Subject to discussion with the parties we would support the mother to access local universal services including health visitor and GP. The standard length of a Symbol assessment is six weeks, however assessment may be ended early, through a disruptions meeting, or be extended where this is necessary to obtain robust evidence to inform future decisions for children…extensions are typically for an additional 2-6 weeks….the cost of the residential piece of assessment proposed is £3,358 per week'.

18. Social worker's final statement [C23] – In her final statement the social worker stated that there had been a marked deterioration in the mother's engagement with G and also with the Local Authority. Whereas contact attendance had been good in the past, she said: 'unfortunately the attendance dropped and contact was suspended after three missed contacts in a row. The mother missed an assessment session with myself as she had been talked out of doing so by a friend. I had talked with the mother on the phone trying to encourage her to attend, however her friend C….could be heard in the background encouraging her not to go saying 'she's not getting the kids back' and that Children's Services were just 'messing with [the mother's] head'.

19. The expert's final report (28th August 2017) – Following the above, the expert was approached again for her current views and wrote a further report [E46] in which she said: 'sadly I am of the view in terms of time scales and the longer term prognosis of her parenting/lifestyle functioning more generally, I concur with the views expressed in the report of the guardian and the Local Authority social work evidence that the permanency needs of G can best be met through an adoptive placement with B, enabling both children to maintain and benefit from their sibling relationship long-term…given the risk factors identified in my previous report combined with what appears to be the mother's enhanced vulnerability…the prognosis for the mother to commit to attend and sustain engagement on an assessment programme with Symbol would appear poor and even poorer in relation to the prognosis for the mother to maintain engagement in the longer-term'.

20. Symbol – second report (30th August 2017 – E44] – After reading the latest evidence the Symbol Assessment team wrote: 'Having read the updating documentation…Symbol have concerns with regards to the mother's recent lack of engagement, in particular not attending contact sessions. Given these concerns and the amount of time since the mother has seen G, Symbol would now recommend an initial assessment in the community of the mother. This would allow for discussions with the mother with regards to her lack of engagement whilst G remains in her current placement. At this stage Symbol is not hopeful of a positive outcome'.

21. The social work final evidence – On the 8th September, the consultant social worker involved in this case filed a statement setting out how the mother had disengaged from contact and also from communicating with the Local Authority.

22. Oral evidence - I heard evidence at this hearing from the following witnesses: the consultant social worker, the mother (but only very briefly due to the level of her distress), the guardian and the psychologist.

23. The social worker said that the mother has had a great deal of support during the course of these proceedings; she not think that anything more could have been done for this mother in a way that would enable her to care for G. In her statement at C45 she said: 'In the event that G was returned to her mother's care the following support would be available: regular social work and family support worker visits, enhanced health visiting service, universal GP service and play sessions and parenting support from the local children's centre. However, it is my view that this level of support would be insufficient to mitigate risk and ensure a consistently good enough standard of care to parent G consistently over time. The reasons for this are well documented…In addition to this, the mother has not been able to organise herself to consistently attend meetings and contact sessions. This demonstrates a lack of ability to successfully carry out basic routines essential to meet the basic needs of her daughter on a day to day basis'.

24. I accept that there is no 'on the ground', practical support that would make any difference now. However, I do not accept that, if this mother had undergone therapeutic intervention at a much earlier stage, the outcome might not now be different. I simply don't know whether it would be. However, I wish to stress that this mother is not beyond the reach of what some might call redemption and others might call cure or rehabilitation. She is not a lost cause and cannot be treated as if she were. With help, I very much hope that she will find a way of life in which some degree of happiness might lie for herself as well as any children that she might well have hereafter. That will require support that has not been given to her yet. I am not seeking to cast blame for the absence of therapy on any one individual or organisation. The fact is simple - it hasn't happened.

25. The social worker considered that every option has been explored and that adoption is now the only available option that will meet the care needs of G. She did not think that there should be post adoptive contact given the mother's inability to engage in the contact that was arranged in July.

26. When giving oral evidence the mother was deeply distressed but was able to say that she wanted G back and she would do anything that she could to achieve that. Sensibly she was not asked any questions by the Local Authority or by the guardian.

27. The guardian said in evidence that her recommendation remains the same. She did not think that there is any level of support that would enable the mother to care for G now or within G's timescales.

28. She said that she could not support a community based assessment of the mother and did not see that it would provide any additional information. She did not think that a residential assessment would lead to any different conclusions; she also thought that the mother would have great difficulty in coping with it. She thought that the mother needs very intense support to meet the demands of her own life; she did not consider that she would be able to care for G even with support.

29. In the circumstances of this case the guardian felt that it would not be in the interests of G to have post adoption contact. She thought that decisions about post adoption contact would have to be made by the adopters. Further, B does have memories of his mother and he is only to have letterbox contact; it would not be feasible or appropriate for G to have contact with the mother and not B, the guardian thought. The mother's difficulty in adhering to contact also militates against any order for post adoption contact.

30. The psychologist said that she remained of the views expressed in her reports. She said that, if one is looking at the mother on her own rather than as a mother, she would certainly benefit from attendance at Symbol. She doubted whether the mother would sustain residential assessment there, however, and did not foresee it as realistic for the mother to remain in Kent after a residential assessment so as to benefit from the community support that Symbol offers to parents who live in the locality.

31. She said that she no longer recommended further assessment because of the reports that the mother was not coping with her own emotions or involving herself with G consistently. The mother's lack of engagement with extended contact and with the only modestly increased demands that were placed on her over the summer, meant that there had to be additional doubt about her ability to engage in a residential assessment. In the light of the mother's background and other difficulties the expert thought that 'we are a long way from the mother being able to care for a child'. She has not had any therapeutic involvement and, insofar as the expert knew, has never been offered any.

32. Mr Williams's submissions. Mr Williams has represented this mother very well; he combined kindness to his client with an iron fist of strong and good submissions. He submitted, first, that events up to July show that the mother is capable of making changes – so much is plain from the report of the psychologist in July. Second, he submitted that insufficient recognition has been given to the progress that the mother made. Third, that there were reasons why the progress by the mother dropped away – the mother feared that, if she increased her involvement with G, it would lead to even further pain for her and G when, as the mother saw it, adoption was likely to follow. Finally, he submitted that specialist support had been lacking throughout the mother's life and, if support were to be offered to her, there is a reasonable prospect of the previously identified changes being sustained.

33. The difficulty with the first three submissions is that the evidence shows very clearly that, it only took a very slight increase in the demands that were being made on the mother as a mother (e.g. increase in contact since July) for her engagement to fall away. In my opinion, the really important point though is this: given the mother's progress to July is there a realistic prospect of that progress being furthered to a sufficient extent for the mother to care for her child if she and the child were placed together in a therapeutic environment such as Symbols as part of a parenting assessment under section 38(6) of The Children Act 1989. That last point is one to which I have given very careful thought indeed – because it hasn't happened it involves prediction but then so, too, does most of care planning, including adoption.

34. The threshold criteria - It is agreed that the provisions of section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 – the threshold criteria – are fulfilled in the terms of the agreed document that must be annexed to my order. It is at A13 of the bundle. In my opinion there can be no doubt that the criteria are fulfilled in relation to G. They were fulfilled in relation to B in the terms that are recorded at K12 – essentially, that the mother was unable to meet B's needs – and the same certainly applied at the time that protective measures were first taken in relation to G, i.e. at the relevant time for the purposes of these proceedings.

35. The law – Care and placement orders amount to a fundamental invasion of the right to respect for family and private life enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. For such orders to be justified they must be i) proportionate to the proven facts of the case, ii) necessary for the protection of the welfare rights of the child and iii) legal, in the sense that they comply with our Convention compliant law which is to be found in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and in The Children Act 1989.

36. The dominant application in these proceedings is that which seeks a placement order.  Before I could make a placement order I would need to have dispensed with the mother's consent to G being placed for adoption under section 52(1)b of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 – that is on the grounds that G's welfare so requires. In relation to that statutory provision I must apply the principles stated in re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] 2 FLR 625 and recollect that the word 'requires' has a connotation of the imperative; that is it is something that is demanded rather than simply something that is desirable.

37. Further, in deciding whether to dispense with the mother's consent and also whether to make a placement order if I do so, I must apply the welfare provisions of section 1 of the 2002 by which the welfare of G throughout her life is the court's paramount consideration and, in analysing her welfare, I must apply the welfare checklist in section 1(4) of the 2002 Act.

38. Although I will work through the welfare checklist later in this judgment, I wish to record my recognition and belief that nature, law and common sense require that it is recognised that the best place for a child to live is with a natural parent unless proven and proportionate necessity otherwise demands. Care and placement orders are so invasive of family life that it can only be in exceptional circumstances that a Local Authority can show them to be in the paramount interests of the child concerned – that is, they are orders which are only made when no other solution compatible with the child's welfare is available – Re B [2013] UKSC 33.

39. In considering the care that a parent might be able to provide for a child it is important to recollect the concept of parenting with support – can this mother care for G if she is given the support that is available to her? The President stressed the significance of the concept in a reported case called D (A Child) (No 3) [2016] EWFC 1 in which he referred to the decision of the then Gillen J in Re G and A (Care Order: Freeing Order: Parents with a Learning Disability) [2006] NIFam 8, para 5. The very purpose of the welfare state is to provide support for those in need (as was said in Soares de Milo v Portugal, ECHR, Requête no 72850/14, para 106).

40. Option analysis – If G lives with her mother she will have all the benefits that nature provides for a child being brought up in the loving care of a devoted parent. She will feel that she has grown up where she belongs. She will also maintain her identity and connections as a child of her natural family. When she is older she will know her origins, be they viewed by her then as good or bad, and will be able to reach her own fully informed conclusions about her natural family. She will also feel that she has an emotional home within her natural family throughout her life and will not suffer any form of stigma of having been brought up outside her natural family.

41. If there was any realistic prospect of a relatively short period of adjournment for further assessment leading to a conclusion that the mother might be able to care for G then I would order that adjournment because it would in the paramount interests of G so to do and, therefore, plainly necessary (recollecting, as I do, section 38(7A) of the Children Act 1989).

42. If G is brought up in an adoptive home she will have the benefit of living with B, her brother and will be placed with skilled and trained adoptive parents who have chosen to look after both children. That commitment through choice is an important aspect of adoption because it adds to the weight of attachment between adopter and child, in my opinion. G would know security, stability and permanence in a way that would continue throughout her life – for instance nearly half of 20 to 24-year-olds in the general population still live at home and children need emotional and other support well beyond the age of majority. In the light of the ages of G and B there is every reason to suppose that an adoptive placement would be successful; the incidence of disruption of adoptive placements for children of the ages of both G and B is very low.

43. After thinking very carefully about the point, my opinion is that the sad reality of this case is that there is no realistic prospect of an adjournment leading to a positive assessment of this mother's ability to care for G. Therapy would now have to start from scratch and there are deeply painful things in the mother's past that would have to be addressed; I have no idea at all how the mother might respond to therapy and it would be a very long time before any vision of progress might be available. It was not even possible to increase the level of her contact without the mother disengaging, so how could it be said to be realistic to think that she might respond positively to even more intense demands on her as a mother. If her reasons for disengaging really were due to anxiety that G might still be adopted then that reasoning would apply even more if increased demands were placed on her. It would not be fair to put the mother through that experience and certainly would not in the interests of G to do so. What this mother needs is for her own needs to be met first and the deep emotional wounds of the past to be healed. She cannot be expected to dedicate her thoughts to the care of a young child when her thoughts are so much directed to her own distress.

44. Further, I do not see why further assessment might provide any additional information; there have already been very thorough assessments in these proceedings and in the very recent proceedings relating to B.

45. On the current state of the evidence it is overwhelmingly clear that, if G were to be returned to her mother, the mother would not be able to care for her adequately even at the most basic level. The mother's own emotions are so dominated by her difficulties that G's emotional needs would be seriously neglected and that would inevitably lead to G's physical needs not being met either, given her age.

46. The negative of adoption is that it will take G away from her loving mother throughout her childhood and very possibly for the rest of her life. Even if the mother and child do meet each other in later life, their relationship will have been very materially altered by adoption. It will mean that G will grow up knowing that she is not being looked after by her natural mother and that, too, may bear an element of stigma for her. In later life she may well feel the beacon of nature to discover her natural family in a bid to understand herself better, a beacon call that bears its own strong emotional demands and difficulties.

47. It is very sad but true that, of those options, there is only one that is in the interests of G, namely an adoptive placement. It would simply be irresponsible and manifestly contrary to the welfare of G to attempt any of the other options.

48. Although there are circumstances in which post adoption contact is in the interests of a child, this is not such a case for the reasons given by the guardian. I cannot imagine that this mother would ever be able to hold her emotions in check if post adoption contact were to be ordered and she attended any such contact. The experience would be miserable for the mother, the child and for the adopters; it would be plainly contrary to G's welfare for that sort of contact to occur.

49. Checklist analysis - In checklist language the mother cannot meet the needs of G. Adjournment and further assessment would be neither in the interests of G nor necessary for the reasons that I have given. The effect on G of becoming an adopted person is that she will have a stable upbringing where her needs are met, something that would be denied her if she were to live with the mother. Her age is such that there is a very strong likelihood that an adoptive placement would be successful and she has the added benefit of a background where she has always lived with her brother since the time of her discharge from hospital. I have set out the risk of harm already – there is a very high risk indeed that she would experience the same sort of neglectful upbringing with her mother as B did. I accept that the mother is entirely genuine in her wish to care for the daughter that she loves but I do not accept that the mother has any prospect, before or after assessment, of providing her with a secure environment or otherwise meeting her emotional and physical needs. For reasons that I have explained I do not think that it would be in the interests of G for their relationship to continue through direct contact post adoption.

50. Conclusion – the above being the wretched conclusion to which the evidence leads in an overwhelming way, I feel constrained to state that care and placement orders are necessary, proportionate and legal in the terms that I have explained. I find that only a placement order, with an underlying care order, will satisfy G's paramount interests and, therefore that I must dispense with the mother's consent to G being placed for adoption on the ground stated in section 52(1)(b) of the Act.

51. I therefore make care and placement orders.

52. Therapy - For someone at my level of the judiciary to cite things that he has said in the past seems narcissistic and arrogant. With a huge apology, therefore, I would like to cut and paste into this judgment what I said nearly three years ago in another case reported on BAILII, when I first became Designated Family Judge here: 'This case is another example of how important it is that, if therapy is needed, it is obtained at an early stage. Time and time again I see a process whereby the following occurs: a) a Local Authority intervenes and begins making assessment of a family; b) months later proceedings are issued; c) an order is made for some form of expert evidence to be produced (often a psychological report); d) months later the psychological report is obtained which says, invariably and utterly foreseeably, that someone within the family needs therapy and e) it is stated that, by then, the beneficial effect of therapy would be 'outwith the timescales for the child'. In this case, for instance, it would have been perfectly obvious to all that, when the mother was referred before birth, she was a prime candidate for therapy. If therapy were to be obtained at an early stage such as that there is at least a prospect that outcomes in some cases might be different. I have therefore already set up arrangements in the New Year to look very carefully at how we facilitate and access therapy in this area, with a view to doing my utmost to encourage much earlier therapeutic intervention if possible. I ask for as much help as possible with that endeavour'.

53. Despite very many meetings on this issue and the truly phenomenal efforts of Dr Freda Gardner, the eminent psychologist from Orchard House in Taunton, very little progress has been made beyond the start of the Pause Programme here. I remain hopeful that we will find a breakthrough on this point one day but at the moment it eludes me and Dr Gardner. Once again, I would ask for as much help as possible with it.

54. I am told that the mother will be recommended to the Pause programme here. I very much hope that they will take her into that programme and that she will benefit from it. She deserves a break.

HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC
13th September 2017