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Re HA [2013] EWHC 3634 (Fam)

Care proceedings in which the local authority sought a final care order and placement order. Orders made.

This was a final hearing in care proceedings in which the local authority sought a final care order and placement order.  The mother had three older children, including two boys who had both died.  Although Baker J had concluded at an earlier fact-finding that the mother did not kill the boys, he also found that she had neglected all three older children.  HA's older sister was already the subject of a care and placement order.  HA was born during the course of the earlier proceedings.

All of the assessments of the mother in respect of HA were negative.  This included a detailed 'Capacity to Change' assessment.  She suffered from a learning disability and a personality disorder and was living in supported accommodation.   Although her life had become more settled since the proceedings in respect of her older children, there was still a concern about her history of relationships with men.  It was a central feature of the local authority's case that the mother was extremely vulnerable to abuse by men and that she lacked insight about the risk to which a child in her care would be exposed as a result.

In this judgment, Baker J considers the background to the case in some detail and the applicable law.  He draws attention in particular to the recent case-law on the approach to be taken in final hearings of this nature, in particular Re B [2013] UKSC 33, Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 and Re W [2013] EWCA Civ 1227.  This judgment demonstrates the application of these decisions and is structured in such a way as to show that the judge had applied the 'balance sheet' approach and weighed up the pros and cons of the two alternative placements (adoption or a return to the mother's care).

Having considered the impact of these decisions, he then considers in detail the competing arguments by the mother on the one hand and the local authority on the other in this case.  The mother focused on H's right to be brought up within her biological family and the progress she had made since the deaths of her sons and the removal of her older daughter.

The local authority, on the other hand, focused on the 'comprehensive' findings against the mother in the earlier proceedings and on the negative 'Capacity to Change' assessment in these proceedings which was comprehensive and appears to have covered every aspect of the case and the mother's history and lifestyle.  The local authority had filed evidence that was compliant with the requirements described in Re B-S and the Guardian had carried out a similar exercise of analysing the pros and cons of the alternative placements.

Having observed that the evidence before the court was fully compliant with the requirements set out by the Court of Appeal , Baker J concludes unhesitatingly that having weighed up the evidence as he was required to do, HA's welfare required him to make the care and placement orders. 

Summary by Sally Gore, barrister, 14 Gray's Inn Square

Neutral Citation Number: [2013] EWHC 3634 (Fam)
Case No: UK13C00246


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
Date: 28/11/2013

Before :

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Between :

A Local Authority Applicant

- and - 

A Mother (1) Respondents


GM (2)


HA (3)
(a minor through her Guardian) 
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- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lucinda Davis (instructed by Southampton City Council) for the Applicant
Margaret Pine-Coffin
(instructed by Child Law Partnership) for the First Respondent
Douglas Taylor
(instructed by Swain and Co) for the Second Respondent
Stephen Cotton
(instructed by Footner Ewing) for the Third Respondent

Hearing dates: 15th November 2013
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

This is the transcript of the judgment delivered in private on 28th November 2013. It consists of 15 pages and has been signed and dated by the judge.  The judge hereby gives leave for it to be reported.

The judgment is being distributed on the strict understanding that in any report no person other than the advocates or the solicitors instructing them (and other persons identified by name in the judgment itself) may be identified by name or location and that in particular the anonymity of the child and the adult members of her family must be strictly preserved.

The Honourable Mr. Justice Baker

1. These proceedings concern a little girl called H, born 12th April 2013 and therefore now aged 7 months. The issue I have to decide is whether H should be made the subject of a care order and a placement order, which would lead to her being placed for adoption, or returned to the care of her mother.

2. H's mother has a learning disability and, in addition, had a troubled childhood. She has had three other children – two boys, B and J, and a girl, A. Tragically, the two boys, first J and then B, died within 12 weeks of each other in early 2011. The local authority, which has been involved with the family for a number of years, started care proceedings in respect of A. It claimed that the mother was responsible for the deaths of the boys. It also alleged that she had neglected the children over a number of years. The proceedings were transferred to the High Court and listed before me.

3. After a lengthy fact-finding hearing, I delivered a judgment on 29th June 2012, in which I found that the local authority had not proved on a balance of probabilities that the mother had killed the boys. I did find, however, that she was responsible for significant acts of neglect in respect of all three children, as set out at paragraph 81 of my judgment. On the basis of those findings of neglect, I concluded that the threshold criteria for making a care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 were satisfied in respect of A. That judgment has been transcribed and is now reported as Re AA [2012] EWHC 2647 (Fam). I then adjourned the proceedings for further reports, assessing whether A could be placed in the care of her mother or her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother had been prominently involved in the care of the three children and duly applied for a special guardianship order, but subsequently withdrew that application. At a final hearing on 9th July 2013, I made a final care order and placement order in respect of A, authorising the local authority to place her for adoption. I understand that, to date, no such placement has occurred.

4. Meanwhile, the mother had become pregnant again and, on 12th April 2013, had given birth to another girl, H, some 10 weeks premature. The local authority commenced care proceedings in respect of H and, on discharge from hospital, she was placed in foster care under an interim care order. The mother has had regular contact with her twice a week on a supervised basis. Various assessments and reports have been carried out, all of which recommend that H should not be returned to her mother's care. On the basis of these reports, the local authority now seeks a final care order, coupled with a placement order authorising them to place H for adoption. If these orders are made, it is the local authority's plan to place H separately from A, given the specific needs of each child, although it is proposed that there should be some direct contact between the sisters. No direct contact is proposed between H and her mother in the event of an adoption taking place. The mother opposes these plans and invites the court to make a residence order, coupled with a supervision order, permitting H to be returned to her care.


5. The family history up to the dates of the deaths of the boys is fully set out in the judgment in Re AA. I do not propose to repeat it again in this judgment.

6. Following the deaths of the boys, the mother suffered a significant mental breakdown and spent a period in hospital under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. On her release, she moved into a residential unit. Subsequently, she moved again to a two-bedroom housing association flat under a regime of supported living with 24-hour live-in support. Until recently, the support workers were required to be awake for the full 24 hours, but the regime has now been relaxed so that the carers at night are sleeping in her accommodation, rather than remaining awake all night.

7. It seems that, in some respects, the mother's life has become more settled. She told me in evidence that she gets on well with her support staff, two of whom, together with her advocate, have sat through the hearing. The mother told me that, on occasions, she gets angry with her support workers. In the past, there have been episodes of physical violence. On one occasion in April 2012, she assaulted the manager at the residential home where she was then living. Following that incident, she received a police caution. In December 2012, she assaulted a member of her current support staff. Following that assault, she was prosecuted, pleaded guilty and received a conditional discharge. There have been no further reports of physical violence. The mother has received some anger management counselling and she described in evidence how she has tried to put what she has learnt into practice. The mother continues to require regular medication, in particular for her longstanding thyroid condition. In view of her history of difficulties with taking medication – sometimes not taking it, on other occasions taking an overdose – the drugs are now kept in a locked cupboard by her support staff.

8. Another longstanding concern is the mother's history of relationships with men. Social services consider her to be vulnerable in view of her learning disability, personality and background. She has a history of casual relationships with men started over the internet. It is clear from her evidence that this pattern is continuing. At the time when she became pregnant with H and up to and beyond the start of these proceedings, she identified no fewer than three men as possible candidates to be the baby's father. In oral evidence, she told me that two of those men had been people with whom she had a one night stand, and a third was a man with whom she had a relationship for about 6 months. At the outset of the proceedings, she denied that A's father was or could be the father of H, but, in the event, DNA testing established that he was. It follows, therefore, that the mother, if she is telling the truth, was having sexual relations with at least four men at or around the time H was conceived.

9. This pattern has continued since H was born. In oral evidence, the mother confirmed that she had been involved in a relationship with a Nigerian man for several months, and also had other relationships with men whom she met over the internet. She described how the support staff would leave the building when these men arrived. She confirmed in oral evidence that she has, on occasions, used a false name when communicating with these men, saying that she did so because she did not want them to know she was the person who had been in the newspapers following the deaths of the boys.

10. A central feature of the local authority's case is that the mother is extremely vulnerable to abuse by men in these circumstances, that any child placed with her would also be vulnerable, and that she lacked insight about this issue. When I asked her in evidence why she thought I was asking her questions about this subject, she said she didn't know.

11. When it was discovered that the mother was pregnant again, the local authority convened pre-birth conferences and made arrangements to start proceedings after the birth. In the event, H arrived 10 weeks early. Care proceedings were started on 15th April 2013. On 29th April, they were transferred by the family proceedings legal advisor to the county court. On 9th May, His Honour Judge Horton transferred the proceedings to the High Court, to be listed before me alongside the ongoing proceedings concerning A. At the first hearing before me, on 14th May, I made an interim care order and gave a number of further directions including (1) an order that the local authority undertake and file an assessment, entitled a "capacity to change" assessment, by Ms Diane Tully, who is trained as a PAMS assessor (PAMS being the parenting assessment manual developed by Dr Sue McGaw, a well-known clinical psychologist specialising in learning disability); (2) permission to the mother to disclose the papers to two organisations – Dudley Lodge and Symbol UK – for the purposes of initial paper assessments; and (3) paternity testing of the various candidates to be H's father. As already indicated, DNA testing subsequently established that A's father was also H's father.

12. After reading the papers, the staff at Dudley Lodge indicated that they were unwilling to offer an assessment of mother and H, on the basis that there were insufficient positive indicators. Symbol UK, however, indicated that they would be willing to offer a community – based placement. That proposal was opposed by the local authority and the guardian, who were both concerned that such an assessment was not appropriate and would involve putting H at unjustifiable risks. At that stage, Ms Tully's "capacity to change" assessment was still outstanding. At the next hearing on 9th July, I refused the mother's application for a community-based assessment and gave directions for a final hearing.

13. On 13th August, Ms Tully filed her assessment report indicating that, in her opinion, the mother did not have capacity to care for H. On 2nd September, the local authority filed an application for a placement order. At the issues resolution hearing on 9th September, I confirmed the final hearing would take place on two days in October and gave final directions for that hearing in both the care and placement applications.

14. In the event, the hearing did not proceed in October. Only one day was available of the two originally planned. The case was therefore adjourned for five weeks. This delay also provided the parties with the opportunity to reflect on the state of the evidence in the light of the recent Court of Appeal decisions in Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 and Re W [2013] EWCA Civ 1227. As a result, further statements were subsequently filed by the local authority and the guardian containing a somewhat more extensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the options for H, together with a consideration of the possible support services that could be provided to the mother in the event that H was returned to her care.

15. The hearing took place before me on 15th November in Portsmouth. I heard oral evidence from Ms Tully, the social worker, Sharon Hart, the mother and the guardian. A number of measures were taken to ensure that the hearing was conducted in a way that was fair to the mother in the light of her learning disability. Two support workers were present throughout the hearing. She had the assistance of an advocate sitting alongside her, including when she was giving evidence. There were breaks in the proceedings during the day. Finally, she had the benefit of counsel, Miss Margaret Pine-Coffin who has represented her throughout both sets of proceedings. I am satisfied that the hearing was conducted in a way that was fair to the mother.

The Law

16. Care proceedings involve two principal questions. First, are the threshold criteria for making a care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 satisfied? Secondly, if so, what order should the court make?

17. Section 31 (2) provides:

"A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied (a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and (b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to

(i)  the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or

(ii)  the child's being beyond parental control."

In this case, it is not disputed that the threshold criteria under section 31 are satisfied. My findings in the proceedings concerning A lead inexorably to the conclusion that, on the relevant date, namely the date on which these proceedings started, shortly after H's birth, given the serious findings of neglect that I made in respect of A, there was a likelihood that H would suffer harm were to she to be placed in the mother's care.

18. The hearing before me has therefore concentrated on the second question – what order should I make?

19. In answering that question, I apply well-established legal principles. I bear in mind the rights of the mother and H under Article 8 of ECHR to respect for family and private life. Under section 1(1) of the Children Act, H's welfare is my paramount consideration in the care proceedings. Under section 1(2), any delay in making decisions concerning her future is likely to prejudice her welfare. Section 1(3) provides a checklist of factors to be taken into account when determining where her welfare lies, and what order should be made. In this case, the particularly important elements are: H's needs; the capacity of the matter to meet those needs; H's background, and any harm she is at risk of suffering.

20. On the application for a placement order, the court applies section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. On such an application, my paramount consideration is the child's welfare throughout her life: section 1(2). Again, I take into account the fact that delay in coming to a decision is likely to prejudice her welfare. There is, again, a checklist of factors to be taken into account, in this case set out in section 1(4) of the 2002 Act. In this case, the important factors are H's needs, the likely effect on H (throughout her life) of having ceased to be a member of her birth family and becoming an adopted person; her background; any harm she is at risk of suffering; her relationship with her birth relatives and, in particular, with her birth mother and the value of that relationship continuing; and the mother's ability and willingness to provide her with a secure environment and meet her needs. In addition, both section 1(3)(g) of the 1989 Act and section 1(6) of the 2002 Act require the court to have regard to the range of orders available.

21. Under section 21(3) of the 2002 Act, a court may not make a placement order unless satisfied either that the parent has consented to the child being placed for adoption or that his or her consent should be dispensed with. In this case, H's father consents to the making of a placement order but the mother does not. Under section 52(1)(b), the court may dispense with the parent's consent if the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.

22. These provisions have been subjected to analysis in a number of important decisions by the higher courts, and in particular this year by the Supreme Court in Re B [2013] UKSC 33 and in a series of decisions in the Court of Appeal culminating in Re B-S (supra) and Re W (supra). I have had those decisions firmly in mind at all points during this hearing.

23. In Re B, the Supreme Court, having reminded itself of the European jurisprudence, reiterated that the test for severing a relationship between a parent and child is very strict so that, in the words of Baroness Hale of Richmond at paragraph 198, it should occur:

"only in exceptional circumstances and when motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child's welfare, in short, when nothing else will do. In many cases and particularly where the feared harm has not yet materialised and may never do so, it will be necessary to explore and attempt alternative solutions."

As Lord Neuberger observed at paragraph 77, making a child subject to a care order with a plan for adoption should be 'a last resort' where 'no other course was possible in her interests'.

24. This interpretation was reiterated by the President, Sir James Munby, giving the judgment in the Court of Appeal in Re B-S. The statutory language in the 2002 Act imposes a stringent test. What must be shown is that the child's welfare 'requires' parental consent to adoption to be dispensed with.

25. At paragraph 34 and following in his judgment, the President identifies two essential things required where a court is being asked to approve a care plan for adoption and/or make a non-consensual placement order.

"First, there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian. The evidence must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option."

26. At paragraph 36, the President affirmed and endorsed the observation of Black LJ in Plymouth CC v G (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 1271 at paragraph 47;

"The court requires not only a list of the factors that are relevant to the central decision but also a narrative account of how they fit together, including an analysis of the pros and cons of the various orders that might realistically be under consideration given the circumstances of the children, and a fully reasoned recommendation."

27. The second thing identified by the President as essential is an adequately-reasoned judgment. In this context, he cited and approved the observations of McFarlane LJ in Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965 paragraphs 49-50;

"In most child care cases, the choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then rejected because of internal deficits that may be identified, with a result that, at the end of the line, the only option left standing is the most draconian and that is therefore chosen without any particular consideration of whether there are internal deficits within that option. The linear approach…is not apt where the judicial task is to undertake a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child's future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child's welfare."

28. It has been suggested in some quarters that this line of recent authorities represents a radical change. I do not read it in this way. The Court of Appeal is simply emphasising the need for a rigorous analysis and comparison of the realistic options for the child's future, having regard to the advantages and disadvantages of each option. This is not new law. It is required by the checklists set out in sections 1(3) of the 1989 Act and section 1(4) of the 2002 Act, each of which stipulates that the court must consider the range of orders available. In the recent cases, the appellate courts have detected some superficiality in the analysis of the options, in particular the analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of permanent placement outside the birth family.  They have therefore reminded courts at first instance of the need to identify the realistic options and submit them to a thorough analysis, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each option. In some cases, the parties and the court may find it useful to draw up a balance sheet setting out the pros and cons of the realistic options, but this does not require a court in every case to set out in tabular format the arguments for and against every conceivable option. Such a course would tend to obscure, rather than enlighten, the reasoning process.

29. In this case, the only two realistic options argued for by any party are, on the one hand, rehabilitation of H with her mother and, on the other hand, adoption. No kinship placement has been identified. In theory, long-term fostering under a care order would be an option but no party has argued for it and it has not been suggested to me that it should be regarded as realistic. Miss Pine-Coffin rightly did not contend that the local authority evidence, or the guardian's analysis, was deficient in this regard. Realistically, the options are stark. Either H should be returned to her mother or, if there is no possibility of her mother being able to care for her, she should be placed permanently outside the family in an adoptive placement. This would, of course, be a last resort and the court will only take that course if satisfied that nothing else will do.

Option One - a return to Mother

30. The mother proposes that H be returned to her care. In a clear and moving statement, which she has written for me herself, she puts it in her own words. She says that she knows that she has 'messed up' with her other children. She says that, at that point, she did not have a supporting care package. She sets out a weekly timetable showing how she proposes to arrange her time with H during the week. She states her flat is now childproof throughout. She says that she feels no one wants her to be happy and have kids, and that she feels she is being discriminated against because of her learning disability. She thinks the professionals are ruling her out because she hasn't got over B and J, but adds; "what parent has got over the deaths of their kids?" She says that she has made a lot of changes to her life and learnt by her mistakes, and is now in a better place to care for H. That is a summary of what is set out in her statement. I have read and re-read it and have all of it firmly in mind.

31. On behalf of the mother, Miss Pine-Coffin makes a number of points in support of the mother's proposal for rehabilitation. Her principal submission, of course, is that the mother is H's mother, that H should, if possible, be brought up by her, and that there is no other relative able and willing to take over her care. Miss Pine-Coffin points out that the mother wants to care for H. She draws attention to the fact that, when H was born prematurely, the mother sought appropriate help for herself and her unborn baby when she had not felt the baby move and when she herself felt unwell. Miss Pine-Coffin draws attention to the fact that the mother attended to H's needs as much as she could when she and H were in hospital and after she was discharged but H remained in the special care unit. Miss Pine-Coffin points out that since that time the mother has attended contact punctually and has always let the local authority know if she is delayed. During contact, the mother has attended to H's needs. She has also attended medical appointments for H when she is able to do so and kept herself up to date with H's progress.

32. It is a central feature of Miss Pine-Coffin's submission on behalf of the mother that there have been significant changes since the deaths of the boys and the fact-finding hearing in 2012. She points in particular to the fact that the mother has not self-harmed for over two-and-a-half years, has accepted the support of those around her, and has kept her flat to a reasonable standard. It is the mother's case that in her current circumstances, she is able to care for H with support and assistance.

33. In addition, Miss Pine-Coffin makes the point that there is now a much clearer understanding of the extent the mother's learning disability (in contrast to the position when she was endeavouring to care for the older children) and that, as a result, the care and support given to her can be more focussed and targeted. Miss Pine-Coffin submits that there has not been the requisite consideration by the local authority or the guardian of the type of support that could be provided for the mother to enable her to care for H.

34. In contrast, the local authority and guardian submit that there is strong evidence to suggest that the mother could not safely care for H. They draw attention in particular to the following factors.

35. First, there are the comprehensive findings made by this court in the earlier proceedings, identifying wide-ranging neglect of the older children. Those findings are set out in full in my earlier judgment, summarised at paragraph 81 and need not be repeated here.

36. Secondly, there is the 'capacity to change' assessment carried out by Diane Tully. As already stated, Ms Tully is PAMS-trained and therefore has specific experience in assessing parents with learning disability. She has had access to all the papers in the case, including my earlier judgment, and to the cognitive assessments of the mother. The structure of her assessment, as set out in her interim report, was: to gain an understanding of the mental health and learning needs of the mother; to enable the mother to understand the process and content of the assessment, taking instruction from the available cognitive assessments; to consider the pertinent sections of PAMS and specialist material if necessary to facilitate the assessment process; to understand the history and childhood of the mother; to ascertain the mother's understanding of children's services' current involvement with H; to explore her pregnancy with H and her pregnancy history generally; to engage the mother in reflective discussion in respect of her previous parenting style of the older children; to explore with the mother any links and feelings between her experiences of being parented to that of her own parenting style; to explore the mother's understanding of her relationships with men, including H's father; to discuss and clarify H's needs; to undertake an interactional observation of the mother in order to form an opinion in respect of her emotional capacity to forge a bond with the child; to identify the relational ingredients available from the mother in comparison to the attachment needs of H; and to analyse the networks of support both current and future available for the mother. In carrying out this assessment, Ms Tully assured the court in her final report that she had been mindful of the mother's learning needs, and has worked within her capacity, checking that she fully understands the questions posed and what was required of her. Ms Tully states that information has been conveyed to the mother in a clear and concise manner and her understanding checked by Ms Tully and/or her advocate who was present to support her.

37. On any view, Ms Tully has carried out a comprehensive assessment of the mother's capacity to care for H. She concludes that, although the mother has engaged in the process of assessment, she has been unable to demonstrate that she has the capacity to care for her child.

38. Ms Tully draws attention to the fact that the mother relies on prompts from members of her support staff with regard to most aspects of her lifestyle. Staff are on hand 24 hours a day to ensure that she can maintain an appropriate standard of personal care, including her health needs. They ensure that she attends appointments and takes prescribed medication. Medication is locked away as a safety precaution in recognition of her vulnerability, history of self-harm and aggression directed towards others.

39. Ms Tully observed contact on several occasions, analysed the other contact records and spoke to the contact supervisors. She concluded that the mother has the capacity to meet the physical needs of the baby during contact. The evidence showed, however, that during contact sessions the mother was preoccupied with her own needs and seemed to have some difficulty maintaining her focus on the baby. There are frequent notes that she initiates limited interaction with H. The foster carer informed Ms Tully that she has had to remind the mother frequently that she must hold H in a safe and contained manner. On many occasions during contact, the mother has endeavoured to convey her love for H through physical affection. Ms Tully observes, however, that it is evident that her motivation for much of these affections is:

"based on her own needs rather than those originating in and being signalled by H and her responding to these."

Ms Tully refers to an occasion when she herself found it necessary to intervene and attempt to console H when she became distressed. The mother had appeared oblivious to this and made no attempt to intercept H's distress and soothe and comfort her.

40. Ms Tully further identifies the mother's ongoing problems with unresolved issues arising out of the boys' deaths. She acknowledges that the mother has suffered considerable trauma and loss in respect of the deaths of the boys and in particular having discovered their bodies. This has been compounded by the removal of A and, more recently, H. The mother has acknowledged that she has yet to deal with the deaths of the boys and that she is haunted by negative feelings and finds it difficult to visit their graves. Ms Tully comments:

"[the mother] appears to have no awareness of how her unresolved loss and trauma may affect her parenting of H. In my opinion she also has unresolved issues of attachment in her relationship with her own mother which are reflected in her relationship with A and could possibly re-emerge in her relationship with H."

41. Ms Tully records that the mother believes that, as she was cleared of any responsibility for the deaths of the boys, there is no reason why H should not be reunited with her. She has been unable to accept the findings of neglect made in the previous proceedings. In the course of the assessment, she acknowledged to Ms Tully that her parenting of the previous children 'could have been better'. She was, however, unable to offer a more detailed and coherent account of the form that this might take. This led Ms Tully to observe:

"it is of concern that, without an understanding of the need for change and the recognition of how her previous care impacted on her children, there is no basis for change to occur. Therefore, there is a likelihood for re-emerging patterns of her same style of parenting in the future in respect of H…While she has made brief reference that her parenting could have been better, she has been unable to identify how this might be, other than in a global sense without any coherent context. She has not been able to convey any indication of a growth in her empathic understanding."

42. A particular concern is the mother's vulnerability to men. I have already referred to her ongoing pattern of behaviour – meeting men via the internet and embarking on short-term sexual relations. Ms Tully notes that, although the mother claimed that A's father was a risk to both children and women, she continued her relationship with him and became pregnant with A, and subsequently resumed her relationship with him and became pregnant with H. Ms Tully rightly sees this pattern of behaviour as a matter of very considerable concern. Such behaviour poses a significant risk, not only to the mother, but also to any child in her care. Ms Tully concluded that the mother lacked insight about this issue, and it was notable that she was unable to demonstrate any understanding why she was being questioned about this matter in her oral evidence.

43. In her report, Ms Tully reached the conclusion that the mother lacked capacity to change and care for a child. Any child left in her care would be likely to experience the continuation of neglectful parenting that would inevitably have devastating effects on the child. In cross-examination by Ms Pine-Coffin, Ms Tully accepted that the mother had made some positive changes, although not in terms of her capacity to parent.

44. In addition to Ms Tully's comprehensive assessment, the court has had an opportunity to examine the detailed contact records. These confirm the pattern described by Ms Tully. The mother has the capacity to meet the basic physical needs of the child, and demonstrates affection for her. However, she is easily distracted and requires prompting by the supervisors, and is not readily attuned to the emotional needs of the baby.

45. In her second statement, Ms Hart, H's social worker during these proceedings, draws together the various strands and identifies the positives and negatives of rehabilitation. She identifies the following positives in the proposal of H being returned to her mother.

(1) H would have an opportunity to be cared for by her mother.

(2) H would maintain direct links with the birth family.

(3) H would be provided with a positive sense of identity as part of her birth family.

(4) The mother has demonstrated love and affection for H.

(5) The mother has attended assessment and contact appointments consistently.

On the other hand, Ms Hart identifies the following negatives of this option.

(1) There are historic and current significant concerns in respect of the mother's parenting capacity and ability to meet H's needs throughout her minority.

(2) There is significant concern that H's holistic development needs would not be met.

(3) There are significant concerns in respect of H's safety were she to be placed in her mother's care.

(4) The mother has not demonstrated insight into previous and ongoing concerns.

(5) The mother has not demonstrated an ability to meet and respond to H's needs consistently without a high level of direction in supervised contact sessions.

46. In reaching its recommendation, the local authority through Ms Hart expressed the view that H would suffer significant harm in her mother's care were she to be returned. There is extensive documentary evidence highlighting grave concern in respect of the care given to the previous children. Ongoing involvement with social services has revealed entrenched patterns in the mother's behaviour, no significant changes in her behaviour, and an inability to meet and respond to her own needs, which requires 24 hour support. There are significant concerns about the mother's ability to provide adequate care for H in a safe environment where her needs and safety are prioritised.

47. In her final report, Ms Hart addresses the question of whether the mother could care for H with 24 hour support. She identified the support that would be available from universal services, health visitors, Sure Start, social care and educational services. She points out that the support would be dependent on the mother accessing the services voluntarily and, historically, the evidence suggests that, despite a high level of intervention with the older children, the mother did not consistently develop a productive working relationship with professionals, or acknowledge concerns, or demonstrate insight. The local authority believes that, were H to be placed in her care, the same pattern would recur. Ms Hart concludes that the provision of 24 hour support for the mother would not be sufficient to safeguard H from significant harm. The mother simply doesn't have sufficient understanding of H's needs, or a sufficient degree of insight and acceptance of the risk issues. Furthermore, the type of intervention suggested would involve a number of professionals providing care for H which would impinge upon H's ability to lead a normal childhood.

48. The concerns identified by Ms Tully and Ms Hart are echoed and endorsed by the guardian. She has carried out a similar exercise of analysing the pros and cons of the proposal that H be returned to her mother. I mean no disrespect to the guardian by not setting that analysis in full. It is in very similar terms to that propounded on behalf of the local authority.

Option Two – Placement for Adoption
49. The advantages and disadvantages of making an order placing H for adoption are summarised by Ms Hart as follows.

50. The positives of a placement order and subsequent adoption are as follows.

(1) In all probability, H's emotional and physical needs would be fully met in an adoptive placement.

(2) She would be placed with a carer or carers who would have been comprehensively assessed as having the capacity to look after a child, and specifically matched as suitable and equipped to meet H's specific needs.

(3) There is no likelihood that H would suffer significant harm in the care of an adopter or adopters. She would be safe and secure, and not exposed to the degree of risk of harm arising from the mother's transient relationships with men.

(4) As a result of being provided with a stable and consistent care environment, she would have an opportunity to lead a 'normal life'. In a secure environment, she would have a good chance of developing into a balanced and emotionally stable person.

(5) H is 8 months old. At this relatively young age, she will be able to manage the transition from foster care to adoption without suffering undue emotional harm.

51. The disadvantages or negatives of a placement order and subsequent adoption are as follows.

(1) She would lose the direct relationship with her mother, who plainly loves her and is desperate to look after her.

(2) She would lose the potential of relationships with her father and extended family members. Such relationships are extremely valuable to a child, even where the relatives are unable to care for the child.

(3) She would lose her sense of identity as a member of the birth family. A person's sense of identity is an important aspect of their development.

(4) Although most adoptions are successful, a not insignificant number break down, resulting in further emotional harm to the child.

52. In addition, the guardian reminds the court again that adoption should only be considered when absolutely necessary and in the child's best interests. Furthermore, there is, as the guardian reminds me, no absolute guarantee that adoption would meet H's needs although, with a careful and sensitive matching process, there is no reason why a suitable family would not be found.

53. Both the local authority and the guardian reach a firm recommendation that H's welfare requires the court to approve the plan for adoption.

54. In my judgment, the evidence in this case fully complies with the requirements identified by the Court of Appeal in Re B-S. The realistic options for future care – return to mother under a residence order and supervision order, or a care order on the basis of a plan for adoption, coupled with a placement order – have been comprehensively analysed, and the advantages and disadvantages of each course carefully considered by the local authority and the guardian. I accept their analyses.

55. A central aspect of Miss Pine-Coffin's argument on behalf of the mother, both in cross-examination of the professional witnesses and in submissions, is that the mother has changed and the professionals have failed to recognise the extent of this change. In my judgment, however, the change in the mother has been minimal. In some respects she is now more settled in her domestic life. There is, it seems, a much better understanding of her learning disability and her troubled background, and the impact on those factors on her lifestyle and capacity. As a result, she is better supported than she was prior to the deaths of the boys.

56. When considering her parenting capacity, however, I can see no clear evidence of any significant change. I accept the evidence of Ms Tully that the mother lacks any true understanding of the deficiencies in her parenting of the other children. She says that she realises that she could have done better, but I do not think she really believes that or that she has any real understanding of how she failed as a parent. At contact, while she has shown that she can meet the basic physical needs of the baby, she has also shown that she lacks consistency, is too easily distracted, and is not always emotionally attuned to H's needs. She continues to lead a precarious lifestyle, meeting men over the internet and engaging in casual sexual relationships which expose her to considerable dangers, in particular given her learning disability. This lifestyle would pose a serious risk to any child in her care. There is no evidence that she has any insight into these risks.

57. The Supreme Court has reminded us that adoption is the last resort. Wherever possible, children should be brought up by their natural parents. Adoption is not a panacea. It has advantages and disadvantages, as analysed by the social worker and guardian.

58. In this case, however, having conducted the balancing exercise, I unhesitatingly conclude that there is no realistic prospect of H being safely returned to her mother's care, and that her needs for stability and permanence can only be met in an adoptive placement. I therefore make a care order and, having concluded that H's welfare requires me to dispense with the mother's consent to placing her for adoption, I make a placement order authorising the local authority to place H for adoption.

59. I make two further points in conclusion.

60. First, I have been very conscious preparing this judgment that the requirements explained by the Court of Appeal for a fully reasoned judgment mean that this court must be frank and clear in its analysis. That involves saying things which this mother will undoubtedly have found difficult and distressing. I regret that very much. I am only too aware that this mother has herself been a victim, both as a result of her disability, and her background. It is, however, unavoidable that the court has to set out in full its reasons for making this life-changing decision for H. The reasons for my decision, however unpalatable to the mother, have to be fully recorded.

61. Secondly, whether or not this judgment is released for publication, I do think it important that the local authority should disclose to those responsible for the mother's care and support an edited version of my comments about her lifestyle. My focus has of course been on H and her welfare, but I have been very concerned by the evidence about the risks to the mother arising from her lifestyle in particular in particular her pattern of meeting and forming casual relationships with men over the internet. This mother is an extremely vulnerable person and those who care for and support her should look again to see if there are further ways in which she can be protected.