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A Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] EWFC 38

Significant child protection failings identified by a local authority regarding a mother’s involvement with a Schedule 1 Child Sex offender.

The proceedings concern two brothers: A aged 14 and B who is 12. A has complex health and social care needs. The most serious aspect of his condition relates to quadriplegic cerebral palsy and the first paragraph of the judgment sets out some of his needs associated thereto.

A lives in a residential unit and has educational support from a school. Both provisions are widely acknowledged to have encouraged A to blossom and reveal a great deal of his potential. B lives at home with his mother; the parents having separated somewhat acrimoniously in early 2018.

Hayden J first encountered this family when the mother instigated proceedings against the local authority to enforce them to exercise their statutory obligations and make reasonable adaptations within the family home to meet A's needs. After a long battle, the mother succeeded and a project exceeding costs of £340,000 ensured the family home was one where A could return. This is something he very much wanted to happen.

However, in July 2018 an anonymous phone call was made to the local authority informing them that the mother was in a relationship with a Schedule One sex offender, who had been released on licence just before the relationship commenced, having served a custodial term of a prison sentence for sexual offences against his own daughter. Details of this is set out at paragraph 10 of the judgment.

It is clear from reading the judgement that whilst the mother was wholly dishonest about the nature and extent of this relationship, the local authority failed in its fundamental duties of child protection and the Judge was invited by the children's guardian at final hearing to review the local authority's conduct of the case.

Indeed, this case highlights the significant role that experienced children's guardians play in ensuring a holistic analysis of risk is undertaken at all stages and holding the local authority to account when they fail in that analysis.

A detailed chronology of the local authority's failings is set out at paragraph 15 of the judgment and were entirely made out and the court identified training needs. These examples demonstrate the volume and extent of the mismanagement of the case over many months and evidence how the local authority failed to carry out even the most fundamental child protection investigations.  One such significant failure found by the court  was to delay in informing the father of the mother's relationship and thus the impact upon his children which only added further to the very difficult relationship the father had with the local authority over his involvement with them.

The failings by the local authority, to adequately safeguard these children by robustly challenging the mother about the nature and extent of her relationship and assessing the risk to the children, meant that the mother believed the social work team to be "on her side" thus creating an opportunity for her to be dishonest and continue undeterred in a relationship that clearly posed a significant risk to the children. In her evidence to the court she attempted to shift responsibility away from herself and onto the local authority and the court was critical of her in not recognising her own manifest failure to protect her boys concluding the tragic irony is that this mother had fought so hard and for so long to achieve a real opportunity for A to come home and was then herself responsible for destroying it.

After considering the expert evidence and balancing all of the realistic options for these children, the court was left with no choice but to make a care order in respect of A and for him to remain where he is.  As for B, the court determined that the father should move back into the family home and resume his care and for the mother to leave. The local authority agreed to waive substantial rent arrears to make that possible. The father would support contact to mother and A could join that in the home.

Case summary by Anna Walsh, barrister, Coram Chambers

Read the full judgment of A Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] EWFC 38 on BAILII