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P (a Child) (Interim Separation) [2021] EWCA Civ 499

A successful appeal resulting in the interim placement of a baby in foster care pending the full hearing.

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Within a week of his birth in August 2020, P was made the subject of an interim care order and placed in a mother and baby foster placement with his mother. The placement broke down and the court approved P's placement in foster care. In October 2020, P and his mother were reunited in a residential assessment unit. The mother's initial progress was not consistently sustained and the conclusion of the PAMS assessment was that P could not move into the community with his mother.

In March 2021, the mother's partner (who she had met after P's birth) was allowed to join her in the unit to assess whether he could compensate for deficits identified in the mother's care and whether they could prioritise P's needs over their own.

Matters deteriorated such that P had to be removed from his mother's care overnight on two occasions. The unit gave notice to terminate the placement after the mother assaulted her partner and attempted self-harm. The local authority's subsequent urgent application for permission to remove P to foster care was supported by the Independent Review Officer and the Children's Guardian.

His Honour Judge Greensmith refused the application and listed the case for the next day when the local authority was to provide a position statement setting out the support that could be offered to prevent separation of P and his mother. The following day, after hearing submissions, HHJ Greensmith gave an oral judgment in which he did not approve the removal plan as the court did not have the evidence to inform a decision as to whether separation was necessary. The case was listed to be heard eight days later before another judge.

In the meantime, the local authority applied for permission to appeal HHJ Greensmith's order. Permission to appeal was granted and, in the interim, the court determined P should be placed in foster care. By the time of the appeal hearing, the mother had spent supervised time with P on all but one day.

The mother, after careful reflection, did not oppose the appeal.  Edis LJ said there was no proper basis for the court to doubt the conclusions of the five-month professional assessment at the residential unit, and there should be no pressure for that placement to continue. Other theoretical placements were either impossible, inappropriate or could not be put in place immediately. Therefore, the local authority's plan for separation should continue until a full hearing could take place. P would remain in foster care and have frequent contact with his mother.

Case summary by Dr Sara Hunton, Barrister, Field Court Chambers

For full case summary, please see BAILII