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Child law

Judge strongly criticises council’s failings in care case

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James Harbottle
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Judge strongly criticises council’s failings in care case

A local authority has been strongly criticised by a Family Court judge for its long-standing failings whilst dealing with a care case involving four children.

Three of the children are now aged 17, 13 and 11 years old. Sadly, the fourth child died in 2019, when she was 14 years old.

Child Care Law Team
Sarah Hindle – Senior Solicitor – Head of Child Care Law Team

The children first came to the attention of the local authority in 2010, following concerns of their sexualised behaviour expressed by their mother. The children had made various allegation of sexual abuse against their parents and others. The court subsequently found that these allegations had not been established, but that the children had been exposed to sexual activity when they had been living with their parents.

The children were placed in foster care in 2012 and made the subject of care orders in 2014. The three surviving children remain living with foster carers.

Since 2014 there have been further court proceedings in relation to the children. In 2015 the maternal grandmother applied for contact with them, and the present case concerns three applications.

The first application was by the mother for contact with the children. The second application was by the local authority to discharge the care orders and make special guardianship orders in favour of the foster carers, hereby giving a legal ‘permanence’ to the relationship between the children and the foster carers. And the third application was also by the local authority, for permission to change the children’s surnames to that of the foster carers.

But before we look at the present case, we need to mention the death of the fourth child. She died after suffering severe sepsis, which caused damage to many internal organs. She had to be placed on life support, and when it became clear that she would not recover, the hospital sought the consent of the local authority to remove life support. The local authority gave that consent, life support was removed, and the child died immediately.


Findings of factjudges wig court room - care case

So to the present case. The judgment in which the judge criticised the local authority is very long (you can read it here), so we can only provide a brief summary here.

The judgment concerned a fact-finding hearing. The judge was being asked to make various findings of fact, chiefly against the local authority, in particular by the mother and the two oldest children.

The findings of fact included that the local authority had failed to act upon a finding by the court in 2013 that the children had distorted perceptions of their birth family, that they had failed to promote contact between the mother and the children, that they had failed to take any steps to preserve the children’s sense of identity with and connection to their family, that they had marginalised the mother when the fourth child was in hospital, and that they had failed to act upon the wishes of the children to be permanently incorporated into the foster carers’ family, resulting in a delay of over six years.

These and other facts were accepted by the local authority, and therefore found to be true by the court.


Strongest criticismcourt failings

All of the above led the judge, Mr Justice Keehan, to conclude his judgment with the following:

“My strongest criticism must be directed at this local authority. In the whole of my professional life I have rarely encountered such egregious and long-standing failures by a local authority. The worst of it is, I cannot after the closest possible enquiry, understand why or what motivated the local authority to fail these children, this mother and the [foster carers] as appallingly and for as extended a period of time. The whole history of the role of this local authority in the lives of these children is highly inexplicable. The only matter which is clear to me is that it did not have the welfare best interests of the children at the heart of its decision-making, such as it was.

“This must call into question whether this local authority’s children’s services department is fit for purpose. That is a question which is not for me to answer. I can say that they had failed these children in an extraordinary manner over a prolonged period of time.”


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This case is a clear example of why, if you are the parent of a child who is the subject of involvement by social services, it is essential that you seek expert legal advice at the earliest possible stage, and thereafter. Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors have expert children lawyers who can provide you with that advice. For further information, see this page.