Practitioner: Paul Doherty, children’s guardian, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
Field: Children involved in court proceedings.
Client: Esmee, five, has been removed from her parents’ care and put up for adoption.
Case History: Esmee’s parents, Alison and Michael, were drug users. Alison also has three other daughters – aged nine, 10 and 12 – from a previous relationship. They were all removed from her care because of her drug use and live with their maternal grandmother who has a residence order. When Esmee was born, she was allowed to stay with Alison because of positive views about Michael’s potential to provide stability. Social workers believed his presence balanced Alison’s chaotic lifestyle. But given Michael’s drug use, it was later decided that Esmee should be placed under a care order and put up for adoption. Placed with her grandmother and half-sisters, and then foster care, the issue of contact was raised. Her grandmother wanted contact to continue with her and Esmee’s siblings even after the girl was placed into a permanent family. The local authority, however, objected to this.
Dilemma: Should everyone accept the local authority’s proposal for indirect contact only or challenge that and go for direct contact?
Risk Factor: Would contact with her birth family jeopardise a successful placement?
● Esmee’s placement plan requires contact with her grandmother and siblings.
● Four potential families have been identified for Esmee.
Weighing up the risks
Arguments for risk
● Esmee and her siblings wanted to see each other.
● Esmee had been placed with her grandmother when the situation with her parents broke down so had already had some direct kinship care with them.
● Esmee has a complex heritage – her father was Jamaican and her mother was half-British/half-Ukrainian. “This left her with issues over her sense of identity – another reason for retaining this link to her birth family,” says Doherty.
● Grandmother would support and protect Esmee’s future placement.
● Esmee, “a bright and intelligent girl”, had experienced disruption and confusion. “She had been removed from her original foster carers after an allegation was made against the male foster carer,” says Doherty. “Esmee was upset by this so it was important to retain some consistency in her life to help anchor her feelings.”
Arguments against risk
● Esmee is five years old. Any decision needs to take account of her age and development.
● All she has known is disruption and failure: her parents failed to care for her her grandmother couldn’t physically cope with an extra child she was removed from her foster carers where she had seemed settled following allegations made against the male carer. Starting again with a new, permanent family offers a chance for a clean slate for Esmee and to put the failures of the past behind her.
● By making direct contact a prerequisite of any placement plan, potential adopters may be put off.
● Contact hadn’t taken place for eight months, which might show that the need for it was less than supposed. However, this was because the social worker failed to make arrangements rather than a lack of interest on the family’s part.