When care order can be made before a placement order
The Court of Appeal has reminded professionals that two orders that precede adoption need not be made simultaneously, writes Ed Mitchell
The case: T (Children: placement orders)
The issue: care orders and placement orders
Where a council’s plan for a child is adoption, the courts commonly make a placement order at the same time as a care order. This then permits the council to place the child for adoption.
In this decision, the Court of Appeal reminded practitioners that it is not inevitable that placement and care orders will be made at the same time. In some cases, only a care order should be made in the first instance.
What were the welfare issues in this case?
This case concerned two boys, aged five and seven. Their parents had severe learning difficulties and the boys had had a terrible upbringing. Indeed, two independent social workers said that they were the most damaged children they had ever worked with.
This traumatic upbringing posed particular social work challenges because of its effect on the boys’ abilities to bond with carers. Their attachments to their parents had been very weak and, in a year with foster parents, they had also failed to form proper attachments, both remaining “detached and angry”.
The local authority involved was not certain that adoption was viable. It planned a specialist therapeutic foster placement for at least six months before making final decisions as to long-term care.
The aim of the placement was to help the boys form attachments. Without that ability, a successful adoption was unlikely and, as a result, would probably not be attempted.
Nevertheless, the authority applied to the courts for a placement order, as well as a care order. The court made both orders. The boys’ father appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Why was it wrong to have made a placement order?
It was premature because it was not known whether the boys would ever be suitable for adoption. That would only become clear once the boys had completed the therapeutic foster placement. As a result, it could not yet be said whether adoption was in the boys’ best interests and so the placement order was set aside.
Did the parents’ learning disabilities affect the outcome of this case?
Yes. The Court of Appeal noted that a placement order has a nearly conclusive effect on parental rights because a subsequent objection to any adoption order requires the court’s permission. Furthermore, once the order is made publicly funded legal help is likely to cease. In the case of parents with learning disabilities, the court said that this was of “some significance”.
Does this case mean that placement orders will usually be made after care orders?
No. The Court of Appeal emphasised that, usually, where a plan for adoption is approved, both a care order and placement order will be made at the culmination of care proceedings.
The court said: “Plainly a placement order can be, and perhaps usually should be, made at the same time as a care order is made on a plan for adoption which the judge approves, even though at that stage a good deal of investigation and preparation is needed before the child can actually be placed, and it is not known whether a suitable family will be found or not.”
➔ The Court of Appeal’s full decision
Ed Mitchell is a solicitor, editor of Social Care Law Today and Community Care’s legal expert