Appeal judges have ordered a rehearing of a care case after finding a decision to place two children for adoption had been made without a proper consideration of long-term fostering options.
The judges upheld an appeal against the adoption order brought by the children’s parents but warned it should not be seen as “any sort of victory” on the part of the father, who had displayed “destructive” behaviour over months and focused his case on the “lies and abuse” he felt were perpetrated by social workers.
The court heard how weeks before the original care proceedings, the local authority had reversed its position that long-term fostering was the best option for the two children. The change was made after a manager returned from leave and asked to reassess the options.
Justice King, who heard the appeal with two other judges, said the family court hearing in December 2015 should have still considered the fostering alternative despite the council’s change of stance.
“Had the judge analysed long-term fostering as an option she may well have reached the same conclusion, namely that adoption is in the best interests of the children,” she said.
“However the fact remains that the social work professionals, together with the children’s guardian, had concluded that long-term fostering was the order which was in the best interests of these two children as recently as November 2015 at a time when all involved were fully well-aware that the parents had not seen the children for many months.”
Children used to put pressure on local authority
The children became involved with services after the family, who had immigrated to England more than 10 years previously, were made destitute. When the local authority began work with the parents, they had no concerns over their ability to provide care, and it anticipated being able to maintain a working relationship.
“Not only did this not prove to be the case, but the parents used their children as a means to put pressure on the local authority to give them more money with a wholly callous disregard for their emotional well-being,” King said.
The parents went to the extremes of hiding their children in cupboards when social workers visited, the judgement said. “The parent’s strategies amongst other things included using the children directly to try to demand money,” King said.
At one point in the local authority’s work with the family, a child had been coached to make “wholly false” allegations of physical and sexual abuse against the school and social workers.
“This inevitably resulted in a full investigation and the involvement of the police,” said King.
“The father maintained these very serious allegations at trial, although he now accepts the finding made by the judge that the allegations were wholly fabricated.”
At the final hearing, the mother had left the country for Singapore and the father wanted both children returned to their care so they could travel with them. The father was not legally represented in the final hearing and his case simply focused on “’the lies and abuse’ perpetrated by social workers.
“Tempting though it is, given the father’s destructive behaviour over many months and the children’s need for security and stability, to conclude that the father has brought an inevitable outcome on his own head, in my judgment long-term fostering was a realistic option,” King said.
“The appeal hearing focused on the judge’s failure to consider the alternatives to adoption and in my judgment, on that basis alone, the appeal must be followed.”
The decision by the local authority to pursue adoption was made after the team manager’s re-assessment of options found that there was a trend in the family finding team that placements were increasingly found for older sibling groups. The manager then spoke to an independent reviewing officer “who agreed to reconsider her position”, and a plan for adoption was ratified a day later.
The judge concluded by warning the father that the successful appeal “should not be regarded as any form of victory on his part”.
“Should his intransigent attitude continue, it may well be that any potential benefits to the children by way of long-term fostering in the form of an aspiration to re-establish contact, or even ultimately rehabilitation, is so unrealistic as to be ruled out,” she said.