Courts to scrutinise child care plans more closely

Social services departments that “interfere” with family life by
taking children into care will be placed under closer scrutiny by
the courts after a landmark decision by the court of appeal.

Under the ruling, which examines the impact of the Human Rights
Act on child care plans, judges will be entitled to demand more
information from social workers in individual cases, and to refuse
care and adoption orders where interference in family life is

Social services departments will now be under a duty to report
to the courts if a care plan breaks down, or if a planned family
re-union or adoption does not occur within an acceptable

Lady Justice Hale urged courts to “beware a rosy tinted view of
what can be achieved” by social services departments, and they
“must hesitate to make care orders unless satisfied that this is
indeed the best option for the child”.

Not every breach of a care plan would amount to a violation of a
child’s human rights, she said, but local authorities were
duty-bound to provide full information to the courts and to keep
judges up-to-date on a child’s progress in care.

Any major changes in care plans should be reported to the court,
and judges are entitled to demand updated information if there is a
real risk of a child’s rights under the European Convention
on Human Rights being violated, she ruled.

The ruling was made in two test cases concerning Torbay and
Bedfordshire councils in which care orders were challenged under
the HRA.

The first involved three children from the Torbay where the
mother’s partner had physically, sexually and emotionally
abused the eldest. Last year a county court judge made care orders
in respect of all three children. The mother had failed to protect
the children and had joined in the “emotional abuse”, but the
ultimate aim of the social workers was to reunite her with at least
the two younger children. The court of appeal dismissed the
mother’s appeal, ruling that full care orders had been
justified in the circumstances.

In the second case, a Luton couple had their family life
seriously disrupted by the mother’s mental health problems.
Care orders were made in respect of the couple’s two sons
last year. Lady Justice Hale overturned the full care orders and
replaced them with interim orders. The judge should have “insisted
on more information” from social workers, or demanded they report
back to him if the care plan did not develop as expected, she





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