It Couldn’t Happen Here

It Couldn’t Happen Here – Hand on Heart and Cross Your Fingers

Updated 11 July 2018

You Could Not Make It Up

This is not made up. All the quotations (in bold) are from the judgement published in Family Law Week “A & S v. Lancs CC [2012] EWHC 1689 (Fam)”.

Two children were taken into care by Lancashire County Council. It was intended that they should be adopted so all links to their natural family were severed.

The Council obtained a court order that the children should be “freed for adoption”. They were not adopted, and they were moved from foster home to foster home for eleven years. One boy was moved 77 times and the other 96 times.

One of the children went to see a lawyer to stop the Council ending a placement with good foster parents, otherwise the situation would have continued.

There are other children in similar situations today. Action is needed!

The Early History

The children were born in 1995 and 1997, the third and fourth children of the mother. They were taken into care in February 1998. The mother was later convicted of wilful neglect.

The father was homeless, and a month after the children were taken into care he died of an overdose of anti-depressants.

After the prosecution, care orders were made, and the children were placed with their late father’s sister. She clearly needed support, but virtually no support was given.

There is provision for local authorities to help family fosterers to prevent children having to be fostered, but not enough was offered. She was a single parent with six children, and was desolated by the death of her brother, the father of these two children. Then her mother fell ill, and it was all too much. Had she been given support then, the story might be different.

In late 1999 the children had to be removed.

Although it was clear there were no family members able to take the children it was not until November 2000 that the council applied to the court to free the children for adoption. This was granted in March 2001, ending the boys’ membership of their birth family. The boys were now five years nine months and three years six months.

The mother did not take up “farewell contact” but in May 2002 the boys had farewell contact with their half-brother and in August 2002 with their full brother. At this point the children had already been removed from the first set of abusive foster parents.

One might think that no Council could be this dilatory, but Lancashire County Council were.

It Gets Worse!

In July 2002 the children were fostered by a couple until February 2008, a period of stability in the lives of these children. The placement was ended when the foster mother assaulted one of the boys with a belt. She later pleaded guilty to assault.

One might think that Lancashire County Council would be embarrassed by their handling of these two children. There had been delays at every step, failure to support the aunt, and the placing of the children with two sets of foster parents who turned out to be abusive. There had been several incidents before the Council took action on the second couple.

In December 2002, the mother who had at first agreed with adoption, now applied for the “freeing” orders to be revoked. The Council and the Children’s Guardian opposed her, and she withdrew the application.

In March 2004 the council formally gave up their efforts to place these children for adoption. They did not go back to the court to revoke the “freeing” orders. The orders continued unrevoked so the children were “statutory orphans”. It also meant that the natural family were excluded from all the review meetings.

A Good Try

The next foster parents inherited two deeply distressed and disturbed children now aged 13 and 11. They showed formidably challenging and sometimes violent behaviour. In October 2011 S was placed in a children’s home, and in February 2011 moved to another children’s home where he now is. The elder brother, A, stayed with these foster parents.

By May 2011 the relationship between the foster parents and the Council “had been fractious for some time”. The Council did not talk to the foster parents but simply decided to move A and another foster child from the foster parents without consulting the foster parents.

They removed the other foster child, which unsettled A.

A decided he did not want to move, and now aged 16 A consulted a solicitor.

She negotiated an agreement that A would not be moved.

It Goes To Court

The solicitor proposed that Lancashire should apply to revoke the “freeing” order. They did not. So A applied to revoke the freeing order. Then Lancashire applied to revoke the freeing order.

When the case got to court the judge was deeply concerned at what had been going on. She took an active role in ordering that A not be removed from the foster parents without a court order. She also gave the foster parents (not the Council) powers to make decisions about A’s education, holidays and other matters.

And she ordered that A could take proceedings in his own name despite being only 16 and in care.

The freeing order was revoked.

Then A and S applied to the high court for a declaration in respect of their human rights and welfare issues.

From the Judgement

“(18) The boys have had major placements, emergency placements, temporary placements, respite placements and respite for respite placements.

(19) In summary A (16) has had no fewer than 12 main placements during his lifetime, of which 7 lasted for less than a year and 5 lasted for between a year and 5 1/2 years. During this time he has been placed in respite care 36 times, with 19 different respite carers. In one 18 month period beginning when he was 10, he went to 8 different respite carers. A has moved backwards and forwards between placements of all kinds no less than 77 times in his 16 years of life.

(20) S (14) has had no fewer than 16 main placements during his lifetime (12 with A and 4 without him). Of these, 10 lasted for less than a year and 6 lasted for between a year and 5 1/2 years. During this time he has been placed in respite care 40 times, with at least 22 different respite carers. Like A, in one 18 month period beginning when he was 9, he went to 8 different respite carers. Overall S has moved backwards and forwards between placements of all kinds no less than 96 times in his 14 years of life.

And Also

The judge commented that Lancashire “has offered only a limited apology to the boys”.

The judge said that there had been no explanation of why the Council told the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) repeatedly that the freeing orders were to be revoked.

The judge comments that in contrast the IRO has made a full apology to the boys and expressed his regret for many aspects of his failings which the IRO lists.

After his apologies he mentions some of his issues, like having a case load three times the good practice guidance, his inadequate training, that he had no access to legal advice, his own managers were inadequate and

“A tick-box system, driven by mandatory performance indicators, creating the illusion of action without any evidence of the quality of the achievement.”

Despite an appalling work load he made the time to take the boys out together and singly. He was standing in for his sick manager, supervising six colleagues, and he had been given additional responsibilities. His workload was so great he says he and his colleagues were “fire-fighting” all the time. And he had some ill health.

“All we were simply doing with case loads of that size was running from one meeting to the next and never getting chance to draw breath”

Wider Issues

Freeing Orders were abolished in December 2005. Yet there are still children in the care system on freeing orders. At the end of 2011 there were 14 children in 16 authorities in the Northwest of England under freeing orders. And 7 authorities did not respond to the Freedom of Information requests.

Lancashire County Council IRO system is still woefully understaffed.

“Had A not taken himself off to get legal advice, both boys would have remained in limbo.”

“As in all cases of children “Lost in Care” it is rare to find any one person who is responsible.”

The Last Word

The last set of foster parents obviously tried very hard with S but eventually could not cope. They have stuck by A despite his assault on them and damage to their property. They have been real heroes. One wonders why Lancashire County Council wished to remove A from them.

A was recently asked what improvements he thinks could be made to the system in which he spent his childhood, he replied “FOR THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE TO LISTEN TO US”

There could not be other As and Ss in your local authority’s care system today, could there? If “freeing orders” were abolished in December 2005 the last child could still be subject to a freeing order as late as December 2023.

Some children have very disrupted lives in care.