Year-long care proceedings with four social workers is “hardly satisfactory”, says judge.
A year long delay in bringing a case to court regarding care proceedings for three children of parents with learning disabilities has been slammed by a judge as “wholly unacceptable”.
Judge Cleary criticised the 52 week delay – twice the recommended length for care proceedings – and said the fact that the case had been allocated to four social workers was “hardly satisfactory”.
“I would expect to find some explanation for the already intolerable delay. There is none that I have been able to identify,” said Judge Cleary.
The case surrounded three children who lived with their mother. The father lived separately with his own mother, disabled sister and brother. Judge Cleary outlined from the outset that the parents did not intentionally neglect their children, as evidence demonstrated that both parents love the children dearly. However, each of them have their own difficulties
The children's father can neither read nor write and was statemented for his educational needs. Despite a remarkable aptitude for maths whereby he achieved an A grade at GCSE level, he very clearly has very significant difficulties with life skills and educational attainments in virtually every other area. His overwhelming difficulty is that he suffers with a very significant speech impediment, and stammers to such an extent that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out a conversation with him. He is very, if not entirely, dependent upon his own mother for the provision of his basic day-to-day needs.
The children’s mother has learning difficulties, especially with comprehension. Her ability to read and spell is very limited, and she has never been in employment. A psychological assessment found that she struggles with processing and retaining information. Her own mother is in residential accommodation as a result of her poor health. However both the mother and father have capacity.
A local authority concluded that proceedings should take place after seven avenues of intensive support over two years aimed at keeping the children with their mother had not succeeded in helping the parents make or maintain sufficient change in order to be able to provide a safe and secure home environment in which the needs of the children are met on a consistent basis.
In 2013, a child protection plan was put in place 2013 which identified:
- Domestic abuse in the presence of the children,
- Dirty and hazardous home conditions,
- A lack of supervision which had resulted in the children being injured,
- Inappropriate diets for the children
- The children being inappropriately dressed for weather conditions,
- A failure to seek or administer prompt medical treatment,
- Lack of stimulation of the children, who were presenting with physical and developmental delay, including delay in speech and self-care skills,
- Emotional harm,
- Mother entering risky relationships and in particular a relationship with a risky adult of 47 years of age,
- The rapid introduction of that man to the children, and,
- A lack of honesty and engagement with professionals.
Judge Cleary said it was not satisfactory that the second or interim parenting assessment did not take place until well after the case had been commenced. The family was on the local authority radar before August 2013, when child protection plans were initiated and therefore he said he was “puzzled why, in the months leading up to the presentation of the local authority case, this assessment was not undertaken”.
“While it is clear that the local authority invested significant resources into the functioning of this family, when it became plain that proceedings were on the horizon, the pre-proceedings work should have included the parenting assessments. It did not. Instead, the case has lasted as I have said, for exactly a year,” he added.
The judge highlighted that both the parents were cooperative and that they plainly love their children and a number of improvements had been made. However, those improvements did not go to the heart of the matter.
The guardian had stated that the children’s attachment to their mother was not secure, although she conceded that the children would be distressed by being removed from their mothers care. But it is a removal which the guardian asserts is unavoidable.
The father presents his case as the preferred carer, at his mother's house albeit that, as he asserted in his testimony 'we need a lot of help' although it was impossible to establish what advantages he could offer the children over the care of their mother. He has never had the care of the children himself overnight, that he has never lived independently of his mother who has refused to engage with any assessment process and quite clearly considers that there is simply inadequate room at her house to accommodate her two sons, her disabled daughter, and her three grandchildren.
The guardian said: “Each of the children, and more particularly the two eldest, have suffered significant harm through neglect of their needs. They have been exposed to emotional harm and a lack of stimulation, exhibiting significant developmental delay which requires a range of multi-agency support. The oldest child in particular shows no stranger awareness and exhibits behaviour which may be indicative of not only emotional harm but sexual harm. There is limited attachment between the children, and an insecure attachment.”
Judge Cleary concluded “with the greatest sympathy for mother and father,” that the children should be removed and made the subject of care orders.