After protracted hearings and repeated local authority involvement, His Honour Judge Willans outlined the outcome of care proceedings in a final hearing on 24 May 2019 that concerned the welfare of a six child sibling group (A-F). This was a complex case due to the number of children, their ages, differential placements and their wishes for rehabilitation.
Our client, the respondent Mother (M) and Father met as neighbours in approximately 1999 when the M was 18 and the Father was 30.The relationship then became serious and they moved to London, married and had children. M also converted into the Father's faith.
A range of factors impacted the family, placing stress upon them which contributed to the current situation. Financial stresses began to mount, ultimately leading to the family losing a much-loved property and finding themselves in temporary unsuitable accommodation.
Secondly, the family grew and the demands upon the parents and the associated stress mounted. M’s mental health also began to deteriorate.
The above factors combined lead to familial discord and disharmony between the parents. The social work chronology documents 13 referrals between 2014 and 2018 and consideration of the chronology suggest matters significantly deteriorated in early 2016.
Duncan Lewis represented M who moved to London and had six children over a 14 year period. In 2018, M was sectioned. She made serious allegations of domestic abuse against the Father. The Father struggled to cope between balancing work and parental responsibilities. When one of the children suffered a head injury, they were removed under an emergency protection order.
The court found that M lacked capacity and a certificate was concluded that M was a ‘protected person’ under the Family Procedure Rules 2010. The official solicitor was invited to act as litigation friend for M. In September 2018, M’s psychiatric diagnosis was confirmed as a history of severe depression with psychotic symptoms. She presented as an anxious and vulnerable woman who seemed frightened of her husband but also appeared to minimise his behaviour.
A prohibited steps order was made preventing the Father from attending the family home or the children’s schools and from contacting the maternal grandmother (MGM). Following the hearing on 10 July 2018, the maternal grandmother moved to London and has been residing in the family home with five of the children (excluding the youngest). It was also alleged that on 19 July 2018, that the Father behaved aggressively towards M. M, three of her girls and the maternal grandmother were moved to a confidential address away from the family home. They returned to the family home on 31 October 2018.
M regained and lost capacity throughout the proceedings and extensive client interactions were required, due to her ill-health. The case was extremely complex as M was controlled by the Father and found herself having to choose between her children and her husband. The interim placements were tentative and always at risk of breakdown. Additionally, the children all suffered from various issues which were identified in expert assessments.
Over a one year period a number of hearings took place in relation to proceedings. Almost all of them, excluding the final hearing was advocated by the instructing solicitor Ravi Kaur Mahey.
Given the lack of options, Judge Willans found it reasonable and necessary to safeguard the welfare of each child. The judge found that the two eldest children, A and B, are competent to instruct their own solicitor and have the age and maturity to express views of their own that are deserving of respect.
As welfare is of paramount importance, it was necessary to make a special guardianship order (SGO) for the youngest child, F, who is too young to express his wishes. As F was thriving in his grandmother’s care, the SGO would limit the interference in his life and reflects his actual attachment. Judge Willans did note that “whilst I do not consider such an order will obstruct consideration of his needs I also feel it is unlikely to obstruct future positive developments...I have no sense the MGM would stand in the way of family rehabilitation, were this in F's welfare interests and I doubt very much that a Court would not give permission for an application to be made, were the circumstances to substantially change.”
In respect to the other children (C, D and E), final care orders were made and the placement plans approved. For D and E, who share a strong bond, the judge deemed recitals were appropriate. However on the basis of welfare, the judge did not consider it appropriate for C to return to the family at this point in time. He notes that “this should be an aspiration and the support and planning should have this as a goal in mind subject to progress. This is an interference in family life but as with F, it is proportionate.”
The main aim in this case was rehabilitating the sibling group as a priority. Beyond their welfare, Judge Willan notes “as to the purpose of the care planning I have commented on the aspiration of sibling reunification. I am more wary about expressing views beyond this although I acknowledge this is an aim which is held by the father and children and may be shared by the mother. It is now in their collective hands supported by the local authority to achieve their goals.”
The Mother was represented by child care director, Ravi Kaur Mahey from the Harrow office. Counsel for the final hearing was Joanna Youll of Coram Chambers.