This case concerns a five year old child who was born in London in 2013. The child’s parents are Eastern European nationals and arrived in England shortly before the child’s birth. They had no money, were not working, and were homeless. When the child was eight weeks old, his parents placed him in the care of the father’s cousin and his partner, under what was erroneously referred to as a Private Fostering Agreement.
After the child was placed with the paternal relatives, his birth parents had very little contact with him. His mother was found to have visited on five occasions over the following year and his father had even less contact with him. Both parents eventually returned to Eastern Europe and still live there now.
The child has had no contact with his birth parents since he was one years old and believes that his carers are his parents, and that their own children are his siblings. When the child was four years old his carers asked the Local Authority (LA) to complete an assessment in order for them to adopt the child. During the assessment the LA uncovered a number of errors in their handling of the case and issued proceedings in the High Court to make the child a Ward of Court. The LA subsequently applied for an Interim Supervision Order.
In April 2018 the Fact Finding Hearing took place over six days, investigating how the child came to be placed with the carers, how or why he remained there, and why neither parent had any relationship with him. Each party accepted that they had contributed, and were responsible for the child’s situation. The Court made various findings about each party’s role in the events that led to the child being cared for by his current carers and not having a relationship with his birth parents as set out in the judgment.
The two LAs involved were criticised by the judge for failing to consider other options for the child and his parents - particularly their duty under Section 17 of the Children Act - and for failing to complete a Private Fostering Assessment before signing off on the arrangement. Criticisms were also made regarding the conduct of the specific social worker who dealt with the case. In light of the LA’s failings the judge also gave guidance in relation to Private Fostering.
After the fact finding hearing the matter continued and the court ordered for assessments to be carried out so that a decision could be made as to who the child should live with. Proceedings finally concluded in January 2019 and an order was made with the agreement of all parties that the child should remain with his carers under a Special Guardianship Order.
Duncan Lewis’ family and child care director Vanket Appalakondiah and solicitor Emily Alice Reed acted for the child’s carers.
Counsel – Frank Feehan QC of 1KBW Chambers and Dr Charlotte Proudman of Goldsmith Chambers.