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The parents of the 4-year-old child had learning disabilities and had been supported by the local authority, other agencies and a network of friends and family to care for the child since his birth. In 2012 a full care order was made with a care plan for the child to remain with his parents with ongoing support.
In 2014 the child was removed from the parents’ care due to concerns for his poor development and the parent’s inability to manage him and he had remained in foster care ever since. In the absence of friends or family to step in as alternative carers the local authority care plan was for adoption. The father applied under s 39 of the Children Act 1989 to have the child returned to their care.
The professionals involved, including the guardian, were of the opinion that the parents did not have the capacity to care for the child nor the ability to acquire and develop parenting skills in order to meet his developmental needs.
The Official Solicitor challenged the opinion of the local authority and submitted that with the right package of support the parents would be able to care for the child safely and appropriately.
The President noted that this was the most difficult and unusual care case he had ever had to try. The local authority’s volte face was not driven by a fundamental change of circumstances and the parents’ needs remained the same. In those circumstances the local authority case required more than usually rigorous analysis and an exceptionally high degree of scrutiny.
In this instance the proposed package of support was not sustainable in the long-term. Despite their best intentions the parents had great difficulty in accepting guidance, advice or support when it did not fit with their own views. Even if the package could be maintained the gap between what the parents could offer and the child’s needs was too large to be filled even by the most comprehensive package of support. Even if a sustainable package could be put in placed which bridged the gap it would not be promoting the child’s best interests. He would be parented by professionals rather than his parents which would have adverse consequences for his emotional development and future welfare.The father’s application was dismissed and a placement order was granted. The local authority’s original care plan had been too courageous and their expectations of the parents had been unrealistic.
The Red Book is the acknowledged authority on practice and procedure