I recall a case where I represented father in Care Proceedings. Mother had given birth and the Local Authority issued care proceedings due to Mother’s mental health and drug use. The Father’s Cannabis use was also a concern.
The Court granted an Interim Care Order at the first hearing and the child was removed from Mother and placed in Foster Care. At the Case Management Hearing, the Mother made an application for a Mother and Baby Unit which our client supported. My client’s main position at first was to support Mother and for the child to be returned to the Mother in the long term. Our client upheld this position due to work commitments and his Father was elderly, so he was caring for him too. In addition, he had two daughters from his previous relationship with whom he had fortnightly weekend contact with.
Mother’s application for a Mother and Baby unit was refused as the Local Authority and Guardian wanted a unit which specialises in mental health issues as this was the main concern they had with the Mother and they would want her to have the right support.
I could sense Mother’s position was becoming weaker so I advised our client to put himself forward as a back up carer or the child will be placed for Adoption. Viability assessments for other family members were negative. Our client agreed to be assessed as a back up carer for the child in the event that the Mother’s assessment is negative.
Whilst our client was being assessed, I advised our client to slowly reduce his Cannabis usage which a view to abstinence and to engage with drug services to help reduce with usage. It is very important to be fair with clients and support them in managing expectations when it comes to addiction. Slow reduction can be more realistic outcome then asking them to simply stop. Therapeutic support to help them in the process is crucial.
An in-house parenting assessment was done on both parents and the assessments were negative. Mother’s Solicitor was tenacious on behalf of the Mother and made a further application for Mother and Baby baby units, this time identifying ones that did specialise in supporting parents with mental health issues. However, the units did pre-assessments which were negative.
At the Issues Resolution Hearing, which irons out issues before the final hearing, such as timetabling evidence and finalising the care plans, the Local Authority made it clear that the care plan will be Adoption. They filed a Placement application indicating their intention. . However, I noticed our client’s parenting assessment was solely focused on his relationship with Mother and no other positives were taken into account. The assessor did not take into account for example, his parenting. Our client’s contact notes were positive and his contact with his other daughters were positive too; none of this was elevated in the evidence and drawn out to paint him in the best possible light. I had to challenge this. The Children’s Guardian shared my views that the Father’s contact has been positive and did not feel at that stage, Adoption was in the best interest of the child, when this avenue had not been explored in enough depth. In addition, our client lived with his sister and Father, so he had a strong support network around him. It was great knowing the Guardian supported me – never be afraid to challenge evidence or ask the questions where you see there are gaps. I then asked Counsel at the hearing to make an oral application for an ISW and a Part 25 application will be filed within seven days- this was granted. Of course, the Local Authority sought further drug testing of our client which he did not oppose. I can understand why they would, for me the most important thing was for him to be open to work with professionals and honest about his usage.
Our client was working full time so I had advised him that if the child is placed in his care, he would have to leave his job to care for the child, this would be to allow them to form a strong attachment and given how young the baby is – it is not always necessary for parents to give up work but these circumstances meant it was the best option in this case. Also, I noted in the previous parenting assessment the social worker commented on the state of the house. I advised our client to paint the house and make it look fresh. He did this.
Following the hearing and the oral application, I filed a part 25 application with an agreed Consent Order which the Court approved. An assessment was undertaken of our client which was positive and the result of the Hair Strand Test showed our client has remained abstinent from cannabis. Everything was going in the right direction!
The Local Authority changed their care plan from Adoption, to the baby moving to live in our client’s care, under a 6-month supervision Order – there couldn’t be a greater turnaround in events! When I received this care plan, I advised our client to inform his workplace that he may need to hand in his notice. Of course, I was also over the moon that this child would now be raised with his birth family.
The final care plan was agreed by all parties albeit the Mother who sought for the child to be placed for Adoption as opposed to be placed with our client! The matter was listed for a 5-day final hearing but Mother did not attend so the hearing lasted for one day and the Court approved the Local Authority’s plan.
This case taught me that all options need to be considered. Yes, all parents may have some negative aspects to their parenting but in certain circumstances surely the positive outweighs the negative? Had I not challenged the Local Authority, examined the quality of our client’s contact, or find faults within the parenting assessment, then it would be a very different outcome. The child would have been placed for adoption. Clearly, the Local Authority did not consider the strengths that our client had to offer with enough of a critical eye. I had to think fast and asked Counsel to make the oral submission for a part 25 application which thankfully the Court granted, and I looked for experts almost immediately. It feels great knowing I have returned a child back to their parent; from the first moment I knew my client was a good parent, I just felt the Local Authority had painted a picture of him that was not full; it was our job to set the right narrative to the facts by ensuring no stone was left unturned with the evidence before the Court. Take the chance, ask the questions.
Mihad Hussain – Solicitor
NLS Care Team.