Within the Care team, the majority of our work involves representing parents or children within active care proceedings which are cases that have been initiated by the Local Authority, due to current concerns. However, we are also approached by parents or family members that are seeking to discharge care orders that have been granted in previous care proceedings, who seek to have their children returned to their care.
In March 2021, we were approached by a Mother whose son Oscar* had been removed from her care at the conclusion of a care proceedings case in August 2018. Unfortunately, the Mother (who was a young single mother at the time) had been struggling to meet the needs of her non-verbal autistic child and the court believed that it was in Oscar’s best interests to place him in a long-term foster placement following the final hearing.
The mother was extremely upset that her son was being removed from her care, but she was able to maintain contact with Oscar and she used the period of separation to improve herself and grow as a person. Latterly, problems developed in communication with her and the local authority after she became concerned that contact between her and her son had stopped without adequate explanation and also, there had been issues with a lack of stability within the placement and the Local Authority not handling Oscar’s case in the best way they could do.
Before coming to see us to make the application, the Mother wanted to ensure that she had done the necessary work to show significant change since the care proceedings concluded. She engaged with therapy, she educated herself about autism and what is required to meet the needs of an autistic child, and she learned Makaton sign language so that she could communicate better with Oscar. During this period, the mother had also found stability with a new partner, and she had had a daughter with this individual (whom the Local Authority had no concerns about). When the mother approached our firm, she had made significant improvements and she was clear thatit was in Oscar’s best interests to be returned to her care.
As such, we applied for legal aid funding and once this was granted, we drafted an application to the court to discharge the care order in relation to Oscar. Alongside this application, we also filed a detailed statement which explained the grounds of our application, including the many changes made by the mother and why it was in Oscar’s best interests to be returned to her care. An initial hearing was listed shortly after, and the Local Authority and the child’s Guardian were made parties to the case.
As is typical in a discharge of care order case, we requested that the mother undergo a new parenting assessment by an Independent Social Worker. We then also requested an updated psychological assessment of the child and mother. Both assessments were necessary in demonstrating the current capabilities of the mother and Oscar and these assessments would also help identify what support is needed, if any, should Oscar be returned.
Whilst the discharge proceedings were ongoing, Oscar sadly experienced a series of placement breakdowns and he was moved from placement to placement, which is highly unsettling for any child but especially so for a child with severe autism. We stressed to the court and parties how harmful and disruptive this was for Oscar and we requested that he be placed with his mother in the interim, as a testing period, to see how he settled. After a short transitional period, Oscar was placed in the mother’s care in June 2021, and we were pleased that all of the professionals involved in the case recognised that Oscar was happy and thriving in her care.
The parenting assessment of the mother was overwhelmingly positive, and the psychological assessment highlighted how capable the mother was at understanding and meeting Oscar’s needs. The Local Authority and Guardian’s final evidence was then filed and served, which was extremely positive and supported our application to discharge the care order, with Oscar remaining in the mother’s care. A final hearing then took place in November 2021, during which the court discharged Oscar’s care order.
Discharge cases do not always have a positive outcome as parents have often not made sufficient changes. However, we were fortunate in this case to be representing such a devoted and dedicated mother who had worked hard to improve herself and to make the necessary changes to be reunited with her son. It was clear to all parties that it was the right decision to return Oscar to his mother and family, who adored him, and who would be able to meet his physical and emotional needs to a very high standard.
It was a pleasure working with this mother and it was hugely satisfying to help achieve this positive result for her. Indeed, it is cases like this that stay with us and help us to remember that we are making a positive impact in people’s lives. The mother shared these kind words with us following the conclusion of the case:
“I can never thankyou enough for all you have done for us and advised us on. This time last year I was broken and hopeless. This year I have my two beautiful children safe and home and loved. Oscar* will never fully understand any of this but he is thriving and knows he is loved and part of a family. My daughter has a chance to know her brother and he has a sister to grow with. I can never get back the time I lost but thanks to you and Anne, I don’t have to live another day without feeling whole.
If you ever feel like what your doing isn’t changing the world, know that you have saved my life. Eternally grateful. Thank you.”
*False name used to protect identity of child.
Georgia Austin – Paralegal
National Legal Service