Michael represented the Father where proceedings had been issued in respect of six children from infant to teenage. The case had been ongoing for almost a year before the final hearing.
The Local Authority’s concerns related to unhygienic, hazardous and unsafe home conditions, and the garden being regarded as unsafe and a health hazard because of vermin, resulting in a Prevention of Damage Pest Act Order being made. The Mother was alleged to have refused access for gas and electricity safety checks to be carried out.
The children’s school attendance was extremely poor, and when they did attend, they and their uniforms were dirty and unkempt. The children had been left unattended in a car late at night on at least one occasion whilst the parents went shoplifting for food.
The mother had failed to attend antenatal appointments during her last pregnancy despite warnings that it was a high-risk pregnancy.
Initially the Children’s Guardian (CG) did not support removal or separation of the children. The parents agreed to cooperate with the LA and all necessary assessments, including cognitive assessments, a PAMs based parenting assessment and a full family psychological assessment.
Unfortunately they did not do so, resulting in three of the children first being accommodated by agreement with the paternal grandparents (PGPs) and then, following a positive viability assessment of the PGPs, interim child arrangements orders (CAOs) being made in favour of the PGPs, against the wishes of the parents.
The parents continued not to cooperate with the LA or with contact arrangements but their care of the children still living with them improved sufficiently for the LA’s final care plan, supported by the CG, to be for them to remain with the parents, subject to Supervision Orders, with SGOs to the PGPs for the other three children.
The parents did not agree and wanted all the children to be in their care, and previously reasonable relations between the parents and the PGPs deteriorated. The parents were also still seeking to challenge many aspects of the LA’s threshold document and most of the assessments which had been carried out.
The matter was listed for a contested final hearing.
After several days of LA and expert evidence, the PGPs and the Mother gave evidence, following which the parents accepted that they were not in a position to look after all six children and that they needed to concentrate on the three children still in their care and work with the PGPs in relation to their care of the other three children.
The Father was not required to give evidence but the CG did to confirm her recommendations for the children and to offer advice and assistance to all the parties for the future way forward.
After some further very lengthy discussions all matters were agreed (and good relations restored), including threshold and a working together written agreement between the LA, the parents and the PGPs.
SGO were made to the PGPs in respect of the three children in their care, and Supervision Orders were made for one year in respect of all six children.
These proceedings and the eventual outcome were undoubtedly assisted by the very patient and sensitive approach taken by the trial judge. A more robust approach may well have resulted in a far different outcome with possibly three of the children being either placed in long term foster care or being adopted.