A judge made a mistake when he refused a placement order for the seven-month-old daughter of a “chaotic parents”.
That was the decision of the Court of Appeal in a case involving a couple whose lives were characterised by drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and mental illness.
The court heard that the couple had failed to engage with public services, and in the mother's case, there was a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. Their two older children were being cared for by their paternal grandmother under a special guardianship order.
The local authority believed their baby daughter was at risk and applied for a placement order so she could be adopted.
The judge agreed that the baby was at risk of harm if she were with the parents and that a care order was required, but he rejected the local authority's application for a placement order.
He found that there was some recent improvement in the parents' behaviour, that they wanted to change and there were reasonable grounds to think that they would, and that there was still time for them to rehabilitate with the aim of resuming caring for their daughter.
He ordered an interim care plan by which the baby would stay in foster care for 12-15 months to give time for the parents to demonstrate that they had changed.
The Court of Appeal overturned that decision. It held that the judge’s decision was unduly optimistic about the chances of the couple turning their lives around.
Contrary to the father's evidence that he had been taking only over-the-counter drugs, tests showed that he had been using cannabis, cocaine, heroin and codeine in the months leading up to the hearing.
The mother's evidence about her drug use was also contradicted by the test evidence.
The judge had also failed to grapple with the domestic violence issue. The risks to children of exposure to domestic violence were fully recognised by the courts. Children could be harmed by it directly and indirectly even if they were too young to be conscious of it.
The local authority’s application for a placement order was granted.
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Case Citations: RE H (A CHILD) (2019) CA (Civ Div) (Floyd LJ, Lindblom LJ, Baker LJ)
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