Do care proceedings allow enough time for parents with a disability to develop parenting skills?
Case report: Confidential.
Kate Hammond recently represented children in care proceedings after the local authority raised concerns about their parents, both of whom have learning disabilities.
This case has potentially important implications for the way parents with learning disabilities are assessed within proceedings to care for their children, and the time available for this. Ordinarily in such a situation, there is a period of 26 weeks in which parents will be assessed and after that, decisions will be made regarding the long-term care of their children.
At the commencement of proceedings, both parents and the children entered a residential facility for a parenting assessment to be conducted. The mother left, but the children remained in the facility with their father. Following assessment, the recommendation was for the father and children to move to a foster care placement where he could be prompted and supported to care for the children in view of his learning disability.
Sadly, the father got off to a shaky start and the local authority withdrew their support for the children to remain in his care. In the run up to the final hearing, the father and children were placed together in a holding placement.
At the final hearing, the children’s independent guardian expressed real concern that the father had a lot of positives to his care, and he needed some family support. The case was adjourned, and the father and children remained together, while the options for family support were explored.
Initially, no candidate(s) emerged to provide family support, and the local authority proposed that the children should be adopted. The guardian remained uncomfortable with this recommendation but recognised the deficiencies identified in father’s care and the lack of an appropriate family member to fill the gaps.
However, during the course of evidence at the final hearing in February 2020, it became clear that the holding unit where father and children had been staying since May 2019 had seen some real progress. All parties agreed there was a need to look at him as a main carer once again, as the children were thriving.
The case was adjourned again, and happily ended with a Child Arrangements Order providing for the children to live with their father, and a 12-month Supervision Order with a written agreement and support plan.
The judge acknowledged the need for the support to be ongoing beyond the 12-month Supervision Order which is reflected in the written agreement and support plan and the children have a Child in Need plan.
While he will need support in the care of his children indefinitely, the father now has a good support network with regular visits from family and support from a disability advocate.
After 18 months, he has had the time and support to develop his parenting skills and ultimately surpassed all expectations in respect of his care of the children.
This case demonstrates that those with learning disabilities, who have previously appeared not to be capable of providing adequate care, can develop those skills and improve with time and support.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.