Judgment has been handed down in Re: R, a case involving a 13 year old who experienced neglect and abusive parenting from an early age.
R was born addicted to substances. At the age of five, she was taken into foster care with one of her siblings. Around a year later, she and her younger brother were adopted by M and F. R initially appeared to do well in her new family, but as she entered adolescence, her behaviour became increasingly challenging.
In February 2022, her mother contacted the local authority because the parents could no longer manage R’s violent and extreme behaviour and the family was in crisis.
In March 2022, R was expelled from school for assaulting a teacher. She was subsequently hospitalised after self-harming due to her extreme distress. R returned home in April 2022, but without proper support. At the end of April, she was placed in a residential unit following a section 20 agreement signed by her parents. This enabled the local authority to accommodate her, with the intention of providing support for her and her family so she could eventually return home.
R seemed to benefit from the therapeutic work and focused care at the residential unit. However, in February 2023, her placement was terminated after she seriously assaulted a staff member. Following this incident, R was placed in an emergency foster placement in Lincolnshire. Whilst there were positive aspects to this, R again engaged in self-harming and spent time in the hospital while another placement was sought. In mid-March 2023, she moved to her current placement, where she has remained.
The local authority applied for a care order, which was supported by the guardian. The parents accepted that the threshold was met, indicating that R was beyond their control. However, they opposed a public law order.
The family have worked with the local authority and admitted their inability to have R return home, believing that her best placement would be in a longer-term residential setting. The specific difficulties R had were not in dispute by either the parents or the local authority. The local authority and parents disagreed on certain matters, but managed to work together, and R’s needs were being met.
At trial, the Court considered whether to issue a care order and referred to Re S (A Child) and Re W (A Child) (s 20 Accommodation)  EWCA Civ 1,where the Court of Appeal comprehensively reviewed the use of section 20 accommodation. In the present case, the Court adopted Lady Justice King’s summary outlining the differences between a section 20 agreement and a care order. The Court emphasised that care orders are more interventionist, as they grant more extensive authority to the local authority, allowing them to trump parental responsibility. In contrast, a section 20 agreement is less intrusive and promotes partnerships between parents and local authorities.
The Court evaluated various factors, including R’s wishes, her needs, potential harm and the capability of her parents and the local authority to meet her needs. The Court ultimately concluded that a care order was unnecessary, as the current situation had been effective. The Court cited the need for collaborative working and stability, acknowledging that imposing a care order might create problems and conflict, as well as increasing the likelihood of future litigation. The application was therefore dismissed as it was not necessary or proportionate.
To read the full judgment, please click here.
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