A family court judge has granted a local authority its request for a care order for a child who appeared to be suffering from psychological trauma, despite the lack of a clear care plan or diagnosis for the boy.

The local authority’s (LA) submission was heard in the family division of the high court, after the boy’s parents opposed the LA’s decision to apply for a care order.

The most concerning part of Judge Wildblood’s judgment in the case is added below:

“There were three aspects of the care plan that caused me particular concern:
i) The absence of a clear diagnosis as to what might cause C to behave in this way. Does he suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder? Does he suffer from an Autistic Spectrum Disorder? The evidence of the expert, Dr G, was that it was necessary for C to have therapy in relation to the trauma that he has suffered and that only then could a reliable diagnosis be made. Otherwise, the trauma might so distort the diagnosis as to make it unreliable. I much prefer the guardian’s opinion that, whether in care or not, therapy and investigation as to diagnosis should run in tandem and should both be kept under review. Otherwise, therapy could be given on a false premise and a misunderstanding of the cause of the behaviour. For instance, when providing therapy, it would be necessary to have an understanding as to whether the child did have ASD. The care plan will be amended to reflect the need to keep diagnosis under review.

ii) The absence of a clear aim within the care plan. Therapy takes time, of course, but I agree with the guardian that, if C does remain at RA House, the clearly stated aim should be for C to return to live with his family as soon as is compatible with his welfare. It is now agreed that, if I make a care order, there would need to be a thorough review of whether C could return to his mother in 18 months’ time. At the start of closing speeches, the much-amended care plan at page 8 used different language and I made it clear that looser wording would not suffice as far as I was concerned. Therefore, this issue has now been tidied up.

iii) The absence within the documentation of a clear definition as to who would oversee the therapeutic aspects of this care plan and draw together the therapeutic, educational and social care aspects of C’s placement, if he remains at RA House.”

This is an important judgment to read, as it highlights several of the current problems within social care and family court processes, including the lack of time given to parents to be able to make adjustments in the best interests of their child; a lack of common sense running through the proceedings as a whole, which fail to understand the importance of acquiring basic, yet crucial facts before making a determination in the family courts about care; and the obvious confusion this muddled process creates in trying to understand what is the best way forward for a child in such cases.

It is clear to us, at least, that without a formal diagnosis, it must remain impossible to know how to treat the child, what the impact of various options might be, and whether or not there is a chance the child could be returned to his parents’ care.

Researching Reform does not understand how the judge involved in this case could have let these developments roll on as they did without ensuring basic information was gathered first. A failure by the family courts and social services combined.

The very good database BAILII offers the judgment in full, while family law practitioners can access a helpful summary provided by LexisNexis here.

Stephen Wildblood QC