Advice on having girlfriends son returned

AndyGB
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Joined: Sun May 22, 2016 3:50 pm

Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby AndyGB » Tue May 24, 2016 11:39 am

I am writing this on behalf of my girlfriend (L) who's son (now aged 13) has been subject to a care order since April 2014 (with his current foster placement since July 2014) and prior to that was accommodated under section 20 from July 2013. She is now wanting to start trying to get him returned to her and I was wondering what advice people would give on the best way to do that. Should she request a family assessment or should she go straight for a court resolution (if legal aid is available).

A bit of background. L and her son lived with L's mother until she died a few years ago. As a result L was unable to maintain the rent and she and her son were made homeless, eventually being rehoused in the area where L grew up. L has a number of physical health issues, such as chronic pain syndrome (requires Morphine for pain relief) and intracranial hypertension and is receipt of DLA and ESA due to being unable to work. In 2013 she was banned from driving for driving without insurance and so struggled to get her son to school in a different town, eventually she stopped taking him and he only attended 44% of the time in 2012/2013.

Her son also has cardiac health issues and also mental issues. In the past he displayed sexualised behaviour (inappropriate touching etc) which SWIFT supposedly followed up on, however in late 2015 he was arrested for sexually assaulting another boy at school and admitted to it, but saying the other boy consented. The other boy’s parents did not want to pursue the matter so he was not charged. Hopefully the shock of police involvement will have made him see that what he was doing was wrong. There was another SWIFT consultation after that but no concrete outcome as he didn't want to talk to the psychiatrist about what happened. As a result he has been excluded from mainstream education since late 2015 and has been attending a special unit for children with behavioural issues. However the head of that unit and CS all agree that he doesn't need to be there as he isn't violent etc (and it is doing him harm to be there as he isn't getting the day to day socialisation of a regular school as children usually attend this school for a week or two at a time), however the education team are unable to find him a place in a mainstream school.

The care order was granted under the following threshold criteria:

Mental Health
L was subject to sexual abuse as a child and as part of the family assessment under s20 was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder by a SWIFT consultant psychiatrist. CS stated that this affected her ability to safely parent her son. The psychiatrist stated that it would be 2 or 3 years of therapy at least before she was able to deal with the CPTSD.

Lack of Support/Supervision
L was scared to go out when she was rehoused in case she met/saw people from her past (indeed she did see people from that time on a couple of occasions) and one actually stopped her in the street near her home. This resulted in CS being able to say that she was very socially isolated with no friends she could rely on, having relied on her mum in the past before she died.

They also stated that L did not provide consistent supervision of her son due to her own physical and mental health issues.

Education
As already stated L was only able to get her son to school for 44% of the academic year 2012/2013.

Failure to prioritise and neglect
Due to his heart condition L's son did not start nursery until he was almost 4 as L had been told that he was at high risk of catching infections which could kill him. L admitted to CS that because of this she kept her son away from other children whilst he was quite young. (He did however attend various clubs such as gymnastics, swimming and beavors as he got older).

CS maintained that L's son is emotionally regressed and immature (which L accepted) but they also stated that she encouraged him to inhabit an imaginary world which she did not accept.

CS also maintained that her son's difficulties stemmed from his social isolation and her own difficulties in dealing with the outside world as well as her preoccupation with both her and her son's health issues. She did not agree this but did not challenge it either.

CS also stated that L's son showed signs of ambivalent attachment to L and some signs of reversed attachment.

Failure to consistently engage
CS stated that L cancelled appointments in respect of CAMHS assessments and dental care without informing them (when he was accommodated) and that she was unable to recognise all of the concerns of professionals.

The justices’ reasons following the hearing stated that the main reason for the order was that L struggled to understand and meet the needs of bringing up her son, primarily because of her CPTSD. The order allowed for weekly phone contact and monthly face to face contact (supervised).

Since the care order has been in place L has done the following:

Reported the abuse to the police and went through the process of making a full statement and trying to show the investigating officer locations where the abuse took place. Unfortunately they have not been able to identify any suspects and the case has been put on hold pending further information.

Moved to a new town to get away from the reminders of her past. This is however in a different county to where her son is, but hopefully that wouldn't be an issue when it comes to re-uniting them.

Been in a relationship with me for over 3 years. I have been involved in various contact reviews, LAC reviews as well as joining in contact when possible so am well known to CS and L's son.

Reduced clutter (when she and her son were rehoused it was from a 4 bedroom/2 living room bungalow to a 2 bedroom flat and one of the bedrooms was filled from floor to ceiling with moving boxes and the living room was half filled with them. Her physical and mental health issues meant that she couldn't deal with them, meaning that she and her son had to share a bed.

Attempted to gain treatment for the CPTSD, however the psychiatrist who assessed her following the referral from her GP stated that she did not require therapy as she has dealt with the abuse in her own way, by talking to the police and me about it, supporting the police investigation and moving away from the area where the abuse happened.

Reapplied for her driving licence (pending medical approval) so that she would have a means of getting her son to places/clubs etc without relying on public transport.

Is living within half a mile of a 'good' secondary school (with a bedroom for both her and her son if he were to return) so there would be no issues with getting him to school even if she couldn't drive.

What are peoples views, do you think it is possible that she would get him back at this point in time ? Would a fresh start in a new town for her son be a good argument to put forward to CS as obviously people in the town where he is fostered will know something about why he was excluded from school through the local grapevine ?

AndyGB
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Joined: Sun May 22, 2016 3:50 pm

Re: Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby AndyGB » Wed May 25, 2016 3:01 pm

Just an update for anyone who is considering going to court to get a Care Order overturned.

We have just been advised by the solicitor who dealt with the original case that legal aid is no longer available for such things and it has to be funded privately. Given that the solicitor L used for the original hearing charges £300 an hour it basically means that route is closed to her.

AndyGB
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun May 22, 2016 3:50 pm

Re: Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby AndyGB » Wed May 25, 2016 4:24 pm

Apologies for the added question. Given that legal aid is not available to the mother we understand that now he is 13 her son can, if he wants to, request legal representation and go back to court himself.

Would FRG consider this as a possible option and could someone provide advice on the best way to make him aware of this as we are certain it won't be something CS will tell him voluntarily ?

Thanks

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Suzie, FRG Adviser
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Re: Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby Suzie, FRG Adviser » Thu May 26, 2016 2:12 pm

Dear AGB

Thank you for your posts. My name is Suzie and I am an adviser at FRG.

You have explained that your partner’s son has been in the care of the local authority for almost 3 years and under a full care order for the past 2 years.

Because of the care order in place, your partner currently shares parental responsibility for her son with the local authority (children’s services). Children’s services have the right to make plans for the young person. They have a responsibility to involve your partner in this planning process but, realistically, can overrule her views if they do not agree.

Given the above, the first course of action I would advise is to try to work with the local authority towards increasing your partner’s role in her son’s life. She should make sure that she is fully prepared for all LAC review meetings and has provided the independent reviewing officer (IRO) with a list of any specific issues that she wants to discuss at these including, for example, contact.

It is important that your partner ensures any current contact arrangements are stuck to and that contact is as beneficial and positive for her son as possible. She can then request that contact is increased or developed (e.g. from supervised to unsupervised or via an increase in telephone contact between visits) with an aim, perhaps, of eventually moving towards contact taking place at her home.

Your partner should emphasise that this is in her son’s best interests and why this is the case and should also be clear about all she has done to change her situation in order to ensure that she is now able to meet her son’s needs. It is important also that she continues to do everything in her power to address the concerns raised in the original court proceedings by, for example, continuing to engage with mental health services, parenting courses etc.

Ideally, your partner should continue to work in partnership with the local authority to a point where there is an agreement about future plans for her son. For example, that it is agreed that your partner’s son should return to her care under a care order or that the order should be revoked.

If it becomes clear that the local authority do not agree with your partner’s plans for her son and are unlikely to change this view, however, the only remaining option would be to make an application to court to revoke the care order (or, in the interim, to vary the contact agreement). Clearly this is a significant process and is not a decision that would be made lightly by the court.

As you have stated, your partner is very unlikely to secure legal aid for an application so would almost certainly have to represent herself which she might do with the assistance of, for example, The Royal Courts of Justice CAB or the Personal Support Unit (PSU)

She might also explore whether the Bar Pro Bono Unit would be prepared to support her with her case.

As above, it would be vital for your partner to continue to address any concerns about her ability to safely parent her son, particularly given the specific difficulties and behaviours that he is currently displaying.

In order to successfully revoke the care order, your partner would have to evidence that there has been a significant change of circumstances since the order was made and that it is clearly in her son’s best interests to be returned to her care.
I would advise you/ your partner to read out advice sheets about reuninting children in care with their families and the responsibilities of children’s services when children are in the care system for further information.

In answer to your final question, your partner might wish to suggest to children’s services that an advocate is allocated to her son to ensure that his current wishes and feelings are being taken in to account. The young person could also access independent advice and support from an organisation such as Coram Voice or NYAS.

I hope this is a helpful start.

Best Wishes

Suzie
FRG Adviser

AndyGB
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun May 22, 2016 3:50 pm

Re: Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby AndyGB » Fri May 27, 2016 12:26 pm

Thank you for the advice, L is going to contact the local CS where she is living now to see what support they can give her/would be prepared to provide towards providing a safe environment for her son. Obviously this is a different CS to the one which currently has the care order.

At a previous LAC review she did request that contact be changed to unsupervised, however that was refused by the IRO as they said supervision was needed to ensure contact remained positive, however they are unable to give any idea of what makes contact positive and what makes it negative or provide examples from previous contacts. All they said was that it was the 'view of professionals' which doesn't give much to work on !

I volunteered to be the supervisor as that had been suggested as an option by L's solicitor when the court proceedings were being concluded, however that was also refused due to the allegations against her son.

She is trying to remain positive and work with CS, although there have been issues with some interactions as she gets very stressed when dealing with them which obviously doesn't help her case.

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Suzie, FRG Adviser
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Joined: Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:57 pm

Re: Advice on having girlfriends son returned

Postby Suzie, FRG Adviser » Wed Jun 22, 2016 12:07 pm

Dear AGB,

Thank you for posting back. I am sorry for the delay in responding to your further questions.

You say L gets stressed when she deals with children services. You could ask children services about advocacy services that are available or she could contact adult services in the area that she lives about advocacy.

Contact

I agree with you. The social workers feedback isn’t helpful. Children services who are responsible for L’ son have duties to promote contact. So I do not think L going to the local authority where she lives is going to be that helpful.

Instead, she should go back to her son’s social worker and the independent reviewing officer and ask about contact again.
The care plan which includes plans for contact is reviewed regularly (once every 6 months once children are settled in a placement).

Have a look at our advice sheet about contact with children in the care system..Page 8 and 9 sets out government guidance and research about the importance of continuing contact between children in care and their family.



L should put her questions in writing and could ask for specific feedback about the following:
• What are the difficulties that have been noted by the contact supervisors?
• How do they suggest mum deals with these difficulties? What support could be offered to mum?
• What would her son like to happen at contact? (Has he got an advocate-which is his right) Where would he like to go? What things would he like to do with his mum? What are his current interests?
• If contact is in a contact centre can it move towards contact being in the community?
• Mum could make suggestions about how contact could be improved as well. What activities would her son like to do or what places could she take him to?
• If mum has difficulty paying the costs of contact visits, you can ask the social worker for help with this (see page 5 of the advice sheet about contact linked above). They can pay for things like travel, meals or the cost of a special outing.

Education

In my last post I advised mum to make a list of the issues that she wants addressing and put them to the social worker or the independent reviewing officer.
As L’s son is a looked after child, does he have priority in respect of accessing available spaces at school? Mum could check (in writing) what progress has been made in respect of finding and supporting her son back into mainstream education.
She could contact The Coram Children’s legal Centre education advice line for advice on 0345 345 4345.

Legal aid

I just wanted to clarify the legal aid position. Legal aid can be available for applications to discharge care orders and for contact with children who are in care. However, whether a parent gets legal aid will be subject to a means and merits test. For further information about this look at page 12 of the advice sheet linked above.

I hope this helps but please post back again, if you need further advice.

Best wishes,

Suzie


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