Interim care order extended following placement breakdown due to CFA errors – 2021vol1#44

The Child and Family Agency sought an extension of an interim care order (ICO) for two pre-school sisters where the placement had broken down. Their father was legally represented and consented to the application. The judge noted that the social work department had failed to follow their own policies and procedures which had led to the placement breakdown. He noted the input and assistance the children’s father had given in this unsettling time.

The social worker gave evidence concerning the breakdown in the placement. A and B were in the foster placement together. A social work team from a different area had approached the foster carer seeking an emergency placement for a boy for whom the foster carer had previously provided respite care. The two social work teams did not communicate prior to the placement of the boy. The boy was placed with the foster carer and the social work team for the boy did not inform the social worker for A and B.

A few days later the foster carer informed the girls’ social worker that she could not cope with all three children. As a result, A and B had to leave the placement and were separated. A stayed with the sister of the foster carer although this placement was not approved, and B was found a different foster placement. The father of the sisters was not informed of their movement, the breakdown of the placement or their separation until approximately five days after it had happened.

The social worker acknowledged that this miscommunication had negatively impacted on the sisters and that their father had been instrumental in reassuring them. She said: “What should happen if a social work team were seeking an emergency placement for a child and children are already in that placement, the two social work teams discuss if the placement will be safe and appropriate, this did not happen in this case. Children already in the placement should take priority.”

The original foster carer would not have A and B back, instead she wanted to continue to foster the boy who required the emergency placement. The social worker told the court that section 36 assessments were on going and hopefully would be completed very soon. She said she hoped other family members would be approved as foster carers for the girls. She told the court that despite the problems the girls were doing well and were coping. Play therapy had been arranged for A but this was difficult with the current restrictions. She stated that access with the mother was being encouraged but the last access had been before Christmas.

The solicitor for the father asked the social worker: “How and why did this happen?”

The social worker replied: “It was mismanagement. Each social work team failed to communicate with each other.”

The father did not give evidence, but his solicitor reminded the court that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) had previously said: “That he [the father] lacked the emotional maturity to meet the girls’ needs but he was the one who was able to reassure the girls when their placement broke down.”

She continued: “In this time of crisis, he was reliable and had shown his true colours of being able to prioritise and meet the needs of the girls when there had been no preparation time for the change of placement.”

She informed the court the social work team had not informed the father of what had happened. She told the court that the social workers’ own processes were not followed. The boy’s social work team did not inform the girls’ team. She also told the court that even though these children were very young it was the father who insisted on talking to the girls to try to explain the change and on doing it face to face with the girls to lessen any impact.

The interim care order was extended and the judge acknowledged the input of the father and that the social workers had not followed their own policies and procedures.