A guardian ad litem asked a judge to permit her solicitor issue a subpoena to a foster care committee, where the committee had refused to approve a foster placement for three children who, the court heard, were extremely close and would suffer if separated. The committee had approved the placement for only two of the children, meaning the third would have to be placed elsewhere.
Interim care orders had been granted for the three children, of primary school age, after a two-day hearing. This was done on the consent of the parents on the condition that the children were all placed in the same foster placement and were not split up.
The children were placed in a temporary foster placement and a long-term foster placement had been secured by the Child and Family Agency (CFA). The CFA had been waiting for approval of this placement from the foster care committee. The foster care committee only gave its approval for two of the three children. The court heard it was the intention of the CFA to place the older two children A and B in this long-term foster placement and try to find another foster placement for C close to A and B and facilitate as much access between the siblings as possible.
An application was bought by the guardian ad litem (GAL) of the children. She sought a section 47 (of the Child Care Act 1991) direction. The GAL wanted the court to make directions to the CFA that they could not split up the children. Evidence was heard from the social worker on behalf of the CFA and from the GAL. The mother was in court and legally represented.
Evidence of the GAL
The GAL said when the original interim care order applications were made she supported them, but this had been informed by the expectation that the children would be placed together. She said the children were exceptionally close because of the neglect they had been subjected to. They had learned to look out for each other, take care of each other and they operated as a single unit or pod. The best interests of each child could only be met if they were placed together.
The older children A and B had wanted to go into foster care, and they had really watched out for their younger sibling, C. She said that: “He [C] was the most vulnerable of all of the children and A and B really looked after him, I can only describe it as a doomsday scenario if they were split.” Even though the children had been fostered for almost a month, they still shared a bedroom and would only eat if they saw their siblings were eating.
She told the court the temporary foster placement was due to end the day after this hearing and the CFA intended to split up the children, which she felt would be disastrous to them. She said they played together, did homework together and they never competed with each other. The break of the sibling attachment would be incredibly damaging and affect every aspect of their functioning. She said she would have to reconsider her support of the interim care orders if this were to happen.
The legal representative of the GAL said section 36 of the Child Care Act 1991 as amended permitted the court to override the decision of the foster care committee. He said this was also approved in case law where courts gave direction for children to be placed in foster care that had not been approved. It was within the jurisdiction of the court to direct the CFA to place the children together.
The legal representative of the mother echoed what the GAL had said.
Evidence of the CFA
The social worker for the CFA told the court the children had been placed in a temporary foster placement in another county but had secured a long-term foster placement near to their home which had meant they would not have to change schools. She said this long-term foster carer had agreed and wanted to foster all three children. However, the foster care committee, which approved foster placements and was separate and independent from the CFA, had not approved the placement for three children, only for two.
The social worker said it was not possible to place children in a foster placement that had not been approved. They had decided to send A and B to this long-term placement and C was to be placed with another foster family close by. They would try to ensure that C had as much access to A and B as possible. The short-term placement had to end, and their hands were tied.
The judge asked: “What were the reasons for the foster care committee not approving the placement for all three children?”
The social worker said the approval of foster care placements was completely independent of the CFA. She said she believed these children would have been the first foster children for this placement and the committee had felt it would be too much and did not want the placement to fail or breakdown. The foster care committee met once per month and the CFA had been informed the placement had not been approved only two days ago. The CFA had to find an alternative and splitting the children was the only option. She said it was a temporary option and they had been trying and would continue to try to secure a placement for all three children as soon as possible.
The lawyer for the CFA said that the CFA could only place children in approved foster homes. The case law referred to, where the courts permitted unapproved foster placements, related to family foster placement. These children could only be placed together in this long-term foster placement by the direction of the court. She said the CFA was not able to do this on their own volition.
The judge said it would appear to be disastrous if these children were split. He gave permission for the GAL’s lawyer to issue subpoenas to the foster care committee to appear before him as soon as possible. The judge said he wanted to examine if their decision was reasonable.
The matter was mentioned the next day as the CFA had been in liaison with the foster care committee who, as an emergency, approved the placement for all three children.