The president of the family division has advised local authorities to think long and hard before embarking on care proceedings against 'otherwise unimpeachable' parents. Sir James Munby, in In the matter of AB (A Child), granted a local authority permission to withdraw a care order application in relation to a four-year-old boy, who is profoundly neurologically disabled with a life-limiting condition.
In September 2016, AB was discharged from hospital to the care of his parents, described as devoted to their children. The local authority issued care proceedings in February 2017, alleging that the parents' lack of cooperation and repeated allegations about the carers made it impossible to implement a package of support. Two months later, His Honour Judge Tolson made a care order. However, Tolson granted the parents permission to appeal, staying the care order.
In September 2017, Munby was informed that the local authority no longer wanted to remove AB from his parents following evidence that the current support package was working satisfactorily. Munby granted the local authority permission to withdraw proceedings. The order states that no adverse findings were made in respect of the parenting given to AB by his parents, their care of him and their adherence to the 'symptom management plan'. The local authority and the parents were also committed to working together.
However, Munby used his judgment, published yesterday, to advise local authorities 'to think long and hard before embarking upon care proceedings against otherwise unimpeachable parents who may justifiably resent recourse to what they are likely to see as an unnecessarily adversarial and punitive remedy'.
When considering care proceedings to remove a child from the parents, Munby said local authorities must consider 'not merely about the practicalities of finding an appropriate placement, whether institutional or in a specialised foster placement, but also about the practicalities of ensuring that the parents have proper contact with their child during what may be its last few months or weeks of life. And by proper contact I do not mean contact two or three times a week for a couple of hours a time if the parents reasonably want more, even much more'.
It would be 'unbearable' to contemplate the parents' reaction if they were unable to be with their child at the moment of death 'because of geography or, even worse, bureaucracy', Munby said.
Having requested updates about AB, Munby was 'delighted' to hear from AB's parents that he remained stable and largely comfortable at home. 'They also sent me, for which I am grateful, a heart-warming photograph of the family by the Christmas tree,' his judgment concludes.