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Judge approves order to keep boy in residential accommodation at likely cost of £750k

A High Court judge has approved a local authority’s application for a care order that will see a boy nearing his teenage years continue to stay at a registered children’s home at a cost of £9,500 a week and potentially a total amount of £750,000, despite the parents' wishes that he should return to live with his mother with such support as might be put in place.

In CO (a Child: care proceedings) [2021] EWHC 3185 (Fam) (15 November 2021), His Honour Judge Wildblood QC found it necessary and proportionate to deprive the boy of his liberty at the request of the local authority.

The boy has a history of behavioural issues, including violent outbursts. He is Eastern European and moved to the UK about four years ago.

Whilst in his home country, he had spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Later, he described traumatic experiences involving being strapped down while there. A psychological assessment found that his experiences appeared to have led to PTSD symptoms.

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His parents have a strained relationship and have recently separated. C's mother described an emotionally abusive relationship with her father. In response, the father told the court: "'I accept that in the heat of the moment when arguing, that I may well have insulted the mother by name-calling and saying things I did not mean."

He added that caring for C took a "huge toll" on the couple's relationship.

Despite this, the judge said this was not a case where there was any suggestion that either parent had criminal convictions or mental health issues. "I give this judgment on the basis that they are decent people who have known immense emotional hardship".

The boy is subject to a High Court authorisation that he may be deprived of his liberty. For the past eight months, he has lived in residential accommodation in a registered children's home under Section 22C(6)(c) of The Children Act 1989.

At the residential home, he receives intensive education in a special school, therapy, and care from care workers. In addition, he sees his parents regularly.

His placement at the home now costs £9,500 a week and, if he remains there, there will be an annual cost of £494,000.

However, he does not wish to be living there, and his parents want him to return to his mother's care.

In its application for the order, the local authority said the boy was beyond the control of his parents. The council's threshold document asserted that "the nature of likelihood of harm alleged is i) emotional, ii) physical and iii) impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another."

HHJ Wildblood analysed the two options – staying in the registered children’s home or returning to live with the mother – in relation to the welfare checklist in Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989.

Favouring making C a subject of a care order, the judge found that if C were to return home, in all probability, he would suffer the same recorded harm as before, and it would be "highly likely" that that same problems would occur.

In addition, if he returned home and the placement with the mother broke down, any work done with him would be undone, as he went through the trauma of subsequent removal and placement elsewhere, the judge said.

If C were to remain at the children’s home, the judge found that he would benefit from specialist support and the therapy he receives there.

Considering the final factor on the checklist – 'the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question' – the judge stated that if the court made no order, or a supervision order with C returning home, "it would not be compatible with his welfare".

He added: "As to the application for authorisation to deprive C of his liberty in the terms of a continuation of the existing order, I have no doubt that is both necessary and proportionate. I think that it is inevitable that, without that authorisation, C would attempt to leave RA House and there would be further incidents where he would attempt to hurt staff, damage property (e.g. jump on car roofs) or put himself at risk (e.g. climb up fire exits or pour water into sockets). His placement at RA House would not be sustainable without that authorisation."

The judge emphasised that the aim must be to return C to live with his family as soon as it becomes compatible with his welfare to do so. To that end, he said, the review of the plan in 18 months must be thorough.

"If it isn't the parents would be able to bring the matter back to court on an application to discharge the care order under section 39 of the 1989 Act."

"By then C should have received more than 18 months of therapy, specialist education and skilled care from the team there. He will be a teenager and in the run-up to the time when he may be taking GCSE's. He will be fast approaching the age where he will be seeking much more independence prior to achieving majority."

It is estimated that the boy's care between now and then will cost around £750,000.

Adam Carey

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