Court Imposes Care Order in Warwickshire County Council v Mother Case: Key Issue of LA's Responsibility for Children Subject to DoLs Orders

Citation: [2024] EWHC 564 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Warwickshire County Council v Mother involves the welfare and future care arrangement of a 16-year-old boy (referred to as JR), with a focus on the local authority’s (LA) responsibility for children who are subject to Deprivation of Liberty Orders (DoLs orders). The case delves into the complexities of parental responsibility, the appropriateness of care orders under the Children Act 1989 (CA), and the interplay between the LA, adoptive parents, and the needs of a child with complex psychological issues.

Key Facts

JR is a young boy with a traumatic past, diagnosed with several disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder, and is believed to have Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD). After exhibiting challenging behaviors, he was accommodated under section 20 of the CA in various placements, with repeated instances of inappropriate behavior and absconding. A DoLs order was imposed, yet issues of mismanagement and lack of appropriate care persisted. Subsequent care proceedings were initiated by the LA without seeking an Interim Care Order, leading to the controversy of whether JR should remain under a s.20 agreement or be made subject to a Care Order.

The legal principles discussed in this case pivot around section 1(5) of the CA, the “No Order” principle, which necessitates a Care Order only if it serves the child better than making no order at all. The case references Re JW (Child At Home Under Care Order) [2023] EWCA Civ 944 regarding the appropriateness of imposing Care Orders, with a clear mandate that such orders should not be used to merely compel LAs to fulfill their inherent duties.

Mrs. Justice Lieven refers to the legal threshold for making a Care Order and aligns with the provisions within the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 concerning LA’s care planning duties. The case centers on whether a Care Order is necessary for JR’s best interests and if it offers more robust legal oversight and assurances for his future care and therapy.

Outcomes

The judge decided in favor of imposing a Care Order, citing the need for clarity and certainty in decision-making regarding JR’s welfare. Despite the parents’ opposition and their concerns about the Care Order affecting their relationship with JR, the court reasoned that clarity over who is responsible for decisions pertaining to JR’s care is paramount. A Care Order ensures this along with a structured oversight mechanism as JR approaches adulthood. Mrs. Justice Lieven underscored the necessity of the LA sharing parental responsibility and taking a more proactive role in JR’s care planning, education, and therapy.

Additionally, the case references the importance of following the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) Report’s Principles of Care for children with complex needs subject to DoLs orders, endorsing the view that all care provisions for such children should be benchmarked against these principles.

Conclusion

The Warwickshire County Council v Mother case outlines the judiciary’s role in scrutinizing the care arrangements for children with complex needs, enforcing the No Order principle only when it is in the best interest of the child. The judgment emphasizes the importance of certainty in responsibility and oversight in the care of vulnerable children, especially those close to transitioning to adulthood. It highlights the criticality of judicial oversight when there is a perceived gap in the care provided by the LA and affirms the role of a Care Order in ensuring that such children are given consistent, adequate care that aligns with the principles set out by the NFJO. This case serves as a reminder of the gravity and sensitivity in cases dealing with the welfare of children with complex needs and the importance of structured legal frameworks to guide their care pathways.

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