Dorset Council v A (Residential Placement: Lack of Resources) [2019] EWFC 62 (10 October 2019)

In this case, his honour Judge Dancey expressed his concern about the increasing number of children and young people in need of help and support in Dorset, England.

A care order was made on August 12th 2019 and a final deprivation of liberty (DOL) order on September 30th 2019 within the care proceedings (through use of the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court).

The case centred around a young girl, A, aged 15 and the lack of suitable resources made available for her by the local authority.

A lived at home with her parents who had been involved with Dorset County Council for a couple of years already. They used drugs recreationally and had an abusive relationship. Social workers claimed that she was beyond the control of her parents and at risk of sexual exploitation.

The police intervened in August 2018 and with agreement from A’s mother, used their powers of protection to withdraw A from her family home and find her a foster family to live with. However, A did not readily accept the new rules imposed on her by the foster homes and often went missing. She was moved to a residential placement in Shropshire where she was admitted to hospital several times for self-harming.

The local authority issued care proceedings in January 2019 on the basis that A was beyond parental control. A’s parents did not oppose the court order.

A’s placement in Shropshire lasted until the end of January when she was moved to a different unit in Somerset. A had wished to return home but her father was in prison and neither parent was judged to be capable of ensuring her well-being.

A court-appointed psychologist was commissioned to write a report on A’s behaviour in order to identify ways in which she could be helped. A refused to meet with the psychologist, Dr Jefferis, but using the information available he felt that A’s parents would be unable to meet her needs for safety and boundaries.

Dr Jefferis thought that A’s needs could only be met in a residential placement, and she was moved to one in the New Forest in April in a 90-day crisis placement. It was planned that she would move again in July to a permanent setting.

To this date, no permanent placement has been found for A. Between July and August, she was moved to and fro, between a number of placements, three of which were unregulated.

At the end of August, A attended a hearing to approve DOL at a new permanent, regulated placement in Plymouth at a facility run by Cambian. An assessment was planned and then cancelled without notice, rescheduled and then cancelled again as another child had secured the placement.

The Judge said at this point that A was settled in her current placement in Wimborne but that she was disappointed not to be moving to a more permanent setting. He also wished to make it clear that he believed that Dorset Council was not unwilling to find or fund a placement for A and that social workers were working tirelessly to find one.

In late September, the senior management at the local authority decided to move A temporarily to a caravan in Bridport. The reasons for this were dubious and extremely poorly communicated to A. She was told one day that an out of hours social worker was to visit her late the same night and for some time, this left her believing that her father may have died.

When she was visited, she was reassured that her father was alive. However, she and her carers said that they were told that a 9 year old boy, B, was potentially coming out of hospital needing 3:1 support. She was asked if she would move, with her carers, to a holiday home for 3 nights. A felt that she had no choice but to agree.

It later transpired that this young boy was in fact aged 17 and had had to be moved into A’s room after damaging his own unregulated placement. On September 16th, the Wimborne placement told A that she couldn’t come back yet as B was still there. She was moved to another caravan site but described herself as feeling homeless.

A was supposed to return to the Wimborne placement the next day but B had damaged the property there as well and it needed repairs. She refused to go back to the caravan in Bridport and requested she stay with her mother. However, they had an argument and A contacted staff from Quayside (the organisation that staffed the placement at Wimborne) who collected her.

The Judge reviewed A’s DOL in court on September 20th and continued it, feeling as though he had convinced A of the logic in his decision. However, later that day A was moved to an unregulated placement in Wareham.

The Director of Children’s Services for Dorset was directed by the Judge to write an explanation of the events to the court. It would seem as though it was the Director herself who had decided to ask A to move out to accommodate B, and it was disputed that any misrepresentation had been made about the other boy’s age or situation.

Then, on September 24th following a phone call with her mother, A became aggravated and told the staff in Wareham that she had taken an overdose of Paracetamol. This was inaccurate but resulted in the manager asking A and her carers to leave and so she was moved again to a caravan park near Weymouth.

A did not attend the final DOL order hearing on September 30th and it was continued by the Judge. At the time of the hearing promises had been made both to the judge and to A that she could return to her placement in Wimborne on October 2nd. The team manager told the judge that they were optimistic that A will have been found a permanent placement with Cambian shortly.

The judge said this:

“I tell this story simply to highlight the resource issues that local authorities face looking after young vulnerable people at risk of harm.  For A, the consequences have been:

a)             no residential placement or any sense of permanence or stability;

b)             by my count, excluding the initial foster placements, 10 placements over the course of a year, all bar two of them unregulated, and lasting from a few months to a few days;

c)             still no formal education;

d)            no real chance to address the things Dr Jefferis was talking about in his report;

e)             a situation within which A stayed with her mother in an unplanned way and there was an argument between them which will not have helped their relationship;

f)              break down in trust between A and the professionals (however hard they might be working to support her).

Full transcript available at: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2019/62.html