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ABCD & E (Separating Siblings) and the role of the IRO

Interesting judgement demonstrating how complex social work can be.

Where the court accepts that adoption is the appropriate outcome for a sibling group – that nothing else will do – does the court have any power to limit the local authority’s discretion to determine the configuration of the adoptive placements?

It is settled law that the court has no power to attach conditions or directions to a care order.

In this case, the judge agonised over whether it was in the interests to make placement orders in respect of five siblings. The judge felt placement orders were right, but NOT if the five siblings would all be separated and effectively “leaned on” the local authority to change their proposed care plan. The local authority held firm and refused to be leant on.  The judge ultimately pulled back and made the placement orders and emphasised the importance of an effective handover from the Children’s Guardian to the IRO.

Independent Reviewing Officer

  1. Notwithstanding my decision to make placement orders, I remain profoundly concerned about the possibility that the local authority may at some future point decide to change the care plans for these children to seek separate adoptive placements for each of them. If I had the power to order that that could not happen without the approval of the court I would unhesitatingly make that order. I do not believe I have that power.
  2. In this case it is very important that there is an effective handover from the Children’s Guardian to the IRO and that the IRO is provided with a copy of this judgment. It is important that the court’s concerns about a future change in plan to four separate placements are emphasised and understood. It is important that the IRO understands the court’s provisional view that in any review of the care plans the views of the parents should be ascertained and taken into account in the review process and that the parents should be notified promptly of the outcome of any review.
  3. Regulation 37(1) requires the IRO ‘to carry out the functions mentioned in section 26(2A) of the 1989 Act’. Section 26(2A) of the 1989 Act is now omitted as a result of the provisions of s.10 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. The functions that were to be found in s.26(2A) are now to be found in sections 25A, 25B and 25C of the 1989 Act (those sections having been inserted pursuant to the provisions of s.10 of the 2008 Act). It is unnecessary for me to set out these new sections in full. However, it is appropriate to highlight the requirements of s.25B(3) of the 1989 Act which provide that:

‘If the independent reviewing officer considers it appropriate to do so, the child’s case may be referred by the officer to –

(a)   An officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service…’

  1. Although regulation 37(1) of the 2005 regulations has not been amended and updated in light of the provisions of s.10 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, in my judgment it is open to an IRO appointed under regulation 37(1) to make a referral to Cafcass if it considers such a referral to be appropriate. In my judgment, in this case a decision made following a review under regulation 36 to change the care plans for these four children to permit a search for separate adoptive placements for each of them is an issue that ought to lead to the IRO making a referral to Cafcass.

139.    If contact between Child A and his mother and grandmother should break down the local authority should consider the position concerning the possible restoration of direct contact between Child A and his younger siblings. The independent reviewing officer should keep this under review.

 

 

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