Threshold – has it been met?
Date posted: 16 August 2018
In LCC v AB & Ors  EWHC 1960 (Fam) the Court dismissed care proceedings and concluded that the children should continue to be accommodated by the Local Authority by consent pursuant to s.20 Children Act 1989 whilst being Wards of the Court. This case is a helpful reminder to all practitioners of the fundamental elements of the threshold criteria (s.31) and relevant case law.
The Court was concerned with an application for a Care Order concerning two children aged five and six. The mother was sadly diagnosed with a terminal illness on 17th March 2017. She subsequently sought accommodation of the children by the Local Authority, acting in prompt recognition of her inability to care for the children due to her illness and in recognition that there was insufficient support from friends or family members who could assist her in caring for the children through her illness. The father had previously abandoned the family and had not since made contact with the mother, the children or the local authority.
The children were thus accommodated under s.20 on 3rd April 2017 and the local authority issued care proceedings on 21st June 2017. Interim care orders were made on 29th June 2017.
The Local Authority and the Guardian sought to argue that threshold had been met in part on the basis that “the mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour on 17th March 2017 and on 31st March 2017 request[ed] that the children be accommodated as she was unable to meet their basic care needs as a result of her health difficulties”. This was opposed by the mother although she did not backtrack on her agreement to the children being accommodated by the Local Authority.
Important points to take from the Court’s decision
- In making a timely request for alternate care the mother was found to have acted as a “perfectly reasonable, loving, caring mother”;
- The court was not therefore satisfied that the harm which the children were likely to suffer could be attributable to the care being given to them not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give;
- Threshold was consequently not met;
- S.20 can be a useful framework under which children can be accommodated by consent and provided it is agreed that it is in the best interests of the children; and
- Children can be made Wards of Court during their minority or until further Order by the Court’s own motion at the dismissal of care proceedings.
In sad circumstances such as these, it is noteworthy that no criticism was made by the Court of any party and that all sought an outcome in the best interests of the children. It is hoped by the author that in such devastating cases a conciliatory approach is sought with as little disruption to the children as possible.