A's Story – A Vulnerable Child Moved From Pillar To Post


In a recently published judgment, the court has once again highlighted the extreme difficulties faced by young people with behavioural issues in our society, as well as the problems facing those who are tasked with the responsibility for commissioning and providing their care.

In this article, we report on a case about care proceedings that may seem all-too-familiar to CCGs and CAMHS services, and on a proposed new legal duty on CCGs to address the chronic shortage of appropriate placements for young people with behavioural difficulties across the UK.

What was the case about?

Tradition dictates that judges publish their reasoning in cases where they decide to increase awareness of the reasons behind making particular court orders, and to ensure that there is transparency of the judicial decision making process.

But in recent times, some judges have taken to using their public platform to shed a light on issues that go beyond the power of the court to deal with, as a wider comment on the state of society. In this judgment, HHJ Dancey makes it clear that he is writing to "tell the story" of A, a girl aged 15 ½ years.

Without reciting the full details, he describes A's troubled upbringing which has resulted, according to a court appointed psychologist, in anger, dysregulation and problems forming close relationships. This has led to aggression towards others, exclusion from school, and her routinely putting herself at risk if not kept in a tightly regulated environment.

Care proceedings were issued in January 2019, and the judge charts a catalogue of failed placements, thwarted efforts, and a situation that has gone from one crisis to the next, to the dismay and frustration of all involved. When a hearing took place on 30 September 2019, the judge recites:

"A did not attend that hearing. A's solicitor, Ms Cowlard, told me she couldn't see the point. Who could disagree?"

It can be tempting for those at a distance from front line practice to criticise those trying to provide care management, although HHJ Dancey takes a more sympathetic view, describing the social workers working tirelessly over "silly hours". However, he summarises the consequences for A as follows:

  1. no residential placement or any sense of permanence or stability;

  2. 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;

  3. still no formal education;

  4. no...

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