What happens when it is no longer safe for a child to remain at home? Sometimes children go to live with another family member, perhaps an absent parent, or a grandparent, aunt or uncle. I have heard of a young man going to live at his girlfriend’s parents’ house. These sorts of arrangements can work well, particularly if the violence and abuse is very specifically directed to only one person. But if it is more general, then the chances are it will re-emerge in the new home and this arrangement will also break down. Some young people may find themselves admitted to hospital where their risky behaviour is considered to be caused by mental ill health. Some may end up in youth custody as the result of a very serious assault. Others, perhaps the majority, will be taken in to the care of the local authority, whether as a voluntary agreement or on a care order, as “beyond parental control”. (Where you end up then seems sadly to be something of a lottery and must be the subject of future posts.)
If you work in child protection in the UK, you may already be familiar with a fantastic website: Child Protection Resource, discussing aspects of the relevant law. Last week there was a post about thresholds in care proceedings and the attribution of blame, where children are deemed beyond parental control.
While there is acknowledgement that the child is themselves at risk of significant harm because of their behaviour (and not simply other family members), there has apparently been some confusion as to whether there is a need to show a causal link between parenting, and the child or young person’s behaviour – so, was the child beyond control because of poor parenting? This has now been resolved as a result of a ruling by HH Judge Owens in WBC v A, drawing attention to the word “or” in the legislation. (A separate case, Re P., covers different issues but also includes a firm statement from the judge regarding the culpability question.)
It is recognised that, for many families (eg adoptive families), a child’s behaviour may be the result of trauma suffered very early on and have no connection to the current situation. Indeed parents may be providing the best possible care at this time.
And so the relevant section of the Children Act 1989 would thus read:
A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied—
(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
(b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
(ii) the child’s being beyond parental control.
This clarification is to be applauded, in a situation where parents already feel shamed and blamed by many of those around them, including some professionals. While it does nothing to ease the guilt of placing a child in care, it is important to know that their positive contribution and efforts might now be recognised.
As a sideline, this sad case is also interesting in providing evidence of an instance of sexual abuse of a parent. It is often said that this does happen, but that there are very few examples in the CPV literature.
Updated January 2018: See also this case for an in depth discussion as to whether there should be a link between a child being ‘beyond control’, and the parenting provided; and the relevance of other aspects of the child’s needs.