Transcript: Permanence panel: part two

The panel considers the view of the mother and her extended family on the future care of Douglas. His current foster parent is invited to join the meeting and we hear assessment from the medical and legal advisers, to the panel.

Podcast Episode: Permanence panel: part two

Category: Child protection 

What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

C - Chair
J - Jean
AB - Anne Brown
DC - Dave Campbell
MF - Margaret Fortes
HG - Helen Green
YS - Yvonne Smith

C Moving on to Mum’s view in terms of the permanent plan, Jean. What is Lauren currently saying about the plans for permanence for Douglas?

J Lauren’s got a foot in two camps, really, is the only way to say it. She is currently very clear that she would contest adoption for Douglas on one hand, but then on the other, she is supporting and preparing information for his future reference. She will also talk about her own position. She’s starting to talk about what she would like for herself. She’s talked about moving away from the area, to get supports out with a move away from those associations that she feels also impact on pulling her back into offending and drug-taking.

What I’m saying is that, at the moment, Mum is very clear that she would be contesting. However, she is also more engaged in terms of thinking of Douglas’ future.

C Okay. The extended family, insofar as you’ve had contact with them, have they expressed views on the permanency plan and what they would think to be in Douglas’ best interest?

J Maternal grandmother has been very difficult to get hold of. She has a lot of issues of her own, and we’ve only had a couple of brief conversations with her. She had stated, herself, that she felt that Lauren’s position was not settled enough for her to be a Mum.

Maternal grandfather, who is in another relationship but also lives in the area, has discussed in some detail with me his thoughts about Douglas’ future, and he feels that that would only be safe if it was out with Lauren’s care.

AB You did mention a maternal uncle, I think, in your report, that…

J No, there is no other extended family, Ann.

C Dave, I know that you were interested in just exploring whether there were any family alternatives that could offer permanent care. I don’t know whether you feel we’ve heard enough in respect of that?

DC No. I think you’ve outlined it. I take it that neither of the grandparents have had… Have they had any contact with Douglas at all?

J Maternal grandfather requested that he did not have any direct contact. He felt that that was something that he didn’t want to engage with.

Maternal grandmother, Lauren was explicit that her mother’s own problems would impact on consistency, in terms of her ability to engage with that, and she felt that it wasn’t in Douglas’ best interests.

DC Okay. There were issues as well about the grandfather anyway. There was a suggestion from Lauren that she’d been physically abused by him.

J There had been allegations, historically, yes. Lauren did have some support from Social Work Services in her own childhood, and there have been allegations which Lauren continues to reinforce, in the current day.

MF I was just going to ask you. You said it was Lauren’s views on any care with her mother. I just wanted to check, did you agree with her assessment of what that would be like, or why that was inappropriate?

J Absolutely. What we do know from our own checks on our Care First system is that Lauren’s mother has sporadic engagement with Drug and Alcohol Services herself. She has chronic problems with certain substances, as well as alcohol issues, too. This has been on-going since, Lauren herself will say, her own childhood. If you look back on those records, it’s clearly recorded that there has been supports for her, and those continue to the current day.

There’s also issues in relation to maternal grandmother’s offending behaviour which, unlike Lauren’s, is more in relation to breach of the peace and issues of assault. She wouldn’t be deemed appropriate to have care or to build any contact with, through Douglas’ life.

MF Thank you.

C I want to move on in a moment to look in more detail about Douglas as an individual and we’ll ask the foster carer to come in shortly. I just wanted to sum up, as it were, in terms of there being no attempt to rehabilitate Douglas into the care of his mother. Panel members understand why that wasn’t… Would agree with the approach that’s been taken?

[general assent]

C Thank you.. I think Douglas has had a medical.

HG Yes, that’s right. He’s had his adoption medical.

J He has, yes.

C Could you tell us a little bit about the medical issues, as they are? If there are any medical issues at the moment?

HG Yeah. Currently, Douglas is in very good health. He’s thriving emotionally, he’s thriving physically in his foster placement. Through the pregnancy, Lauren did have some engagement with Health Services which probably reflects the whole discussion today – it was quite intermittent.

At that time, it was known that Douglas had signs of poor growth, but when he was born he was actually of reasonable weight, and he did not have signs of drug withdrawal despite mum’s use of heroin and methadone program that she was on within the pregnancy.

Since then he has shown normal growth, normal development, no family history of any medical conditions that could affect him in the future. But what we have here is an unknown. We have an unknown in terms of we don’t know who his father is so there’s kind of a 50 percent hereditary that we don’t know and also impact of drug misuse.

You know that may be that health issues come out at a later date. So whilst he is thriving currently and meeting all his milestones, we cannot just forget that in the future there are lots of unknowns around his medical prognosis.

C Thank you. Panel must feel that they’ve got a sufficient grasp of the case history and mum and Douglas’ current [inaudible 420] . We can ask Yvonne Smith to come and join us to hear a little bit about Douglas’ experience in foster care? Good. Welcome.

YS Thank you.

C I think this is probably your first visit to the Permanence Panel in this particular guise, so I think it might be useful just to do couple of sets of round-table introductions for you.

YS Okay, thank you.

C Anne, you go first.

AB Anne Brown, deputy chair.

MF I’m Margaret Fortes , legal adviser to the Panel.

DC Dave Campbell from the childcare team.

HG Helen Green, medical adviser.

J And you know me. I’m Jean. I’m Douglas’ social worker.

YS Yeah.

C It’s always reassuring when the social worker and foster career know each other. [laughter]

C I think it’s probably been explained to you, Yvonne, that this is about trying to understand how Douglas has got on in your care and with a particular focus to what might be the next stage in his life in the context of the proposed permanence plan. Anne’s going to take us through this particular part of the discussion so, Anne, pass the baton to yourself.

AB Thanks very much for coming, Yvonne, and Douglas has been with you really from when he was about 10 days old.

YS Yes, he came straight from hospital.

AB So you’ve been looking after him for nine months. Can you tell us a bit what it’s like to look after him and describe him a bit?

YS Well he’s quite an easy baby to look after. He’s contented. He’s happy most of the time. He sleeps well. He eats well. So, yeah, not really a challenge.

AB And do you have other children in the placement at the moment?

YS Yes, I’ve got another foster child who’s three, and then I’ve got my own children who are six and eight.

AB And how does he respond to them, or…?

YS He loves company. He loves watching the older ones play, tries to join in when he can. He really enjoys having them around, all of them, all the different ages.

AB And obviously he’s been with you for a long time, and your husband, how does he respond to both you? Has he formed an attachment to you, or…?

YS Yeah, I feel he’s formed an attachment. He’s happy when he sees us. He’s clingy sometimes when he gets back from contact, likes to know that we’re there. My husband works all day, but when he comes in he gets a big smile, and he’s happy to see him.

J And does he respond to both of you, or…?

YS Yes.

J And you obviously are his primary carer so is that a sort of stronger attachment to yourself would you say or not noticeable?

YS I would say it’s a stronger attachment. If he’s upset he tends to look for me, but if I’m not there, my husband can cope quite as well looking after him.

AB How…what sort of family do you think Douglas would do best with?

YS Maybe a family who’ve got all the children already, because he really does enjoy the company. He’s quite an active wee boy, so somebody who’s going to be proactive in things for him to do.

AB Do you think he’d do best in a single parent, two, a couple, or…?

YS I think because Douglas is so easygoing…as I said he’s a happy little boy…he’ll cope with…he’ll adjust to whatever.

DC Can I maybe ask, Yvonne, that [inaudible 46:30] information about mum’s drug misuse during pregnancy, have you had any cause for concern about his development while he’s been with you?

YS No, no Douglas has been fine. He’s reached all his milestones as far as we’ve seen, and no, he’s quite healthy. He seems…

HG Sorry, can I just ask from a medical point of view, he is up-to- date with his immunisations, isn’t he, his program with immunisation?

YS Yes, he is.

HG He’s completely up-to-date so his red book and everything is all available and written and kept up-to-date by Health Services?

YS Yes, I’ve got that.

H Excellent. That’s good.

AB If it was agreed that Douglas should be closed for adoption, he’s obviously going to find it quite difficult moving from your family into his new family. Would you be happy to help and support through that in helping him in this transition period?

YS Yes, absolutely. We’re very fond of Douglas, and we’ll do whatever we can to support him.

AB But he comes across as a very happy, easygoing child that doesn’t at the present time present any difficulties in caring for him.

YS That’s right.

AB So you’ve no strong feelings about a particular family that he’d be best with.

YS No.

AB No. Okay, does anybody else want to ask any other questions?

C The only one thing, Anne, was the ability for Douglas to form attachments to any new family. You think it’s going to be difficult for him given he’s well attached within your family. Do you think he can make that transition?

YS Yeah. I think, you know, he has got a strong attachment to us just now because we’ve had him since he was 10 days old, but, you know, at nine months he’s got a chance.

C Good. Good. Good. So anything else anybody wants to ask Yvonne? Well thank you very much for coming along today and helping us with our deliberations, and particularly for the care that you’ve provided for Douglas.

YS Okay.

C It’s been of great benefit to him, so thank you.

AB You gave him a good start in life [laughs] .

C Bye-bye for now. Just before we move on I think to enter the phase of our discussions where we start to sum up and think about the future plans and the panel’s recommendations, I would just like to check out one or two of the matters that we should be paying particular attention to. I mean Douglas as a child of that age wouldn’t have a particular religious persuasion?

J No.

C No. And does mum have a particular religious persuasion? Has she expressed any views in respect of that for Douglas?

J No, she hasn’t. She hasn’t been explicit either one way or the other. She doesn’t practice any religion herself, however, through discussion her thoughts are that’s it’s more important that Douglas has a sense of belonging and it’s the right people rather than they have any particular religious beliefs. So she feels the most important thing is who these people are and how they’re going to care for Douglas now and through his life, yeah.

C And in terms of his racial origin, I think we’ve described that as being “white Scottish.” I think that’s the term that we use these days.

J That’s right, yeah.

C And his cultural background is in the north-east, and his linguistic background would be English.

J Mm-hm.

C I think we ought to stop for a comfort break if that’s Okay, and we’ll pick up the threads of this in a few minutes [laughs] . Switch the thing off.

DC I don’t know if I’ve switched it off or not. I pushed the red button.

C It’s hard work, isn’t it? [laughter]

DC I pushed that one there.

C It’s hard work, isn’t it?

AB [inaudible 50:33]

C Oh, it is hard [cuts off] We’re off again.

J Yeah.

C Okay. All right, panel members, I’d like to just move on now to go through some of the kind of summary stages of our discussion starting off with the prospects for rehabilitation. I mean I have picked up from the discussion this morning and what we’ve heard from Jean that rehabilitation is unlikely to be in Douglas’ interest.

It hasn’t been tried, but I think we heard before, and I think panel members were understanding of the reasons why it hadn’t been tried, so panel members feel that there are no prospects for rehabilitation back for Douglas to his mum’s care?

DC No.

J No.

MF No.

C Okay. Flipping the coin over then, I think we concluded before that given the issues, long-standing issues with mum, there was no real reason not to delay the permanence decision or the permanence recommendation from today. This was a reasonable point in time to make that.

I think we have seen that there are benefits to the child in the care that he’s received thus far in terms of being within a stable family unit. He’s had predictable and quality care, and in that sense I would believe that permanence would be in his best interests and the care he’s had thus far has kind of pointed to that conclusion. Panel members agree with that?

AB [inaudible 52:09]

C Thank you. The referral from the LAC review talked about adoption being the most suitable form of permanence for Douglas, and I’d just like to kind of explore that a bit with panel. We are required to form a view as to whether adoption is in the best interest of Douglas, and we can come back to that in a moment, but if we look at the alternatives that might be available in the first instance, his current placement I understand is not available to him long- term. It is just a short-term…

J It is a short-term temporary placement.

C Okay. I would…

AB Is there a time limit for that?

J There’s no time limit to it, however, what the foster carer hasn’t been doing is taking any form of respite because of Douglas’ young age, so we would want to move in a timely fashion on this to support her getting time away with her own family.

C So leaving things as they are now is not in that sense an option to us.

J No.

C I would suggest that Douglas doesn’t need the public care system, that at his age and with his characteristics he could be looked after in a family situation that was more akin to his peers. In terms of other forms of care that might be available to him, I mean long-term foster care would not seem to me to provide that inherent stability and security and level of claiming that adoption will provide, so I wouldn’t be suggesting that long-term foster care in whatever guise was in Douglas’ best interests.

And there’s nobody available that could apply for a residence order in respect of him. I don’t think that the current foster carers would be considering that. So I think, panel, we would rule out permanence alternatives, and that would leave us with adoption. There are clearly no family alternatives available to us so adoption is there.

Is it likely, Dave, that we would find an adoption placement for a child with Douglas’ characteristics, age, and so on?

DC I would be confident we would given his age and the care he’s received and the evidence about his attachments to this point.

C Okay. And we would believe that providing a stable family unit through adoption would promote Douglas’ best interests? The adoption order would therefore give him the best start in life that would be available to him, and therefore adoption would safeguard and promote his welfare throughout his childhood and also throughout his life?

DC Yes.

AB Yes.

J Yes.

C All members agree with that? Thank you. If we move on to contact then in the context of an adoption placement, Pat there has been…sorry, Jean, there has been some discussion, I think, at the previous LAC review and there have been subsequent business meetings to discuss this in more detail.

As I understand it we are restricting our current discussion to contact between Douglas and his mum because the wider family have not expressed any interest to be involved in contact directly. Could you just summarize the rationale for the current thinking around post-permanence contact for Douglas?

J Given that we’re recommending an adoptive placement for Douglas, and due to his age, the view is that letterbox contact would best meet his needs. This is in terms of his needs through childhood and through life.

Letterbox contact will offer Douglas the opportunity to continue some connection with his birth family. This will be more important to him as he grows and develops and moves toward adolescence, a time where young people often want to explore and learn a little more about their history and where they’ve come from.

Letterbox contact isn’t the only source. Obviously, there’s other sources, such as the life-story work that will be done and prepared for Douglas prior to his move.

Letterbox contact will also offer Douglas an understanding that Mum is Okay. I think that’s quite an important thing for children, again, as they grow. Letterbox contact will offer Mum an opportunity to know that Douglas has been and is being well looked-after, and that he has opportunities that she would like for him, and has actually discussed those with us.

Face-to-face contact was ruled out, obviously due to the concerns in relation to the evidence that there isn’t a significant – or any – signs of an attachment, or secure attachment, for Douglas and his Mum, and because of her continued offending and the concerns that she will be absent from his life for periods that couldn’t be met within any direct contact.

Those were the main issues that were brought forward in terms of discussion of letterbox contact.

Letterbox contact was discussed in the business meeting on the 1st of December in far more detail, where it was agreed that letterbox contact should not include photographs if Douglas was to remain within the local area, that there needed to be a level of anonymity for him so that he could have the protection within his new family, and grow.

Other than that, if he was to be placed out with the area, photographs could be included.

C Was there any suggestion as to the frequency of the letterbox contact?

J The letterbox contact was agreed at once a year.

C Okay. A couple of things. Panel members understand and agree with the rationale that Jean has put forward in relation to letterbox contact, indirect contact.

Panel members have anything to ask in terms of the face-to-face element of contact? None of the panel members think that that should be in any way further explored?

AB No. He’s such a young child at the moment, and there’s not that degree of familiarity with him, I think.

C Okay. Margaret, are you Okay with the Panel discussion?

MF Yeah. I was just going to ask a question. Obviously, we’ve talked about birth parents’ contact in relation to Mum. I just wanted to explore with you recommendations in terms of any other family members, if we were thinking that that would be appropriate at all?

J No. We’d had those discussions. All we know currently is the maternal family. Again, it had been discussed in relation to the maternal grandmother having access. Lauren has made clear that, in her relationship with her Mum, she feels that it would be more appropriate that she shares her letterbox contact with her mother, rather than her mother having that direct. She doesn’t feel that her Mum will ever be able to be consistent enough in actually replying or responding, so she would be happy to allow her mother to see information that comes through her. The maternal grandfather has said quite clearly that he does not want any form of contact with Douglas.

AB There’s been no contact between any of the extended family, up to now.

J No, there’s been no direct contact, no.

C Okay.

MF Yes, thank you.

C All right, thank you. Thank you, Margaret. Moving on to the legal basis there may be for securing the adoption plan. Margaret, could you give us a little bit of a sense of whether the adoption plan could be secured, legally?

MF Yeah. Obviously, from what Jean is saying, Mum’s not going to be positively consenting to adoption, so that would rule out a direct adoption in any event. Douglas isn’t currently placed, anyway, so you would really be looking at a permanence order with authority to adopt here. In terms of the grounds, obviously Mum has got the right to control residence at the moment, so we’d have to show to the court that there’s evidence that a return to her care would be seriously detrimental to Douglas’ welfare.

I think, from everything that we’ve heard, there is a good evidence base for that, given the whole history here. Obviously, Mum’s on- going substance issues, her offending behaviour and, despite significant supports that you referred to, to address that, there’s really been no change.

She’s never had care of Douglas, either. He’s been in care straight from hospital following his birth.

I think that test would be met. I suppose, in relation to the authority to adopt, we’ve also got to consider as well whether there would be a ground to dispense with Mum’s consent, given that she wouldn’t consent to that.

Again, the grounds we could look to here is that she’s been unable to discharge her parental rights and responsibilities. I think that’s clear for all the reasons that we’ve been discussing this morning, as well.

Obviously, part of that’s projecting into the future. Is she likely to continue to be unable to do that? I think we touched upon that as well. We talked about the prospects for her being able to turn around her lifestyle to an extent where Douglas’ needs would be coming first and not her own.

I think, from everything you’re saying, as well, there’s enough indicators there that she is likely to continue to be unable to discharge those rights and responsibilities. I feel that there would be enough evidence here to meet those grounds.

C Thank you, Margaret. Any questions from around the table? We’ve also heard, Dave, that you think there’s a strong likelihood of placement. In terms of the Adoption Allowance Regulations, the Adoption Support Services and Allowance (Scotland) Regulations 2009 I think, given what we heard before from Helen, there would be some questions about Douglas’ development in the longer term, although there’s no certainty there will be issues there, there’s a kind of “might-be” element to it, that Section 10 (2B) of those regulations would apply in terms of an adoption allowance in principal, in accordance with the local scheme. [laughs]

I’d like, now, just to move on, bringing the discussion to a conclusion. Think about some of the characteristics of placement that Dave’s team and Jean will be thinking about, in terms of a permanent placement for Douglas.

I would love Panel members to chip in here.

J On the 1st of December, at the business meeting, we had a long discussion regarding the possibility of Douglas remaining in the area, which would meet his cultural and identity needs, in terms of birth.

However, that had to be balanced with Mum’s behaviours and whether or not she may or may not pose a risk in terms of disruption to an adoptive placement for him in-area. What we are able to offer to Panel, and through that discussion at the business meeting, was that Lauren has never made any attempt to disrupt the placement. She’s actually known, and actually took Douglas to his placement with Yvonne in the first instance, so she has always known where Douglas is, and has actually lived within the same very local area as Douglas for nine months and, as I said, has never made any attempt to disrupt that placement.

One element of Mum is that she does recognize Douglas’ needs for security, and that is to her credit.

C Jean, has Mum made any particular statements about the kind of carers that she might wish to see providing care for Douglas in the longer term?

J More practical things, I guess. Mum’s aspirations for Douglas have been in and around real opportunity for him. She would like a family who is financially secure, because her experience has not been that. She would like a family who could provide support and good education, because she missed out on that, and recognizes the impact of that now that she’s that little bit older. She would like Douglas to have the experience of foreign holidays, and to experience environments that she’s never had the opportunity to do.

For Lauren, she’s reflected on her own childhood and she, most importantly, would like parents for Douglas who love him, and that’s been her ultimate thoughts and views about a future family for him.

C Any issues about whether we’re talking about a single parent family or a two-parent family?

J The Social Work Department’s view was that either could meet Douglas’ needs. He is not an overly demanding infant, at all. No more so than any other infant of his age and stage. Again, it’s more about looking towards Douglas’ future needs, and any possibility he may need additional support.

C Any other characteristics to guide that search?

AB I suppose stability and nurturing and a family who will be able to meet those sort of needs for him.

J I think there was just one more consideration in terms of, Lauren is 19. There may be possibility of her having more children in the future.

I think, without trying to pre-empt anything, but her lifestyle continues to be so chaotic that there would be concern if, for example, she were to have another baby within a short time span. I think that any prospective adopters would need to be willing to discuss, if you like, an addition.

C I think that’s a kind of “bear that in mind” kind of…

J Rather than a distinct matching requirement.

C Yeah. Okay. We just move on to the final recommendation. From all that I’ve heard today and our discussion, I think we have concluded that Douglas is a child in need of permanence. That would be through adoption, and be achieved by the Council seeking a Permanence Order with authority to adopt.

MF Okay. Is that us?

J Yes. Good, good.

MF Excellent. [cuts off]

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