Family Proceedings Courts have long been concerned with the issue of sibling groups (4 children plus) in respect of whom the threshold of significant harm has been crossed by virtue of a familial history of family dysfunction: drug and alcohol use, mental health issues and chronic neglect. The parents may have opposed the Local Authority’s (LA) application for care orders previously and the family offered various levels of support while the children may have been placed (variously) with family members or in foster care.
It may be the case that the Local Authority have reached a final hearing with a care plan that recommends removal on full care or placement orders. However, at the 11th hour no placements could be found suitable for the needs of the siblings and the court refuses the LA’s plan for removal; however they still approve the application for full care orders, The court would then direct the LA to file amended care plans keeping the children at home with a caveat that they are immediately removed on 14 day’s notice if the parents do not accept or cooperate with the LA revised care plans.
CF Social Work have considered the relevant domestic and European case law regarding large sibling groups and have observed that the test for severance of relationships between parent and child (referred to by Lady Justice Hale in Re B  UKSC 33) also applied to severing sibling relationships. Clearly this needs to be balanced with the need for permanence and the children’s right to a stable and permanent family life.
CF Social Work have also considered the ‘balance sheet’ of the pros and cons of each of the two ‘realistic options’; the views of all professionals who consider that the children’s situation at home was ‘significantly harmful’, but balanced this with the strong attachment the children have to one another and to their parents, which likely renders their ability to transfer this to a new family to be an unknown.
The uncertain nature of the care planning for siblings; the proposals for sibling contact (which can include a very brutal reduction from the pre to the post placement stage); the sometimes unrealistic six month time frame to pursue an adoptive placement, the existence of siblings who are likely placed separately, the strong familial bonds, the individual views of each child, the uncertainty as to whether the siblings will settle and the uncertainty of post adoptive sibling contact, are all factors that can lead courts to reject local authority applications for removal. In the case of our pilot example, all the above were explored during the proceedings. However, the bottom line was the fact that no suitable placements were available.
Based on the above, and a successful pilot case, CF Social Work have pioneered and developed a Co-Parenting Service. This allows the children to safely remain at home with their parents under the auspices of Full Care Orders whilst being ‘Co-Parented’ by the company’s social work assistants under the guidance of the social work management team. The case remains the responsibility of the Local Authority who share Parental Responsibility (PR) with the parents but allows a high level of autonomy to ourselves.
The benefits to the family are that they retain their existing identity and maintain uninterrupted attachments between parent and child and within sibling relationships. The benefit to the courts is that they can feel confident that any delay for the children is minimal and that their safety can be assured. The benefit to the Local Authority is a reduced cost with respect to identifying, assessing and maintaining placements in the longer term for children who are likely to be adversely affected by their histories and their change in circumstances. It also mitigates against the possibility of future multiple, costly placements for the children, to include residential and private fostering options.