In many cases currently before the Court, there are siblings groups often being accommodated, either through circumstance or resource, within different localities.
As such, the Courts are increasingly presented with applications from multiple local authorities, with sometimes completely opposing, subtly different or identical care plans.
Of course, the primary function of local authorities, and in fact the court, is to make all attempts to keep families together, but the often-tragic reality is that this is not always achievable.
As such, in order to arrive at a secure future for children, local authorities will sometimes seek final care and placement orders. In broad terms, this means they will ask the court to sanction a plan of adoption (providing, of course, there is simply no other option).
However, there is sometimes an added complication with sibling groups of varying ages and needs. When the issue of different localities is added into the mix, often there are multiple planning issues for the parents, legal representatives, and Court to grapple with.
Not only can this become confusing, and often cataclysmically messy, but it also raises a potential collision of interest when one local authority seeks to “force” its plan of placement upon another completely separate local authority.
By way of illustration, the following scenario is put forward as an example
“there are 3 children who are full siblings. Child A and B are in placement with Local Authority 1 and child C is in placement with Local Authority C. The mother resides out of area, and the father of all 3 children resided within the area of Local Authority 2.
Children A and B were removed and placed in their current placement before the birth of child C, when children A and B were living within the area of Local Authority A.
Child C was born when the mother was living in Local Authority area 2, with the events leading to child C’s removal occurring in that area.
Both Local Authority 1 and Local Authority 2 seek final care and placement orders and hope for all 3 children to be placed together as full siblings.
Local Authority 2 have requested the plan for child C be transferred to Local Authority 1, however, Local Authority 1 have refused.
It is, therefore, the basis of this refusal and the issue of delegation which requires some careful consideration for the Courts.
The relevant sections to this issue are sections 21 and 22 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002).
In terms of child C, the applicable section applicable to plan of adoption with Local Authority 2 is section 22 (1) (a) ACA 2002. In practical terms child C has a plan to be placed for adoption and is currently being provided accommodation by Local Authority 2.
In the above illustration, nothing in the planning of child C relates to Local Authority, and so it can be argued that the legal position is that Local Authority 1 are not in a position to apply for a placement order (or have one delegated to them) because neither section 21 requirement applies to them.
This issue is further compounded by section 22 (2) (b) states that where a child is subject to a care order and the appropriate local authority is not authorised to place the child for adoption then they have to apply for a placement order, however there is a caveat which requires the local authority to be satisfied that the child should be placed for adoption.
If this section is applied to the above example Local Authority 1 would have to complete their own agency decision making process and ratify the decision in NCC to be satisfied that the orders sought by Local Authority 2 were acceptable to them.
Clearly, that further step of scrutiny would inevitably cause delay for child C, and whilst the Court may wish to conclude proceedings in respect of child A and B, they could not in relation to chid C without conducting their own investigation process.
Whilst of course, in a scenario such as outlined above, all steps must be taken to ensure a sibling group is given the best possible chance of placement together, it is vital for all parties to be aware of the limitations of sections 21 and 22 of ACA 2002 in terms of delegation, and the ramifications it can have on the final planning for children who deserve stability and finality.