North Lanarkshire Council v KR [2017] SAC (Civ) 38 Appeal Court, 15 December 2017) 

Background: The appellant sought a permanence order under section 80 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 with authority to adopt a four-year-old child, referred to as ‘Pamela’. The natural mother (KR) with parental rights and responsibilities for Pamela, struggles to cope with Pamela’s physical and emotional needs. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, is vulnerable and open to exploitation. With consent from KR, Pamela had been placed in foster care from birth.  Pamela was later rehabilitated with her mother. KR required substantial support and prompting to carry out daily tasks and illustrated an inability to recognise risks to Pamela. In 2014, KR travelled to London with Pamela and was deemed a considerable risk. The appellants sought and were granted a Child Protection Order (CPO) and Pamela was placed into the care of her grandparents. Subsequently, another CPO was granted to place Pamela in foster care, where she continues to reside, now with prospective adopters. The appellants social work department agreed to pursue an adoption order.  KR was granted contact with Pamela once a week and has shown commitment and that she is capable of change illustrated in her session’s at Dr Puckering’s Mellow Parenting classes. The respondents argued that the appellants social work department were often very unsympathetic and refused Dr Puckering’s request of allowing KR to bring Pamela to Mellow Parenting classes. The sheriff held that KR’s involvement with the Mellow Parenting course illustrated the capacity to change, and appellants failed to show that permanence was necessary in Pamela’s interests.  

“There was however room for further intervention before a decision on permanence was taken and that remains the case. It has therefore not been established that the making of a permanence order with or without authority to adopt is necessary.” 

Held: The Sheriff Appeal Court, refusing the appeal, agreed the petitioner failed to produce evidence sufficient to satisfy the high test imposed by s84 of 2007 Act and this failure was “pivotal”. The court, considered and refused the six grounds submitted by the appellants on the basis they could not vitiate the sheriff’s conclusions and found the Sheriff had conducted a holistic, global evaluation which is required, against the correct legal tests. The court recalled its recent general observations, in the case of City of Edinburgh Council v RO and RD, on the general duties incumbent on social workers, that intervention in the life of a child should be kept to a minimum, and they must consider what more they could do  to avoid a more drastic form of order such as adoption. The court expressed concerns of the petitioner’s approach to the appeal and that their efforts would have been better directed to addressing the central issue of whether rebuilding and preservation of family ties can be achieved in Pamela’s interests.  

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