Re V-Z (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 475 (CA): M appealed against care and placement orders made in relation to her four children. M was a Czech national and the family had connections with Slovakia. Under the care plan, each child was to be placed separately from his or her siblings; the older two were to be placed in long term foster care in this country while the younger two were to be adopted. The Slovak authorities had provided two reports about the children's Slovakian maternal grandmother, both of which concluded that she could provide proper care for all of her grandchildren, having ample appropriate accommodation, an enduring relationship with her partner, and family living nearby. The local authority's viability assessment concluded that it was not appropriate to proceed further with the possibility of the grandmother caring for the children. The judge concluded that the parents could not keep the children safe and secure and decided that the grandmother, who would have liked to look after the children if M could not do so, was unsuitable. In the light of the local authority's assessment and other material, the judge concluded that the children's behaviour was such that no carer could cope with them as a sibling group. He rejected the possibility that their grandmother could care for any of them individually and accepted the local authority case that they should all be placed individually in this country in foster care or with adoptive parents.

The court held, allowing the appeal, that the care and placement orders should be set aside and the case remitted for a fresh welfare hearing. The judge's decision could not stand because the option of care by the grandmother had not yet been fully explored and there was not a sufficient foundation for ruling her out as a potential carer for the children. There were a number of significant gaps in the material provided to the Slovak assessors for the purposes of their assessment which left them unable to provide the sort of information about the grandmother that the English authorities required. The assessment of the grandmother remained incomplete and the position had not been reached where it was possible to say that she was unable to care for any of the children. It was unfair to proceed upon the basis that further enquiries would cause a further significant delay when there had simply been no attempt to obtain further information following the second assessment. The welfare decisions in relation to these children would have to be taken again. The court gave guidance to those involved in care proceedings when seeking the assistance of foreign authorities. (25 May 2016)