Legal Case Study

Family Law

A joint instruction from all the parties within Care Proceedings was for a psychological assessment of a young man aged 13 who had recently been placed in the latest of a series of care homes. He had also recently started at a new school – a specialist provision for pupils who have social, emotional and behaviour problems . His behaviour was described as being ‘challenging and aggressive’. The assessment was in order to ascertain whether the young man had any learning difficulties as his school attainments were below expectation, to explore attachments , provide an opinion on placement and any therapeutic needs.

Reports from staff at school were he had attended every day so far and the care home reported no problems in getting him into school each morning. Observations from key staff noted that at times he contributed well to lessons but at other times he could be disruptive. The young man’s behaviour in the care home was described as ‘unpredictable’. He was supposed to have regular contact with his father, who had been his main carer, but he was inconsistent with his visits. This sometimes led to the young man being disruptive or even leaving the home without permission causing concern for his safety and raising questions about whether they could keep him there.

‘the problem is the problem,
not the person’

Interviews with the young man revealed that he found much that he liked about the school, but expected that he would ‘get kicked out’ one day. With respect to the care home, the young man showed some ambivalence. He reported that he ‘got on’ with the staff and other young people but he did not accept that he could not go to see his father when he wished. He believed he would be ‘kicked out’ if he broke the rules. When asked if he felt disappointed when his father did not come to visit, he explained that he was more worried about whether his father was alright. The psychological assessments indicated that whilst he was below average in his key skills attainments and particularly so for literacy, his cognitive skills were average to above average, evidencing particular strengths for visual and spatial skills. Having read his life story, it was impossible not to be struck by his resilience.

The details of the case and therefore the recommendations are more complex than have been outlined here, but working with the principles that ‘the problem is the problem, not the person’ and ‘even the smallest change can initiate a solution’, the recommendations for intervention were aimed at supporting the school and home placements so that the young man could remain there, avoiding further changes and rejection and therefore also providing the consistency that he needed for his learning and social development to consolidate. It was clear that the young man’s father was his main attachment figure and suggestions were made about looking to support better communications between them.