About face: changing your position during Court of Protection proceedings – part 2

In this series of posts, I’m exploring how to approach a situation if, during Court of Protection proceedings, the professionals views about what I’d viable or what is in P’s best interests. It happens sometimes, and it’s inconvenient and difficult to navigate. But not impossible to achieve.

I’m using an example from my recent cases to illustrate the point. We’re discussing P, who has been living in residential care for a while and has been unhappy there. A section 21A challenge was brought and the early evidence from the social worker said they agreed that P’s needs could be met in a less restrictive environment and if one could be identified, they would recommend a move. And then, quite some way through proceedings, the social worker filed evidence saying they no longer supported a move.

In the last post on this subject I talked about how to minimise the impact of changing your mind on the court and the other parties. It is very important to keep them on side as much as you can, if you want them to ultimately agree with you. But even more important than that, is the need to minimise the impact on P.

You see in the case I’m talking about here, this was a big issue. P had been told that the local authority thought she could be cared for elsewhere and was looking into options for her. When a supported living placement was identified, there had been discussion about how we would get P’s views on the placement. It was suggested P’s son could take her to visit and look around the placement, meet people there and all the usual that you would expect.

So it wasn’t just us, as P’s representatives, that were caught off guard, it was P herself. And her son, who had taken her to view the placement because that’s what had been discussed and no one told him otherwise.

None the wiser to the social worker’s change of heart, they went for a visit. And P loved it. The carers at the placement were getting on well with her and were confident they could meet her needs. Her views were clear to her son and to us that she wanted to live at the new supported living placement identified. Indeed, she was really excited to move there.

So the change of view was devastating for P. Or at least it would have been, had we told her about the change of opinion. But we took the decision that until we had a clearer idea of what the professionals’ views were and the reasons for the changed position, there was no way we were going to upset P. Frankly, I was minded to let the social worker deliver the news themselves, since they were the ones that had changed their minds.  And it is for the litigation friend to make decisions about how information from the proceedings is shared with P.

Instead of talking to P right away, we asked the local authority to explain themselves and invited them to a meeting to discuss it. But I’ll deal with that next time.

In this case, what could the professionals have done to minimise the impact on P? Well, they could have let everyone know they had changed their views, or considering a change before P had visited the supported living placement, for one. Indeed, P’s son had contacted the social worker to ask if the plan for a visit should go ahead and received no response, so assumed all was well. The email saying that the social worker’s opinion had changed came within a week of the visit taking place. I find it difficult to believe that the social worker didn’t have doubts before then, and a bit more transparency would have been beneficial.

For that matter, it’s difficult to believe that the social worker didn’t have some trepidation at the point that they recommended a move to supported living. And it is possible to proceed in exploring an option even if the social worker or care coordinator is not sure it is what’s best for P. It happens pretty regularly. But the way the initial evidence was written gave no indication of possible doubts so there was no reason for us not to believe that a move was likely. Which meant there was no need for us to be managing P’s expectations.

Had we known there was a need to do so, our discussions with P could have been caveated with plenty of ‘possibles’ and ‘perhaps’. Again, this is something we do all the time because we don’t want to get clients’ hopes up only to disappoint them later. That just makes our jobs more difficult, not to mention how difficult it can be for carers to manage the behavioural changes that come with that kind of distress.

Despite what some people might say, lawyers do actually think about these things and aren’t purely concerned with paperwork and process!

Well, some of us, anyway…

In case it isn’t obvious from the fact I still haven’t identified the authority I used to work for, or the organisation I now work for, the views expressed on this blog are my own opinion and not the opinion of that local authority or organisation.

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