Foster parents told to stay away from 'autistic' man

Judge backs decision to take 30-year-old away from carers despite 12-year relationship

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The Independent Online

A vulnerable young man with significant learning difficulties and "autistic tendencies" was controversially taken away from his foster family of 12 years, the Court of Protection heard yesterday.

The "fairly dramatic intervention" of the local authority in removing the young man from his foster home had caused "considerable hurt" to his former foster parents, Mr Justice Hedley said.

But his judgement also saw the foster parents lose the right to any direct contact with the young man – known only as GR – for the foreseeable future, arguing that it was no longer in his best interests even though the pair had cared for him since he was 16.

The couple were given four weeks to decide whether they wanted to continue legal action over the circumstances of GR's removal from their home but warned that they could be liable for the other side's costs if unsuccessful. The young man, now aged 30, has "significant learning difficulties and what is described as autistic tendencies", Mr Justice Hedley said.

It was the latest in a series of complex ethical cases to come before the Court of Protection, which makes difficult and controversial rulings about the financial affairs and welfare of people seen to lack mental capacity. It had remained one of the most hidden corners of the justice system until a legal victory by The Independent in 2010 opened up its workings to the public. Yesterday's hearing was one of only a handful of private sessions in the court to which the media has subsequently been granted access. In his ruling, the judge used his power to decide which members of the former foster family GR would be allowed to have contact with, and how often.

He ruled that the foster parents should have no direct contact but should be allowed to send a card or photograph four times a year: at Christmas, Easter, his birthday and the summer. In his judgement, Mr Justice Hedley said: "One of the realities of acting as a foster parent is that there comes a day when you can be required to let go. The court has evidence from [a doctor] that direct contact is not in GR's best interest."

However, he ruled that GR could have direct meetings with the couple's two sons, aged 13 and 11, arguing that they "obviously have a significant relationship with GR and he with them."

He ruled that GR should be allowed to see his foster brothers seven times a year – allowing them to meet every school holiday and twice during the long summer break. But he also intended "that the door is left open" on the issue of GR's former foster parents being allowed to visit him as the situation would be kept under review.

The powers of the Court of Protection have been challenged by those who fear that there are cases when authorities attempt to use the jurisdiction to control every aspect of people's private lives.

Recent cases have included an autistic woman who was banned from having sex because she was judged to lack the mental capacity to consent and an elderly couple whose local council tried to stop them going on a cruise holiday because the wife had dementia. The court refused to ban the trip.

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