The correct meaning of ‘mental impairment’ and whether it was made out by a child with a mental age of 5-8 wishing to return to an unsatisfactory home environment - Re TF (A Child: Guardianship) - JF v LB Hackney  MHLR 175 CA
Points arising: A desire to return to an inadequate home is not “seriously irresponsible” and so cannot found a conclusion that there is mental impairment.
Facts and outcome: TF, who was 17 but had a mental age of 5-8, and her 7 siblings were removed from the family home pursuant to emergency protection orders under the Children Act 1989: the local authority’s concerns were based on poor parenting skills, poor hygiene at the home, and exposure of the children to adults prone to sexual abuse. As TF was over 16, no interim care order could be made. When her parents withdrew their consent to her remaining in a children’s home and TF indicated that she wished to return home, the local authority applied for a guardianship order under s7 MHA 1983 on the basis of mental impairment. The Court of Appeal (in the context of an appeal from displacement proceedings as TF’s nearest relative objected to the guardianship application) held that a restrictive meaning was to be given to the concept of mental impairment, which requires an “arrested or incomplete development of mind” which is associated with “abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct”, and that a natural desire to return home was not “seriously irresponsible” conduct and so the 1983 Act could not have been used; it also held that wardship proceedings should have been used.