In a very brave and caring ruling, a mother whose son died as a result of domestic violence has been told by a High Court judge she must acknowledge the family’s troubled past.
LA v FM was a fact finding case concerning the welfare of two children, referred to as ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively in court documents.
A and B were taken into care by the local authority following the death of their older brother, ‘C’.
The local authority’s argument was that A and B would not be safe with their parents based on a history of domestic violence between the parents, the father’s alleged responsibility for the death of their brother, and the emotional harm done to B.
Additionally, the local authority argued that the mother was adamant in her refusal to admit that the father could have had any responsibility for the death of C, claiming it was “the will of God”.
Mrs Justice Theis admitted that this case had caused her “enormous anxiety”.
“One aspect of the case that everyone agrees upon is the strength of the mother’s relationship with the children. Prior to the children being removed from her care there is no significant criticism of the mother’s day to day care or relationship with the children.”
However, she added:
“What is so puzzling about this mother is she is someone who on the one hand has such strength of feeling and empathy for her children … yet she seems completely unable to acknowledge the history and future risks to her and the children that unite the experienced professionals who have given evidence in this case.”
Looking at the evidence, Mrs Justice Theis concluded it to be “more likely than not” that the mother was a victim of domestic violence and that C’s death was caused by the father.
“Finally, in the light of my findings about domestic violence, I find there was a failure by the mother to protect C and B as she knew the father was capable of violent behaviour towards her.”
The mother was also told that if she was to be allowed to take care of her children again she must meet four “criteria”:
“(i) to acknowledge the violence within the home;
(ii) that the father could have caused the death of her son C;
(iii) accept the decision of this court, irrespective of the outcome of the criminal court and
(iv) have a safety plan to keep the children safe from their father and generally in the future.”
Against the recommendations of the children’s guardian, a social worker and a doctor who were all witnesses on the case and did not believe the changes could be made, the judge ruled that the mother should have “a very short period of time” to consider the findings and make the appropriate changes.
“It would be contrary to the children’s welfare for the court not to give this mother this time limited opportunity to demonstrate that she can change … As part of the welfare checklist the court has to assess the parent’s capacity. That must include, in the circumstances of this case where her relationship with the children is so strong, the mother’s capacity to change in the light of the court’s findings so she can meet the children’s needs.”
These kinds of cases are notoriously hard, as I know from my involvement in the case of Sally Clark where a criminal court and a Court of Appeal judged her guilty of murdering two of her children. Her husband never lost faith in her innocence and did everything he could to prove it.
But here, the mother also has evidence of violence against her, and is being told in no uncertain terms that to keep the children, she must accept that he could have been involved in the child’s death and come up with an acceptable plan to keep the children safe.
The judge has shown extraordinary faith in the mother and should be applauded for her bravery.
Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by nomsaleena via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence