An interim care order is in a newborn baby’s best interests, the High Court has ruled.
In North Somerset Council v LW and others (Care and RRO), the baby, referred to as ‘EW’, had been born on 1 May this year. Her 24 year-old mother was ‘LW’ while her father was uncertain.
LW suffers from a severe form of schizophrenia and has a low IQ. High Court judge Mr Justice Keehan noted that her condition:
“…has had and has a severe adverse impact on her day to day life.”
The mother did not always take her prescribed medication or co-operate with the health professionals looking after her. Before EW’s birth, the local authority was granted a legal order allowing it not to tell the mother about its plans to immediately take the child into care, arguing that there was a risk if they did so of harm to the child, the mother and even the healthcare professionals.
In addition, noted the judge:
“There was a real concern held by the social work and health care professionals that the mother would not be aware when she was going into labour and might not understand what was happening when she did so.”
An emergency protection order (EPO) was granted within hours of the birth. Issued under section 44 of the Children Act 1989, these are issued if “there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm”.
The mother and child stayed in separate wards after the birth and she visited her daughter briefly before being discharged. The judge said:
“Very sadly her mental health has deteriorated in the community and the Crisis team of the local mental health trust has been called upon to treat and support her.”
The local authority subsequently applied for an interim care order. These place a child in the care of a local authority until a family is fully assessed and the courts can make a final decision on the child’s future.
Mr Justice Keehan considered the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 of the Convention governs the right to respect for “private and family life”.
The judge explained that:
“Where there is a tension or conflict between the rights of the child, on the one hand, and the rights of a parents, on the other, the rights of the child prevail.”
There were, he said, “extraordinarily compelling reasons” for keeping EW in care, at least for the moment, and “reasonable grounds” for thinking she would be at risk of harm if she was returned to her mother.
The reasons included the mother’s mental health and its recent deterioration; her history of “being violent and abusive”; the fact that she does not always take her medication or cooperate with health professionals; her difficulty concentrating on “basic issues”; and her learning difficulties.
Read the full judgement here.