The grandmother of a seven month old boy has been granted a ‘special guardianship order’ allowing her to become the child’s full-time carer.
In London Borough of Wandsworth v W, the baby’s mother had a long history of substance abuse and had also been diagnosed with a personality disorder. She had a troubled family background and had spent time in care. The mother’s own father was a drug dealer and she had began using while still in her teens. She acquired a criminal record for theft and burglary and was unable to sustain a job.
The mother took drugs throughout her pregnancy and gave birth to her son, referred to as ‘J’, while in prison. She was moved into the jail’s mother and baby unit and abstained from substance abuse for a period of 12 months.
She then applied to look after the child when released from prison, but her application was opposed by both the child’s legal guardian and the London Borough of Wandsworth, who argued that there was too great risk of the mother relapsing into drug use, although they acknowledged that she had been looking after the child well while in prison. They suggested instead that the boy be placed with his father’s mother, the boy’s grandmother, under a special guardianship order. The mother would be allowed to visit him.
Special guardianship orders provide a legally secure placement for children unable to live with their parents, but, unlike adoption, do not completely sever the connection to a child’s birth family.
The mother’s older child, a daughter born in 2008, had been placed with her own mother – the maternal grandmother – as a toddler when the now 41 year-old proved unable to quit drugs and alcohol.
Decades before, at the age of just 20, the mother had also been diagnosed with a “a significant personality disorder requiring treatment by intensive psychotherapy.” However she was reluctant to accept this diagnosis or to undergo treatment.
At the High Court, Mrs Justice Eleanor King noted evidence suggesting that a referral for treatment could take as long as a year and the treatment itself as long as two. The risk of the mother relapsing into drug use would be high until significant progress was made with her treatment. But by that point, the case had already been in progress for longer than the standard 26 week timetable for care applications.
The Judge accepted evidence suggesting that there was a high risk of the mother relapsing into substance abuse. She declared:
“In my judgment, J’s overwhelming interests require me to make a special guardianship order in favour of the paternal grandmother.”
“This is yet another case demonstrating how drugs ruin people’s lives. This mother was brought up in unbelievably adverse circumstances the result of which was the development of a significant personality disorder, a disorder which constantly drives her back to the drugs which have dominated her life since she was 16. It was with great sadness, but in no doubt, that in J’s interests I have reached the decision that I have.”
Read the full judgement here.
Photo by Chris Sigmon via Flickr