The Somali father of a brother and sister, aged four and two, has been ruled out as their carer following the arrest of their mother.
In London Borough of Tower Hamlets v D, E and F, care proceedings were launched for the two children following the death of their younger sister at the age of only four months. Sitting in the Family Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Hayden described the facts of the case as “tragic and extremely distressing to read”.
When taken to hospital, the baby girl, referred to as ‘W’, was found to be severely undernourished, weighing not much more than she had done at birth. Paramedics suspected that she had already been dead when they first arrived at the family’s home.
Following the incident, a neighbour took care of the two older children – referred to in the judgement as ‘S’ and ‘T’. The Judge noted that:
“[The neighbour] was shocked by their condition. They were both extremely dirty.”
It was clear that they had been badly neglected by their mother and were physically underdeveloped.
The mother in question had already been pregnant with W when she travelled to the UK from Somalia in East Africa. Initially she gave no cause for concern and the baby was healthy when born. However, she had a very troubled background, having been taken from her school in the UK as a teenager by her own mother and forced to marry a man in Somalia, an arrangement described by the Judge as abusive “by virtue of her age and by the standards of this country”.
She went on to have her first child at 15 and her second at 16.
The mother complained to the British Embassy in the country that her husband was physically abusive and they helped to escape with her children back to the UK.
Initially she provided “perfectly satisfactory” care for her children but things took a turn for the worse last summer when she claims to have received a phone call from Somalia during which she was put under pressure to let her husband come into the UK to live with her.
According to the Judge, this caused her “very considerable distress” and led to a “very significant deterioration in the mother’s mental health”.
Doctors concluded that W had died of malnutrition and the older children, T and S, had been at risk of suffering a similar fate.
A consultant paediatrician said the mother should be given a greater level of support once back in the UK., writing:
“The circumstances in which she came to the United Kingdom ought to have triggered a greater surveillance of her welfare by the Forced Marriage Unit.”
The older children were taken into foster care and had begun to recover from their ordeal. Their subsequent behaviour led Mr Justice Hayden to conclude that the mother had looked after them reasonably well prior to “a profound psychological breakdown which disempowered her entirely from caring either for herself or for her children.”
She had admitted child neglect and allowing the death of a child and was awaiting sentence at the time of the hearing.
As the care hearings progressed, the father back in Somalia put himself forwards as a potential carer for the children. The family’s local authority considered the possibility of sending a social worker able to speak the Somali language to the country in order to assess the father’s suitability. But they were advised that the trip would be too dangerous by both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the charity Children and Families Across Borders.
Mr Justice Hayden concluded that the children’s best interests could not be met sending them to Somalia to live with their father. He declared:
“…the proposal would be to take these children to a country and culture entirely alien to them and one in which the kind of therapeutic support they will need will be unavailable. The theoretical is ultimately eclipsed by the practical, the children’s needs and timescales cannot be accommodated by the father’s case.”
Last year, Somalia was one of a number of African countries to behighlighted by the government’s Forced Marriage Unit advisory service.
Read the full judgement here.
Photo of the Juba River in Somalia by Sylvie Doutriaux via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence