The family court has granted special guardianship orders for two toddlers removed from volatile and neglectful parents.
OCC v M concerned parents who had both come to the attention of social services. The father, referred to in the judgement as ‘SM’, had an extensive criminal record and had engaged in both domestic violence and harassment, both with the children’s mother, ‘NB’, and in other relationships. On one occasion, she used the older child, ‘CM’, as a human shield to try and prevent SM from hitting her.
The father is currently in jail after being convicted of violence towards another woman.
Aware of the family’s difficulties, the local authority drew up child protection plans for both children – CM, who is aged two, and their younger sibling, ‘OM’ – before they were born.
In October 2013, neighbours reported shouting and arguing at the couple’s home and the following December, the father attacked NB in front of the children. The police were called. SM was charged with assault and battery, but under pressure from the father’s family, the mother refused to press charges, telling a court that a restraining order was not necessary.
Around this time, social workers began to note a distinct deterioration in conditions in the home and sought interim (temporary) care orders for the children. However, the court instead ruled that the children should be placed with the father’s parents under a child arrangements order. The paternal grandparents had intervened to look after the youngsters when the police were called the previous December.
At a subsequent hearing to decide the children’s long term future, the local authority stated that the criteria required by law for the removal of the children from the parents’ care had been met, citing such factors as unhygienic conditions in the home, domestic violence, question marks over the mother’s mental health and drug and alcohol use by the father. It sought special guardianship orders allowing the children to stay with the paternal grandparents on a permanent basis.
Special guardianship orders provide a secure placement with a carer but, unlike adoption, do not completely sever the child’s legal relationship to his or her birth parents.
The mother opposed this, initially seeking the return of the children but later only disputing the appropriateness of a special guardianship order.
Sitting in the Family Court at Bicester, Her Honour Judge Owens said that the option favoured by the mother for the children – a child arrangements order and supervision, maintaining her access to the children, would not be appropriate.
Of the paternal grandparents, the Judge noted that they:
“…were shocked when they found out the extent of [their son]’s behaviour and that their priority would be the children. She was also clear that she would promote contact between the children and their mother and had not and would not allow any unauthorised contact between [the father] and the children.”
The full judgement is here.
Grandmother and Child’ statue by Alan Wilson, photo by mrrobertwade via Flickr