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Foster carer granted special guardianship order

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The foster carer of a two year-old boy will continue to look after him under a special guardianship order, the Family Court has ruled.

The toddler was born in England on 1 January 2013 to French-speaking parents from the Congo region in central Africa. He was no less than 33 weeks premature at birth. Then, at the age of just four months, ‘I’ was admitted to hospital and serious injuries were discovered, including brain bruising and bone fractures. When the baby was discharged, he was sent to live with a foster carer and has remained with her ever since.

At a fact finding hearing, a Judge ruled that the injuries had been caused by the father while that the mother had been guilty of failing to protect her child from him “on a very serious level”.

Both pleaded guilty during the subsequent criminal proceedings and the father was sent to jail. The mother received a two year suspended sentence and later returned to the Congo after her visa expired. The father is also expected to return to the Congo after he completes his sentence. Meanwhile, the local authority applied for a placement order, formalising the child’s removal from his parents’ care. They favoured leaving the boy with the foster carer, but both the mother and father opposed this, believing a placement with the man’s great aunt would be better from a cultural point of view. The father in particular feared that the carer would not provide the boy with a positive image of background or parents.

But Ms Justice Russell, sitting in the Family Court at Birmingham, favoured the local authority’s plan. She thought it unlikely that a suitable adopter would be found but noted that he had “thrived” with the foster carer. Nevertheless, she also stressed the importance of the boy maintaining links to the background and heritage.

“His placement with [the foster carer] makes the need for him to have direct access to his Congolese cultural heritage and black African ethnicity and to the Francophone community all the more important for his development, his sense of self and his place in the wider world as he grows up and throughout his life.”

Consequently, his needs would be best be met with a special guardianship order, providing a secure placement along with continuing legal links to his birth family. His mother would be allowed indirect contact twice a year – ie without her being physically present. The father’s application for direct contact, meanwhile, was rejected as “wholly unrealistic” but he would be allowed to record a video message saying goodbye to his son after leaving prison.

The judgement, Re F (A Child), is available here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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