A local authority who had sought to place an eight month old baby for adoption will instead help to rehabilitate her into her father’s care.
Her mother came from Lithuania on the Baltic Sea while her father had a Pakistani background. The couple married but later separated. A community midwife visited their home when the mother fell pregnant and raised concerns her history of drug and alcohol abuse. She admitted to drinking around 160 units of alcohol a week before discovering her pregnancy. At that point she stopped drinking but continued to smoke marijuana several times a day.
Social services then decided to assess the couple before their child was born and raised a number of further concerns. The couple’s shared flat was dirty and unhygienic, with a broken kitchen window and a lack of appropriate places for feeding a baby or leaving her to sleep.
Social workers were also worried by the parent’s unstable relationship – she admitted to being involved with another man – and by her abusive background and history of violent behaviour. They concluded that she was vulnerable and isolated in the UK and had a “limited ability to function independently.”
The local authority subsequently launched care proceedings and the baby, referred to as ‘NLR’, was taken into temporary foster care following her birth.
The mother left the father in November last year, intending to pursue her relationship with her boyfriend, whom she initially – and wrongly – believed to the be the father of NLR. The father, meanwhile, remained in the couple’s flat.
In the High Court sitting at Hull, Her Honour Judge Pemberton described his living conditions:
“The property was described as extremely dirty and cluttered with boxes of food and oil for the takeaway below.”
The authority applied for NLR to be placed for adoption but both the parents opposed this plan. The mother accepted that she could not care for the child but wanted her sent back to Lithuania to live with her mother. The father, meanwhile, sought to care for the child himself. The child’s legal guardian supported the local authority.
Social workers in Lithuania assessed the grandmother, concluding that she would not be able to provide a suitable home for the baby. She challenged this assessment and submitted evidence to the family court in England. But Judge Pemberton said nothing she had stated could mitigate her apparent neglect of her daughter (NLR’s mother) or her brother during their childhoods.
Her current partner also did not appear to be motivated by the idea of raising NLR. The grandmother offered to separate from him but the Judge believed the grandmother had not really considered the impact of doing so on teenage her son by him.
Meanwhile, NLR’s father was assessed as a potential parent. Social workers came to negative conclusions about him as well, saying his parenting skills were insufficient and that he had not shown sufficient awareness of the baby’s day-to-day needs.
But Judge Pemberton was sympathetic to the father’s situation. She asked the authority to reconsider, telling them that the concerns they had raised:
“…were not at the most serious end of concerns and needed to be seen in the context of a first time father who had been afforded a very intense but short period of time to get to know his daughter and her needs and routines; that the father’s first language is not English and some allowance had to be made for him perhaps not grasping explanations and concepts as quickly as someone for whom English was a first language; the fact that father is isolated and that culturally it is very unusual for a man of Pakistani background to take on the sole care of a young child.”
Consequently, the authority changed its plans, accepting the father’s proposal that he gradually take on a parenting role.
The Judge said:
“In all the circumstances, I agree that the father needs to undertake further work and needs a robust package of support before he can resume care of his daughter and I find that a care order is a proportionate and appropriate order in all the circumstances. I approve the amended plan for NLR to be rehabilitated to her father’s care.”
The mother, meanwhile, would not be allowed to see her daughter until “the LA consider it appropriate and consistent with NLR’s welfare.”
Read the judgement, Re N, here.
Image by Craig Sutcliffe via Flickr