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Grandmother’s appeal against care order allowed

The grandmother of a two and a half year old child has won the right to be reconsidered as a long-term carer.

In the Matter of S (A Child) concerned a couple with two children – the toddler in question, referred to as ‘T’, and a younger child who was just seven months old at the time of the hearing. The father had mental health problems as well as a criminal record and the parents’ relationship was a volatile one that included some domestic violence. The couple’s local authority became concerned about T’s welfare before he was even born and he was placed on the child protection register as someone vulnerable to emotional abuse.

Following his birth, in August 2012, T spent considerable time with his paternal grandmother, a woman who is now in her 50s and divorced. Eventually, however, in December 2013, T’s parents split following a “major altercation”. During this confrontation, the mother assaulted the paternal grandmother who was holding T at the time. Following this event, the local authority agreed that he should live with his grandmother full-time, under a series of interim care orders.

Meanwhile, the authority launched proceedings to take T into care on a permanent basis. The grandmother put herself forward as a long term carer for T and was twice assessed by social workers. Both came to positive conclusions about her ability to look after her grandson. But when the children’s guardian later expressed concerns about the approach taken to these assessments, a third assessment of the grandmother was made by another social worker. This was negative.

In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice McFarlane explained that the social worker had been concerned by “an emotionally abusive environment in the family home”.

He continued:

“The paternal grandmother and the father held a highly negative view of T’s mother and regarded the mother and the wider maternal family as the sole source of concern as to T’s past care.  Despite what is known of his mental health difficulties and his criminal past, the grandmother is said to have the propensity to hold her son up as “perfect” and a person who is fully available to be a good parent to T and someone who could be entrusted with the child’s care, this being entirely contrary to the opinion about the father that is held by the professions involved in these proceedings.”

At the subsequent care hearing, the grandmother applied to become a ‘special guardian’ to T, enabling him to remain in her care. But her application was dismissed. Afamily court Judge ruled that both T and his younger sibling should instead be adopted.

The grandmother appealed, arguing that the Judge had not conducted a full, detailed analysis of the children’s welfare, or compared the merits of adoption with the benefits of the children maintaining a link with their birth family. The importance of such a comparison was stressed by Family Division President Sir James Munby in the much discussed case of Re B-S.

The local authority, meanwhile, argued that these analyses had not been necessary as the purpose of the hearing had been soley to determine whether or not leaving T with his grandmother was a viable option.

But the Court of Appeal ruled in the grandmother’s favour. Lord Justice McFarlane said the hearing had fallen “profoundly short” of what was required.

There had simply not been sufficient evidence before the court to fairly or reasonably rule that the grandmother was not a suitable carer for the boy, the Judge declared. The grandmother’s good relationship with T had been noted during the earlier assessments and there was merit was in maintaining the status quo, as T was already living with her. The local authority had also initially supported the grandmother’s position, the Judge noted.

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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