A seven year old boy has been removed from the care of his devout Jehovah’s Witness mother after a judge ruled that her beliefs had caused him emotional harm.
The boy had been described by a teacher as “very confused”, and “one of the most worrying children in our school”.
The boy, identified in the judgement as ‘N’, has, she continued, “presented as anxious, confused, distressed and distracted. This has impacted directly on his learning capabilities. He appears pre-occupied and slow to engage with the learning activities and social elements within school. On many occasions he does not wish to leave his Mummy when he arrives at school.”
A family court hearing in Leicester heard that the boy had begun refusing to see his father because he did not believe in “Jehovah”. N’s father is separated from his mother and does not share her religious beliefs. He was granted a shared residence order in 2010 and holds parental responsibility with the mother despite a reportedly acrimonious relationship with her.
Comments made by the boy suggested a troubled relationship with his father. He described his father as ‘mean’ and said he didn’t love him. He described a conversation with his father in which he told him that him he loved his mother more than him. This was, said N, the “biggest mistake of my life” and a “secret” he should have kept. He now wanted to “live with Mummy every day, for ever and ever – and not Daddy.”
In his judgement, Judge Clifford Bellamy said the comments gave rise to concerns about the boy’s “emotional welfare”.
The Judge also referred to an incident in which N had cut up materials being used in a religious education lesson because it hadn’t been “telling the true stories about Jehovah”. He had a physical reaction to ideas which contradicted Jehovah’s Witness dogma and unsurprisingly, few friends at school.
Last year the father launched proceedings claiming that the mother claiming she was in breach of the shared residence order, but attention quickly shifted to the impact on N of continuing conflict between his parents and his mother’s religious beliefs. Earlier this year, the family’s local authority, Warwickshire County Council, launched full care proceedings.
In a ruling held to determine whether N should be removed, the Judge quoted the views of the boy’s legal guardian.
“Over the last 10 months N has changed from being a happy, smiling, friendly, enthusiastic and caring little boy who used to love being in school. He is now a very confused, angry, unhappy, troubled little boy and whilst he can still be enthusiastic and entertaining, there is a very evident underlying sadness and anger in his presentation.”
At one point during the proceedings, the mother made a number of undertakings to try and avoid losing her son to the care system. She would cease “immersing” her son in her religious beliefs, no longer take him to the local ‘kingdom hall’ (place of worship) and stop saying grace with him at mealtimes.
But she later asked for a relaxation of her promises, saying:
“The question is whether there should be a relaxation of the moratorium on religious involvement and I would like to be able to take N to the Kingdom Hall once a month. I believe that N misses going there and to be able to pray at mealtimes. This is a simple grace for the food and I will continue to refrain from any further discussion about religion in accordance with my undertakings.”
Judge Bellamy concluded however that it would be very difficult to monitor the mother’s commitment to the restrictions, and without an ability to effectively do so, the boy remained at risk of emotional harm.
N was sent to live with foster carers under a temporary care order requiring his immediate removal from his mother.
The judgement, Re N (A Child) is available here.
Photo of the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Brooklyn by Andy via Flickr