The mother of a two year old has won her appeal against care and placement orders.
Re D (Child) concerned a boy born in October 2013. His mother was still a teenager and subject to a care order granted to her local authority back in 2003. Despite a “troubled and sad” childhood, she had managed to look after the baby, referred to in the judgement as ‘J’, for most of the time since his birth, right through until last December when a Judge ruled that the toddler should be taken into care and placed for adoption. At the time, the mother was still just 17 and living with her mother.
But this was only the latest in a succession of homes. In the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Black said social workers had been concerned by these frequent “changes of accommodation”, which they blamed on the mother’s “anger and her inability to manage relationships”.
She had failed to provide J with “stable and consistent accommodation”, they claimed, and she led a “chaotic lifestyle”, which could lead to the baby coming into contact with “inappropriate persons”.
When care proceedings were launched, the mother disputed the social workers’ claims, insisting that her previous moves had been unavoidable and saying that her current stay with J’s grandmother was stable and would continue for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless a judge ruled that the mother had not provided a consistent and stable home life for J.
“He has had numerous changes of accommodation in his life, and I am not at all certain that the current placement with [the grandmother] in the light of all that I know about the mother and the co-dependency of that relationship will be sustainable. So I make the finding that the mother has not provided stable and consistent accommodation for J.”
The mother was prone to aggressive behaviour and this meant J was likely to suffer emotional abuse in her care, the Judge concluded. She struggled with her finances and had not taken the baby to “as many [parenting] groups as she could have done”.
She appealed the ruling, receiving some low key support from J’s legal guardian, who declined to express support for the local authority’s plan.
The mother’s counsel argued that the earlier judge had not properly taken into account a number of significant factors, including her strong bond with the boy and her good parenting skills. She had shown insight into her difficulties and matured as the legal proceedings progressed. The mother had also spent eight weeks in a mother and baby placement arranged by the local authority and had “done very well” there, but this had also not been taken into account in the Judge’s ruling.
Lady Justice Black said these arguments had “force”. She found fault with the earlier judgement, saying:
“The judgment did not lay the ground sufficiently for the judge’s conclusion that adoption was required and that conclusion was insufficiently reasoned.”
However, Her Ladyship was at pains to point out that she did not blame the judge personally for the failings of his judgement, declaring:
“I should conclude by expressing my understanding of the pressures that there are on the hard pressed and very hard working judges of the Family Court… who are doing their best to process the many cases which come before them with care and expedition. Their task is a very difficult one and it is important that we do not expect too much of the judgments that they have to produce at speed, often extempore [on the spot]. They have to pick their way through large quantities of evidence and make delicate evaluations about risk and about likely future events, and then explain their decisions in a way that withstands the attentions of those who would subject them to detailed critical analysis.”
The full judgement can be read here.