A toddler and their younger sibling should live with their aunt and uncle in Portugal, a court has ruled.
In OCC v D & J, the children were aged two years six months and 14 months respectively. Their parents had separated.
Sitting at the Family Court in Reading, Her Honour Judge Owens said the mother, referred to as ‘JD’, had made the “no doubt very difficult and brave decision to accept that the timescale for her to make and sustain any necessary changes will be beyond what is appropriate for the children.”
She wanted the father, ‘ADJ’, to look after the children but if that was not possible, she supported the idea of the father’s wife and her husband in Madeira, Portugal, taking on the two youngsters.
The father, meanwhile, wanted the children returned to his care, but if the Judge rejected this possibility, he indicated that he would support the local authority’s care plan for the aunt and uncle.
Assessments of the couple by social workers and a clinical psychologist had concluded that neither were suitable as carers for the siblings.
The local authority described the mother as:
“…a complex young woman who has many positive qualities behind her angry and hostile exterior. … She sincerely regrets all that has happened and expresses, at times, real disappointment that she allows herself to be ‘wound up’ and verbally lash out when she is upset. She has not come to terms with, or accepted, that [one of the children], as a tiny baby, was deliberately hurt…”
She did not fully appreciate, said the report, the effect of her angry outbursts on the children, both in scaring them and in setting them a bad example. Nevertheless, the mother did not challenge the findings made about her.
The father meanwhile, lacked the ability to empathise with others to a sufficient degree and struggled with “emotional parenting as well as … his expectations of the children.”
Judge Owens considered the competing options of returning the children to the father or sending them to Portugal.
“In relation to option one, returning the children to the care of their father would mean that they were being returned to the care of one of their parents. There is no doubt that both of their parents love their children. The issue is the extent to which JDJ can parent the children to a good enough standard, including keeping them safe from risk of future significant harm.”
She concluded that, unfortunately, he could not. His abilities as a parent had been assessed in detail and social workers believed he did not fully understand the children’s level of understanding, talking to them as if they were older.
The Judge quoted an assessor who said:
“At times JDJ has struggle to manage the competing needs of two young children and has been observed to talk to [the children] as if they were older in terms of their understanding. There appears to be a significant difference in the children’s level of cognitive development and JDJ’s expectations of their behaviour.”
Consequently, ruled Judge Owens, the toddler’s needs would be “best met in the proposed placement with [the aunt and uncle] in Madeira under a care order.”
The parents would, however, be allowed to talk to their children via Skype twice a year and visit them four times a year. The cost of all four of the mother’s flights would be met by the local authority, along with two of the father’s flights.
Read the ruling here.