A 12 year-old Polish boy has been made a ward of court.
Once a child has been placed under the protection of a court as a ‘ward’, a legal guardian is appointed to represent their interests in court.
The boy, referred to as ‘J’ in the judgement, first came to the UK in July 2010 with his mother, and apart from a return visit to Poland the following year, they have remained in the UK ever since and acquired ‘habitual residence’ status. J’s father, who was estranged from his mother, stayed in their native country.
Not long after J’s return the UK in 2011, the local authority investigated an allegation that J had been abused by a boyfriend of his mother but they found no evidence and closed the case.
Later the mother set up home with foreign-born ‘Mr L’ and her own mother, J’s grandmother.
In 2013, however, she suffered a sudden brain haemorrhage and then a stroke, along with other medical complications, and spent a full six weeks in hospital as a result. Since being sent home, she has sadly suffered from severe mental and physical disabilities and now requires round-the-clock care. She no longer has ‘capacity’ (the ability to make decisions about her own welfare and best interests) and consequently cannot look after her son properly either.
In the East London Family Court, Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson noted the mother’s very uncertain prospects:
“No clear prognosis has been given by the mother’s GP recently other than the fact that no further surgery is anticipated in the short term. The mother therefore has not been in a position to exercise parental responsibility for her son since July 2013. Whilst her condition is not properly described as terminal she presents with certain medical vulnerabilities which increase her risk of a shortened life expectancy.”
Mr L now looks after J, his mother and the grandmother, who suffers from depression. However, his immigration status remained uncertain at the time of the hearing as he had originally come to the UK illegally. He was later given leave to remain but that later expired and at the time of the hearing he was in the process of appealing a refusal to grant him an extension.
He was not J’s father and so held no parental responsibility for the boy but he applied for a child arrangements order granting him care. The family’s local authority, the London Borough of Newham, countered with an application for a care order, before changing its mind and supporting wardship for J.
The Judge considered the boy’s need for stability, security and proximity to his mother, with whom he had a “close and loving bond”.
“At the moment this is only possible whilst he lives in the de facto care of Mr L. However, there remains uncertainty over the stability of that arrangement given the problems that Mr L has with his immigration status. There remains a risk that this arrangement will be brought to a precipitous end. This would cause untold distress to J in the event that it happens during his mother’s lifetime.”
The likely loss of his mother added further uncertainty to the situation.
“The professional opinion is that J needs to be prepared for the possibility, if not inevitability, that she might die during his minority [childhood]. It is not clear how he will react to this. When it happens the link between him and Mr L may well weaken; it may strengthen; it is likely to change.”
In the circumstances, it was important, said the Judge, to encourage him to rebuild a relationship with his father in Poland, although it did not necessarily follow that J would move to live with his father in the event of his mother’s death.
Judge Atkinson concluded that the “many issues and potential disputes in this J’s life” would need careful management and negotiation.
“I cannot predict when those issues or disputes will arise and so I am satisfied that the only way in which I can safeguard J’s future is by making him a Ward of court.”
Solicitor Mark Christie heads the Stowe Family Law children’s department. He said:
“This is a clear example of how the family courts in England and Wales are able to step in in very difficult circumstances such as are presented in this particular case to protect and safeguard the welfare and interests of a minor. The circumstances of this care are very sad and clearly J has been placed in a most unfortunate and difficult position given his mother’s illness, the uncertainty about Mr L’s ability to remain in this country and so look after him and the distance between him and his natural father in Poland.”
“On making him a ward of court, under the inherent jurisdiction (authority) of the court, a legal guardian will be appointed to represent J’s interests and protect and safeguard his position in subsequent proceedings, with involvement from social services and other appropriate bodies, so as to ensure he is cared for as well as he can be in the circumstances.”
Re S (Wardship) can be read here.