A brother and sister neglected and then abandoned by their Eastern European parents should be adopted, the Family Court has ruled.
The couple in question married in Slovakia in 2012. The mother was originally from Hungary. Her Roma family spent much of her childhood homeless in Slovakia. She cannot read or write or speak English and has been diagnosed with learning difficulties, giving her ‘protected party’ status under English law.
The father, meanwhile, was a Slovakian national with some command of Hungarian and English. He is literate but also has a limited IQ.
The pair were brought to Britain by people traffickers, they asserted, before escaping and moving to various locations, eventually settling in Bournemouth. There the woman gave birth to a girl referred to as ‘N’.
Family Court Judge Mr Justice Baker described the case as “sad and disturbing”.
Social services become involved after neighbours complained about the couple arguing and the baby crying. Reports also suggested that the father was occasionally violent towards the mother, although she denied or downplayed this. Social workers also felt the couple’s home was “cluttered and untidy” and were unsure of the parents’ ability to manage money.
Later the mother became pregnant again but was reluctant to attend antenatal classes. A son, ‘P’, was born in May 2014.
When social workers again visited the couple’s home a few months later, they saw a “significant deterioration” in home conditions and heard loud arguments between the couple while outside the building. The mother appeared “depressed and unstable”. The social workers returned later the same day with the police and found the couple still arguing.
Neighbours reported continuous arguments and suspicions of domestic violence. The children were taken away under a police protection order and placed in foster care.
They initially enjoyed visits from their parents. But, the Judge explained:
“…the social workers were concerned that during contact they continued to argue and, in the mother’s case, have emotional outbursts, with no understanding of the impact of their behaviour on the children. The social workers remained concerned about the mother’s mental health problems.”
The mother and father were assessed and the resulting reported concluded that neither was capable of putting the children’s needs before their own.
Not long afterwards the parents were evicted and returned to Slovakia. They have had no content with the brother and sister since.
Formal care proceedings began. In January this year, the Court asked the local authority to contact the Slovakian Embassy and invite them to participate in the case, in order to assess the father’s mother as a potential carer for the children. But the Embassy would not agree to the assessment being conducted by an English social worker. The English court agreed to allow the Slovakian authorities to assess her instead.
The latter concluded that, although the grandmother was willing to look after the siblings, there were serious concerns about her care of her own children. She was suspected of neglecting them and one had even died in mysterious circumstances.
Meanwhile, N and P were “thriving” in foster care. The authority planned to place them for adoption in England, but the grandmother and parents in Slovakia would not agree to this. The grandmother continued to insist that she would care for the youngsters because she was already looking after her son’s older children.
A Slovakian official wrote to the English Court:
“In view of the documents which have been presented to us on the issue of care for minor children of the family, we fully respect the opinions of competent British authorities. However, we believe that in this case, sibling relationships among all the siblings as well as the relatives of minor children should be supported, developed and maintained. Given the above reason, we propose to consider, as an alternative option to the adoption of the minor children in the UK, their placement in a facility for enforcement of court decision in the Slovak Republic where all these children would have the opportunity to be in mutual contact and develop their family relationships.”
The case proceeded slowly. Representatives of the Slovakian Embassy did not attend various court hearings, and these were adjourned as a result. The parents were not represented although the courts made an effort to secure details of their objections.
In due course, N and P were moved to different foster carers who were willing to adopt them.
Finally the case came before Mr Justice Baker who was tasked with ruling on the children’s best interests. On the one hand, N and P could be sent to Slovakia, as suggested by the authorities there. That would, he noted, “provide an opportunity of either [child] being placed with members of their birth family or having greater contact with the family.”
The Judge continued:
“It would also provide them with the best opportunity of growing up with an understanding and experience of their culture of origin. Cultural needs are important, but in my judgment in this case they are manifestly outweighed by the children’s emotional needs for stability and security.”
The children’s emotional needs were currently being amply met by their foster family with whom they got on well.
Mr Justice Baker concluded:
“Given the disruption they endured in the first months of their lives, when they were neglected and ill-treated by their parents, their future security and stability are vital. A move to Slovakia would cause a sudden interruption to their lives, however sensitive and skillful the professional parent to whose care they were entrusted.”
He approved the Council’s care plan and said the siblings should be placed for adoption.
Read the ruling here.
Photo of Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, by Michael Dr Gumtau via Flickr