A troubled younger brother should not be returned to his adoptive parents, a family court has ruled.
He and his older sibling were aged 10 and 13 at the time of the Court of Appeal hearing. They had been taken into care after being badly neglected and abused by their birth parents. Both had behavioural problems – especially the older one, who was prone to “fits of rage”.
A number of foster placements broke down. Social workers considered separating the siblings before a couple in their 50s agreed to adopt them. They were devout Christians whose children had already left home.
But the adoption also failed after less than a year when the older boy came to school one day with a bleeding nose and told his teachers that his mother had hit him. Cambridgeshire County Council took both brothers straight back into the care system.
The boys reported being smacked and shouted at by their adoptive parents and even having their mouths washed out with soap. A neighbour also said the parents had staged a prayer meeting in which they had spoken of the older boy having demons within him.
But when a family court ruled that the boys should remain in foster care, the couple appealed in relation to the youngest. Their legal bid received a sympathetic response from the Court of Appeal, where Lady Justice King spoke of her:
“…pity for the parents who gave these children what was intended by all to be their permanent home and who love each of them dearly.”
She ruled that a further analysis of the situation was needed and that the parents’ case should be reheard.
At the subsequent new hearing in the Family Division, Mr Justice Newton noted that:
“A critical issue… was whether the relationship between [the younger boy] and his [adoptive] parents could be rebuilt with appropriate support and interventions. That necessarily involved the court determining whether there was any causal link between the deterioration in the boys’ behaviour, post-adoption, and the [couple’s] parenting style and attitudes.”
While the couple did admit some to some of the behaviour complained of, such as forcing the older boy to take cold showers as a punishment for bad behaviour, and restraining him during the prayer meeting, they did not, the Judge declared, really accept that such actions had warranted taking the boys back into the care system.
“…they did not accept on any analysis, and certainly in relation to welfare, that they had done anything which could lead to any justified interventions on the part of the local authority. In fact, as the mother told me very poignantly, they were desperately upset that, in any sense, it could even be thought that they had caused harm, let alone significant harm, to either of these boys.”
They claimed Cambridgeshire County Council had not given them enough support to properly cope with the brother’s difficult behaviour, but insisted they could look after the younger brother now with the needed support.
A psychologist reported that the younger boy, referred to as ‘JA’, had a very ambivalent attitude to the couple. On the one hand, he wanted to return and needed a place where he felt safe, but on the other he continued to talk about their supposed ill treatment and had become “confused, equating violence or a sense of fear, at least, with love.”
The Judge turned to evidence given by the father, saying he had not seen genuine empathy or understanding from him. In relation to the episode in which he had forced the older boy to take a shower:
“He described the whole ghastly undignified scene when JK was manhandled into the shower; angry, lashing out, struggling, cursing, being lifted up by the arms, both adult and child getting wet. A more abusive and distressing scene is difficult to imagine. It was a good example of the father’s that lack of understanding, who is in all other respects a highly intelligent and motivated man. How could any right thinking adult consider such actions appropriate.”
Mr Justice Newton concluded that the “troubled” JA should remain in foster care where he was “content” and “settled and thriving”.
“He needs to develop a confidence, so that he can face the world. He needs a parenting style which allows him to develop as an individual, not one that crushes him.”
“I also take account of the fact that he is a confused, distressed, and, I think, an angry and shocked little boy. He needs is stability. He has suffered harm unquestionably from his birth family, but he has also suffered additional and compounding harm from his family before the court. He is not in a position to return home. His needs are not understood by his parents in any real sense.”
The ruling was “exceptional”, said the Judge, in that he had concluded it was “not possible to rebuild this family”.
“I am interfering with his and the parents’ rights to live together as a family, but I have concluded that his overwhelming need for a predictable, nurturing, loving home takes precedence.”
Read the ruling here.
Image by Markus Spiske via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence