A baby born in a crack den to a drug-addicted mother should be placed with her grandmother, a family court has ruled.
The case concerned ‘L’, a baby girl born in September last year and therefore now approaching her first birthday.
Her 27 year-old mother had two other children – aged three and four at the time of the hearing – both with the same 30 year-old father.
The mother, from an Afro-Caribbean background, came from a troubled family. She and her seven siblings were all taken into care – she was just three at the time. In adulthood she suffered from problems with her mental health, developed a history of chronic drug and alcohol abuse and worked as a prostitute for a time. She also acquired a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for violence.
The father, originally from Poland, also had a history of drug use. His relationship with the mother had been marred by domestic violence.
The couple’s first child was taken into care after the mother proved unable to abstain from drugs. She abandoned a mother and baby foster placement, leaving the newborn behind. Eventually the grandmother was given care of the child and returned to Poland. There were tensions between mother and son. The grandmother struggled to accept that he had a drug problem.
Shortly after the completion of the care proceedings, social workers realised the mother was pregnant again and immediately made the unborn child the subject of a care plan, on the grounds that the mother was likely to neglect him or her. They planned to launch care proceedings as soon as the second child was born.
The couple travelled to Poland to attend their first child’s christening, but only the father returned. He claimed his girlfriend was unable to travel due to her pregnancy but the suspicion was that she planned to stay in Poland to avoid the pending care proceedings. Their second child was subsequently born there.
The mother lived with the grandmothers in a Polish village for a period of time after the birth and became the main carer for the second child. Sitting in the Central Family Court, Judge Harris explained:
“The grandmother described… the remarkable change undergone by the mother while she lived in Poland. She was able to give [the second child] a good quality of care. She was drug-free, no doubt related to the fact that she would have been unable to obtain access to drugs in the village; and she appeared to live a regular life, for example, working in the bar at a luxury restaurant over the weekend. She began to get assimilated into the life of the community and was learning to speak Polish.”
Gradually the grandmother began to trust the mother and allowed her to spend increasing amounts of time with the first child.
The father made regular visits and eventually the couple were married in Poland. The first child began living with the mother and her older sister, although the grandparents continued to be play a major role in their lives.
By spring last year, the mother was pregnant with her third child, receiving some antenatal care in Poland. The grandmother then allowed the mother to travel back to London for a visit with the two girls, with a view to her returning before the birth.
The grandmother gave conflicting accounts – saying in writing that she had no concerns about the trip, but later claiming that she had actually been worried about the risk of the mother falling back into drug addiction but had been forced to agree by her son.
In London, the couple moved in with his brother and sister-in-law and the mother quickly began to neglect two girls. They were living in an overcrowded flat.
Judge Harris explained:
“The situation further deteriorated when the mother and father effectively abandoned the children with [the father’s brother and sister-in-law]. It was at this stage that the grandparents finally acted and the grandfather went to England, according to the grandmother, within a few days to collect the children and return them home to Poland. When the children returned, they were found to be borderline anaemic.”
The grandmother reported the situation, including the mother’s failure to return, to social services in Poland.
She claimed her son had reassured her that the couple had not begun using drugs again and that the mother was receiving antenatal care. Neither was actually the case. She continued to believe the mother would return to Poland in due course.
The Judge said:
“This is a very sad case. … L came into the world in the most distressing circumstances. She was born in what the police described as “a known crack den” and had been delivered by her father by the time the ambulance arrived. She was showing signs of serious respiratory distress. The mother had been seen to be smoking crack-cocaine and heroin the night before giving birth. She had received no antenatal care.”
The newborn baby was born with drug traces in her bloodstream and begun to suffer from withdrawal systems, requiring a lengthy period of hospital treatment. Before this was completed both parents ceased visiting her.
In the Judge’s words:
“Her current foster carer, RH, started visiting her in hospital and spending long periods with her to enable the baby to have a single person to respond to her needs and this proved to be very beneficial. The consequences of this abandonment by her parents was that L had no primary caregiver during those early, approximately five, weeks when she was detoxifying from drugs.”
Judge Harris was tasked with deciding whether L should be placed for adoption by the local authority or sent to live with the grandmother in Poland like her two sisters, under a special guardianship order.
He concluded that the latter was the best choice for L, as it would allow her to develop a relationship with her siblings. The grandmother could offer “sensitive and responsive care”, despite the fact that life in Poland would not be a “particularly good ethnic match”, given L’s Afro-Caribbean appearance.
The Judge concluded by noting the vital role played in L’s early care by the foster carer RH.
“I say to the grandmother, and I am sure she accepts this, that she and her family owe a huge debt of gratitude to RH and her partner for the outstanding and exemplary care that she and her partner have provided to this vulnerable little girl. I hope the grandmother will carry that with her throughout L’s life and that there will be real opportunities for these two families to interact and meet in the years to come.”
Read the ruling here.