A toddler living with her troubled young mother should not be removed from her care a second time, a Family Court has ruled.
The child in question is now two and a half. In that short period of time, said Lady Justice Black at the Court of Appeal, she had acquired “a more than usually chequered history”.
Her mother was a “vulnerable” 18 year-old when the child, ‘E’, was born. She had spent years in the care system, committed crimes and taken drugs. She was also emotionally unstable, with a temper and a tendency to mistrust professionals.
After E’s birth, mother and child spent time in a residential centre but the mother struggled and before long the baby was taken into temporary foster care. Her parenting skills were assessed and began therapy to try and resolve her problems, but with only partial success.
The local authority decided that the best course would be to place the girl for adoption. A Judge made the orders in February last year but the mother successfully appealed. The case was sent back to the lower courts for a rehearing. In November it came before Mr Recorder Bedingfield. Further assessment of the mother was carried out and an independent social worker came to positive conclusions about the mother, who was still visiting her daughter. She recommended a carefully planned reunion of the mother and child, with support from the local authority.
But this idea was opposed by both the local authority and E’s court-appointed legal guardian. The Judge came down in favour of the social worker’s plan, explained Lady Justice Black.
“In a long and very careful judgment given on 20 November 2015 …, Mr Recorder Bedingfield reviewed the evidence and concluded that an attempt should be made to place E with the mother again. The evidence was that the mother could meet E’s basic day to day needs and that a bond had developed between her and E. The question was whether the risks which there undoubtedly were could be managed, and the Recorder concluded that they could.”
As a result, the Judge dismissed the authority’s application for a placement order, instead issuing a temporary care order under which the supervised return of E to the mother could take place, over a period of six to eight weeks.
By February this year, the little girl was back in her mother’s full time care. But on 18 February the mother was arrested en route to court after becoming involved in a “verbal altercation with a member of Transport for London’s staff”.
As a result, at a March hearing Mr Recorder Bedingfield reversed his earlier position and ordered that E be removed from her mother again and placed back into foster care. Her mother would only be allowed to see her six times a year.
But the young mother launched a second appeal and this met with immediate approval by the Justices.
Lady Justice Black noted:
“The appeal does not raise any points of principle or practice of general importance. It turns entirely on its own facts.”
She explained that:
“In [the counsel for the mother]’s submission, the order that the Recorder made in March 2016 represented a complete reversal of the order he had made only 3 months earlier and justification was required for the change of direction and was absent from the March judgment. The starting point for the Recorder’s consideration in March needed to be the findings that he had made in November, and [the counsel]’s submission was that it was important to recognise that in November, he had not proceeded upon the basis that the mother had put the entirety of her previous problems behind her.”
Nevertheless, the Recorder had seen potential in the mother. However, by March her faults were used to justify removal of the child. In addition, the authority’s care plan, on the basis of which the Judge ordered E’s removal, had been confused and lacking in clarity the Court of Appeal believed.
The Recorder had not properly considered the effect on E of being removed from her mother and went “off track” said Lady Justice Black. In addition:
“The guardian’s analysis of the consequences for E of being adopted was inadequate as the Recorder accepted, commenting that there was an absence of evidence, from both the local authority and the guardian, about the harm that the child would suffer by being removed from the mother. All of these matters will have contributed to this careful Recorder not focussing upon and dealing with central issues.”
Read A (A Child) here.
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