The young daughter of troubled parents should be left with her current foster carer, a family court judge has ruled.
Gloucestershire County Council v M and Others concerned a three year old, referred to as ‘G’, who was taken from her mother at the age of 19 months and placed with a foster carer when it became clear that the mother was could not provide proper care.
In the family court at Bristol, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC explained that:
“…her mother was unable to continue to look after her being caught up in a life that involved drink, drugs, violent relationships and instability. At the time that G came to live with [the foster carer] the mother was single, suffering from mental ill-health and had made an attempt on her own life.”
G’s mother and father had struggled through a “volatile and unstable” relationship. Her father later admitted that he had been violent towards her mother. She obtained a non-molestation order against him and he was imprisoned for six months after “violently” breaching it.
But while the father served his prison sentence, the mother became involved in another violent relationship and “was not coping with life”. Not long afterwards G was sent to live with the foster carer, who had previously been her childminder.
The girl’s placement took place under an interim care order and the question of her longer-term future eventually came before the court. Both her parents now accepted that they could not look after her properly due to their continuing lifestyle problems and limited personal means. Judge Wildblood described this recognition as “to their very real credit”.
G’s mother attended the first day of the hearing but was unwell, felt overwhelmed by the emotions of the case, and dropped out. Judge Wildblood acknowledged her love for her daughter and her regular visits.
He also praised G’s father, who attended the entire hearing, even saying that he had developed a “very deep respect” for the man, and noting his “attentive manner” and “great dignity”.
The Judge said:
“There can be no doubt whatsoever that this father, like the mother, loves their little daughter deeply and genuinely. I am quite sure that a significant part of his motivation in trying to sort out his life is to be found in his desire to show G that he can be a good father to her.”
He regularly travelled a long distance from his home in the north of England for visits.
However, the two parents had different ideas regarding G’s future. The mother was keen for her daughter to remain with her former childminder under a special guardianship order. The father, however, proposed his sister and her partner as carers.
Judge Wildblood explained that although social workers initially produced a positive assessment of the aunt and her partner, it later emerged that they had had major problems with their own three children. Their eldest had been diagnosed as autistic and their youngest was now suspected of autism as well. Their third child also has delayed language development. Medical appointments had been missed and the couple were struggling to cope with the situation.
As a result, the Judge came to the conclusion that:
“If G went to live with the aunt and uncle I have no doubt that she would receive all the love that the family offer her. She would have her need for an upbringing amongst her own family met. However there is a very significant risk that her emotional needs would not be met. Not only would her emotions have to adjust to yet another major move as she left the one-to-one care of [the former childminder] but she would be living in a very different environment with [the aunt and uncle] where they may well not be able to cope with the additional demands of caring for her. In my opinion that would not be fair on anyone and could not be in G’s best interests.”
Judge Wildblood therefore issued a special guardianship order in favour of the foster carer, stipulating that the situation should be supervised by Gloucestershire County Council for a period of 12 months.
Read the ruling here.