A 14 year-old girl with anorexia should return to live with her father a family court Judge has ruled.
At the time of the hearing, the father was 61 and the mother 50. They had four children together before separating when N, their youngest child, was just three. Unusually, the father was granted primary care of all four children.
When N was six, the father married again. Gradually, N began to visit her mother more and more and spend progressively less time with her father. Eventually she stopped seeing him altogether.
In 2014 the mother applied for permission to take N with her and permanently move to another country within the EU. The father opposed her application, as did the Cafcass officer involved. A report noted that the responsibilities placed on N when with her mother due to the latter’s chronic ill health, adding:
“…the mother’s presentation [behaviour] may be difficult for an eleven-year-old child to interpret, leading to feelings of insecurity.”
As a result, she was likely to face not only “the normal difficulties of settling into a new location” but also “the additional pressure of being, in effect, in sole charge of her mother.”
Despite the Cafcass officer’s recommendation, the mother was granted permission to relocate. But the move turned out to be ill-advised and N and her mother returned to England less than two years later. By then the youngster suffering from both anorexia nervosa and depression.
She told the doctors treating her at a specialist unit that she had indeed taken on the running of her incapacitated mother’s home in the unspecified new country but had alos experienced severe bullying at her new school. The stress had encouraged the development of her anorexia and she also began to exercise obsessively and self-harm.
By March of last year N’s condition and physical health had deteriorated to the extent that hospitalisation was considered. But she refused this.
By the time she and her mother returned to England N had stopped eating altogether and lost a great deal of weight. The teen has remained in a specialist treatment unit since then, having been detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
While N continued to receive treatment, her father applied for a child arrangements order stating that N should come and live with him when she was discharged from hospital. His application was backed by a report from a child and adolescent psychiatrist referred to as ‘Dr H’, who suggested that N needed certainty to recover from her illness. He noted that:
“Dr H considers that N is aware of the difference of opinion between her parents as to where she should live upon discharge and considers this a source of distress for her. He considers that the optimal outcome for N would be for her parents to reach a consensus, although he acknowledges this as unlikely.”
In the High Court Mr Justice MacDonald described the case as “difficult” and unusual in that he was being asked to make a child arrangements order for a future event – i.e. when N left hospital. But it was clear he said that the mother:
“…is not at present in a position to meet the needs of N as a full-time carer. The reality is that on the evidence before the court the mother is not at present capable of fully meeting her own needs. She faces significant challenges with respect to her mobility, her mental equilibrium and her reliance on opiate painkillers.”
Despite the fact that N wished to remain with her mother, the Judge continued, the latter’s “difficulties are relatively longstanding and their progression has, to date, been one of worsening symptoms and an increasing inability to cope.”
“As matters stand, I am clear that for the foreseeable future the difficulties that the mother has that militate against her meeting N’s needs will remain and that N would have significant caring responsibility for her mother if discharged into her care.”
He described N as “an extremely bright, articulate and socially skilled young person” who had taken on “a wholly inappropriate level of responsibility for her mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing.”
The full ruling can be read here.