The four daughters of a dysfunctional family in Oxfordshire should be placed for adoption a court has ruled.
The sisters in question were aged 11, eight, five and two at the time of the hearing. They were removed from their mother and taken into foster care in November last year, but she had been allowed to visit them twice a week. The two oldest girls and the youngest have a different father to the third. The latter’s biological father is not involved in her life and she sees the father of her three sisters, who is currently in prison, as hers too.
The family has been known to the local authority since the oldest girl was born. Social workers became increasingly concerned that the sisters were being neglected by their mother and living in poor conditions which included exposure to domestic violence and “risky” individuals visiting their mother. Their school attendance was patchy.
Finally, in September last year, the second daughter claimed her father had sexually abused her, triggering the children’s removal into temporary foster care. The father was recalled to prison, having recently been released.
The local authority applied for the girls to be formally taken into long term care and placed for adoption. The oldest two would be placed separately and the youngest two together.
In the Family Court at Oxford His Honour Judge Vincent noted:
“The mother loves each of her daughters dearly and they love her in return. She seeks the return of all four of her daughters to her care. She says the proceedings have been a ‘wake-up call’ and she has made positive changes to her life as a result.”
As a fall-back position, the mother asked the court to consider at least allowing the youngest two girls to return to her care, saying she’d able to continue visiting the older two in foster care.
Meanwhile, the father insisted that the alleged sexual abuse had never taken place. But he accepted that he could not properly take care of the girls and so supported the local authority’s care plan.
In a concise ruling, the Judge noted that the burden of proof lay with the authority. They had to prove the father’s guilt. Nevertheless, on a balance of probabilities he concluded that they had in fact done so and the abuse had indeed occurred – in spite of the fact that the daughter had since recanted the claim. Amongst the various reasons cited, he found the girl’s original testimony compelling and believed her mother had coached into withdrawing the allegations. She may, said the Judge, also have been motivated by feelings of guilt about her father’s subsequent imprisonment.
Judge Vincent therefore declared:
“I have come to the conclusion that I should approve the local authority’s care plans and make care orders in respect of all four girls. The local authority’s plans have been reached by an experienced social worker exercising her professional judgment diligently and based on a sound evidence base, built up from her own experience of the children and the family dynamics, and from other relevant sources.”
Read A B C and D (fact-finding and welfare) here.
Photo by Roger Meyer via Flickr