Apparently positive drugs test should not influence the outcome of a care case, a family court judge has ruled.
The case concerned ‘W’, a boy born in February last year. Just days after his birth social workers began care proceedings because the mother had a history of drug abuse.
However, as the care proceedings continued, it became clear that the mother had made significant improvements to her lifestyle and social workers began to think in terms of allowing her to keep the child.
The mother then underwent three rounds of hair strand testing for traces of drugs in her system. Sitting in the Central Family Court, Judge Tolson QC explained:
“The outcome of two of three tests, ordered by the court, stood in some contrast to what appeared to be the situation on the ground.”
The mother insisted that she had stopping taking drugs and gave every indication of having done so. One of the three tests conducted backed up this claim, but the other two found trace amounts of a chemical associated with the use of cocaine.
In an attempt to address the contradiction, a trichologist (hair specialist) was consulted. He explained to the court that the chemical which had been detected in the two positive tests is found naturally in the environment and consequently the results could be down to accidental contamination. The third negative test lent credence to this conclusion, he said.
The Judge asked:
“First, taken at its height, my concern was that these results could at worst indicate only a low level of cocaine consumption. Would it in these circumstances be proportionate to separate mother and child?”
The local authority still maintained that the mother may have taken drugs and the care proceedings should therefore proceed, but following the specialist evidence put forward an alternative plan: that W should be returned to his mother’s care under the supervision of social workers.
In a concise judgment, Judge Tolson concluded that this revised plan was sensible, saying the trichologist’s insights meant that a full care order for the toddler “would not be proportionate” and remaining with his mother would be in W’s best interests.
W’s father, meanwhile, should be allowed to continue seeing him on a regular, but supervised basis, he continued:
“W’s father has also had substance abuse difficulties in the past, and there are a number of concerns about him. Past, although perhaps distant past, violence, and a criminal record. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the focus of my attention ought to be his behaviour around W himself. It is rightly pointed out to me that there is no suggestion that any of the father’s past difficulties have surfaced in the context of the time he spends with W.”
Supervision of the father would end after a period of three months (12 weeks), at which point the father’s contact would be four hours every two weeks.
Read the ruling here.
Image by hans van den berg via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence