A baby girl should remain in the care of her mother despite evidence that she been unable to abstain entirely from cocaine, a court has ruled.
The case concerned an eight-month-old baby girl, referred to in the judgement as ‘Holly’. She had been taken into care immediately after birth but was later returned, under the supervision of social workers, and Holly has remained in her mother’s care since then. Despite her troubled past, social workers at the London Borough of Barnet believed any risks to the toddler could be managed.
The mother, in her 30s, had a lengthy history of drug use after spending part of her childhood in care. By 21 she was taking heroin and crack cocaine. She completed rehab before relapsing into drugs and then beginning rehab again.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson noted:
“Predictably, this drug use contributed to her life being chaotic and her parenting unreliable.”
By the time Holly was born, her mother had already had three other children by different fathers. The first is looked after by maternal grandmother under a special guardianship order. The second and third were born during an abusive relationship and were taken into care after they were found one day with the mother, who was drunk and intoxicated at the time. By the time of the final care hearing, however, the mother had begun treatment and claimed to have given up drugs, so leaving the brothers with her was contemplated.
Holly was originally taken from her when she tested positive for cocaine after a hair strand test, and her local authority was initially intent on having the little girl adopted.
She insisted she had not been used drugs since her sons had been taken into care but the test result caused concern. A social worker who initially supported the idea of Holly staying with her mother thanks to the latter’s efforts to stay off drugs changed her mind following the test, accusing the mother of dishonesty.
A further hair strand test appeared to show even higher traces of cocaine. But then a hair expert backed the mother, criticising the testing procedures at the two laboratories in question and saying the results could not be taken as reliable evidence that the mother had actually taken cocaine.
Not long afterwards, Holly was returned to her mother at the direction of a judge, who also referred the question of the drug testing procedure’s validity to the High Court.
The mother continued to attend drug counselling. But a further test again suggested the presence of cocaine in her body, albeit at a lower level than before.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson explained:
“…there is no doubt that the mother was in a dismal state two years ago, to the point where she was quite incapable of looking after any child. It is now accepted that she has turned her life around to the point that she is now capable of looking after one child with support. She says that she has achieved this by avoiding damaging relationships and by complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The local authority argues that the hair strand testing shows that complete abstinence has not been achieved, which raises the level of risk that Holly will get caught up in future drug use of the kind seen in the past. It also argues that the hair strand tests show that the mother has not been telling the truth and consequently that she cannot be fully trusted.”
The Judge considered scientific evidence from the three laboratories involved, an expert instructed by the mother and a fifth, jointly-instructed expert. He concluded that the evidence of continued, albeit limited cocaine use for a period was too strong to be discounted and that the mother had not told the truth about this.
“However, the evidence in relation to 2017 leads me to a different conclusion. Following Holly’s birth, there has been very regular urine testing and continuous face-to-face contact between the mother and a wide range of professionals and others concerned for Holly’s welfare. Scarcely a day will have passed without contact of this kind and no one has noticed the slightest suggestion of drug use.”
“I agree with the parties that these findings do not call into question the decision that Holly should remain in her mother’s care. By the same token, I am doubtful that the evidence that was available in January was in truth sufficient to justify the very severe order of the removal of a baby at birth.”
You can read the full ruling here.
Image by Chris Goldberg via Flickr