A local authority which fought an unrepresented grandmother through the courts for care of her grandchild has been named by a family court.
The woman, who works with children professionally, had approached Gloucestershire County Council and put herself forward as a carer when her grandchild’s parents could no longer look after the baby, whose gender was not specified in the most recent judgement. She applied to become a ‘special guardian’ – a less drastic alternative to adoption, similar to foster care, which is commonly used when children unable to live with their parents are placed with a member of their extended family.
During the subsequent proceedings, she received “very positive and full assessments” of her suitability as a potential carer. But several months in, another social worker produced a differing report which cast doubt on her commitment to raising her grandchild. As a result the council changed tack and decided the baby should be adopted instead. This change of position was not supported by the legal guardian involved in the case.
The critical report questioned the fact that she not immediately taken the baby home from the hospital after the birth and that she had enquired about financial support.
Nevertheless Circuit Judge Stephen Wildblood QC ruled in the grandmother’s favour at hearing in Gloucester last month, saying she should become special guardian to her grandchild after all. But the Council’s decision to push for adoption meant the case took more than seven months to resolve, with the baby left with foster carers throughout that time. Twenty-six weeks is the guideline maximum for care cases.
Despite her success, the grandmother felt deeply frustrated by the Council’s actions and insisted she had been unfairly treated. She was left, she said, “utterly exhausted and feeling shattered by the lack of kindness and understanding I experienced in such a painful context”.
“Ultimately, and above all, this baby has remained far longer than was justifiable, in foster care. Her parents have experienced a protracted agony of uncertainty.”
Turning to the critical social worker’s assessment, she explained that:
“It was put to me that I had failed because I had not wanted to take the baby straight home from hospital. That I ought to be expressing that I wanted her. I reason that this is a vast decision for anyone to make, and that to respond purely emotionally or instinctively would be a less appropriate way to decide. I have been very open about my deliberations and judged negatively for that.”
The grandmother told the Judge that she wanted to publicise her story in suitably anonymised form. She prepared a draft of this which was submitted to court and considered at a subsequent hearing.
In a new ruling, Judge Wildblood explained:
“Initially the Local Authority opposed the disclosure of the grandmother’s statement … it sought to argue that only very limited information should be released for publication, if any, and that the grandmother should pursue any complaint that she wished to make by following the internal complaints procedure …. However, when I referred them to the [European Convention [on Human Rights] provisions … it was accepted that there was no justifiable basis for opposing the disclosure of either the grandmother’s statement …. On that basis the Local Authority’s opposition to the disclosure of those statements was not pursued before me.”
Nevertheless, the local authority still argued that it should not be named in any reports of story, and this became the subject of the third hearing before Judge Wildblood.
The council insisted that naming them could lead to the child being identified and make it more difficult for them to recruit new social workers, but Judge Wildblood said he saw no evidence for this. Instead arguments in favour of identifying the authority were “overwhelming” he declared.
He was complimentary, meanwhile, about the grandmother.
“[She] is not only an intelligent and courteous woman but she has put herself out considerably to offer her grandchild the opportunity of being cared for within the natural family. No other family member was in a position to offer that to the child. Therefore I pay an immense tribute to her by this judgment.”
The grandmother herself now looked forward to the future, she said in a court statement.
“The Order of Special Guardianship has now been made. I will love and care for this baby in every way. She will enjoy contact with her parents and develop a positive sense of Identity, drawing on the love of her family and our wonderful friends.”
Read the ruling here.
Photo of Gloucester by Bob Embleton via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence