Following the Supreme Court decision in Re B yesterday, which we hoped would tackle the four issues on which leave to appeal was granted :-
(i) the meaning of significant harm;
(ii) the relationship between the nature and gravity of the harm which is feared and the degree of likelihood of that harm being suffered in the future;
(iii) the proportionality of a care order with a care plan for adoption in a case such as this; and
(iv) the proper approach of the Court of Appeal to a finding that the threshold has been crossed, and (although this was not expressly referred to) to the issue of proportionality.
And I shall leave it to others to debate whether or not they successfully clarified those points (save for (iv) which they undoubtedly did tackle, some might say at the expense of the 3 more important issues)
But it made me think about emotional harm post Re B, and some hypothetical examples to debate. In each of these hypothetical examples :-
(i) The child is well fed, well cared for, their basic needs are met
(ii) They are not hit, or sexually abused or neglected
(iii) The parents are not drug addicts or alcohol abusers
(iv) The parental behaviour complained of is just simply as is set out baldy and nothing else
(v) All efforts to divert them from this behaviour has been unsuccessful to date
I make those caveats so that it is clear what we are debating is ‘pure emotional harm’, not the emotional harm that accompanies neglect, or physical or sexual abuse.
Have a look at the examples, if you would and consider whether you think (a) that it is appropriate for the State to intervene in this family’s life by issuing proceedings (b) whether the section 31 threshold is crossed and (c) whether the Court might consider it proportionate to make an order, if – as in Re B, all prospect of the parent being able to address that behaviour were not successful.
The parent routinely tells the child that they are worthless, that they will never amount to anything, that the parent is ashamed of them, that they are fat and ugly and unloveable, that even their parents don’t love them, that they will be a failure in life.
The child wants more than anything to grow up to be a professional footballer, and the parent routinely tells the child that they are no good at football, that they aren’t getting any better at it, that they have no chance of becoming a footballer and that they are not going to be able to do it for a living.
The parent routinely tells the child that once you are an adult, “you shouldn’t knock it till you’ve tried it” and that they should try cocaine, heroin, amphetamines for themselves once they become an adult. The parent also makes it plain that once the child is an adult, if they want to try drugs, they do so with parental blessing and the parent will provide them with funds if they wish to do so.
The parent has strong Marxist beliefs/no conscience about personal property, and regularly tells the child that “all property is theft” and that once the child reaches adulthood, it is perfectly legitimate, if they so wish, to steal things if they want them or need them. They make it clear that their view is that only a fool would work and save up for something when it is so easy to just take it from someone else.
They themselves steal to supplement their lifestyle, and the home is full of luxury goods that they could not afford and they make no secret of how they obtained them. They do, however, not involve the child in any theft (either as witness or accomplice) and stress to the child that until they reach the age of 18, they should not steal anything.
The parent routinely tells the child that the Holocaust never happened. They make it plain that Jewish people have lied about it, and that any small number of Jews who did die deserved it. They communicate to the child that books and television programmes or films that claim otherwise are lies and that the creators of such material cannot be trusted.
The parents believe in reincarnation and karma, and routinely tell the child that people who die of terminal illnesses or have disabilities have these problems because they did bad things in a former life and are paying for them.
[I will stress that none of these are actual cases or even small features of actual cases, they are purely hypothetical examples of ways that a parent could behave which may lead the State to question whether the behaviour amounts to significant harm. I also stress that I am not attempting to claim that post Re B, all of these examples WOULD meet threshold or that a Local Authority would issue on them even if they did, rather to simply debate whether they are CAPABLE of meeting threshold and whether there is consensus about which that do or not, or whether there is uncertainty. ]
Do any of them, on their own, cross threshold?