This is the headline from the Daily Telegraph story. And rightly, we’d be appalled by this. If the reason for the child not being with mother is that it is too expensive to keep them together, that would be dreadful. It would also have been appealed, so immediately one thinks that there must be a bit more too it than that.
The impression from the headline would be that this was about it costing too much to give the mother some practical help with the child’s care, because there are things that she can’t do alone as a result of her disabilities (you might be thinking that she needs special equipment to bath him etc)
A five-year-old boy has been removed from his disabled mother’s care as a judge dismissed an allegation of ‘social engineering’ despite ruling it would cost too much to keep them together.
The family court judge ruled that the child must be taken from the care of his disabled mother claiming her disability made it impossible for her to meet her disabled son’s needs by herself, and the level of local authority support she would need would be too extensive.
Here’s the judgment, Re T (a child) 2015
I don’t think the Telegraph piece is a bad bit of legal reporting. It isn’t a particularly accurate headline (which is a shame, since the headline here IS the story), but I know that journalists get their suggested headline changed to make it more arresting/compelling/clickbait-worthy, so I don’t blame the journalist for this.
The journalist had obviously taken the trouble to read the judgment, since she quotes bits of it. Rather a shame that she doesn’t link to it, because if she had, anyone reading past the second paragraph would see that the triggering incident for the care proceedings was the father of the child sexually abusing the child’s brother. Which casts a different light on things – there’s obviously rather more to it than just the mother needing help and support and said help and support being too expensive.
Readers can look at the judgment for themselves – I don’t think it is beyond reproach – there’s nothing really which conveys to a lay person who doesn’t know all of the background in plain English what this mother could or could not do.
Sadly the Local Authority’s case is that despite her best intentions and obvious love for her son, CB is not able to offer good enough care for T and that his needs, which are heightened on account of his developmental delay, will simply not be met in her care. From the outset the social worker has made plain that CB has not intentionally neglected or harmed T. The Authority acknowledges that T is clean and well presented; it is the more nuanced aspects of parenting that are beyond CB’s capabilities.
They are so nuanced that I don’t feel that they are fully spelled out in an otherwise careful and balanced judgment. The nearest it comes, in my reading is:-
She was able to provide basic care skills and T was always well presented and she was ready to acknowledge the fact that this could be in some way due to the absence of MB and she was able to concentrate on T. She observed warmth from the mother so far as T was concerned but remained concerned that strategies and suggestions were not sustained. Crucially T’s care required someone to “forward think for him” and she did not think that the mother had that capacity saying that the mother does not possess the skills, the knowledge and the understanding to provide anticipatory help. This could not be achieved unless somebody was with her all the time.
I record that Dr Tagart’s views at this stage namely:
“[T] requires an emotionally attuned adult to provide his care; this person or persons will need to be able to provide warmth, boundaries and model appropriate behaviour. They will require a high degree of patience because T will require many opportunities in order to acquire skills and concepts.”
[Personally, I would have preferred something much more concrete – I note that the mother in this case had an IQ of 69 and everything that we know about people with that level of functioning suggests that real, concrete examples are better than abstract theoretical concepts, so given that I can read this judgment and have very little idea of what it is said that she can’t do is put into sharp focus that it must have been really hard for these parents to understand what they were doing wrong]
On the issue of whether there was a package of support that could be put in place for the mother to help her meet the child’s needs, the expert opinion was this
Dr Blumenthal was also clear that mother’s level of disability needs a supportive partner who would be present for most of the time and it was likely that given T’s entire developmental trajectory over the next 12 years he would need more than he is getting now.
Whatever the mother’s problems were, the Judge was satisfied that they could only be addressed by another person living with her at all times. Given what I said at the outset about the child’s father, he clearly isn’t an option.
That would mean that this wasn’t really a case about providing support and the support being too expensive, but about the issue in principle of whether once the level of support is “Another person being paid to live with mother and child, and that person to care for the child for the next 10-13 years” that is reasonable or too high.
The Judge looked at all of the powerful caselaw about keeping families together and made his decision
- Conclusion and findings
- There is unanimity in this case amongst the experts, the social worker, the local authority assessors and the guardian that despite the mother’s very best intentions and unconditional love and commitment to T, mother is not able to offer good enough care for T. I accept that evidence. He has a high level of need as a consequence of his developmental delay which simply cannot be met by the mother who has difficulties herself for all the reasons I hope that I have set out carefully in this judgment.
- There is no suggestion that CB has intentionally neglected or harmed T and his basic care is good enough. T is always clean and well presented and CB has done her utmost to meet T’s needs.
- One of the major issues in this case has been to the extent to which it would be possible for the local authority in providing support to the mother to care for T could effectively make up for her deficits and for T in that way to be provided with good enough parenting. It has been suggested that to remove T from his mother’s care and provide an optimum level of parenting by adopters or long term foster carers is in effect a feature of social engineering.
- I reject that proposition that make the following findings:
1. The level of support that would be required in relation to such an arrangement would be so extensive as to be detrimental to T’s welfare.
2. The mother due to her high level of anxiety has found it difficult in the past to fully engage with the extent of help being offered and although proceedings may have finished would be ever fearful and anxious regarding local authority involvement which in turn would devolve on T.
3. T needs better than good enough parenting and if he does not receive it then the harm identified by Dr Mallya would intensify. The gap between his chronological and developmental age is already widening while in the care of the mother. Continued care by her would cause him continuing and increasing significant harm, albeit entirely unintentional.
4. T’s welfare needs requires him to be removed from his mother’s care and continued care by her in the home environment will be harmful to him and he will not be able to reach his potential as his mother is unable to promote his development consistently. This would have an impact on the opportunities available to him in later life. I find that although there is little doubt that T is the centre of the mother’s firmament she has been unable to consistently implement the advice and strategies that professionals have offered but, to her very great credit, has made some progress since she was T’s sole carer since the autumn of 2014.
- The fundamental principle in cases of this sort is that there is a duty imposed on the court to make such order that accords with the paramountcy of T’s welfare. There is, in my judgment, nothing in our existing case law that undermines this fundamental principle and the words “nothing else will do” does not and should not exclude the overriding welfare consideration in relation to any particular child’s case. The issue in this case has been the capacity of T’s parents, and most particularly CB, to satisfy his overwhelming welfare needs for the duration of his childhood and indeed, his life given the nature of his disability.
- My task is to establish that there is proper evidence from the local authority, the experts and the children’s guardian which addresses all the realistically possible options for this child. I have to scrutinise any analysis of those options. I am satisfied that proper evidence is before the court in order to enable me to do so and that includes the evidence of course from the parents themselves.
- Having reviewed all the evidence I am satisfied that I have all that is necessary to set out in this judgment the rigorous analysis and comparison of the realistic options for T’s future that our law requires.
- I record the mother’s absolute sincerity in wishing to care for T but unfortunately this conflicts directly with his welfare interests and this is directly connected to her own level of functioning. The risks to T in terms of his future welfare of remaining in his mother’s care are just too great and not manageable in terms of additional local authority support for the reasons that I have articulated.
- I have little doubt, and I say so with great sadness, that the judgment that I gave at the end of April has disqualified any prospect of MB and CB caring for T together. CB has told me how sad it is that they are not all together and I have enormous sympathy for that sadness.
I think that there are valid criticisms of this case (and this is not a particularly awful example, it is representative of a larger problem), that the process in family justice can lead to language being used in an opaque way with jargon and theoretical concepts rather than hard, clear, obvious and compelling plain English that says “the mum can do this, but she can’t do THAT”
This story from Community Care illustrates the point
The judge quoted paragraphs of the assessment where, he said, the language obscured the meaning:
“I do not intend to address the couple’s relationship suffice it to say it is imbued with ambivalence : both having many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection or alternative relationship that are a reflection of this. Such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement.”
“Due to [the grandmother’s] apparent difficulties identifying the concerns , I asked her to convey a narrative about her observations in respect of [the mother and father’s] relationship.”
Quoting the second paragraph, the judge asked: “What would be wrong in saying ‘I asked her to tell me’?”
He also questioned multiple uses of the word “interplay”, for example: “[the grandmother] clearly believes that paternity issues had a significant interplay on [the father’s] ability to say no to the mother.” He said the word ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ would be more understandable
Hell yeah to that.
In this case, this use of language in a way that is opaque on the key issue of what mother could do and what she could not do that led to a conclusion that she needed another adult present at all times is additionally worrying, because these proceedings had actually concluded a year earlier with the child staying with mum under a Supervision Order. The Local Authority brought the case back, saying that mum had not been able to do as well as they had hoped.
So one would imagine that this could be spelled out with some very clear examples.
[To be fair, it may be that this is all set out in the threshold document, which sadly just gets dealt with like this :-
I have looked at the local authority final threshold document. It is evident of course from the findings that I made in the judgment of 29th April that threshold is crossed for the purposes of s.31 of the Children Act. I have carefully balanced the accounts of the parents with conflicting accounts of the local authority and the experts and having done so find that numbers 1 to 4 and 7 to 10 of the local authority’s final threshold document are proved to the requisite standard.
That’s fine for those who were present and have it in front of them, but the absence of specific findings about mother’s care since the Supervision Order was made leaves this judgment a bit lacking in that one regard, that a reader can’t easily work out what this mother is said to have done wrong. And without that, it is hard to decide whether you think it is a fair conclusion or not that she would need someone else living with her in order to care for the child.
As I said at the start, I don’t think that it is a bad piece by the Telegraph – the headline leads you to think that this was a question of money and penny-pinching and that’s not a fair reflection of the case. There is a legitimate grumble about this case that one simply can’t read it and work out what mother could not do, the language there is flowery and conceptual rather than practical.