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The Latvian case – the judgment is up

 

 

This is a follow-up from Monday’s piece, about the latest Christopher Booker outrage.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/11/30/police-ignore-judges-order-to-help-latvian-family-escape-social-workers/

 

 

You may remember that from Mr Booker’s account, the child had a small mark on his neck and another small mark, which led to social workers trying to snatch all of the children, and the parents instead fled with the help of Forced Adoption to another country.

 

You may also remember how incandescent Mr Booker was that the Local Authority couldn’t be named because of a gagging order.

Eleven days ago, the second oldest child of Russian-Latvian parents working in a town I cannot name for legal reasons was seen by a teacher to have a small mark on his neck. When the school reported this to social services, an examination revealed another slight mark on his leg. The family found itself plunged into an inexplicable nightmare

In this latest case of the family that got away (but which Judge Duggan does not allow us to name), the conduct of the Irish and Latvian police seems yet further evidence of just how little confidence foreign authorities now have in the fairness and legality of Britain’s increasingly notorious system of “child protection”.

 

The judgment is now up.  Is it an “inexplicable nightmare”?   Does child protection in Booker’s sub-headline need his air-quotes around it to show that it was no such thing?

 

 

 

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and Flight to Latvia 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B189.html

 

The eagle-eyed reader may spot that the name of the Local Authority is in the name of the case, rather than being prevented from being known because of a gagging order. There is no gagging order. The usual restrictions on naming the children apply.  [“Ah,” Booker defenders are saying already, “that’s only because Booker called them out on it, so they had to back down.”]

 

  1. The written evidence available to me indicates that on 12th November 2015 D was seen at school with a burn mark on his neck and another mark on his thigh. The appearance suggested injury with a rope. He said his father was responsible for the neck, an injury inflicted, he said, with a belt. He said his mother was responsible for the injury to the thigh. N was examined and was found to have bruising to the cheek for which he does not appear to have provided an explanation.
  2. The parents have been seen. The father says that the injury to the neck was caused by him in unclear accidental circumstances which I am afraid need more explanation. The mother said that the injury to N’s cheek arose from an incident in school but on investigation the only relevant incident at school concerned the oldest child. The parents agreed with Police and local authority that while investigations took place, the children’s safety would be ensured by their temporary residence with the grandparents. This was implemented but on 19th November 2015 the children did not turn up for school and enquiries revealed that the parents had removed the children from the grandparents the previous evening and left the district. It is a concern that the grandparents, who have been entrusted with responsibility for the safety of the children, did not see fit to draw this development to the attention of the local authority.

 

 

Now, let me be clear. We have here marks to a child’s neck. The child says that the father hit him with a belt. The father says there was some sort of accident, the mother says it happened at school. Three competing accounts. The parents did not attend Court to give their accounts, or ask their lawyers (who would have not have cost them a penny) to cross-examine witnesses and to refute the claims. It might well be that if all of the evidence had been tested, that the Court would have decided that there was no deliberate injury to the child.  So this judgment is not PROOF that the father hit the child with a belt – but it does meet the test to be considered by the law – were there reasonable grounds to believe that the father had hit the child?   Given that father and mother chose not to come to Court to tell the Court the truth, the Court would be left with little choice but to consider there were reasonable grounds to believe that the child had been harmed.

 

The social workers had not believed the parents accounts and had believed the child. They had made arrangements to keep the children safe within the family whilst investigations took place. Those arrangements were breached. The social workers went to the Court, to say “We think the children aren’t safe and we would like an order to protect them”.

The parents were able to come to Court with free lawyers to give their account and to say that the children would be safe, and an independent Judge would hear both sides of the case and make a decision – that decision being on the principles that :-

 

(a) It is for the Local Authority to prove harm, not for the parents to prove their innocence

(b) Even if the child had been harmed, the Court would still look at what measures short of removal could keep the child safe

(c) An order for removal would only be made if it was necessary to keep the child safe, and would only be whilst assessments were carried out over a period of time to see if the parents could make changes.

 

I would like to ask Mr Booker what actions he thinks social workers ought to take instead of this if they are told by a child that his father hit him round the neck with a belt?  Because it seems to me that the alternative is to do what Mr Booker did, and assume that the parents did not do it.  And I’m fairly sure that if they got that wrong and the child suffered further injuries, the Daily Telegraph would not be leaping to their defence.  I’m fairly sure that the Daily Telegraph wouldn’t be putting air quotes around child protection then – they’d be saying, and rightly so, “This child told you that his dad hit him round the neck with a belt and you did NOTHING to keep him safe. Your job was to protect that child, and you didn’t do it”

 

If a social worker thinks that a child has been deliberately injured and can’t keep the child safe whilst investigations take place, putting the matter before the Court is the safe and fair thing to do. It is not an ‘inexplicable nightmare’

The alternative is that people just take a guess as to what happened to the child. Maybe the child made it up, in which case the family are safe and happy in Latvia. Maybe the child really was hit by his father, in which case it isn’t great that the parents were helped to leave the country with the children.

 

Which is it?

I don’t know. And you don’t know. And Ian from Forced Adoption doesn’t know. And Christopher Booker doesn’t know.

I’d suggest that perhaps given that none of us know, and that the risk of guessing and getting it wrong is big either way, that the best way to make that decision is for an independent Judge to do it, having heard evidence from both sides, not just one.

 

Do Judges get it right all the time? No, sadly.  I write about these cases all the time. And social workers don’t get it right all the time either. And nor do doctors, or teachers, or anyone.  It might well be that this child made it up and is quite safe with mum and dad. We just don’t KNOW.

 

But you see the difference between a Judge deciding, and Christopher Booker deciding what happened, is that (a) The Judge hears BOTH sides (b) The Judge hasn’t made their mind up who to believe before you even start and (c) If the Judge gets it wrong, the decision can be appealed and put right.  What’s the appeal process for Christopher Booker deciding that this child is safe with mum and dad?   And if we have Christopher Booker deciding what’s going to happen in these cases, what stops Katie Hopkins doing it?

 

 

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With the profoundest respect

 

Firstly, apologies. I know that to lawyers, using that title is the equivalent of me going into a Wetherspoons pub, finding the drunkest person there, giving them a lot of amphetamines and telling them that (a) you were the person who stole their wife back in 1984 and (b) that they should go around your house and shout what they think of you through your letterbox.

 

Non-lawyers may not be aware of the lawyer code which is “with respect” = You absolute moron, you’re wrong.  “with great respect”  = ffs do you have anything between your ears, you are utterly wrong , “with the greatest possible respect”  –  I am going to have to get Malcolm Tucker to concoct a sentence which truly construes how annoyed I am with you and how wrong you are.  I honestly didn’t even know it went up as high as “with the profoundest respect”

 

So why am I dropping the P-R bomb on y’all?  Well, because that phrase appears in a judgment, and it is used by a High Court Judge, and he is using it about the Court of Appeal.

 

The Judge is Mostyn J (who has had a busy autumn), and the case is Re D 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3388.html

 

I wrote about Mostyn’s initial decision here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/08/brussels-sprouts-ii-this-time-its-jurisdictional/

I’ve written about the particular Court of Appeal decision here (and you can see that I may have been somewhat bored by it, because a lot of it ends up being co-written by Snoop Doggy Dogg – apposite given post 500)

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/02/21/and-i-aint-talking-bout-chicken-and-gravy/

 

The gist of it, very quickly.

The father in the case was found to present a massive risk to children. I don’t think anyone (even Ian from Forced Adoption) could dispute that he would be a bad person to be around children. The real meat of the case was whether mother could separate from him and stay away from him.

The background this case is to be found in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 to be found in section A at page 53. I do not repeat it here. Suffice to say that I found the father, Stefan D, to be guilty of truly bestial conduct. I recorded his conviction in the year 2000 in the Czech Republic of offences of the utmost seriousness involving the gross abuse and exploitation of women and girls. I found how, after his arrival in the UK, he meted out appalling domestic violence to his wife, Daniella D. I found how he engaged in serious criminal activity, largely centred around illegal drugs. I described how I was satisfied that he had seduced his 16 year old stepdaughter by plying her with drugs; how he had had unprotected sex with her; and how she became pregnant by September 2011 when she was only 17 years of age. I recorded how this sexual congress took place in the family home to the knowledge of the other minor children there, B and K. I recorded how he was even having sexual intercourse in the same time-frame with his wife as he was with his stepdaughter. I found that the statutory threshold in section 31 of the Children Act had been comprehensively crossed, both in respect of past harm and the risk of future harm.

Care proceedings, mum and dad were both Czech, and had gone back to live in the Czech Republic. The baby was in care in England and the care plan of the Local Authority, shared by the Guardian was for adoption.  Mostyn J had to decide a Brussels II application, and in doing so, he raised an important philosophical question – if the outcome of the case would be radically different in another country (because England has non-consensual / forced adoption and the Czech Republic does not) should that be taken into account? Mostyn J did take it into account and decided that the case (and future of the child) ought to be transferred to the Czech Republic.

 

That was appealed, and the Court of Appeal in Re M (A child) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/152.html decided that Mostyn J was wrong, that you decide Brussels II on the facts of the case and you give no regard at all to how another jurisdiction might decide the case.

Here are the 3 questions to be answered

” … as Art 15(1) makes clear there are three questions to be considered by the court – here The Hague court – in deciding whether to exercise its powers under Art 15(1):

i) First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Art 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member state – here, the UK. Given the various matters set out in Art 15(3) as bearing on this question, this is, in essence, a simple question of fact. For example, is the other member state the former habitual residence of the child (see Art 15(3) (b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Art 15(3) (c))?

ii) Secondly, it must determine whether the court of that other member state ‘would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof’. This involves an exercise in evaluation, to be undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case.

iii) Thirdly, it must determine if a transfer to the other court ‘is in the best interests of the child.’ This again involves an evaluation undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular child.”

 

I wish to emphasise that the question of whether the other court will have available to it the full list of options available to the English court – for example, the ability to order a non-consensual adoption – is simply not relevant to either the second or the third question. As Ryder LJ has explained, by reference to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Re I and of this court in Re K, the question asked by Article 15 is whether it is in the child’s best interests for the case to be determined in another jurisdiction, and that is quite different from the substantive question in the proceedings, “what outcome to these proceedings will be in the best interests of the child?”

 

 

So they told Mostyn J that the English Court would decide the case, overturned his decision and sent it back to him for determination.

 

I have never had the experience of going back into a case where the Court of Appeal have told the Judge he was wrong and then gave him the case back – it must be a somewhat trying situation. We now see from Re D, just how exasperating a Judge might find that experience.

 

[In the interests of fairness, I’ll throw my hat in the ring – I think Mostyn J first time got the right decision for the wrong reasons, and I think that the Court of Appeal had the right reasoning but reached the wrong decision, so I can see why there’s some rancour there.  ]

 

What follows is all genuinely from Re D (at least all the stuff in bold – a Judge thought of this, wrote it down and published it. For real – underlining is by me, for emphasis)

 

 

  • The reason I am conducting this hearing today in September 2014 is because I have been ordered to do so by the Court of Appeal. My decision of 18 December 2013 was that a Czech court would be better placed to hear this case and in consequence of that decision I issued a formal request under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised Council Regulation No 2201/2003. That formal request sought the agreement of the Czech court to hear this case to its conclusion. My decision of 18 December 2013 was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 21 February 2014 and that is to be found in section A, page 167.
  • It is necessary for me to make reference to aspects of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, if only to clarify matters. The Court of Appeal decided that my decision was flawed as I had allowed the consideration of ED’s Czech nationality to dominate my thinking to the exclusion of any proper consideration of the second and third questions formulated in AB v JLB [2009] 1 FLR 517 (see paragraph 45 of Lord Justice Ryder’s judgment). It was said by him at paragraph 31 of his judgment that the practical considerations which I had identified at paragraph 40 of my judgment of 18 December 2013 were equally matched by the merit of judicial continuity. Notwithstanding that equal balance which I had ultimately decided in favour of a transfer request, Lord Justice Ryder held at paragraph 46 that the issue should have been decided in favour of a continuance of the case here. In his judgment Lord Justice Lewison suggested that in making my decision I had given expression to some kind of secret agenda or inherent hostility to the making of a care order with an adoption plan.
  • In my defence I would say this:

 

(1) If in fact I gave too much weight to the matter of nationality as a connecting factor under the first question it cannot be disputed that it certainly had to be given some weight. However, the Court of Appeal decision affords this factor no weight at all. Instead it merely balances the factor of judicial continuity with the practical considerations and, notwithstanding that they were found to be evenly balanced, my decision to seek a transfer was overturned. This is very hard to follow.

(2) I certainly, in my paragraph 29, was not operating any kind of secret agenda but was merely emphasising the draconian and momentous nature of care and placement orders and faithfully recording and following the views of the senior judiciary in Re B [2004] 2 FLR 142 at paragraph 101, per Mr Justice Munby (as he then was); Re B [2013] 1 WLR 1911, a decision of the Supreme Court; and Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, a decision of the Court of Appeal.

(3) The conduct of this trial has shown how the Court of Appeal’s perception of an equal balance of judicial continuity and practical considerations was, with the profoundest of respect to them, wrong. No material from the fact finding hearing has featured in this case other than my judgment. My judgment has been treated as the alpha to omega of the past proceedings. Unquestionably another judge could have conducted this hearing in exactly the same way that I did. I did not reach for any unwritten nuances or impressions as referred to by Lord Justice Ryder at paragraph 27. In my previous judgment I stated that the advantage of me conducting the hearing would be marginal. With the benefit of actual experience I would say that I have had no such advantage. By contrast, even though Lord Justice Ryder thought in his final sentence of paragraph 31 that, “In a world where the use of information technology is a commonplace the physical location of a professional witness is rarely likely to be decisive” the experience of this case showed that this too was a misplaced view.

 

 

The technology all broke down (I have sad real-life experience of how awful it can be to be involved in video-link evidence overseas, and it is like the course of true love in that it never runs smoothly)

 

The video link to the Czech Republic frequently froze visually leaving me only with sound. I lost the chance in this case in respect of the three crucial witnesses from the Czech Republic to assess their demeanour. All the vital evidence from the Czech Republic had to be professionally translated. The translator gave a heroic performance but the exercise was completely unsatisfactory leaving me again unable, because of translation, to judge these important witnesses’ demeanour. The father also gave his evidence by video link or for much of the time only by audio link, again translated. It was very difficult for me to judge him in the way that I am required to do so.

 

 

  • In my judgment of 18 December 2013 I said at paragraph 40 (this is page A165, the final two sentences):

 

“But beyond these lofty expressions of principle are the simple practical facts that the parents are in the Czech Republic. Baby LD is in the Czech Republic and any proceedings in the Czech Republic will be conducted in the first language of the parents.”

Those practical facts loomed very large in the hearing before me. Those practical facts, or rather my inability to give expression to those practical facts, impeded the trial significantly. Notwithstanding that I had been found by the Court of Appeal to have erred, I am convinced that this case was at all times better tried in the Czech Republic. And had it been tried in the Czech Republic then no placement order, as contended for by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian, could have been made, as that order, in common with almost all other countries in the EU, with the exception of Ireland and Croatia, is beyond the powers of the court in the absence of parental consent.

 

 

The Judge discusses the expert witnesses from the Czech Republic who gave evidence via this flawed video-link. When you see that one of them said in writing that the mother could ‘definitely’ protect the child, you might have your antennae for “you’re going to collapse in cross-exam” twitching, and you’d be right

 

 

  • The next three witnesses were taken over the often malfunctioning video from the Czech Republic and they were the psychotherapist, Leona Hozova, the father and the social worker, Pavla Polakova. I will take the two professional witnesses first. Their written material was laconic indeed but it is not for me to criticise what may well be the usual practice for making professional reports in the Czech Republic. If it is the usual practice then as one who has to read these reports I can see a lot to commend it. Leona Hozova, a psychotherapist employed by the Domino Organisation, a well-known organisation in the Czech Republic, has provided three short statements at section C159, 193 and 195. I quote from the most recent dated 29 May 2014. It is so short that I can read it in full:

 

“From a position of a psychotherapist working with the family, I can respond within my competence as follows:

Ms M, dob 23.04.1994, is capable of recognising a danger and she is definitely able to protect her children, in this case her son ED, dob 27.06.2012. Ms M is an exemplary and loving mother. She is able to bring children up and to create them a relationship in harmony. From an attachment point of view, she is able to create safe and strong bond between her and her children. In a case of any possible danger she would be the first one to protect and defend her children.

At this time Ms M exhausted from the whole situation, psychologically very tired. This whole situation is very difficult for her and her family. Despite this she is still able to function as a mother without any problems and to carry out her child’s needs. During our consultations with Ms M we do not only talk about her psychological state, but we work together on developing her parental competency and smooth care of her child.

As a family psychotherapist I do not find any reasons to take Ms M’s child away, she is a caring and loving mother.

In terms of the psychological help which I am providing to the parents, so far I did not find any pathological elements in the behaviour of the father of Stefan D, dob 25.10.1972. Mr D is able to look after the daughter LD, dob 13.09.2013, without any problems and with love even at times when Ms M is away in England. Mr D is psychologically very broken from the whole situation, delaying of the whole matter has broken him psychologically. As a psychotherapist I can not express my opinion regarding his personal life and his actions at the time before our psychotherapeutic sessions.

Recommendation:

I recommend ED to be returned to his parents.

If it was not possible due to some particular reasons, then I recommend to place ED to foster care in the Czech Republic into a foster family who is experienced with foster care and who would live near to the parents, the reason is the most effective complying with ED’s needs and to enable ED’s contact with his biological parents.

I recommend to continue in regular psychotherapeutic consultations with the parents (both individual and in pair) and in strengthening their parental competence, further on in company of a family advisor who mainly focus in children in the family and in their care.

This opinion has been given on request of the High Court in London, England.”

 

  • In her oral evidence she confirmed that the mother and father had punctiliously attended all psychotherapeutic appointments. However, under cross-examination and significantly she accepted that she was not convinced, notwithstanding the mother’s assertions, that she would in fact ever leave the father, notwithstanding that in her assessment the mother was full of love and was a very careful mother to baby LD. She was satisfied that the mother authentically loved the father but she was of the view that that love was a search by the mother for a substitute father figure, a substitute for the father who abandoned her when she was a young child. She confirmed that she had spoken to both parents about the findings made by me in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 but the father had told her unambiguously that they were not true. He told her that he rejects my findings of domestic violence meted out to his wife, Daniella D, although, in contrast to what he told me at the fact finding hearing, he accepted that he was actually and properly guilty of the criminal offences in respect of which he was sentenced in the Czech Republic in the year 2000. Similarly, but not nearly to the same extent, the mother told her, the psychotherapist, that she did not accept my detailed findings in which the relationship was begun and conducted.
  • Miss Hozova told me that in the Czech Republic there would be available foster parents who could look after ED and that such foster parents had full experience of caring for Roma children. Under cross-examination she accepted that she had tried hard to open up the topic of the father’s past conduct as found by me but that he simply would not co-operate. In a very significant statement for my purposes she stated whilst being cross-examined:

 

“For as long as he does not accept the findings there are considerable risks in placing ED with him and the mother.”

 

 

The Judge weighed up the evidence very carefully and rejected the proposals made by both sides (the mother seeking return of the child, the LA and Guardian seeking adoption)

 

 

  • These are my conclusions. First, I reject the proposal by the mother that these proceedings be dismissed and ED be returned to her and the father in the Czech Republic. That is manifestly not in his interests. Such a placement back with his parents would be replete with far too many risks in circumstances where the father categorically rejects the majority of the previous findings made in this case. He plainly cannot confront his demons until he has identified his demons. The same is true to a lesser extent in relation to the mother. If these parents were living here it is inconceivable that ED would be returned to them. That they are in the Czech Republic surely makes no difference. If a corollary of this finding by me is that I must conclude that baby LD should not be with her parents while deep professional work is done the first base of which is a full acceptance of the wrongdoing the father has done both to Daniella and to the mother, then I do not shrink from expressing that corollary.
  • I now turn to the choice urged on me by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian. In Re B-S at paragraph 19 the President, Sir James Munby, stated:

 

“It is to be remembered, as Baroness Hale pointed out in Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust and Another v H and Another [2006] UKHL 36 at paragraph 34 that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent.”

 

  • In this case Janet Kavanagh in her second statement dated 14 June 2013 has adduced certain research extolling the merits of adoption. At paragraph 22 she said this:

 

“The benefits of successful adoptions are well-evidenced: the overview of evidence research by Coram and Barnados (Exhibit 2) shows adopted children have good psychological outcomes and more stable placements than children brought up in care. “Adoption by contrast (with long-term fostering) is associated with lower disruption rates and placement stability confers a reduction of problems over time and growth of attachment” (Social Care Institute for Excellence in their scoping review of research of looked after children, Exhibit 3). Moreover the Adoption Research Institute (Exhibit 1) goes so far as to state that said that, ‘Adoption should be considered for every child who can not return home’.”

 

  • The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. The relevance of this aspect of the case is surely obvious. This case, as I have demonstrated, could very easily have been tried in the Czech Republic. It was a fortuity that it was not. Had it been so tried there the orders sought by the Local Authority could not have been made. I accept, of course, that I must apply the law of England exclusively but in so doing the unique irrevocability of the orders sought has to play a prominent part in my judgment.
  • Therefore I turn to the two intermediate choices and ask myself if either of them will “do.” Only if neither will “do” will it be appropriate to make the order sought by the Local Authority. In my judgment a special guardianship order in favour of the current foster parents would be the preferred solution. I will not spring such an order on them or on any of the parties here pursuant to the Children Act 1989 section 14A(6)(b) and I cannot in fact envisage such an order being made of the court’s own motion other than by consent. Only if the foster parents apply for a special guardianship order will such an order be made. I invite them to decide within 14 days of today if they will apply for a special guardianship order. If they do I urge them to apply promptly so that a report under section 14A(8) can be prepared.

 

[You may remember the Court of Appeal case I recently discussed where the foster carers WERE putting themselves forward and the Court of Appeal said the Judge was not wrong to reject them – here they weren’t, but the Judge was trying to persuade them to do so]

 

I think that this is an important case – not for setting precedent – this won’t be relied upon in other cases and if it was attempted to be, I am confident that the Court of Appeal would have little hestitation in correcting Mostyn’s views here. But it frames an important philosophical debate – do the Court of Appeal really mean ‘nothing else will do”  – or do they mean “the other options must be considered and if adoption is the decision the Court must explain why they have been rejected”  – and Mostyn J raises the other major issue – are WE right in allowing forced adoption (together with two other countries in the EU, or are the other 25 countries right to have rejected it?

How long will it be before this is litigated, at length in the ECHR?  Y v UK set down the marker that Re B  and then Re B-S followed  [some observers, myself included think that ‘nothing else will do’ was an attempt to get English adoption law back in line with the ECHR view of it], but has there actually been a sea-change in the sort of cases that warrant adoption or have we all just swapped one set of ‘judicial window-dressing’  (draconian order) for a fresher one ‘nothing else will do’ ?

 

I have to say that it feels sometimes on the ground that we have just swapped our incantations for a newer form of words, rather than the radical re-think on adoption that Re B-S looked like a year ago.

 

What was Mostyn J’s plan if the current carers did not offer themselves up as Special Guardians? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. And remember, the Court of Appeal had said no to transferring this case to the Czech Republic under Brussels II.

 

If the foster parents do not signify that they will seek a special guardianship order I then will turn to consider the choice of a placement with Czech foster parents. If I were to do this it could not be under a care order. It is trite law confirmed by a decision of the House of Lords that once a care order is made all subsequent decisions concerning placement of the child are delegated to the Local Authority without interference from the court. The only role the court has thereafter is in relation to contact. Therefore if I were to go down this route it would have to be outside the care proceedings; those proceedings would have to come to an end and wardship proceedings would have to be commenced. The order placing ED with Czech foster parents would be a judgment made in wardship proceedings and such a judgment would be enforceable under Articles 21 and 23 of Brussels II Revised and under Article 23 of the 1996 Hague Convention. However, the judgment could only be enforced in the Czech Republic provided that Article 56 had been complied with (see Article 23(g) of Brussels II Revised).

 

I.e, I’ll make a wardship order and place the children in foster care in the Czech Republic.

 

The LA and Guardian expressed some doubts on that, given that the agencies of the Czech Republic had been leaning more towards rehab to mother’s care.

 

 

  • If therefore there is no signification by the foster parents to seek a special guardianship order within 14 days I direct that the central authority, OILPC, be notified that this court is contemplating a placement of ED with Czech foster parents and ask them to set in train the identification of such foster parents in accordance with the terms of the letter which I have just read out. If foster parents have been identified by the Czech central authority pursuant to the procedure set out by 1st November 2014 the matter must be restored to me to consider the suitability of those foster parents. If they are suitable then I will make the order in wardship that ED be placed with those foster parents and such an order and judgment will explicitly provide that the question of contact or indeed discharge from foster care will be made by the Czech court.
  • In principle I consider that foster care in the Czech Republic is a preferable solution to the irrevocability of a care order and placement order although, in my judgment, it is not as preferable as a special guardianship order. My reason is that in this case the ethnicity factor and parental link I regard of critical importance and which must have the capacity of being preserved and should not be irrevocably severed on the facts of this case. I reject the argument made for the Local Authority by Mrs Rowley, and by Mr Veitch for the guardian, that this solution is replete with risks because the Czech court might return ED to his parents. If I might respectfully say so it is a highly chauvinistic, almost neo-colonial sentiment. If the Czech court does return ED to his parents it will be after a full hearing with the child represented by a guardian. Plainly there can be no serious suggestion made that the Czech court would not, in any hearing, properly promote the interests of ED. Only if both of these intermediate choices prove to be impossible will I be satisfied that nothing else will do and in those circumstances I would make on the evidence the care order and placement order.
  • I accept entirely that the solution I have proposed and which I order will involve further delay in achieving finality for ED. I accept that the avoidance of delay is an almost canonical prescription in this kind of proceedings. However, bearing in mind that I am making arrangements which will affect the whole of ED’s life I do not believe that the most profound consequences of that decision should be sacrificed on the altar of the avoidance of delay.

 

So, to suggest that the Czech authorities might return the child to mother’s care is highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial…

 

Let’s see what the Czech authorities had to say (AFTER the judgment was handed down. Again underlining mine for emphasis)

 

 

  • On 29 September 2014 this court received a letter dated 23 September 2014 from Mr Zdeněk Kapitán, the Direct of OILPC. This was written and received well after I had orally given judgment. The letter reads as follows:

 

“The Office for International Legal Protection of Children, as the Central Authority of the Czech Republic under the Council Regulation (EC) No 2201 /2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 hereby states its position regarding the case of the child mentioned above.According to the information available to the Office, the child is currently removed from the care of his parents and is placed in the foster care.

As our Office is highly concerned about the best interest of the minor who is the Czech national we respectfully ask the Court to consider, while deciding in the Care Order proceedings the following rights of the Child arising from the international conventions named below that are binding for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Firstly, the Office would like to point out at the Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights that regulates the right to respect for private and family life, the Office hereby highlights the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “ECHR’) in respect of the Article 8 of the Convention. In particular the ECHR constantly rules that “the fact that a child could be placed In a more beneficial environment for his or her upbringing will not on its own justify a compulsory measure of removal from the care of the biological parents, there must exist other circumstances pointing to the effective ‘necessity’ for such an interference with the parents’ right under Article 8 of the Convention to enjoy a family life with the child” (T v FINLAND, § 173)

Furthermore, the ECHR declared that “although the essential object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by the public authorities, there may jn addition be positive obligations inherent in an effective ‘respect’ for family life. Thus. where the existence of a family tie has been established, the State must in principle act in the manner calculated to enable that tie to be developed and take measures that will enable parent and child to be reunited” (KUTZNER v. GERMANY. § 61).

Secondly, the Office draws the attention of the Court to the Article 8 and Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child under which the States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her family relations and shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will unless the certain conditions are met.

Finally, the Office understands that the habitual residence of the above child is in the territory of the United Kingdom and that the Court shall have the jurisdiction in the matter. Nevertheless if the Court considers that it is in the best interest of the child to proceed under the Article 15 and/ or the Article 56 of the Regulation, the Office supports such proceedings and is very open to offer the Court its further assistance in proceedings under the Article 15 and / or the Article 56 of the Regulation.

In conclusion, the Office appeals to the Court to take into consideration the aforesaid and not to interfere with the right to respect for family life unless it is necessary and justifiable.

This statement is to emphasize the importance and priority of the work with the biological family over the very extreme measure of separating the child from his parents and placing him into foster care. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that in case the parents are not able to take care of the child, the members of wider family should be always considered as potential carers.”

 

I might be highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial, but I read that as the Czech authorities dropping a pretty big hint that if the child is in their control, they view foster care as the last resort and a very extreme measure.

 

Now, one could of course argue – this is a Czech mother, a Czech father, a Czech baby – let the Czech Republic get on with it and make their own decisions, it is really their baby to make decisions about.  Except… that’s exactly what Mostyn J decided first time out and the Court of Appeal rejected that.

 

We don’t know yet what has actually happened. Here is my guess – either the LA and the Guardian began drawing up an appeal claim straight away OR a lot of pressure was put on the current foster carers to take up the offer of Special Guardianship to avoid further ligitation.

 

I’m not a huge fan of how Mostyn J has necessarily gone about this, but it is a real practical issue on the ground – we are having more and more babies in England and Wales whose parents are from other parts of the EU, those countries being ones who don’t have non-consensual adoption – should we be spending huge amounts of taxpayers money litigating these cases in England, or should the decisions about the children be taken in the parents country of origin?   (It gets ludicrously tricky if mum and dad are from different countries within the EU, of course)

 

The ECHR’s already tough line on non-consensual adoption was in a case where the UK was making decisions about the children of its own citizens – might they take an even tougher line when the first case of a foreign national’s children goes before the ECHR?  The Italian C-section case drew a lot of overseas attention – and if we have 3 countries within the EU who support non-consensual adoption and 25 who don’t, the UK government may not be preaching to the converted if a case of that kind comes up before the ECHR.

 

 

Neglecting neglect

 

The Parliamentary report on child protection, and a discussion of it.

One of the nice things about doing this blog is that some of my visitors will from time to time send me something that I might otherwise have missed.  I knew that this Parliamentary enquiry had been going on, but not that the report had yet been published.

 

You can find it here:-

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/137/137.pdf 

 

 

They seem, on the whole, to be broadly supportive of the system, which is no doubt a disappointment to many of my readers.  They do recognise that there are serious problems within it, and make some recommendations.  They particularly felt, as the mainstream media picked up, that the child protection system isn’t a great fit for adolescents and that they get marginalised by the process.

 

 

One of the topics they looked at was neglect  (see also all of the blog posts I’ve done recently on the neglect and neuroscience issue)

 

Neglect

 

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in England. Having looked at both the criminal and civil definitions of neglect, we recommend that the Government investigate thoroughly whether the narrow scope of the criminal definition contained in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is causing problems in bringing criminal cases of neglect, but we have seen no convincing evidence that the civil definition is insufficient.

 

To get a better picture of the scale of neglect, we recommend that the Government commission research to investigate whether similar situations and behaviours are being classified as neglect in different local authorities.

 

There is evidence that children have been left too long in neglectful situations. To tackle this, child protection guidance for all front-line professionals should include an understanding of the long-term developmental consequences of neglect and the urgency of early intervention. Securing positive outcomes and meeting the needs of the child should come before all other considerations, and there needs to be a continued shift in culture so that there is earlier protection and safeguarding of the long-term needs of children. The Government must be prepared to act if there are signs that improvement in the responsiveness of local authorities to neglect is not being sustained.

In cases of domestic violence, the focus should be on supporting the abused parent and helping them to protect their children, but the interests of the children must come first.

 

 

It did seem to me (subject to rigour in how the research is done) that a piece of research on how neglect is managed throughout the country, and whether there are fluctuations in what is considered to be neglect in different regions, is a valid and worthwhile exercise.  Child protection is a massively expensive and resource-intensive undertaking in this country, and if there are lessons that could be taken from the way certain local authorities tackle and overcome neglect, that would be useful information to share around.

 

 

They also looked at the issue of adoption, and in particular the competing current desires of the Government to speed up adoption and the campaigners against ‘forced adoption’

 

216. We endorse the Government’s current policy emphasis on increasing the number of children adopted, speeding up the process and facilitating foster-to-adopt arrangements. Adoption is clearly the preferred route to permanence and stability for some children. However, the same goal can be achieved by other means and it is vital that the Government and those in local authorities continue to concentrate effort and resources on prioritising stability in placements for all children, whether through longterm fostering, Special Guardianship or residential care. We would welcome greater debate on policies which might bring this about and greater encouragement from Government for these alternative solutions. In particular, while we recognise that an artificial limit on the number of times a child can be moved within the system would be unworkable, there should be increased emphasis in central guidance aimed at limiting the disruption and damage caused to vulnerable children by frequent changes.

 

217. We have listened with sympathy to concerns about widespread ‘forced adoption’, and to the very personal and moving stories that often lay behind them. It is evident that there are rogue misjudged cases with terrible consequences for those involved. This should not happen and those affected are right to fight against such injustice. Nevertheless, the weight of research evidence, matched by evidence to our inquiry, concluded that that the balance tended to lie with authorities not taking children into care or adoption early enough, rather than removing children from their parents without due cause.

 

We note that the Minister spoke of “work in progress” to look at “what further safeguards we might be able to institute whereby there is a sort of appeals mechanism”. This would have to be balanced against the further delay to a permanent solution for the child which would inevitably occur as a result.  An appeals mechanism against “forced” adoption is an interesting idea and we look forward to examining the Minister’s proposals when they are published.

 

 

As do I.

 

I’m rather surprised that the Minister spoke to them about introducing a ‘sort of appeals mechanism’ given that there is already an actual appeal mechanism.

 

So either :-

 

(a)   He doesn’t know that there is already  an appeal mechanism

(b)   He is planning to lower the test for appeals in Placement Order or adoption cases, from mistake in law or the Judge being plainly wrong to something lower

(c)   He is planning to introduce a mechanism whereby the Placement Order or adoption order can be appealed at a different stage in the process  (which would have to be later than at present)

OR even

(d)   That there is a plan for an appeal mechanism for Placement Orders which will sit outside of the legal appeal process, i.e that the appeal would be considered by a body outside the judiciary, and contemplating different principles than at present.

 

 

I’m not sure which of those possibilities I find most problematic, but any of them without a lot of proper thought first is worrying.  

 

 

I noted in the passage above that that the Committee touched upon the evidence of Martin Narey

 

215. The importance of permanence and stability is underlined by the shocking evidence we received of the number of times some children move in the course of their time in care.

 

It is clearly damaging to children to move from one form of care to another frequently; and yet we spoke to children who had moved multiple times—in one case up to 16. Martin Narey told us that he had “met countless children who have had 24 or 25 foster placements and 21 or 22 different schools”.396 He added: “We would never dream of doing this to our children and for some children the very best option for them is […] high quality residential care”.397

 

 

 

Well, I agree with all of the principles set out there, and I am sure that the Committee really did speak to children who had moved up to 16 times, which is an awful and horrific tragedy. I am also sure, sadly, that there have been children in the care system who have had 24 or 25 foster placements.

 

I am somewhat sceptical, to put it mildly, that Mr Narey has met “countless” such children.  I think this is rather on a par with his comments about having asked to see a child’s social work files which were then literally brought into the room in a wheelbarrow.

 

I don’t think this sort of hyperbolae helps, when it comes from someone helping the Government form really important policy.

 

Every child who has multiple placements is a bloody tragedy. Those children who have had dozens or more are a huge tragedy. Every child who has had 24 foster placements is a disgrace   (there might well be really strong underpinning reasons, usually connected with the child’s damaged behaviour but that doesn’t stop the outcome being disgraceful)  and we really should learn as much as possible from it and stop this happening to any child in the future.  But to suggest that it is happening to so many children that Martin Narey has met “countless” is I think rather disingenuous.  

 

Or perhaps my concept of countless is more than Mr Narey’s – it depends on how good you are at counting, I suppose.

 

[All just my personal opinion, perhaps Mr Narey really has met over a thousand children, which would be around where I’d consider a number to be countless, who have had 25 placements.  I guess if he is disputing my suggestion that he hasn’t met ‘countless children’, he would need to show that he had met a significant number, which would mean him counting them, so they couldn’t then  be countless…]

 

Let me be plain, I consider that a single child who has 24 foster placements is a child too many. I just don’t care much for hyperbolae when giving evidence.

 

The Committee also talked about newer and more specialised forms of abuse and risk, they considered the technological side of things with paedophilia over the internet, child trafficking, child prostitution, forced marriage, and suggested that there was a need to build up specialist expertise in this area, and for those authorities who were encountering it to share their expertise with others

 

We recommend that the College of Social Work take a leading role in co-ordinating and promoting awareness of CPD training in specialised forms of abuse and in encouraging other disciplines to participate in relevant courses. For more general use, if the guidance on specialised forms of abuse is to be deleted from Working Together, the Government needs to make clear where such guidance will be found in future and how it will be updated and signposted to social workers and other professionals. (Paragraph 133)

 

17. We are also concerned that professionals faced with a specific type of abuse with which they are not familiar should have an identifiable source of expertise to consult in person. Local authorities should nominate a specialised child abuse practitioner to lead on such matters. Where an authority has a low incidence of a particular form of child abuse, they should be able to draw on the expertise of nominated practitioners in other authorities. (Paragraph 134)

 

 

 

I think the most controversial paragraph, and certainly the one which will provoke ire in some quarters, will be this one:-

 

 

We welcome the research by Cafcass into applications for care orders and recommend that this work be repeated on a regular basis. An assessment of the reasons behind the local variability in care applications is needed. We also believe that it is essential to promote a more positive picture of care to young people and to the public in general. The young people to whom we spoke were generally very positive about their experiences, including those who had spent time in children’s homes. This is backed by academic research on outcomes. Ministers should encourage public awareness of the fact that being taken into care can be of great benefit to children.

 

In the words of Bill Hicks – “it’s not a popular opinion, you don’t hear it very often”

 

 

Perhaps in that vein, the next Commons Committee will be on “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of using terminal ill people as stunt doubles.”

 

[And I know that makes no sense to you whatsoever if you’re not familiar with the work of Mr Hicks  “I know to a lot of you this might sound a little cruel… ‘Aw Bill, terminally ill stunt people? That’s cruel’…. Well hear me out..”]

Are you trying to tempt me, because I come from the land of plenty?

A discussion of the South Australian Parliamentary apology for forced adoptions.

[I have edited this, due to stupidity on my part on not realising that the Australian definition of ‘forced adoption’ is different from that used by critics of our UK system. It nagged away at me, so I looked at it more carefully and cleaned this up. Apologies to anyone who has had to read it twice, and potentially been given a misdirection by the first version, which was rubbish. My apology is heartfelt, but not as moving as the Australian apology that I’m blogging about]

The Australian term ‘forced adoption’ refers to the policy in the 60s and 70s of compulsory and wholesale removal of babies and infants from Aboriginal mothers (*and I am corrected by a helpful commenter, also from white mothers, both in massive numbers)  and placement with more middle class  families.  It is vital to realise that this policy was not only lawful, but came about because professionals who believed this was in the best interests of the children had persuaded legislators that it was right.  The value of the apology is therefore chiefly about recognising that what can be accepted good practice on the State’s role in the lives of children can in later years seem not only catastrophically wrong, but actually abusive.

The Australian ‘forced adoption’ , although much more pernicious and racially dubious, is more akin I think to our UK Victorian values whereby unmarried mothers either gave up their babies or were committed to madhouses.

I know that this is a different country, and I don’t like the term ‘forced adoptions’  (just as, I suspect, Ian Josephs of the Forced Adoption website doesn’t like an awful lot of the terms that are used in Court proceedings, like ‘family justice’, so fair play)

I’m aware that Australia’s level of adoption is about half that of the UK, and much much lower than the US.  I suspect that adoption remains an emotive topic in Australia, and some of the language used in the apology can really be embraced by the critics of our current system.

But Australia doesn’t seem all that different to us (apart from the being tanned and good at sports thing).  We have a common language, and a fairly similar country. So when they condemn the practice of adopting children against the wishes of the parents, it bears a bit more listening to than when you hear that some country that we share no cultural overlaps with have done it.

I’m not in a position to argue whether the UK approach is right, or the Australian approach is right, but if two countries with fairly similar outlooks on life and one presumes broadly similar social problems, can reach such markedly different conclusions, then there’s a genuine debate to be had.

  In any event, it highlights the point that what is culturally acceptable and considered good practice may appear abhorrent to a later generation, and we should have an eye on the fact that dogma can be wrong.  No doubt our critics will say that such an apology may come in the future, and is long overdue. Who am I to say that they are wrong? If you had asked the Australian legislators and professionals whether history would judge them harshly, I’m sure they would have robustly denied this as a possibility.

This bit is from the Premier,  John Wetherill

“These adoption practices were the product of multiple failures. They failed to meet a basic standard, whether or not they were in accordance with the law at the time. They reflected a failure to apply a simple test of human conduct – a test which we should all try to apply to ourselves every day. They reflected a failure to ask what has become a famous question: how would I feel if this were done to me? For those failures, and for everything they led to, we are sorry…”

 

“We apologise for the lies, the fear, the silence, the deceptions. We apologise for the lack of respect, the disbelief, the grief, the trauma and loss. We offer this unreserved apology not just as an act of atonement but as an expression of open-hearted admiration and support for those to whom it is owed. I commend the motion to the house.”

And this bit is the speech given by their equivalent of Ed Milliband, but don’t hold that against him, he seems like a nice chap.  You can read that HERE

http://www.johngardnermp.com.au/parliament/speeches/951-18-july-2012-forced-adoption-apology.html

but I’m going to publish the whole thing, because it is (A) interesting and (B) it took me forever to find it, so at least publishing it makes it slightly easier to find for someone else.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:36):Today our galleries are full to overflowing. It is sadly ironic, perhaps, that on a day when we gather here as a special sitting of this house to acknowledge the past adoption practices that have caused such distress, it is because of another overhang of the 19th and 20th centuries—the asbestos in the House of Assembly chamber—that we are denied the opportunity to have that chamber available, where so many more people might have had the opportunity to see this directly.I welcome all those mothers, sons, daughters, family members and other people who have been affected to our galleries today. I acknowledge also those in other rooms of the parliament who are watching this live and those people who are watching the web stream. We are grateful that that has been made available on this occasion. Many more people, of course, are watching through that online.I recognise the contributions made by the Premier, the minister, and the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the Liberal Party in particular, but also in seconding the motion to the parliament. This afternoon, members of the Legislative Council will have an opportunity to comment on the apology, and other members of the house in due course.It is an important day for the South Australian community. It is an important day for this parliament and the institutions that this parliament is responsible for. Most importantly, of course, it is an important day for those affected by past adoption practices: the mothers, the sons and the daughters, and their families, so many of whom are here bearing witness today. Madam Speaker, with your leave, I seek leave to directly address my opening remarks to them.

To the mothers who had their babies taken away from them, we know that an apology cannot return a child who was taken for so many years. The loss of a son or daughter taken cannot be restored by a simply apology. Words alone cannot heal the hurt that you have suffered over decades. We hope, though, that they may provide some comfort. You may at least walk from this building feeling vindicated that your community understands that you did not freely give up your child and that your children and your community understand that you never gave up on your child either.

The coercion that led to your child’s adoption, whether it was overt or whether it was subtle, was brutal and wrong. It was inappropriate, it was unethical, it may have been illegal, and today this parliament makes a statement that it is condemned. It is condemned by this parliament on behalf of the institution itself and on behalf of the South Australian community.

On behalf of the parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry. In this day and age, children are put up for adoption in South Australia only when there is genuinely no opportunity for family to stay together and we work very hard to ensure that the very few adoptive parents who have this opportunity are everything that they might be; but in our history we have not always been so virtuous.

To the adoptees, to the sons and daughters who were taken at birth, I imagine that your experiences in life have been varied and diverse. Many of you may have been adopted into loving families who did their best for you at every turn. Some of you were not so fortunate, and your negative experiences make this apology all the more important.

Whatever the nature of your experience growing up, you share an understanding, a shared experience, a common bond; only you can truly understand what it is like to go through life for years—decades even—knowing that there is a missing piece. What was done to you, what was taken from you, the denial of a mother’s love and the kinship of your blood brothers and sisters, was wrong, and, on behalf of this parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry.

While the centrepiece of this apology is an acceptance and an expression of sorrow for the denial of informed consent when children were taken from mothers at birth, its terms are broad, and with good reason. I commend the government for the framing of this motion. We are apologising for a wide range of practices that have caused hurt and distress. We are apologising for a range of practices that have led to a varied set of experiences.

My own experience was to grow up knowing a beautiful, loving big sister. She was adopted with love by our father and her mother. She has done well in life. She has been successful in her career. She has the most beautiful, charming and caring daughter that any of you here are ever likely to meet. However, what I could not have understood growing up was her sense that there was a missing piece in her life. Nearly 30 years later, she discovered that she had been separated at birth from her twin brother who now lived across the country. Last night she wrote to me on Facebook, in a sign of the times, with her thoughts on what we are doing today. She said:

It is such an important day for all adoptees, their adopted families and their mothers that gave up their babies so many years ago. Tomorrow—

this was written last night—

is a day to reflect on the past. I have been one of the lucky ones who have found both my twin brother…and also been able to tell our birth mother that we do not blame her for what has happened in the past and that we look forward to the future as brother and sister. Thank you for your support in this.

Despite not knowing each other for nearly the first 30 years of their lives, they have a bond of iron that stretches from Perth to Brisbane.

Twins were separated at birth all over the world, just as they were in South Australia, but that does not make it right. That does not make it acceptable. For that, and for so many other practices undertaken in our community by our government and non-government institutions with the endorsement of the parliaments of the day, either tacitly or overtly, we are sorry.

Members of parliament on both sides over the last several months in particular, but for a number of years before, have heard so many stories from mothers and adoptees about things that have happened to their families: stories of mothers prevented from seeing their child during and after childbirth; stories of mums hearing their babies’ cries and wanting to hold them but being denied; stories of mums who could not hear their babies’ cries and wanting to find out why but who were held down and denied the opportunity; stories of mothers drugged to reduce their resistance to the coercion and drugged to dry up their milk.

In originally moving this motion encouraging the government to undertake this apology on 29 March, I said that in addition to the lack of financial support provided to unwed mothers there were also cases where they were subjected to grooming by those around them and pressure, including from state institutions. Moved from their community into the confines of a home, women were told that adoption was the right thing to do and the best thing for the child. Women had the details of their pregnancy and the future of their child concealed, while alternatives to adoption and information on potential financial assistance was often withheld. Relinquishing a child for adoption was often a traumatic process, and mothers have detailed their accounts to us and to the Senate inquiry, and the minister, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition have detailed some of those accounts today.

In many cases consent was surrendered under duress, others were denied the right to revoke consent and some had the right to consent withheld altogether. There is no excuse that it is based on the understanding, the morality, of the time. There were people at the time who were saying that these practices were wrong. There is record of that. There was no Christian morality in what was going on there. I have had calls recently to be reminded of the Ten Commandments in relation to another matter, and I can tell you that commandment 4 is, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ These children, these adoptees, were denied the opportunity to do that. Commandment 7 is, ‘Thou shall not steal.’ These children were stolen. There was no morality in this.

The value of an apology is important. It is a moment of healing, reconciliation and opportunity for the parliament to demonstrate to those who are hurt that we have respect for you and that you are vindicated—those who have felt hurt all these years. When we as individuals going about our business commit a wrong we apologise, and when an institution commits a wrong its representatives must apologise, and we do so today.

We follow in the steps of the first apology of this nature in Australia undertaken on 9 June 2009 by the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the Western Australian parliament on 19 October 2010, a number of other non-government institutions and churches that have done so since then, the Senate inquiry reporting in February (and I look forward to further activity at a federal level), the support of the Liberal party room, the Greens, the Labor party room, the government and bipartisan support in this house.

It is a time for healing and reconciliation, and we applaud those who have had the courage to come forward and to contribute to this apology. I conclude by reflecting the words of the Premier earlier:

This South Australian parliament recognises that the lives of many members of the South Australian community have been adversely affected by adoption practices which have caused deep distress and hurt, especially for mothers and their sons and daughters, who are now adults.

We recognise that past adoption practices have profoundly affected the lives of not only these people but also fathers, grandparents, siblings, partners and other family members.

We accept with profound sorrow that many mothers did not give informed consent to the adoption of their children.

To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are deeply sorry.

We recognise that practices of our past mean that there are some members of our community who remain disconnected from their families of origin.

To [the adoptees] who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their families of origin, we are deeply sorry.

To those people who were disbelieved for so long, we hear you now; we acknowledge your pain, and we offer you our unreserved and sincere regret and sorrow for those injustices.

To all those hurt, we say sorry.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Family preservation versus child rescue

I was kindly sent Dr Peter Dale’s response to the Government consultation on contact with children in care, and sibling placement in adoption.

 

I blogged about those consultations here :-

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/23/we-are-family-ive-got-all-my-sisters-with-me-or-beware-of-the-leopard/ 

 

 

Anyway, here is Dr Dale’s response.

 

http://www.peterdale.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ContactPaperResponseAug2012.pdf

 

 

Whilst I don’t agree with absolutely everything Dr Dale says, I like to read things that I don’t agree with, and I particularly like reading things that make me change my view about things.  This document did that, and for that reason, I commend it to you.

 

It also chimed with some things that were in my mind about where we are currently headed with family justice, and my overriding uneasy impression that there’s nothing in the Family Justice Review or the legislation and practice that’s going to flow from it which is about the fundamentals of whether Society wants what we’re currently doing, and whether we ought to step back from the 1989 Act and see how it is working. 

 

Not in terms of processes, and costs and times – it’s awful on all of those things, and that’s what the Family Justice Review has focussed on, but on the bigger issues of whether the whole interaction between State and parents is what the general public would want, or whether, as is alleged by critics of the system it has created a horrible sense of injustice and unfairness where professionals are powerful and parents are powerless.

 

Are the people working within the Family Justice System out of step with what society as a whole would think about when the State ought to intervene and care for your children, and what is child abuse, and what is what Hedley J described in Re L as Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent.

 

 

It’s always a good thing, I suspect, to question that. It’s very easy to assess any case against the backdrop of your own experience, but even when that experience seems quite large, it is really just tiny and trivial compared to the overall numbers of care proceedings.

 

And whilst I can look at the risks of harm in a case and have a good feel for whether the Courts I appear in will consider it manageable or not manageable, that gives me no proper sense of what UK society as a whole would think.

 

I think that most people in the UK would agree that children should not be sexually abused  (although even on that, one person’s view as whether a man who five years ago groped a fifteen year old daughter of a previous partner is now a risk of sexual abuse to his own baby boy is probably going to differ from anothers),  but I suspect that there’s a multitude of views on physical abuse and where the line is drawn between parental chastisement and abuse  (I think most people would say no to broken arms and legs, but there would be a difference of opinion about bruising) and neglect would be very hard to get a consensus on, and emotional harm even more so.

 

Is there a value in care proceedings calibrating themselves against what the general population or society at large would consider to meet Significant Harm?  Where do we want, as a society, to draw the line of ‘this is unusual or not very good parenting but let them get on with it’  against ‘this child can’t stay at home

 

I think it’s something that’s not really been attempted, and I’d be interested in the results. Should a parent not have a clear idea, long before they ever meet a social worker, of what sort of parenting falls so below society’s standards that the State would intervene?

 

I would like to hope that if you pulled out a random judgment from any care case decided by any  Court in the country since the Children Act came into being, and gave it to a journalist, they might think at worst  “well, that could have gone the other way, and it was finely balanced. I might disagree, but I can see why it happened” but would never think “god, that’s just outrageous, how could they have possibly not got those kids back? This is a scandal”  

 

I’d like to hope that, but I can’t say for certain. Maybe of 1000 random cases, there’d be one that produces the ‘outrageous’ reaction, maybe 60, maybe 300.  We have no way of knowing.  I suspect, hand on heart, that there are more ‘outrageous’ cases than I’d like to believe, but less than the Hemming/Brooker camp would believe.  But either of us could be wrong. We might both be (and probably are)

 

I’d like to see, for example, the collation of anonymised threshold documents from every case, so that research could be done on whether this fluctuates over time and between areas, and to have a proper sense of what it is, in  a family justice system that results in Care Orders being made.

 

Anyway, enough about me, on with Dr Dale.

 

He opens with this :-

 

“there are major philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural differences as to what constitutes a child’s “best interests”. Such differences are apparent throughout the history of childcare literature, and dominant viewpoints rise and fall. The field of child protection in general, and specifically permanent separation/adoption, is permeated by variations and polarities of apparently reasonable opinion. Over time the social policy pendulum has swung back and forth across the continuum that has “familypreservation’’ principles at one pole; and “child rescue” principles at the other. Each position is internally logically consistent and can call on research to support its belief systems (as to what is “best” for children). Notably each paradigm/mindset when implemented gives rise to unintended negative consequences (which may only become apparent over time).”

 

 

And I think he is completely right. I suspect, as he believe, that we are in a period of “child rescue” being the dominant thinking, and that this is colouring Government thinking on the Family Justice Review, on adoption scorecards and on these consultations.

 

[Cynically, if you’re in the Government, and you’re imagining the headlines for ‘another Cleveland’ or ‘another Baby P’ and had to choose one of those two to encounter, I suspect most ministers would choose another Cleveland.   I’m sure it has never been as overt as that]

 

 

Dr Dale talks at some length about the risks of ‘child rescue’ and I think it is worth setting them out in full, because they are well constructed and interesting.

 

“In essence, what the DoE/Narey report recommends is a reinforcement of “childrescue” principles and practices that in the 1940s–1960s saw thousands of children in state care being forcibly emigrated to places such as Australia, Canada and South Africa without the knowledge of their parents (and without any continuing contact). Of course, at the time, the agencies involved (including Children’s charities such as Barnardos) considered that this was “in the best interests” of these children. History informs us otherwise (Humphrey 1996).

 

It is of note that compulsory adoption, and adoption without contact, is anathema in Australia and New Zealand because of the history of mass forced adoption of Aboriginal and Maori children known as the “Stolen Generation(http://reconciliaction.org.au/nsw/education-kit/stolen-generations/). The South Australian government formally apologised on 18 July 2012 for this history of forced adoption. The following notice appeared in the South Australian press on 14/7/2012:

Government of South Australia: Forced Adoption Practices.

“On behalf of the South Australian Government the Premier, the Hon Jay Weatherill MP, will deliver a formal Apology to mothers and fathers whose children were removed because of forced adoption practices from the past, and to people who were separated from their parents as infants as a result of those practices. The Apology will be delivered at the South Australian Parliament from 11am on Wednesday 18 July 2012.”

1.4 I predict a UK government apology for recent and current practices of forced adoption in about 30 years time.

1.5 In this context, the proposals in the DoE/Narey paper are technical measures to further implement “child rescue” principles, policies and practices. In my view, a broader theoretical perspective is required to ensure that the proposed changes do not have adverse outcomes and unintended negative consequences.

 

It is always worth a reality check, and this whole section is one.  Maybe we will recoil in horror in 30 years time at the idea of forced adoptions.

 

It may well be that in years to come, the concept of the State adopting children against the will of the parent may be something that boggles the mind, just as reading that in the 1940s-1960s the State took children in care and forcibly emigrated them to the other side of the world boggles the mind now.  I’m sure that nobody involved in that practice at the time thought that they were doing anything other than something that was good for the children, even if with the passage of time it now seems unfathomable, and we can’t disregard the possibility that in time, things that seem ‘good practice’ now will become anathema.

 

For that reason, I would support a family justice review that didn’t look just at processes and system but the whole overarching philosophy of how the interaction between State and parents who are considered to be not meeting their children’s needs should take place. What does Society want from a family justice system?  How much help does Society want to give struggling parents? More than is delivered at present, I suspect.

 

 

There’s some very detailed deconstruction of the Kenrick research that colours so much of the Government consultation on contact. I’m not going to get in the ring between Dr Dale and Kenrick, but I would suggest that at the very least, and as with any research, accepting it uncritically is not wise to do. If you’re involved in any way with contact between children and parents, I think Dr Dale’s analysis of this is worth reading, even if you eventually settle more on the Kenrick side of the debate, because it is a properly constructed assessment of the other side of the coin.

 

 

Some more on compulsory adoption here :-

 

1.45 Compulsory adoption is often referred to as being the most draconian outcome in UK law since the abolition of the death penalty. In cases of murder, the death penalty was imposed following a finding of guilt by a jury at the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt). The outcome of compulsory adoption occurs on the basis of findings by a single judge at the lower civil level of proof (balance of probabilities). In both scenarios, miscarriages of justice are known to occur.

 

1.46 In the same way as a hanged man cannot be revived and reprieved, children who have been wrongly subject to compulsory adoption cannot be returned to their innocent parents. [e.g. Norfolk County Council v Webster [2007] 2 FLR 415]. In the sad case of four-month-old baby Jayden Wray in 2012, two parents were accused of his murder; and had a new baby removed from their care with a plan for adoption, until it was confirmed that Jayden had in fact died from undiagnosed rickets. (LB of Islington v Al Alas and Wray [2012] EWHC 865 (Fam).) Faster compulsory adoption raises risks of inadequate investigation in complex medical cases; proper exploration of alternative (less draconian) placements (e.g. kinship care); and scrutiny of the judicial process.

 

 

 

[As someone within the system – and I am trying here to be honest in accepting that that doesn’t necessarily put me in the best position, I think cases should be determined on the civil standard of proof and by a Judge, rather than to the criminal standard and before a jury – but I do think that a proper debate about this to reach a consensus as to what Society thinks is legitimate. And if Society had a different view to me, the law ought to be looked at.   I can see an argument that can’t be dismissed out of hand  that if a person is accused of stealing from a shop, they can insist on a trial by jury and the criminal standard of proof, but can’t get that for a determination of whether they’ve abused their child]

 

I share Dr Dale’s fears that we are rushing into a faster resolution of the most drastic step that the law can take in a persons life, without having first done the most basic exercise of  “Is the system actually getting the right answers now?”

 

 

As Billy the Kid once said  “Speed’s fine, partner, but accuracy’s final”  

 

I know the stats about the high proportion of cases where the order sought by the Local Authority is the one made by the Court, and also the NSPCC research on the children who were rehabilitated home having too high a proportion going on to suffer further significant harm, or to go on to come back into care.

 

But I am troubled by the fact that we don’t have a clear sense of whether we currently are on the ‘family preservation versus child rescue’ scale is a place where society and the general public would be content with, if they knew.

 

I would like to think that if there were some huge detailed investigation whereby proper impartial researchers with access to proper information and data would conclude that in the vast majority of cases, Courts make Care Orders for proper reasons and that whilst mistakes are made and every one is a human tragedy, they are rare and the appeal process rectifies them.

 

But I have to accept that I am within the system, and maybe I believe that because the alternative is too hard to contemplate. Those outside the system, certainly a significant body of them, believe the opposite, that a proper root and branch investigation would show that the State is letting families down, removing them for insufficient reason and not doing enough to support them, and that social workers are mistreating parents.

 

Dr Dale’s consideration of the case of Re K (A Child: Post Adoption Placement Breakdown) [Neutral Citation Number: [2012] EWHC B9 (Fam)].  Which I have blogged about here    

 

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/30/forensic-ferrets-or-standing-in-the-way-of-beyond-parental-control/

is very interesting. That’s clearly a case where judicial scrutiny of a case has led to the Judge determining that the Local Authority’s treatment of the parents was ‘not only inappropriate and wrong but cruel’    and it’s easy to see, when you read cases like this, why the people who rail against Local Authorities have a point.  Sometimes Local Authorities behave extremely badly. What we don’t know, is how often.

 

This is not the sort of thing that should happen, but it still does, and we have no way of knowing, without a proper independent look at the body of care cases as a whole whether this is an awful aberration (as I would claim) or an illustration of how social workers behave and usually get away with (as the forced adoption camp would claim).

 

3.23 If the UK practice of compulsory adoption continues with no direct contact for the child with natural family members during childhood, I predict in the not-too distant future, an increase in the phenomenon of adoptive parents being rejected and abandoned by their alienated adoptive children who ‘vote with their feet’ and return to their natural families. This is a tragic outcome for all three parties in the ‘adoption triangle’. It is one, in my experience, that adoptive parents are not warned to expect by social/adoption workers.

 

 

 

I suspect that the consultation, as I hinted darkly, is already a done deal, that the new thinking is all about ‘child rescue’   – I note that there’s nothing being launched by the Government to measure the statistics of children successfully rehabilitated to the care of parents, or of interventions with troubled families that avoid the need for care proceedings, or a league table congratulating Local Authorities for being able to keep children within the family.

 

 

It would be nice to have an emphasis on the importance of ‘family preservation’ and balancing it properly against ‘child rescue’ on the basis that it is the right and proper thing to do, rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to another Cleveland, Orkney or Rochdale.