Not every parent is an ideal carer but the law recognises that, wherever possible, it is in children’s best interests to keep their families together. In a case on point recently reviewed by Michelle Whitaker, a young mother who faced the prospect of all four of her children being placed in foster care was thrown a lifeline by a family judge.
The mother, in her 30s, had a deeply troubled background. As a child she had witnessed her father’s suicide, and she went on to form a violent and abusive relationship with the father of three of her children. She claimed to have beaten her drugs habit but, after hair strand analysis revealed the presence of cocaine in her system, she acknowledged that she was not always truthful about her narcotics use. She had a loving bond with all her children, aged between 15 and just 11 weeks, and had been the subject of a positive parenting assessment. However, in the light of a psychologist’s report and evidence of her continued drug use, the local authority had changed its initial view that the children should remain in her care.
The report highlighted the extent to which the children, particularly the oldest, had been emotionally damaged by living in a home blighted by narcotics and domestic violence. The psychologist was concerned that the mother was at risk of relapsing into heavy drug use and other risky relationships. In the light of those views, the authority argued that it was too great a risk to leave the children with their mother and that they should be moved into two separate foster placements. Ruling on the matter, the judge noted that the three older children were unanimous in wishing to stay with their mother and would clearly be very upset if removed from her care. The oldest child, in particular, was mature enough to have formed views of her own. The mother’s sister and her partner had also put themselves forward as potential alternative carers for the children.
Refusing to make full care orders at this stage of the proceedings, the judge found that the short-term risks of keeping the children with their mother could, with a good deal of support, be managed. There was no immediate threat to their safety that required their instant removal from their home and their separation from one another. In the hope of achieving a placement within their natural family, he directed a full assessment of the aunt’s ability to act as the children’s special guardian. In adjourning the authority’s applications, the judge warned the mother that, unless she cooperated closely with social workers and ceased using drugs, there remained a real prospect that her children would be taken from her. If you need advice and guidance on any legal matters surrounding care proceedings, we can help.