It may be that we have lost the only marble we have left, (the chipped blue one with the yellow stripe running through the middle) but as we were reading this article, which was posted on ChildQuest’s Facebook wall, we suddenly had an earth shattering moment (one of only two, so we feel a little fragile).

The article is about a mother who was reunited with her son, eight years after he went missing. It turned out that the child’s godmother had kidnapped him the night she was asked to baby sit and was not seen again with the little munchkin, until now. You will be relieved to know that the godmother has since been remanded in custody and mother and now not-so-little munchkin, will be reunited shortly. But what does this have to do with the family courts?

The part in the article which sent us into brain-melt territory was the second to last paragraph, which read, “A Children’s Protective Services spokeswoman said they will consider counseling and other services to help the mother and Miguel, who is now 8 years old, to become reunited with a minimum amount of stress and confusion for the child.

And then, we thought about the Websters. 

Told by the family courts they could not have their children back on policy grounds, despite a possible miscarriage of justice, we started to wonder what the difference was between a parent who had had their child wrongfully taken from them and a parent who had had, well, their child wrongfully taken from them. Did it matter whether the wrongful taking was an individual or the state and if there was a distinction, could it be justified? The answer, we thought, had to lie in the word ‘wrongful’.

The courts would argue that to return a child after a certain period of time would have a detrimental effect on the child, and yet in abduction cases, we see parents being reunited with their children often, sometimes after not having seen their children since they were newborns and therefore having no recollection of the parent, at all. This sentiment is even more poignant when considering that the Webster’s children did know their parents, very well indeed.

And if a team like the one in the article above can attempt to reunite abducted children and go on to support an attempt at helping the mother and child bond, why can’t we offer that support to parents who have had their children wrongfully taken by the state?

But surely, the argument couldn’t be that simple. In our concern that we may have overlooked something very obvious, we wondered whether the law in the UK for reuniting abducted children with their parents was different to the law in the US – did we allow children to go back to their parents after what might be deemed a significant lapse of time in terms of bonding and emotional attachment or did we allow the abducters to keep the children, “Ogh, go on, you have him! It’s been three years and he won’t recognise the mama anyway!”

Then we had a good, hard think. And we did the only respectable thing a researcher can do. We Googled. And we found a mass of literature and news items on parents in the UK being reunited with their children, sometimes after three years or more. There was no issue there over whether or not the child would bond with the mother or father. It was assumed that returning the child to its rightful parents was the right thing to do.

We really may have missed something and if we have we would be very grateful if someone could put us out of our misery but until they do, we feel very uncomfortable about the double standards in law and would like these unhelpful distinctions to be removed so that barriers to fairness, justice and child welfare are stripped away and relegated to historical cautionary tales, where they should remain, enshrined in every social work and legal text-book, forever.

The Websters, unable to have their other children returned to them, due to ‘Policy Grounds’