In the latest in a string of cases seeing innocent parents losing their children to the care and adoption system, campaigners are now focusing on trying to change the law, but are they targeting the root cause of the problem or just scratching the surface?

Karissa Cox and her partner Richard Carter were accused of abusing their baby when doctors found bruises and what were thought to be fractures on the baby’s body. The baby was subsequently taken into care, and later adopted.

Three years on, the parents have now been exonerated from harming their child, and despite clear evidence that they were not responsible for their baby’s injuries – the baby suffered with a blood disorder and other ailments which caused the baby to have infantile rickets – they are unlikely to be reunited with their child.

The tension in the law as it stands is between the rights of the biological parents and those of the adoptive family. Once an adoption order has been made, parental responsibility transfers to the adoptive family and effectively leaves the biological family without any rights whatsoever over that child. A recent ruling in which the High Court held that family rights between a child and his or her biological parents cease upon adoption, further cements this view. 

However, the current campaign seeking to change the law, looks to be focusing on the timeframes for adoption, currently a 26 week window, and the ‘loophole’ double jeopardy style trials in family law afford parents when a criminal trial is set to run alongside. This dual trial system is often implemented when a criminal element is considered present within a family law case, for example physical abuse of a child by a parent.

The loophole mentioned refers to the possibility of delaying proceedings in the Family Court when criminal cases are running in tandem. In this family’s case, that stay, or pause, was not granted.

Campaigners want a change in the law so that cases running alongside one another could be dealt with at the same time, to ensure each trial informs the other. But is that really the answer?

As Michael Turner QC notes, cases where parents have been wrongly accused of harming their children are common, and having assisted on several cases like this it’s only in rare circumstances that we’re able to halt the court process and prevent an unjust outcome for children and their families.The system, slow and intractable, makes it almost impossible to go back and rectify mistakes. Indeed, the system seems loathe to do it.

It’s a policy driven problem.

But it’s also one of malpractice and irrational procedure.

The real issues lie in correct medical diagnoses in the first instance, and where a mistake has been made, ensuring that the court process has the flexibility to go back and correct an error.

There are the rights, too, of adoptive parents. As cruel as it may seem, we take the view that their rights must be secondary to those of the child, who is effectively being denied his or her birthright – a family life with biological parents who are able and willing to care for them.

What we really need to see is a threefold change:

  • Comprehensive guidelines for doctors across the country to spot and test for deficiencies and disorders where those conditions may be likely
  • Amendments to the law in relation to adoption policy and adoptive parents’ rights and finally;
  • Changes to the court system, to allow it to be responsive and pro active in the face of weighty evidence

What do you think?

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