A family court judge has called out a council for acting with ‘subterfuge and immediacy’ for illegally removing a child from her parents. 

The comments represent the latest within a growing number of judgments calling out councils for illegal and unethical behaviour in their practices of social care and forced adoption. 

Gloucesteshire county council finally apologised to the parents after a hearing in which Judge Stephen Wildblood set out an astounding list of errors, which included:

  • Failing to place the child, who was under two at the time, with her father in the event of removal from her mother, as set out in the care order
  • Taking 6 weeks to return the baby to the mother, who was breastfeeding at the time
  • Breaching their legal duty to give parents 14 days’ notice prior to removing their child
  • Failing to seek legal advice despite having a strong feeling that the removal was illegal
  • Failing to consider other placement alternatives for the child, including an approved paternal aunt, instead of placing the baby with strangers
  • Failing to take into consideration the mother’s vulnerability and fragile condition
  • Failing to scrutinise and properly manage the child’s care plan
  • Failing to keep adequate records of meetings and decision making
  • Removing the child from her mother’s care without just cause

Had it not been for the mother’s application to try to get her baby back, these failings would have gone unnoticed, and she would have lost her daughter to the care system forever. Wildblood observes in his judgment that the mother should never have had to bring proceedings herself, without any legal aid, as she was considered vulnerable.

Some quotes from the case:

Judge Wildblood:

“In my opinion it is clear that the local authority acted in a way that was contrary to case law and in breach of the article 8 rights of both parents and the child.”“

The very basis of the original care proceedings was that the mother is an emotionally fragile and socially vulnerable woman… Therefore, for her to have faced the issues that arose on her own is manifestly unsatisfactory.”

The mother:

“[I am] relieved and extremely happy that my child is back in my care… [it has been] an incredibly distressing and traumatic time… While the local authority has accepted its failings, I hope that no other family suffers in the way my family has.”

OFSTED had rated the council inadequate, with multiple failings identified at management level. The Guardian to the case is now expected to file an application on behalf of the child for damages under the Human Rights Act. There will also be an independent review of the case.

Given that these failings are not unique to this council, an independent review is not enough. There needs to be a review at national level, of all councils specifically looking at the rules and regulations in place within each council for care proceedings, how those rules and regulations are being implemented and why councils are failing to follow the law.

We invite the government to undertake a review of child protection practices in every local authority. A review of this kind has not been done before and unlike other reviews, this would allow us to finally understand the gaps in council practice in this area, and even more importantly, to ensure those gaps are filled.

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