A judge has ordered that a mother should be reunited with her baby daughter in a residential unit after a local authority applied for an interim care order.
The mother and her baby were placed in a residential care unit offering high levels of support and supervision. The mother then accidentally fell while holding her baby, and the unit staff decided that the mother and child should be separated. The baby was not harmed in the incident.
The local authority then made an application for separation.
An alternative placement for the baby was found and the mother applied to be reunited with her daughter. The judge granted the application, and the local authority appealed.
Lord Justice Peter Jackson sitting at the Court of Appeal subsequently dismissed the local authority’s application to appeal and allowed the mother to be reunited with her baby at the unit.
The mother, who had a difficult childhood, struggled with drug abuse for many years and her addiction had affected her baby while in the womb. The mother’s substance abuse also led to the need for one of her legs to be amputated, which resulted in the mother using a wheelchair. The council became involved, and care proceedings were initiated.
While at the residential unit, it became apparent that there was a loving and warm bond between mother and baby, and a report by unit staff noted that the mother had a lot of positive qualities as a parent, and her parenting was “good in most areas.”
Safety concerns for the baby were raised after several incidents took place, including the mother falling asleep briefly in her wheelchair while holding her sleeping baby, and moving around with her daughter without using a sling or a pram.
The report also noted that the mother was sometimes resistant to advice, though it is not clear what advice she was resistant to, nor what her reasons were for resisting the advice.
Important points of law were also added in the appeal court judgment as to how and when interim care orders should be made, and the threshold for separation, which the first judge implemented. Some of those points are added below:
“Having summarised the background, the judge directed himself as to the test for interim separation, most recently sent out by this court in Re C (A Child)  EWCA Civ 1998 at :
(1) An interim order is inevitably made at a stage when the evidence is incomplete. It should therefore only be made in order to regulate matters that cannot await the final hearing and it is not intended to place any party to the proceedings at an advantage or a disadvantage.
(2) The removal of a child from a parent is an interference with their right to respect for family life under Art. 8. Removal at an interim stage is a particularly sharp interference, which is compounded in the case of a baby when removal will affect the formation and development of the parent-child bond.
(3) Accordingly, in all cases an order for separation under an interim care order will only be justified where it is both necessary and proportionate. The lower (‘reasonable grounds’) threshold for an interim care order is not an invitation to make an order that does not satisfy these exacting criteria.
(4) A plan for immediate separation is therefore only to be sanctioned by the court where the child’s physical safety or psychological or emotional welfare demands it and where the length and likely consequences of the separation are a proportionate response to the risks that would arise if it did not occur.
(5) The high standard of justification that must be shown by a local authority seeking an order for separation requires it to inform the court of all available resources that might remove the need for separation.
For the purposes of his decision in this case, the judge summarised it this way:
“The test is whether the child’s safety is at risk and, if so, any removal should be proportionate to the actual risks faced and in the knowledge of alternative arrangements which would not require separation.””
The background to this case, the arguments for and against separation and the reasoning behind this judgment are very much worth a read. The judge allowed reunification to take place because the mother slipping was clearly an accident, and because the judge hearing the mother’s application had applied the law properly.