A senior judge has decided to make adoption orders for three siblings, even though he found the parents to be more than able to care for their children.
Justice Keehan made the order after concluding that the parents had lied to the court, social services and the children’s guardian, citing what he called the parents’ “extreme over-reaction to the involvement of professionals in their lives and those of their children, most especially social workers,” as grounds for removal.
In the judgment, Keehan also said, “The parents deeply love their children and the children love them. There is no question, and never has been, that the parents are more than able to meet the basic care needs of the children.”
The case centered around a bruise sustained by one of the children, who was almost three months old at the time. The bruise was located just above the baby’s right eyebrow, and the judge concluded that it had been inflicted by one of the parents.
There were allegations of domestic abuse between the parents and it was claimed that the baby sustained his injury during a domestic abuse incident, although the child was not intended to be a target of the abuse.
The judgment contains a detailed account of how the children were taken into care, the alleged lies the parents were found to have told and several incidents involving the parents, including an attempt at concealing the mother’s pregnancy with her third child.
This is a deeply concerning judgment, which highlights several misunderstandings within child protection investigations, which we outline here.
In the judgment, Keehan says, “the parents’ failure to engage with the local authority or with any professionals with whom they have had contact is wholly irrational and is not founded on any objectively reasonable grounds.”
This is very rarely the case. Families in the UK are now aware that involvement with social services can lead to the removal of their children on inappropriate grounds. So, quite understandably, parents are very frightened when there is intervention from the state.
That perception is entirely the government’s fault, for failing to ensure that these services are of the highest quality, and that people who run such services and provide support can engage effectively with parents.
The judgment also gives the impression that the parents were at fault for non-engagement, but it remains unclear whether the individuals involved with the family communicated with compassion and understanding. Training for this kind of work is poor, and given the sophisticated nature of the work, the training programmes should be far, far, more robust than they are.
Our judges need to be better trained all round too. There is a bizarre moment in the judgment where we learn that, despite the father being the main suspect for the baby’s injury, the judge overseeing this case initially ordered the local authority to put together a rehabilitation plan for the baby who was injured, to live with his father.
It is also difficult to conclude whether injuries of this nature are non-accidental, as research tells us pre-mobile babies are able to sustain bruising on their own. Judges are not trained to the right standards for this medical area, which sits at the forefront of medicine today. And there are not enough doctors around the country with the necessary level of expertise to make the right judgment calls on these injuries.
Of equal importance in this case is that the parents may have engaged in a domestically abuse relationship, which may well have put their children at risk. This issue should have been the focus of the case, and every effort made to find a way to help the parents, while keeping the children safe.
The fear the parents felt as a result of the way social services intervened was most likely the catalyst for the lies that followed, but to remove three children from parents without exhausting all avenues, or elevating the case to the best teams available to ensure the family’s wellbeing, is inexcusable.