Procedural and practice failings led Nottingham agencies to unlawfully separate a baby from his mother at birth last year in a case that sparked widespread media condemnation of social work, a report concluded today.
Baby K was removed from his mother, an 18-year-old care leaver, last January without a care order or her consent.
Adoption targets allegation
When news of the case broke, it provided a focus for allegations that social workers were wrongly taking children into care to meet adoption targets.
Though the decision to remove the baby was immediately overturned in a judicial review, the council then secured an interim care order for Baby K, who has been in care ever since and is reportedly due to be adopted.
A Nottingham Council-commissioned management review today found that agencies had focused throughout on safeguarding Baby K, but that there was “insufficient clarity and rigour” from professionals over legal issues, particularly the need to secure consent for his removal from the mother, known as X.
It said a “key mistake” was made at an “ad hoc” birth planning meeting in December 2007, convened to decide how recommendations from an initial child protection conference the day before should be implemented.
The conference, attended by X, had recommended that she should be allowed to care for her baby in hospital but prevented from leaving with him, while an interim care order was sought.
However, the birth planning meeting, which X did not attend, “escalated” the plan into one in which he would be removed at birth, with X denied unsupervised access. The change was made despite three social work and health professionals being present at both meetings.
A legal meeting the following day concluded that the consent of the mother would provide the legal basis for separating her from her baby at birth.
No explicit consent
However, though she was informed about the new plan, X was not asked whether she agreed with the new arrangements or given a written copy of them.
The review said: “[Professionals] did not obtain explicit consent to her baby coming into care whilst an interim care order was sought and relied on the fact that she had not objected to the plan when it was explained to her.”
While professionals believed that X did not want or feel able to care for her child prior to the birth, the review found that her views on this were “inconsistent and varied” during her pregnancy.
Hospital staff wrongly reliant on council advice
When Baby K was born, Nottingham City Hospital staff relied on legal advice given to them by Nottingham Council children’s services, the review found.
Though this was custom and practice, the review said this was inappropriate, saying all agencies and professionals should be responsible for understanding the legal framework in which they practice.
The review called for Nottingham safeguarding children board to produce practice guidance for managers and practitioners addressing the issue of valid consent in safeguarding cases, which should be included in training.
It also said the board should develop processes for managing concerns about unborn children which are compliant with statutory guidance and relevant legislation.
The review urged Nottingham’s director of children’s services, Ian Curryer, to consider raising with government the possibility of amending the law to enable care hearings to take place concerning unborn children at risk of significant harm.
Nottingham baby case chronology
18 December 2007: Pre-birth initial child protection conference attended by X and her solicitor. Unborn Baby K placed on child protection register under category of neglect. Meeting recommended interim care order should be applied for and X should not be allowed to leave hospital without baby.
19 December 2007: Birth planning meeting held to determine how recommendations of child protection conference should be implemented. However, resulting birth plan said Baby K would be separated from X at birth and cared for on a separate ward in hospital. X not present, nor asked if she agreed to this plan.
20 December 2007: Legal planning meeting held, concluding consent of X would provide legal basis for removing baby at birth.
28 December 2007: Child protection core group meeting held, attended by X. Did not review birth plan but appended it to child protection plan drawn up at meeting.
28 January 2008: Council notified that X’s application for judicial review of her leaving care pathway would be heard on 30 January.
30 January 2008: Baby K born. Ward staff told by Nottingham Council emergency duty team they should implement birth plan and separate K from X. At judicial review over leaving care plan, issue of separation raised. Mr Justice Munby ordered baby to be reunited with X. Interim care order applied for by Nottingham Council.
1 February 2008: Interim care order granted. Baby K accommodated in foster placement.
Blog: Nottingham baby case hijacked by anti-social work movement