Judge commends ‘tremendous’ efforts to engage parents who attacked services on social media

Local authority praised for lengths it went to in attempting to assess and organise contact for parents who launched Facebook and YouTube campaign against 'kidnap' and 'forced adoption'

Screenshot of YouTube website
Photo: ImageBroker/Rex

A judge has praised a local authority who went ‘far beyond what would normally be expected’ to work with parents who campaigned on social media against the ‘kidnapping’ of their baby.

Southampton council made ‘tremendous efforts’ to engage the boy’s parents and grandparents who refused to work with child protection and legal processes and set up Facebook and YouTube pages about the proceedings and demanding his return, Her Honour Judge Black said.

The YouTube videos include a recording of a phone call by a social worker to the couple – currently living in Portugal, the mother’s home country – unsuccessfully attempting to persuade them to return to England to attend the care order hearing, see their son and be assessed.

Sitting in the Family Court in Portsmouth last week, Judge Black said she was unable to find the parents had capacity to care for the child now or in the future:

“The[ir] behaviour and the misguided campaign they have pursued is evidence of them having no understanding of their child’s needs. Even meeting the most basic need of forming an attachment with their child has been failed by their parents as they have not seen him since the 4th March, and instead they left the country.”

She was satisfied by the evidence that they had abandoned their child and there were no other options apart from adoption. The child had been under an interim care order since he was a week old.

Judge Black noted the steps the local authority had taken to promote contact between the couple and the child, and explore options for him to live with them or his extended family. These included:

  • In the initial stages, seeking an urgent hearing to address the parents’ lack of engagement in proceedings and offering a parallel planning approach to allow them more time to consider participating in the process.
  • Following the parents’ failure to comply with the original ‘contract of expectations’ for contact, by not accepting advice and displaying threatening and disruptive behaviour, the council requested the court’s permission to refuse contact. However it agreed to a new twice weekly arrangement if the parents attended a meeting to discuss how they would manage contact.
  • Extending the window of time initially agreed in a court order for the couple to take up the offer of a parenting assessment
  • A number of attempts to assess the mother’s parents in Portugal, both involving the Portuguese consulate and local children’s services, and by independent social workers commissioned by Southampton.
  • Delaying filing the final care plan to take further steps to try and assess the grandparents. The grandfather was described as ‘aggressive and obstructive’ and echoed the parents’ views that child trafficking and kidnap were taking place and that ‘the nurse receives money to kidnap babies’.

Health concerns

Concerns about the risk of harm were first raised when the parents asked to be discharged from hospital as quickly as possible after the baby was born and did not register his birth. They refused to allow midwives and GPs into the home in the subsequent days to check on him.

However they took the baby to hospital when he was six days old where he was found to be jaundiced and dehydrated. The consultant was concerned that the parents had not recognised that he needed immediate treatment. There were inconsistencies in how they reported on the child’s health; the father had made an initial phone call to the GP, worried that the child was unwell but then denied making it.

Staff were concerned that the father, who was English, may have administered a solution equivalent to industrial strength bleach to the baby indirectly through the mother’s breast milk. He sold this alternative medication as a treatment for cancer and autism online, including paraphernalia for giving it to babies.

Because of concerns that the parents may abscond or block enquiries about the baby’s health, he was removed under police powers of protection and then looked after under an interim care order until the case management hearing.

Judge Black said that the concerns around the father’s medical beliefs could have been allayed at that stage if he had been able to reassure the court that he would not administer the solution to the baby, or if it was satisfied that the mother would be a protective factor in preventing this. Alternatively there was an option to make orders for the mother to care for the baby on her own if the court was not satisfied in relation to the father.

However initial optimism that the parents were drawing a line under what they called misunderstandings and confusion around their communication with social workers, health and legal professionals “was short-lived”.

The parents sacked their lawyers for the remainder of the proceedings. At one hearing, the mother read a prepared script questioning the authority of the court and the parents were removed twice for not respecting the court.

Contempt of court

The local authority applied for injunctions to stop the parents posting about the proceedings on social media. Orders were granted but they continued to add to the Facebook and YouTube pages. The High Court judge who made the injunctions adjourned the council’s subsequent application for the parents to be committed for contempt of court but gave a judgment which he asked to be transcribed in English and Portuguese for the parents and grandparents.

In it he said their apparent belief that the baby had been stolen for a ‘forced adoption’ by the council in collusion with medical staff and the courts was ‘completely untrue’.

“If the parents believe it, they are deluded. If anyone is encouraging them in that belief, they are acting in a way that is wholly contrary to the interest of this child and his parents… There is a very real danger that, by continuing with their current internet campaign, they will only achieve the very thing they profess to be trying to avoid – permanent separation from their son.”

The case came back before Judge Black following the unsuccessful attempts to assess the grandparents. She found she could only conclude that they did not wish to be assessed as carers and they, like the parents, had been given a clear final chance to engage in the process.

Making care orders without the parents’ consent was therefore a necessary and proportionate interference in their article 8 rights to private and family life, she said. “Simply demanding through the media for their baby to be returned to them is not something that the Court could start to take into account as a plan or an option without there being first a full assessment to understand whether that would be not only a realistic option, but a safe option for the child.”

10 Responses to Judge commends ‘tremendous’ efforts to engage parents who attacked services on social media

  1. ana August 1, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    I’m not being funny but social services had already taken the baby so how did the parents’abandon’ their child? The parents had seen their child needed treatment they took him to the hospital and its not mandatory to have a health visitor, mine didn’t bother with me at all, when I asked about this they themselves told me it wasn’t a mandatory requirement. I’m sorry but on this occasion I actually disagree with the social services and worker.

    • Kristie August 1, 2016 at 11:46 am #

      They were classed as abandoned because they left the country and refused to engage or even see their child.

    • Sarah August 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

      It is also important to remember that a child being removed is often against the will of the parents and is done in order to protect the child. The parents chose to leave the country and their child, and chose not to engage despite several attempts made, therefore, abandonment is clear.

    • Sas August 1, 2016 at 11:50 pm #

      Did you miss the bit about the concerns the father had given the baby a bleach type solution?!

  2. Christopher Patch August 1, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    This case is but one concrete example of the chronic lack of trust that has built up between parents and Children services, and the result of that collapse of faith in the integrity of what should be family-focused services.

    I don’t think that congratulating Children Services on how far they went in trying to get the parents and extended family to engage speaks to the root of the problem. I suspect the parents id not engage because they did not believe they had a chance: they thought that they would be assessed purely for the purpose of providing validation for what they perceived as “theft”, and they did not wish to cooperate in that validation – simply to make the authorities feel less guilty about their actions.

    This may be deluded, but the number of parents who feel that they have been the victims of family court injustice, frequently as a result of misrepresentative, misleading and inaccurate assessments, clearly shows that there is a significant disconnect between the concerns of ‘professionals’ and the families who are the victims of that professional concern.

    It is important that this issue is addressed, not shied away from, if non-engagement is not to increase.

    Ironically, I have worked with parents who have done their utmost to engage within the process, only to be accused of ‘disguised compliance’, others who have been promised assessments that have then never taken place, and situations where the parents are forced to expend large amounts of energy trying, often hopelessly, to get factual inaccuracies corrected in their papers – but I have rarely heard judges pass comment on these matters.

    The President in Re A (A Child) [2015] EWFC 11, Judge Jack in Re:G & L (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B77.html), and HHJ Horten in Re:A, B, C, D and E (Final Hearing) 2015 stand out as instances of Judges pointing out the failings of social work procedures which are much too common.

  3. Daniel August 1, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

    The difficult part whenever a child protection issue presents is if the family have a non shifting fearful position it can dictate how a case can go. Sadly for this child this seems to be the case.

  4. Sara waterman August 1, 2016 at 11:38 pm #

    Are you serious instead of fighting for their child they left it left the country refused to participate in care arrangements or visitation there authoritoes were involved to get grandparents involved they still wouldnt respomd not even the grandparents. The council has done more tjan tjey legally obloged to get these parents their child back. They took the baby to hospital severely jaundiced and dehydrated after refusing medical access to tje baby he seniwd phoning the doctors so lying to medical professionals anout his childs care damn right they lost their child.

  5. Andrew August 2, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Ana, I think you are being funny. Or can you explain how they would build a relationship with their child when they chose to live in Portugal while the child was in care in England?

  6. Jonathan Ritchie August 6, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    If the parents had “engaged” with Social Work, contact with their child would have been intentionally restricted and curtailed in a planned programme of alienation. The parents would have been subjected to biased assessments, by social workers and quack psychologists and then told that their child was “too settled” in foster care to be returned. There is no point in engaging with such a corrupt process.

  7. LongtimeSW August 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Jonathan & ana

    Point one – The Law says that a child is to be treated as abandoned if there is no-one to exercise or appear to be exercising Parental Responsibility (Responsibility not Rights – The child has Rights that are equal to parent’s where their health and development are concerned) – it is clear that these parent’s CHOSE not to exercise their PR

    Point Two – a child has the absolute Right to shelter, warmth clothing and medical aid where necessary – again absolutely clear that this child was in urgent need of medical attention –

    Point Three – these parents were at best misinformed at worst cowardly in maintaining a campaign on social media without arguing their case whilst their child was under the protection of the Court – I wonder what would have been said if this child had been injured or died had the Local Authority returned the child without any action being taken – (you already know the answer)

    Not sure which branch of social care you are in but I would have an expectation that if you are a professional involved with children you would have known the first two points above – or should do.