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Local Authority to Pay £12,000 After Separating Parents From New Born Baby

Local Authority to Pay £12,000 After Separating Parents From New Born Baby

A couple with learning difficulties has been awarded £12,000 in compensation at the High Court in London, after a judge ruled that their basic human rights had been violated by social workers who separated them from their new born baby girl, referred to as Baby H, for over a year.

The couple, referred to as Mr and Mrs B, are in their 30s and have learning disabilities; after the mother gave birth in May last year, social workers from Leicester City Council decided the baby could be “at risk of serious harm”, and prevented her parents taking her home from hospital. The mother was considered “extremely vulnerable”, while the father suffers from epileptic seizures. Medical professionals were unaware that Mrs B was pregnant, and it is not known whether she herself was aware or whether she had deliberately concealed her condition.

The infant was placed in the care of a foster family, while the council prepared to assess the competency of her biological parents to look after her – however, it took almost a year for the parents to be sent on a residential course, to evaluate whether they could look after her, a delay which Family Judge Clifford Bellamy described as “unjustified and inexcusable”. The ensuing three-month assessment was the first time the family had been together since the child’s birth.

Baby H was finally returned to her parents in June; they are now caring for her, under close supervision.

Council breached government guidelines on learning disabilities

The government’s own guidelines recognise that having a learning disability is not a barrier to being a good parent; they also suggest that the removal of a child from the care of a parent solely on the grounds they have a learning disability is not lawful.

Family court judge Clifford Bellamy ruled that the council had admitted making 14 mistakes, including failing to explain to Mr and Mrs B why their daughter was being kept “far away from them against their expressly stated wishes”, and that it had breached their human right to a fair hearing.

Happy ending must not mask failings

Judge Bellamy added “The happy ending [for Mr and Mrs B and Baby H] must not be allowed to mask or diminish this local authority’s serious failings in the way that it dealt with this case and the impact that had on these parents”, and that the loss of time with their daughter was both “unnecessarily lengthy and deeply distressing”.

Frances Craven, strategic director of children’s services at Leicester City Council, said: “We fully accept the judge’s findings, and will be apologising in person to both of the families involved. It’s vital that the parents now receive the right support to enable them to have the family life they deserve, and we will be doing our utmost to provide this”.

Of the couple themselves, Judge Bellamy commented “One can only feel immense sympathy for the position that Mr and Mrs B find themselves in. They have taken H into their home and into their hearts. They have had expectations that have not been fulfilled”. He also said that “They would have needed great fortitude to be able to take such an experience in their stride. Far from having great fortitude, it is clear that these are vulnerable, learning disabled parents who had no-one to speak up for them”.

The law is designed to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable members of society. Our childcare team recognise that cases need to be treated with care and compassion to minimise distress and anxiety.

We are members of the Association of Lawyers for Children and several of our team serve on the Law Society’s Children Panel and hold Resolution specialist accreditation. If a local authority has issued care proceedings in relation to your children you are entitled to free legal advice. If your finances are limited you may also qualify for Legal Aid. Find out more by going to our legal aid solicitors page.

If your family is undergoing a difficult child custody case, or you need representation for Care and Adoption proceedings, we can help. Contact us in confidence on 01895 207857, or email us at childcare@ibblaw.co.uk