A judge had left key questions unanswered in deciding to remove a 15-month-old boy from his mother. The evidence did not meet the exacting standard necessary for an adoption order.
That was the decision of the Court of Appeal in a case involving a mother suffering from anxiety and a drinking problem.
The court heard that a violent relationship had caused the mother to move to a refuge when she was 30. While there, she began a pattern of binge drinking in relation to anxiety.
She met the man who was to become the father of her son while in counselling. Their relationship was characterised by violence and drug use on the father's part.
Shortly after the baby was born, there was a violent incident that led to the parents separating.
The local authority monitored the family closely and the mother looked after her son until he was 11 months old. In spring 2018, she was assessed as having no psychiatric problems.
The assessment said that, provided she abstained from alcohol, which she said she was, she would be able to parent her son. He was found to have a strong attachment to his mother and she was meeting his basic needs.
The local authority recommended that the boy should stay with his mother under a supervision order. Further testing showed that the mother had had excessive alcohol levels in the previous six months, and evidence was obtained that she had gone drinking with the father.
In light of the mother's lies, the local authority applied for a placement order, which the judge made, having accepted the advice of the social worker and guardian.
That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal. In its judgment it said it fully accepted the problems faced by the judge. The evidence showed the mother to be a vulnerable person who had repeatedly let her own needs get in the way of her responsibilities towards her son, placing him at clear risk of significant harm.
Her decisions to flout the written agreement, to continue to drink, to remain in touch with the father, and then to lie about it, were very foolish.
However, that was not the whole picture. The relationship between the mother and her son was good, with no complaint about his daily care over the 11 months he had lived at home and was regularly seen by professionals.
The mother did not have serious mental health problems or any addiction. Her drinking had been described as behavioural.
Lies, however deplorable, were significant only to the extent that they affected the child's welfare, and to the extent that they undermined systems of protection designed to keep the child safe. They could not be allowed to hijack the case.
The judge had not confronted the ultimate question of whether the very extreme order of placement for adoption could be justified on the evidence. The evidence in this case did not meet the exacting standard necessary.
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Case Citations:  EWCA Civ 2761RE F (A CHILD) (PLACEMENT ORDER: PROPORTIONALITY) (2018)
CA (Civ Div) (Longmore LJ, Peter Jackson LJ, Asplin LJ)