Snap decision by Blackpool Council to remove newborn from disabled mum was 'unfair', says court
A newborn baby was unfairly taken away from his disabled mother based on a last-minute decision by Blackpool Council.
A judge ordered that the baby, known as Baby O, should be removed from his 21-year-old mother, known as V, and put into foster care on May 19 after the authority argued that it was not safe for him to stay with her.
This decision was made during a two-hour meeting that day, prior to which the council proposed that the decision should be made during a hearing in two weeks’ time.
V’s lawyers appealed the decision.
In a subsequent hearing in the Court of Appeal on May 21, Lord Justice Males agreed that the snap decision to remove the child was unfair.
He said: “I don’t think that the hearing was fair to V. It wasn’t set up to decide about O’s removal – that was only put on the table... the night before. No one wrote down the arguments for and against taking O away or gave V the chance to put her side of the story. The local authority changed its mind at the very end of the hearing and it isn’t clear who took that decision or why. All of that would be difficult for any parent to face, and V is not just any parent. She is someone with learning difficulties and it is only last week that her baby was born.”
The court heard that, during V’s pregnancy, good plans were not put in place for what would happen when O was born.
Blackpool Council arranged somewhere for them to be together, supervised by two or three adults at all times.
Court proceedings began on May 11, and continued until May 14, during which O’s social workers said they did not think V could cope, and that they would find somewhere for mother and baby to be assessed. However, this did not happen.
On the night of May 18, Ms C, the guardian appointed by the court to advise on O’s welfare, filed a document saying that she felt that it wasn’t safe for O to stay with V. She said that V might hurt O without meaning to because of clumsy handling, and that V wasn’t following advice. She also thought that O wasn’t getting enough warmth and close care from his mother.
She told the court that O needed to be separated from his mother immediately and looked after by a foster carer until better plans could be made.
However, Blackpool Council did not ask for immediate seperation when the hearing began at 2pm the following day.
But at 3.50pm, when the two hour hearing was nearly over, it changed its position and asked for O to be put into foster care that day.
Explaining his decision, the judge said: “My conclusion was that for O to remain in his present milieu would leave him at risk of physical harm, albeit partly ameliorated by a team of carers, but also at risk of emotional and developmental harm by missing out on close, one to one parental care.
"No suitable placements have been found that would accept O and V. The guardian, in her experience, was of the view that was because they do not exist. The present plan... is not a viable one in the medium to long term.
"With this terrible sense that V was being set up (unintentionally) to fail, along with the risks identified in relation to O, I took the view that his immediate removal was necessary for his safety."
REPORT: Blackpool children getting better care as report hails improved performanceBut V’s lawyers said the decision was unfair, as V had not been given the opportunity to give her side of the story, and it would be impossible to properly assess whether she was able to look after O if the baby was taken from her.
Ruling that the appeal could go ahead, Lord Justice Males said: “I do not think that the situation on (May 19) was so bad that the Judge needed to take a decision there and then. As I say, I agree that there were risks that could lead a court to make that decision after a fair hearing. I also agree that the arrangements, with so many other people trying to help V look after O cannot continue much longer – they are only a holding position. However, once a baby has been removed from his mother in this sort of situation, it can be very hard to put them back together. So I think that V ought to have been given a chance to put her side of the story, even if that meant making the decision as little as a day or two later.
"In a nutshell, the risks for O weren’t so bad that V should not have been allowed a normal hearing. None of this is a criticism of anybody, including the Judge, but I think that in making his decision he did not give enough thought to whether what was happening was fair all round.”