Belfast Telegraph

Wrong to foster 'thriving' girl over mum drinking, says judge

By Alan Erwin

A decision by social workers to put a girl into foster care over her mother's drinking was unlawful, a High Court judge has ruled.

The eight-year-old girl was taken away from her mother after it was reported that her mother had been drinking – even though the child was not in her care at the time.

She was removed even though it had been agreed she should go to her father if the mother was incapable of caring for her.

The judge said the child was "thriving" and was happy, healthy and no consideration was given to her abrupt removal from her mother.

Mr Justice Treacy held that the Northern Health and Social Care Trust breached the human rights of both parent and child by acting without any consultation.

He said: "It was neither necessary nor proportionate to bypass the requirement to have genuine and effective consultation with all the parties concerned."

Lawyers for the family claimed the verdict will act as a safeguard for the rights of parents.

The Trust took the child – referred to as X – from her mother's care in April 2013 amid concerns about alcohol misuse.

By that stage issues had been raised over the woman's drinking.

A plan was in place which involved her staying sober and having no drink or drugs in the family home. But she was deemed to have breached it by taking alcohol while X was staying with her father, from whom she was separated.

Judicial review proceedings were issued against the trust's decision, claiming it was unlawful and in breach of natural justice.

The mother also argued that X's father should have been consulted as he had agreed the child should be placed with him if the mother became incapable of caring for her.

Ruling on the case, the judge noted that at an initial Looked After Children review meeting in April 2013, the trust described X as appearing healthy, active and confident, with a good school attendance and happy with her mother. But the following day, after authorities received information about the mother drinking while X was staying with her father, a completely different tone emerged.

The mother was described as belligerent and irrational, with her situation said to be deteriorating rapidly.

No explanation or evidence for these descriptions was evident in the meeting notes, according to Mr Justice Treacy.

Based on this revised perception of the mother, it had been decided that X needed to be urgently taken from her mother and placed in foster care without planning or preparation.

The judge held that there was no attempt to consider the effect of such an abrupt removal on the child's welfare.

For that reason the decision was found to be unlawful and in breach of X and her mother's Article 8 right to family life under European law.

Mr Justice Treacy said none of the mother, father, X or a guardian in the case was consulted about the decision.

He added: "There was no material upon which the trust could have considered the mother's non-compliance with an agreed care plan in circumstances where the child was not present nor immediately affected by the infraction, to be so immediately threatening as to require the trust to uproot a 'thriving' child without any consultation with any affected party."

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