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Boy taken from parents over smoke

Published 01/06/2015

A health visitor highlighted concerns about the level of cigarette smoke at his home
A health visitor highlighted concerns about the level of cigarette smoke at his home

A two-year-old boy has been taken from his parents' care after a health visitor highlighted concerns about the level of cigarette smoke at his home.

Health visitor Julie Allen told a family court judge that she had not come across such a "smoky house" in her 10-year career.

She described the little boy and his father being surrounded by a "visible cloud of smoke" - and said she had difficulty breathing.

Judge Louise Pemberton, who was also told of a number of other concerns about the way the youngster was being cared for, concluded that he should be placed for adoption.

Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a family court hearing in Hull.

The judge said the family could not be identified. She did not identify the local authority which had asked for the little boy to be placed for adoption, b ut she named individual health and social services staff who had worked with the family.

Judge Pemberton said the little boy had breathing problems and needed an inhaler, a nd she said Ms Allen had "graphically highlighted" concerns about smoke.

"On entering the living room Ms Allen described being able to see a visible cloud of smoke surrounding the father and (the boy)," said the judge.

"(The boy) was asleep on the sofa and had been unwell for some time by this point.

"Ms Allen described the room as 'so smoke entrenched that I had difficulty breathing'.

"She immediately expressed concern to the parents as to the impact of such smoke on (the boy), who had already been prescribed an inhaler within the previous month to help his breathing.

"The parents seemed unable both at that stage and when the issue of smoking around (the boy) was raised by any other professional, to acknowledge or appreciate the concern and adapt their behaviour.

Judge Pemberton added: "Ms Allen ... had not come across such a smoky house in many years (she has been a health visitor for 10 years) and never with such a poorly boy sleeping amidst the smoke."

The judge said community nursery nurse Emma Green had told how the floor of the little boy's home was "cluttered" with rubbish including empty cigarette packets - and had said the boy's home "often smelt very strongly of smoke".

Social worker Sarah Tomblin had said the little boy's toys and clothes "smelt heavily of smoke".

Health and social services staff had also raised other concerns about the boy's care.

The judge was told that the boy's father had mental health problems, that there had been a "decline" in his parents' "engagement with agencies", that the boy's home was "dirty, smelly and unhygienic".

She also heard that "potential drug paraphernalia" had been spotted at the boy's home and she said the boy's father had tested positive for cocaine.

Judge Pemberton said she was "afraid" that the little boy had suffered harm. She said his parents' care of him had fallen well below "good enough".

"I am afraid that all of these matters lead me to an unavoidable and difficult conclusion that the risks to (the little boy) in being placed with his parents are far too high," said the judge.

"The parents have given me no confidence in their written or oral evidence that they have sufficient understanding and awareness in relation to the professionals' concerns to ensure that such concerns would not arise again in the future.

"Adoption really is the only option now available to (the little boy), in my view, nothing else will do."

She added: "I want (the little boy) to know that in my judgment his parents loved him very much and tried very hard but they were simply not able to meet his needs. "

The couple had opposed the local authority application for their son to be placed for adoption.

Judge Pemberton said the boy's mother had disputed many of the concerns raised about conditions at home and about "levels of smoke".

She had told the judge "we did not smoke in the house" and said she had been "paranoid" about cleanliness.

The judge said she had found much of the woman's evidence "hard to accept".

She said the boy's father had accepted that there was "thick smoke at the property".

A group which supports people's right to smoke stressed that smoking was one of number of concerns raised.

"It's important smokers are considerate to those around them, especially children, so we don't condone smoking throughout the home if children are present," said Simon Clark, director of campaign group Forest.

"Nevertheless it's important to stress that a number of other concerns were raised about the way the child was being cared for so it would be wrong to focus only on the smoking issue.

"The overwhelming majority of parents who smoke know how to behave around children.

"An isolated incident like this must not be used to stigmatise smokers in general, nor should it be seized upon by those who want to ban smoking in the home."

Jan Leightley, managing director of operations at charity Action for Children, said: "It's easy to over-simplify these cases, but it's apparent that this was just one of many factors leading the court to deem this child unsafe in his home.

"In cases of child neglect, professionals such as social workers consider a whole range of issues to build a complete picture of a child's life, based on hard evidence.

"Nearly one in 10 children suffers from neglect, which can take many forms. It's up to professionals to do everything they can to ensure children are in safe, happy environments in which they can thrive."

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