Following a shocking case that hit the news over the summer, our Child Law expert Kendra McKinney explains the need for specialist advice in cases where local authorities intervene into the care of your children.
During the summer an extremely worrying case hit the news in which local authority in Gloucestershire ordered the removal of a young child from its mother in a decision that was later described by a Family Court Judge as unlawful.
There is perhaps nothing in this world more important than the relationship between a child and its parents and it is unfortunate that on some occasions the authorities have to intervene to protect the best interests of the child. This is a necessary part of our legal system, but what happens when this goes wrong?
In this case the young child was removed from its mother and placed in foster care without giving the mother or father any notice. It was 6 gruelling weeks before the mother had the child returned to her care. To add to the horror of this case, the child was breastfeeding at the time of removal.
The Council’s actions were described by the Judge as “unnecessary, disproportionate and deeply traumatic” and that the action taken was “plainly wrong”. The case was so serious that the Judge relaxed the usual reporting restrictions that exist in family legal matters and in my view that decision was taken because it is in the public interest for this type of behaviour to be exposed.
In this case the mother was summoned to a meeting with social workers at the Council’s offices in the presence of a police officer. She was told at that meeting that the child had been taken into their care. It later became clear that the Council had not taken legal advice before taking this action and had not considered alternative arrangements, such as the child going to live with other family members. The Council’s action was also in direct contravention of a Care Order, which stated that if the child ever needed to be removed from the mother that it should go immediately to live with its father.
The Judge’s criticism of the Council continued with the action taken being determined as a breach of duty of care and a breach of the mother’s and the child’s human rights.
Why you need a solicitor
This case highlights the need for parents to take swift and specialist legal advice when local authorities intervene into the care of their child – it could be the difference between the child or children being removed or staying with their parents.
As a solicitor specialising in this area of law I am often instructed to act for parents in these circumstances, and they can be very distressing. Taking on a local authority alone and without legal advice is not recommended because the law and procedure can be complex and often people will feel overwhelmed by the authority of the Council, and the nature of Court proceedings. Instructing a solicitor will mean that you get the best advice on your options quickly and you will have an expert in your corner to fight the Council and deal with the due process of the law.
These cases should not be left to chance and the actions of the Council in this case highlight that in the most profound way. Legal Aid is often available in these cases and so getting the legal advice and action you need may be easier to access than you think.