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Can Politically-Incorrect Man be a Father?
February 18, 2015 permalink
British social workers wanted to take a baby from a father. One of their reasons was his former membership in the politically-incorrect English Defence League. Judge James Munby blocked the social workers and ordered the baby back with his dad.
Why the judge was right to reunite a child with his EDL-supporting father
Social engineering is not the job of Sir James Munby, still less the borough council that argued it was ‘immoral’ to allow the young father to bring up his son
A child is born to a woman while she is serving a prison sentence for sexual offences involving a minor. Using its powers under the Children Act, Darlington borough council arranges foster care for her baby boy. Social workers decide to put the child up for adoption.
But the boy’s parents object. The father, now in his mid-20s, wants to bring up his son with the support of his own mother and stepfather. The child’s mother supports his application, and does not put herself forward as a carer. By the time the council makes its application to the court, she is out of prison — but no longer in a relationship with her son’s father.
He already has two children with a previous partner, though they are not being brought up by him. The failure of his former relationship, however, is not the main reason that social workers think his new son should be taken away from him.
They regard his behaviour as “immoral”. For one thing, they claim, he was once a member of the English Defence League. For another, as a 17-year-old he once had sex with a girl aged 13 and accepted a police caution.
To his credit, the most senior family judge in England and Wales took over the case. Sir James Munby, president of the family division, spent three days in Middlesbrough listening to evidence. In a judgment delivered this week, he dismissed the council’s arguments in typically forthright terms.
What, he asked, was the relevance of the social workers’ assertion that the father’s under-age sex offence was immoral? “The city fathers of Darlington and Darlington’s director of social services are not guardians of morality,” said Munby. “Nor is this court.”
And what had the father’s admitted offence got to do with care proceedings involving his son? “Some 17-year-old men who have sexual intercourse with 13-year-old girls may have significantly distorted views about sex and children, and therefore pose a risk to their own children of whatever age or gender, but that is not automatically true of all such men.”
It was extraordinary that the council should have relied on the father’s alleged membership of an extremist group, the judge continued. “The mere fact, if fact it be, that the father was a member, probably only for a short time, of the EDL is neither here nor there, whatever one may think of its beliefs and policies.”
There are two sides to every story and, no doubt, the social workers saw the case very differently. Perhaps they genuinely believed that the child was at risk from his father. No doubt they believed that adoptive parents would be able to give the little boy a better life. Fearing the dreadful consequences that have occurred when social workers have failed to protect children from abusive carers, they must have thought that adoption was the safer option.
But I find Munby’s conclusions entirely convincing. Despite a pre-birth plan, the council took nine months to bring the case before a court — a delay the judge said was shocking and an abuse of its powers under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
Neither the social workers nor their lawyers seemed to understand that they needed to produce hard evidence in support of their allegation that the toddler was at risk of neglect. Claiming that the father “lacks honesty with professionals” proved nothing.
It’s easy to forget that, until Munby took over the high court family division, judgments such as this would not have been published, even anonymously, and local authorities would not have been named and shamed. Even so, the judge was merciful to the allocated social worker, who had clearly been out of her depth.
Why, to take her as an example, should the hapless [social worker] be exposed to public criticism and run the risk of being scapegoated when, as it might be thought, anonymous and unidentified senior management should never have put someone so inexperienced in charge of such a demanding case. And why should the social workers… be pilloried when the legal department, which reviewed and presumably passed the exceedingly unsatisfactory assessments, remains, like senior management, anonymous beneath the radar? It is Darlington borough council and its senior management that are to blame, not only [the social workers and their team manager].
What the council failed to understand is that the relationship between parent and child must be severed only where “nothing else will do” to protect the child’s welfare. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment.
As Mr Justice Hedley said in 2007: “Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent … It is not the provenance of the state to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting.”
These comments were endorsed in the supreme court two years ago by Lady Hale. As she said: “The state does not and cannot take away the children of all the people who commit crimes, who abuse alcohol or drugs, who suffer from physical or mental illnesses or disabilities, or who espouse anti-social political or religious beliefs”.
But surely the interests of the child are paramount? Surely this little boy would be better off if he were adopted by two loving parents rather than brought up by a young man who smokes cannabis, sometimes drinks too much and who has already had two failed relationships? Maybe, but that’s not a decision for the judges and, still less, for social workers. As Munby concluded:
I can accept that the father may not be the best of parents. He may be a less than suitable role model. But that is not enough to justify a care order, let alone adoption. We must guard against the risk of social engineering, and that, in my judgment is what, in truth, I would be doing if I was to remove [the child] permanently from his father’s care.
Munby was right. The judges are not there to put right all the wrongs of society.
Source: Guardian (UK)