Remember the case of Baby P? It was a tragic death in which social services failed to act and were blamed for not protecting an abused and neglected child. After that case, the number of children taken into care for adoption rocketed, with social workers anxious not to repeat the Baby P tragedy. The question in this case, was: how quickly should children be put up for adoption?
Where the risk to a baby from its birth parents is life-threatening, it’s hard to imagine social services acting too quickly. But that is what happened in this case, and it was a judge, as well as social services, who came in for heavy criticism. P was a five and a half month old baby girl of Polish parents, who was found to have suffered ‘non-accidental’ injuries to the head. The child was taken into care and the judge ordered that social services should arrange for the child to be adopted. What he, and social services, didn’t do, was explore the possibility that the child’s grandparents, who were in Poland, could look after the child.
The parents challenged the order for adoption and won. They did not deny that the father had inflicted the injuries. They said that their human right to a family life had been denied because the grandparents had not been properly considered as carers. The Court of Appeal agreed.
What is to be learned from this case? Even where there is grave risk to life, social services and the courts must respect and uphold the right to family life before coming to the very final decision about a child’s life that an adoption order is. Family should always be considered first, and properly, wherever they are.