In the run up to the end of 2013 we read of a number of disturbing stories relating to the neglect and abuse of children, or those at risk of harm – sadly too numerous to mention here, and such risk can take many forms.
Perhaps one of the most significant reports was that concerning the removal of a baby from an expectant mother before the mother had a chance to give birth naturally. The mother was 39 weeks pregnant. The NHS Trust who sought the order argued that they considered it to be in the best interests for the baby to be delivered by means of caesarean section, under sedation by general anaesthetic if necessary, and with the use of reasonable restraint. It was thought that it would be heavy handed for the local authority to invite the police to remove the baby from the mother after the birth.
If this sounds dramatic and extreme, it is. The Court was persuaded that the Italian mother lacked the mental capacity to make a decision about the childbirth herself and made the order. The family court judge also considered that it would be in the mother’s best interests that her child should be born alive and healthy and that such risks that could arise during a natural delivery should be avoided. It is an example of how the needs of the child are considered in a different context by the family court.
Without knowing the full facts it is difficult for anyone else to judge the merit and necessity for this decision, but the disclosure comes on the back of an intention to improve transparency in the family justice system. Does this improve awareness for parents in conflict about the care and welfare of their children, or frighten and enhance fear of asking for help and the possible effect of a referral to child protection agencies?
The results of a survey by the Ministry of Justice in December 2013 reveals that less than half of those asked had confidence in the decisions made by the family courts. Does this arise from a lack of understanding of the decision-making process, or simply a lack of transparency as to how the decisions are reached? Either way most of the individuals would rather not have had to undergo a personal experience of the court. Too often knowledge of the family court process comes from the media, family or friends and this experience is not always conveyed in the best light.
Child protection is the responsibility of everyone who comes into contact with children and a starting point for getting the facts straight is your local family lawyer.