On Saturday Christopher Brooker published an article entitled ’Operate on this mother so that we can take her baby’ in The Telegraph in which he describes how a woman was taken into care after a panic attack, had a cesarean forced on her and then had her child taken into care because she suffered from bipolar disorder. A number of people (Evan Harris, Unity, Adam Wagner, David Allen Green) have raised concern about how this has been reported and have cast doubt on the series of events described.
Earlier today the judgement issued on the case in question was made public. Below I’ll give as honest and brief a summary of the events described in the judgement as possible, although I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing (pdf) which is only about 3,500 words, but I’ll keep this under 1,000 so as many people read the basics as possible. The story that emerges is equally as heartbreaking but not quite as kafkaesque or squalid.
The ruling was issued in February this year but I understand it hasn’t been public until now because procedures were still underway and the family courts are notoriously secretive. At the time of the ruling the child, referred to as P, was under an interim care order and had been since birth. The court was concerned with working out what was best for the child. Under most circumstances that involves being with the parents, but, as we all know that was not the case here.
The mother, referred to as A, is an Italian national, her father, referred to as B who is a Senegalese national. It is unclear whether or not he has the documents necessary to live and work in Italy and because of this he is unable to take part in proceedings. He was given permission to intervene but seems unable to, probably because of his immigration status. The Local Authority brought this case to court because the child needs a steady home and it was judged this needed to be settled before the child was nine months old.
At the time of the cesarean no order to take the child into care had been ordered. The relevant health authority authorised delivering by cesarean because A was “profoundly unwell” and was suffering from “very intrusive paranoid delusions.” It is under these circumstances that the pregnancy was brought to term by cesarean. The story being discussed by the public that the cesarean was performed in order to put the child into care seems incorrect.
At the time of the hearing in February the mother was well, and the judge remarked upon how articulate and collected she seems, especially for someone for who English is not their first language. In the past, the judgement reports, she had not had always taken her medication and this has been responsible for her lapses. She received treatment in 2008 but has not been consistently well since then. She has two other children C and D who live with their grandmother. The judgement reports that they have probably done so since 2011 and that C in particular has been “upset”, “traumatised” and “terrorised” by her mother’s sad illness.
The mother returned to Italy in October 2012 but did not seem well. Indeed, the judge had hoped she would take a part in proceedings in the UK. She subsequently returned in a significantly improved state, had been taking her medication and seemed, by the description given to be a totally different person. On the 28th of February she had contact with her child A for the perhaps first time and it went very well. The mother claims that in a perverse way her child saved her. It is a really heartbreaking judgement throughout.
As the judgement lays out: “The central issue which I have to decide is self-evidently whether P can in a foreseeable and planned way be placed with her family or whether according to the Local Authority’s care plan the only realistic route, safe route, is that she can be placed for adoption.” The mother proposed that a year or so of foster care for P could allow her to prove she was really well and take the child back. But, it is standard practice that delay would be damaging to the welfare of the child. The damage to the parents’ welfare is justified because the child needs to be placed with a stable home soon and there is no-one within the wider family who today can look after the child.
Although original reporting suggested that the mother has been barred completely from seeing her child, the judge specifically says “I very much hope that the mother on whom I concentrate will be able to have an opportunity of meeting the adopters. It is important for P to know that her birth family, as I know they do, will continue to take a continuing interest in her.” I do not know what has happened since February to keep them apart.
This is, as far as I am able, true summary of the details of the case according to the judgement linked to above. The final paragraph of the judgement is, again, heartbreaking and worth quoting in full:
If in later life P reads this judgment, as she may well do, I hope that she will appreciate that her mother in particular loved her and wished for her to return to live with her and to bring her up. It is not her fault, nor P’s that that was not possible and that a predictable home could only be secured by way of adoption. P should know that the mother very much wished to parent her and bring her up and I hope that that is some small comfort both to the mother and also to P.