A council has been blocked from removing a girl from her would-be adoptive mother who had gone blind, after a judge ruled social workers were wrong to assume that her visual impairment meant she was not a suitable parent.
In a damning decision, the judge said the council had “made only the most perfunctory of enquiries” about the woman’s medical condition before resolving to remove the girl from her care. Social workers had not given the woman, a senior NHS worker known as RCW, an opportunity to defend herself.
RCW, who was blinded by a brain tumour, came home from hospital to find social workers threatening to take the baby girl, SB, whom she considered her daughter away from her.
Mr Justice Cobb said RCW had fallen in love with and created a home for SB, who was born 13 weeks premature, weighing just one kilo, and has disabilities of her own.
The girl, who suffers from a cleft palate, had “settled down well in RCW’s loving care and began to form a secure and loving attachment with her” before events took an “unexpected and wretched turn”, said the judge.
SB, who had her first birthday earlier this month, had been living with RCW for 10 weeks when, on the same day that she could have applied for an adoption order, she was rushed into hospital, suffering from a brain tumour.
Athough the benign growth was successfully removed, she was left totally blind and doctors remain undecided as to whether she will ever see again.
The judge said of her return from hospital after a three-week stay: “One can only imagine the tumult of emotions RCW must have been feeling on that day – joy and relief to be home with SB, sickening anxiety and possibly despair at the new disability.”
She was able to fall back on a cohort of “enthusiastic and dedicated” friends to help her care for SB but, on coming home from hospital, a social worker was already waiting for her.
Less than a week later, she was told on the telephone that it had been decided that SB would be taken from her care.
Granting an injunction forbidding SB’s removal, the judge said the baby girl and RCW had “established a home together”. All the indications were that SB “regards RCW as her mother” and “finds her home once she is in RCW’s arms”.
RCW, who has experienced “some flashes of light” and hopes that, in time, her sight will return, had made proper arrangements for SB’s care whilst she was in hospital and “believes she is closely bonded with SB, who she regards as her daughter”.
Describing the council’s decision to split RCW and the little girl as “momentous”, he said RCW had been given the news in a phone call whilst she was recuperating.
Observing that it was difficult to see how the council could “truly contend” that its decision was properly based on SB’s welfare, he Mr Justice Cobb said RCW had been given no chance at all to put her case or to persuade the council that she could cope.
The council simply could not know whether her blindness was permanent or temporary, and the judge added: “I am not satisfied, on the information before me, that simply by virtue of her visual impairment RCW is unable to give an appropriate level of emotional care to SB.
“Nor am I persuaded that it is contrary to SB’s emotional well-being for RCW’s friends to assist her in caring for SB in the weeks and months ahead; the enthusiasm and dedication of these friends, quite apart from their experience in looking after children, cannot be over-stated.”
Describing the case as “troubling”, he added: “Visual impairment does not of itself disqualify an adult from being a capable loving parent.
“The council’s decision to remove SB was reached on an incomplete assessment of the current situation, and in a manner which was unfair to RCW.
“I stop short of finding that the assumptions which the authority has made about parenting by a carer who is blind are discriminatory, but in ruling RCW out as a prospective carer so summarily, the council has shown a worrying lack of enquiry into her condition or the potential for good care offered by a visually impaired parent.”
The judge said he could find no indication that the council had given any consideration to giving RCW practical or integrated support, despite her requests for assistance.
Acknowleding RCW’s current heavy dependence on her friends, the judge said: “Whether this is indeed the optimal long-term care arrangement for SB remains to be seen”.
Instead of taking the girl away the council should provide a care assistant or nanny to support the mother, the judge ruled.
SOURCE: The Telegraph