Parents and Baby Win Payouts After Social Workers Breached Their Rights
Local authorities have a duty to protect the welfare of children, but care proceedings are subject to rigorous safeguards and judicial oversight. In one case, a council was ordered to pay £11,250 in compensation after removing a week-old baby boy from his parents’ care shortly before he was due to be discharged from hospital.
The parents were aged in their twenties. She had suffered from minor mental health problems and he had behaved aggressively to others in the past. Maternity ward staff alerted the council soon after the birth and expressed anxiety as to whether the couple could provide their child with adequate long-term care. The father was also said to have expressed unorthodox views about sterilisation of feeding bottles and the benefits of formula milk.
The council responded by obtaining an emergency care order that was executed on the same day that the baby was due to leave hospital. The child was taken from his parents and sent to live with a relative. Further court hearings ensued and the little boy was returned to his parents about three months later. He had since thrived in their care. Lawyers representing the family subsequently launched proceedings against the council on the basis that their human rights had been violated.
In upholding their claim, the court noted that the family judge who made the interim care order had been wrongly informed no less than three times that the parents were aware of the hearing and that they had agreed to their son’s removal. By the time the order was made, the boy was putting on weight satisfactorily and medics had no further concerns about discharging him.
Noting that it was clearly not an exceptional case that required a without notice application to remove the child, the court found that the human rights of the parents and their child had been seriously breached. The way in which the family judge had been misled was particularly egregious. The parents and their child were each awarded £3,750 in damages.