12 April 2018
Open relationship results in children being removed from parents
Removing children from their parents can undoubtedly be a contentious area of the law, with emotions often running high in these situations. A recent legal ruling in the West Midlands that saw children removed from parents who had an open relationship highlighted the controversy that often surrounds these cases.
It was reported that three children were to be removed from their family home after concerns were raised that their parents’ ‘open relationship’ may have been a contributing factor in neglect. An application had been made by social workers from Sandwell Borough Council and, late last year, a family court judge ruled that it was in the best interests of the children to be removed from the care of their parents and placed for adoption.
Although the parents denied that they had an open relationship, officials from social services described their setup in this way, detailing that the mother had relationships with men she met over the internet, while the father chose to have other female partners.
Judge Elizabeth Williscroft noted that the father had a lifestyle outside the home that included going out clubbing until very late at night and being involved with other women. Referring to the mother, she remarked: “It is plain some complete strangers have visited her house while the children were there to have sex with her.”
She added that the court isn’t concerned with the nature of parents’ private lives unless this has an impact on how their children are cared for. According to the judge, in this case the lifestyles of the mother and father did affect the children. She suggested that they continued a “dysfunctional” relationship while living in the family home and described their care of their children as “neglectful”.
Judge Williscroft added that the behaviour of the parents must have caused confusion among the children. She also stated that the mother had been observed parenting “from the sofa” and relying on other people to protect her children from dangers.
In conclusion, she stated that in her analysis, there were no viable alternatives to meet the welfare needs of the children other than adoption. She added: “I bear in mind and balance that each child has a loving relationship and attachment with their parents but has also been harmed by neglect and would be at risk of harm in their care.”
The most common cause of child protection action
A case involving a child removed from an open relationship may be rare, but sadly child protection cases involving neglect occur all too frequently. Defined as an ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic care needs, neglect is in fact the most common form of abuse and it’s also the most common reason for local authorities to take child protection action. Children may be put in danger or left unprotected from emotional or physical harm. They may not get the love and attention they need and they may even be left dirty, hungry or without proper shelter, healthcare or supervision.
Because neglect can have hugely damaging consequences for the youngsters affected, potentially resulting in long-term damage or even death, it’s something that child protection agencies take extremely seriously.
If a local authority believes there’s a risk of significant harm to a child, they may decide that the most appropriate action is to take the child into care in order to keep them safe. Unless the risk’s considered to be imminent however, care proceedings generally only begin after extensive efforts to keep the child with their families.
If these efforts don’t have the desired results, then parents are invited to a pre-proceedings meeting. This is a last attempt to prevent the case from going to court and it involves the parents, their solicitor and the local authority. The meeting provides an opportunity to come to an agreement over how the parents can change the way they care for the child and what support they might need from the local authority. If a consensus is reached, a formal agreements drafted that both the local authority and parents must follow.
If no agreements reached, or no improvements observed during the pre-proceedings process, the local authority may ask the court to place the child in the care of the local authority. If the court concurs, they can make an order that gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child. These decisions are usually made in the Family Court, while more complex cases can be heard in the High Court.
Before a child enters care, the local authority produces a plan for their future which should establish how the child’s needs will be met regarding everything from their placement, to their education, healthcare and to contact with their parent(s) and/or relatives.
The best interests of the child
No decision to remove a child from their parents is taken lightly. In some cases, this step is necessary in order to protect youngsters from harm. The principle that guides care proceedings is that the welfare of the child must be put first at all times. This is what local authorities and the courts always prioritise.
How Slater and Gordon can help you
If you need advice concerning adoption, care proceedings or another aspect of children law, don’t hesitate to contact our experts. At Slater and Gordon Lawyers, we’ve vast experience in all areas of family law and can provide immediate advice, support and representation. For more information, call us on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online.