In a significant judgement by the Family Court, handed down remotely on May 11th 2020, His Honour Judge Middleton-Roy concluded that no parent should be precluded from being able to parent effectively on account of a disability, reaffirming this as a bedrock principle of family law.
The case before the Court concerned five children. Their mother has autism, a lifelong developmental disability affecting how people communicate with others and sense the world around them. The Court dismissed the Local Authority’s applications for Care and Placement Orders.
Reena Vadera, a Solicitor at Collins Solicitors in Watford, represented four of the children through their Children’s Guardian over a two year period, with the family having been known to Local Authority Children’s Services since 2012.
The two youngest children, D and E, both under the age of four and the oldest children, A, B and C are aged between six and twelve. Each of the children has benefited from having the same Children’s Guardian throughout the Court proceedings.
Reena Vadera made an application for the children to be assessed by a child psychologist, who reported that all four children have behavioural issues and two children have autistic traits.
The exceptional circumstances of this case, motivated by overriding requirements relevant to the welfare needs of the children, necessitated an adjournment of the final outcome for children D and E to obtain the additional evidence identified.
Following the adjournment of the final hearing relating to the children D and E, further expert evidence was obtained in the form of report from an Independent Social Worker and from a Disability Consultant and Autism Consultant. Further, both parents engaged in Video Interactive Guidance work to assist them in implementing and maintaining changes in their parenting.
Judge Middleton-Roy concluded the case via a remote video hearing, summing up as follows:
“The extensive specialist expert evidence in this case reaffirms the importance of recognising that parents with autism are as individual as any other parent.
There is a risk that professionals may apply a set of criteria or expectations in relation to parents in light of a diagnosis of autism without fully exploring that parent’s strengths and weaknesses.
It is also important that a parent does not begin to explain or justify any difficulties in their parenting purely because of a diagnosis of autism.
It is equally, if not more important, for professionals working with parents with autism to be alert to and take account of the parent’s individual needs when working with them, bearing in mind at all times the well-established principle that intervention by a Local Authority in a family may be appropriate but that the aim should be to reunite the family when the circumstances enable that and the effort should be devoted towards that end.
The Court’s assessment of a parent’s ability to discharge their responsibilities towards the child must always take into account the assistance and support which the authorities can offer, tailored to that parent’s individual needs. Those needs must be assessed carefully, by skilled professionals, specific to that parent, without applying generalised criteria or expectations.”