A mother has won her legal battle to be allowed to live in a residential unit with her 5-month-old baby despite concerns raised by her local authority.
The mother was in her late 20s and had a history of drug addiction, which had led to the amputation of one leg and the need for her to use a wheelchair. She had two children but was unable to care for them.
When her third child was born, the local authority began care proceedings and the mother and baby were placed in a residential unit with high levels of supervision. The unit reported that her parenting was good, but they had concerns about her moving around in her wheelchair without using a sling or pram for the baby.
They recommended that the baby should remain in the mother’s full-time care in a supported living arrangement. While still at the unit, the mother moved a short distance in her wheelchair and fell out while holding the baby in her arms.
The unit gave notice that the assessment could not continue, and the local authority obtained an order that the baby be placed in foster care. The mother appealed and sought an order that she and the baby move to an alternative residential placement.
The judge considered that the fall had been a pure accident and that there had been no clear rule that a sling or pram was to be used for short distances. He held that the facts did not amount to an imminent risk of serious harm, that removal of the baby was not proportionate, and that the mother and baby should be reunited at the alternative residential unit.
The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. It held that the separation might prove irreversible and set the course for the child’s life.
The essential task for the judge had been to decide whether the risk to the baby’s physical safety was so great as to justify separation in circumstances where every other consideration pointed towards keeping the mother and baby together.
He had evaluated the type of harm that might arise, its likelihood, its consequences and any resources that might reduce the risk and had reached conclusions that could readily be squared with the facts of the case, even if they did not accord with professional opinion about those same facts.
Please contact our Donna Downes if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.
Judge allows mother to live with her 5-month-old baby
 EWCA Civ 257
RE C (A CHILD: INTERIM SEPARATION) (2020)
CA (Civ Div) (Lewison LJ, David Richards LJ, Peter Jackson LJ) 26/02/2020