On the 3rd of April, BBC News published this story on their local news site for Leeds and West Yorkshire. The Metro and Sky News also picked up on the story nationally with the description of a mum who “puts toddler up for adoption”. Both pieces describe the incredibly brave actions of one mum who accepted that she wasn’t able to care for her child, and that that child should be placed for adoption.
Unfortunately, neither linked to the publicly available judgment which you can read here.
In a dreadfully sad case, the mum wrote in a statement to the court her reasons for not actively opposing the care and placement order in respect of her little girl “L”.
“At the current time one minute I am poorly and the next I am not. One minute I could care for her and then the next minute I would not be able to. I do not feel that this would be good for L. I feel incredibly sad about the situation but I know L is going to go to a family who will love her and give her what I cannot give her at the moment. She will have stability in her life and will not be one minute with me and then with somebody else. She will grow up being happy and cared for (for) the rest of her life. L needs to be in a home where she can stay and not be moving around all the time. I have not had contact for some time now, not because I do not love L, but because it is simply too hard for me to go and leave her again. I am sad that this situation is happening and it really hurts me but I am doing what is right for her. I will always love her, she is my daughter but I am doing this for her. I hope she gets placed with a really good family who will love her how I love her and will bring her up right and protect her. I hope she gets all the attention in the world from her new family. When she is matched with a prospective adoptive family I would like the opportunity to meet them if possible so that they know that L is loved by me and can tell her this. I am really sorry that it has come to this position but I know I am doing the right thing and I just want her to know that I love her and always will.”
HHJ Sarah Lynch wrote in a compassionate, humane, dignified and respectful way, but what really shines through is her empathy for all of the family members.
The Judge didn’t have to write in this way. The facts in the judgment tell the reader that mum didn’t turn up for appointments with the social worker, the evaluating psychologist, and eventually contact with her child because she found it too hard. The facts also tell us that mum had a history of mental health problems, has been sectioned twice, was violent and had attempted suicide when mentally unwell and had 4 older children who were removed from her care and now lived with her own mother.
HHJ Lynch could have so easily written her judgment in a clinical way using professional language and creating an emotional distance between her and the family. Instead she says this:
I am going to try to write this judgment in a way that will make sense to L’s parents, and indeed to L when she sees it later in her life, so the language I am using is maybe not as formal and legal as usual.
The Judge goes further:
I think it is hugely important for children who are adopted that they have information available to them, through their adoptive parents, so they can make sense of their early life. This judgment, in setting out what I have read and heard in court today, gives at least a summary of that start. I propose therefore to order that this judgment must be given by the Local Authority to L’s adopters so that she can see it when she is older. That however is on the basis that they should keep it private so apart from looking at it themselves they may only show it to any medical or therapeutic staff working with L or the family. It is very important therefore that the judgment is passed on to the Adoption Team to give to them. I have written this not for the benefit of the grown-ups but for L and I wish to be sure it reaches her. I have also written a ‘later in life’ letter to L, something she can read if she needs to sooner than she would be able to understand this judgment, and that should also be given to her adopters.
For me, as a birth parent with extensive first-hand experience of the child protection system over many years of public and private law proceedings, judgments like this matter a great deal.
They matter not because the facts of the case are unusual, or unjust, or shocking, or even familiar to me.
They matter because they are written with the child, and her family, both now and in the future very firmly in mind. They matter because they are written in such an empathetic way that would not damage any potential future relationship the family could have. They matter because the Judge did not allow herself to be emotionally distant, though of course remaining professional. She wrote with care and mindful of the responsibility her words carried.
Throughout family law, we need more of this. For the last five years as “Annie – Surviving Safeguarding”, I’ve spoken to hundreds of social workers, family support workers, family lawyers, and members of the judiciary. So many tell me they want to see a shift in the way the child protection system operates with a move to a more humane way of working with families.
HHJ Sarah Lynch is by no means the first to write a judgement in this way. Whilst it is exceptionally important that judgments are written to explain why decisions are made, to offer as much transparency as possible into the family courts and to hold it and the professionals involved in the case accountable, more judges are beginning to tailor their judgment with the most important people in mind; the families.
Featured image: PixelBay – thank you.