January 18, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
A British family court judge has come out in favor of secrecy for child protective employees and the removal of fathers from children’s lives without due process of law. Yes, you read that right and can read more about the case here (The Guardian, 1/10/16).
A little girl was being neglected by her mother who was her primary caregiver. The child’s father is somewhat learning disabled to the extent he’s never worked, but kept regular contact with his daughter via the telephone and social media. So the local council stepped in and determined that the girl should be taken from her mother and placed for adoption. No one lifted a finger to notify the father or to give him an opportunity to assert his parental rights.
Now, that’s a situation we encounter with some regularity in the United States. Back in 2006, the Urban Institute published a report that found that, in over half the cases in which a child was taken from its mother due to abuse or neglect, the father was never contacted to learn if he could provide suitable care for the child. Moreover, the Administration for Children and Families published a lengthy manual for CPS workers, co-authored by the excellent W. Brad Wilcox, encouraging them to give fathers an opportunity to parent their kids instead of simply sending them to foster care.
Still, the practice of ignoring fathers became so widespread and is widely understood to be so detrimental to children and to the system of children’s welfare that the federal Ninth Circuit declared it to be a violation of fathers’ civil rights and actionable by them against the state child protective agency in question.
And indeed, it seems that the British judge found the council’s behavior reprehensible as well.
Judge Heather Anderson said the council had admitted breaching the human rights of the man, who has a learning disability and is separated from the girl’s mother.
Staff had not consulted him when temporarily placing the girl, who had lived with her mother, with foster carers after concerns emerged about her being neglected. He had not been asked if he could care for his daughter or suggest other possible carers, pending decisions about her long-term future.
Social services had accepted that their conduct had been incompatible with the man’s right to a fair trial and his right to respect for family life. They had admitted failing to consult the man when his daughter was placed in foster care, failing to identify him as a father with parental responsibility and failing to recognise and correct errors…
Social workers had intervened after concerns had been raised about injuries she had suffered and about alleged ongoing neglect. Anderson said it was clear the council had acted in a way that was incompatible with the man’s right to a fair hearing and to respect for family life.
But remarkably, all that is fine with Judge Anderson. Yes, mistakes were made, but, according to her, the wholesale violation of the father’s parental rights and to due process of law were just the necessary breaking of eggs to make the omelet. The omelet that was made was the termination of his rights, the mother’s rights, the bypassing of grandparents and other relatives who might care for the girl and the adoption of the child by strangers. Nice.
Had the father been afforded the opportunity to make his case to a court of law, would he have succeeded in getting custody of his daughter? We don’t know, and it’s possible he wouldn’t have. He’s learning impaired and has never had a paying job, facts which suggest he may be unable to care properly for his child.
But of course the concept of due process of law isn’t conditioned on an individual’s certainty of winning. If that were the case, far, far fewer people would appear in court and there would be far, far fewer courts for them to appear in. No, due process of law requires that everyone have the opportunity to make their case to an impartial tribunal. Given that, we’re much more confident that whatever verdict is reached will be not only more accurate based on the facts of the case, but fairer to all concerned.
Oddly, Judge Anderson seems not to grasp those basic notions of fair and just legal procedures.
The judge said she had decided the child should be placed for adoption, adding that her father had attended a special school, could not read and had never worked. According to court documents, the girl had regular contact with him when living with her mother.
Just so, but he never had an opportunity to prove that those things, while perhaps true, weren’t sufficient to preclude him from being a competent and loving parent. Again, that opportunity is the very core of due process of law. Anderson cheerfully chucked that to the side.
She’s also thinks that the public has no right to know who was responsible for sidelining the father and perhaps forcing adoption on a girl who doesn’t need it.
A family court judge has come under fire after refusing to name a council that violated a man’s parental rights by taking his four-year-old daughter into care without a proper investigation…
But Anderson said she would not name the council or social workers involved because it would not serve any purpose to attribute failings to individuals. Defending her decision, she added that social workers and their legal advisers worked under huge pressure…
But she said at the start of her ruling: “I have not named the local authority and will not name any of the social workers or the other professionals involved in the case.
“Social workers and their legal advisers work under huge pressure, much of it imposed by the requirements of the court. There is no suggestion of any bad faith on the part of any of the professionals in this case. An early error was not noticed by a variety of professionals who are all working under a great deal of pressure.”
In short, not content with being ignorant of the value of due process of law, Anderson’s also ignorant of the value of the public’s right to know what its employees are doing. Notice especially Anderson’s claim that naming the council and the caseworkers who so miserably failed so many, “would not serve any purpose…”
Yes, actually it would. It would educate the public about the errors made by the council and caseworkers. The public could then exercise its judgment about whether to retain council members in office. It could also exert influence on supervisors on the future conduct of caseworkers including informing fathers of their right to assert their rights to their children. Judge Anderson considers all that not worth the bother.
Fortunately, others know better.
Liberal Democrat John Hemming, who chairs the campaign group Justice for Families, said the public had a right to know…
Hemming said the judge was wrong to bar details of the council being released. “The taxpayer funds this local authority, voters have elected the councillors responsible for it and the public has a right to know who it is,” he said. “Many families will no doubt be involved with this council’s social services department. They have a right to know if something has gone wrong.
“They may have similar concerns about the way they have been treated. Voters may want to elect new councillors as a result of what’s gone wrong. This council may have been criticised before. Unless we know where things have gone wrong they cannot be put right.”
He added: “It is simply not good enough to keep the name of the council secret because social workers and their legal advisers work under ‘huge pressure’. This council is a public authority, its staff are public employees and members of the public have a right to know what is done in their name.”
Secrecy and antipathy for fathers and due process of law. We see that destructive combination in the United States frequently when it comes to forcing adoption on children who don’t — or may not — need it. Too bad our cousins across the pond do no better.
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