J. A. Clyde-Smith, Esq., Commissioner and Jurats Fisher and Nicolle
The Minister for Health and Social Services
IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN (JERSEY) LAW 2002
AND IN THE MATTER OF ANDREW (CARE ORDER)
Advocate D. C. Robinson for the Applicant.
Advocate M. J. Haines for the Respondent.
1. On 18th June, 2014, the Court granted the Minister an interim care order approving a care plan that provided for the removal of Andrew (which is not his real name but a pseudonym) from the care of the respondent ("the mother").
2. Andrew was born on 3rd June, 2014, and at the time of the application was being cared for at the special care baby unit at the General Hospital. He had been born drug dependent and was suffering from respiratory difficulties and withdrawal symptoms. He was then on oramoph medication to manage his withdrawal symptoms.
3. The mother is a long-term heroin user whose drug use self-evidently continued through her pregnancy with Andrew, who had been harmed in utero as a consequence.
4. The Court heard evidence from the social worker, Mr Jon Collins and from the recently appointed guardian. The mother was represented by Advocate Haines, who applied for the matter to be adjourned and we will return to that application in a moment.
5. The mother was, however, not present at the hearing and the Court determined, pursuant to Rule 17(4) of the Children Rules 2005, to proceed in her absence. She had been told repeatedly by Mr Collins of the hearing, who had urged her to instruct her lawyers, and Advocate Haines confirmed that she was aware of the hearing. Accordingly, the Court was satisfied that she had received reasonable notice of the date of the hearing. In addition, we were satisfied that in the interests of Andrew the circumstances of the case, which we set out below, justified proceeding with the hearing.
6. The circumstances of the case were deeply troubling. The mother had three earlier children all of whom had been removed from her care. A very detailed preliminary threshold document had been circulated by the Minister on 12th June, 2014, much of which has either been admitted by the mother in earlier proceedings or was a matter of record. Working selectively from it by way of illustration:-
(i) The mother has an extensive criminal record, including offences of violence.
(ii) There have been previous unsuccessful attempts on her part to detox, with the mother only remaining abstinent from drugs whilst in prison.
(iii) The mother was suspected of having assaulted her eldest child in July 2007 by punching her in the eye.
(iv) In the 2011 care proceedings involving the other two children, she agreed the threshold findings. Quoting from the judgment of the Court (In the matter of EE  JRC 178):-
"1. ....The findings themselves as set out in paragraphs 1 to 5 of this judgment disclose that the children have suffered physical and emotional harm from their parents' drug abuse - indeed the physical harm commencing with the use by the mother of heroin dependently during her pregnancy with B, and other substances when pregnant with A.
2. Both parents have criminal records. The mother has previous convictions for violence, and indeed her recent offending resulted in a significant period of incarceration ending in July 2011. The father was imprisoned in 2009 for his offending.
3. The threshold document also reveals that the parents had failed to protect the children in various ways. A suffered a linear burn on the back of her neck in June 2009 from hair straighteners or curling tongs whilst in the care of her parents. On the same day, a home visit disclosed items dangerous to the children which were within their reach, including scissors, an aerosol can and lighter. On the same day, the flat in which the family lived was in a very poor state, and unfit for the children.
4. The threshold document also disclosed that the children have suffered emotional harm from the parenting they have received -0 the father accepted on 31st March 2011 that he was not able to provide the children with the love, dedication and stability that they required. He agreed on the same day that he was not able to provide the children with consistent or appropriate care. In early March 2009, the mother agreed that she was not coping with the children.
5. Furthermore there has been some domestic violence - for example, in June 2009 the mother hit the father over the head with a mug whilst they had an argument and as a result the father attended the hospital Accident and Emergency Department. There is undoubtedly other evidence disclosed in the threshold document which shows that the children have been exposed to conflict between their parents as a result of the conduct of one parent towards the other.
6. For all these reasons, the Court has no doubt that the children have suffered or are likely to suffer significant harm which is attributable to the care given to them, or likely to be given to them if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to a child."
(v) On 8th July, 2013, the mother attended her parents' property demanding money. In the resulting domestic incident, she assaulted her father, who was recording her behaviour on a video camera. She then obtained a 12 inch blade from the kitchen, causing her mother to flee the house, which she then held to her throat, saying she was going to stab herself.
(vi) On 8th January, 2014, when 5½ months pregnant with Andrew, she was arrested for breaking and entering into the home of her former partner (and possible father of Andrew) and committing a grave and criminal assault upon him (inter alia).
7. Mr Collins told us there was a significant risk of harm to Andrew as a result of the mother's drug abuse, her health issues, physical violence, chaotic lifestyle, lacks of insight into her behaviours and risks posed to Andrew and the lack of capacity to change despite significant involvement with the relevant services over the last twelve years.
8. For the purposes of an interim care order, the Court had to be satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for believing that the circumstances with respect to Andrew were as mentioned in Article 24(2) of the Children (Jersey) Law 2002 and the Court had little difficulty in being so satisfied.
9. The Children's Service had explored the possibility of Andrew being placed with family members pending an assessment of the mother. She had refused, however, to co-operate by identifying the father of Andrew, saying there were three possibilities. She was implacably hostile to her former partner, one of the possible fathers, and the victim of the assault referred to above.
10. As for her own parents (the "maternal grandparents"), they had earlier ruled themselves out as potential carers for Andrew, but since the mother's release on bail to their home on 11th April, 2014, the family had indicated that the mother and Andrew would reside with them. The Children's Service could not support this. The maternal grandparents work full-time and therefore their ability to monitor the mother would be limited. More importantly, they are unable to control the mother's behaviour and in Mr Collins' view, are fearful of her. They had recently installed a closed circuit television system into the downstairs of their home. They told Mr Collins that they had done this out of fear that her former partner might attend the property. He could not accept that explanation because:-
(i) the cameras had been installed internally and not externally as would be expected of a home security measure to prevent an intruder from accessing the home;
(ii) the maternal grandfather had previously felt the need to video record the mother's excessively violent behaviour;
(iii) there is no record of the former partner being aggressive towards the maternal grandparents or attending their property;
(iv) there was domestic violence between the former partner and the mother when they were in a relationship but he had moved on and is now in another relationship.
In his opinion, the purpose of the CCTV was to protect them from their own daughter, who they felt would be deterred from hurting them if her actions would be caught on camera.
11. Mr Collins had prepared a helpful table of the pros and cons of the orders realistically open to the Court and we agreed, having applied the welfare checklist and taking into account the no order principle, that the circumstances here were such that an interim care order with a care plan for the removal of Andrew from the care of the mother pending further assessment was the only way in which he could be protected. Ordinarily, an interim care order is an impartial step to preserve the status quo unless the child's safety requires his removal from the natural parents (see In the matter of J  JRC 147). We were left in no doubt that the safety of Andrew did require his removal from the mother.
12. It was for this reason that we refused an adjournment. Advocate Haines produced a letter from the Hospital showing that the mother had her gallstones removed by operation on 12th June, 2014, and this on top of her having recently given birth to Andrew. He did not feel that the Maternity Hospital was an appropriate place to take instructions due to a lack of privacy. Advocate Haines had apparently made it clear to Mr Collins that he was not to inform the mother of the plan to remove Andrew. Advocate Haines told us he was concerned to ensure that the mother was not harassed. Mr Collins had visited her on 13th June (when he strongly advised her to contact Advocate Haines) and he had spoken to her three times since. In none of those conversations did he feel able to inform the mother of the plan to remove Andrew. The unsatisfactory consequence of this was that the mother may not have known that at the hearing, of which she was well aware, a care plan for the removal of Andrew would be considered by the Court. We say she may not have known because she was reported as having told the ward sister that she did not need to instruct lawyers as she knew what the care plan was.
13. Advocate Haines produced a form of written undertaking which he said his client would sign in lieu of an interim care order by which she would undertake not to remove Andrew from the hospital without the agreement of the medical staff, but Mr Collins was concerned as to its enforceability, a concern which we shared. It was in any event quite inadequate to safeguard Andrew from the risks involved.
14. Advocate Haines (who notwithstanding his lack of instructions had been able to cross-examine both Mr Collins and the guardian) submitted that there was no need for an interim care order, as nature would take its course. The child would return with the mother once released from hospital to the family home. She was now attending the Alcohol and Drugs Service and there was no current evidence of illegal substances being taken by her. She would then be required to undertake an assessment, potentially at a residential unit.
15. We concluded that an adjournment would be wholly inconsistent with the decision we had reached that the safety of Andrew required his immediate removal from the care of the mother.
16. Accordingly, we approved the care plan and the contact arrangements and gave appropriate directions for an assessment of the mother. We also gave her liberty to apply.
Children Rules 2005.
Children (Jersey) Law 2002.