Decision to 'remove children from their grandparents was wrong'

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a decision to remove three children from the care of their grandparents was mistaken and could cause them emotional harm.

The children, aged six, four and three, had lived with their grandparents and maternal aunt since January 2019 after a somewhat chaotic lifestyle in their parents' care.

In March 2020, they became looked-after children. Medical examinations indicated developmental delay in one child and autism in the other two. The local authority positively assessed the grandparents but noted limited insight into the children's physical and emotional needs, the grandfather's conviction for serious violence 10 years previously and a very recent report of domestic abuse against the grandmother.

It explored placing the children in the aunt's care, but she was unable to commit long term. By that time, there were care proceedings. An interim order on 4 June 2020 provided for the children to remain with the grandparents.

On 16 June, after receiving certain allegations by the father against the grandparents, the local authority withdrew support for the placement and sought the removal of the children into foster care.

The recorder, sitting remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, noted that the aunt no longer lived with the grandparents and decided that tipped the balance in favour of placing the children in foster care.

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision, ruling that it was disproportionate.

It said the recorder had needed to balance the risks of leaving the children with the grandparents against the risk of removing them. He had considered the former at length, but the latter only briefly.

He had not given enough consideration to the emotional harm arising from separation. There was evidence that he had underestimated that harm, which would be substantial. Removal at an interim stage was a particularly sharp interference with a child's right to respect for family life.

These children were young and had been with their grandparents for 18 months. They would have no memory of any other home. The evidence that they had been caught up in family conflict was slim. The deficiencies in the grandparents' insight were manifestly not reasons for moving the children.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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