Archive for the ‘childcare’ Category

I just read that the Attorney-General is to review the sentences handed out to the two young brothers in the Edlington case. Such an awful story truly makes one wander whether we have learned anything as a society about how to handle unruly children since the murder of James Bulger.

I did, however, read one rather depressing article in The Observer on Sunday which suggests that, for some children, there really is no solution. The article is about a seemingly committed foster carer who took in an extremely violent boy called James (names obviously changed). James would threaten her with knives, get into fights with older kids and generally make a nuisance of himself. It must have been a rather terrifying experience for the foster carer, who ended up having to hand James back to the local authority. James was later accused of raping an 11-year-old girl.  Unfortunately, the article doesnt really delve into the boy’s background, which would possibly have given the reader a better insight into why he had become so violent.  After she gave up on him, James was deemed ‘unplaceable’ (he had been given up by a number of foster carers before the protagonist met him).

Are we allowed to call a child ‘unplaceable’?? The article really made me wander. The Edlington child murders are not the first and, sadly, I doubt they will be the last of their kind. Surely, an ‘unplaceable’ child just ends up becoming a career criminal, delving into drugs, shoplifting, prostitution etc etc. But does the term ‘unplaceable’ simply mean that society has given up on them? In which case, whose fault is it if they end up  committing crime- the child’s or society’s??

Interesting food for thought..but right now I need food for stomach. Off to the canteen!

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Mark Hedley


I wanted to alert readers to a story in The Times concerning Hedley J and his judgment regarding the care of a sick child, and the failures of two local authorities,  namely Cambridgeshire County Council and the Orkney Island Council.

The story concerns a boy of school age who was born with a serious congenital heart problem on the Isle of Orkney. His parents were unable to care for him, and so he moved to Cambridgeshire to be looked after by a professional couple who were distantly related to the parents. Orkney LA was financially assisting the child’s care, but this was later withdrawn on the premise that Cambridgeshire should foot the bill instead. What followed were drawn out proceedings, where two councils were seen to be passing the buck between each other, each saying the other should be paying for the child’s care.

Needless to say, the local authorities should be ashamed of themselves for being so petty and pathetic. And, as  is becoming all too common in these ‘Baby P-style’ stories of Council failures, at the centre of it all is a child who gets reduced to a pound sign on a piece of paper in some drab Council office.

But the real reason I wanted to talk about this story was the fact that Hedley J had to walk out of court to calm down, and to stop himself saying something inappropriate in his anger towards the two Councils. This story goes out to anyone who claims that judges are out of touch. If anyone was out of touch in this story, it was the two local authorities who claimed not to be able to afford to pay for the care of a vulnerable sick child.

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When I read this story in The Telegraph, I felt such anguish for the mother. The story concerns a British-born woman who has been living in Qatar for 25 years. She married and had her son in Qatar, but divorced within a few years. The parents stayed on good terms, but sadly the father died. Now his family has been given custody of the son by a Sharia court. The mother has been told she is no longer her son’s legal guardian.

This is a very worrying story, and provides yet more evidence of why we should be so concerned about the use of Sharia law to settle family disputes in the UK. The mother says she was given documents to sign but didn’t know what she was signing- on the face of it, there is the argument that she should not have signed anything she did not understand. But we don’t know what sort of pressures were at play behind closed doors.

I recall earlier on this year Bridget Prentice suggested that the Government may allow disputes to be mediated by Sharia law and then drawn up in a consent order to be approved by a judge in the civil courts. But this sort of case exemplifies why this would be most unsatisfactory. Any judge who simply rubber stamps an agreement reached in the Sharia courts would not be doing their job properly. The mother may be threatened with anything from violence, blackmail or damage to her reputation. We never know what goes on behind closed doors of such close-knit families.

Caught up in all of this is a little boy who just wants to go back to live with his mother, who clearly loves him and misses him. I am pleased to see the British Embassy has got involved, and I only hope this gets sorted as soon as possible.

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I am very pleased to see the outcome of this case reported in The Times, concerning the residence of a young boy known as H with his maternal grandmother. H had been living with his grandmother from birth and, after the mother left the home, grandmother was granted a residence order. Father was refused a residence order but successfully appealed to the High Court, with this decision being upheld by the Court of Appeal. Grandmother appealed to the Supreme Court- this was actually the first case to be heard by the country’s most senior judges in their new location.

The case raises an important issue about who should be caring for a child in such a situation, where there are grandparents who have been extremely involved in the child’s upbringing from birth. The High Court had said that, as long as Father’s care was ‘good enough’, then it made no difference that the grandmother could provide better care. Lord Kerr, however, ruled that “The court’s quest is to determine what is in the best interests of the child, not what might constitute a second best but supposedly adequate alternative.”

Absolutely the right decision, and a positive step from the highest court in the land towards recognizing the important role grandparents play in the lives of children.


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Grandparental Rights

The Daily Mail‘s front page article today is an exclusive interview with David Willetts MP, the Conservative Party’s spokesman for family policy. Willetts has said that a Tory government would introduce contact rights for grandparents when relationships end between the children’s parents. He has also said that the Conservatives would make local authorities prioritise grandparents over alternative foster carers should the parents be deemed unfit to look after their children.

A few thoughts came to mind when I read this article. Firstly, as I was searching on Google for a nice grandparent picture to accompany this entry, I realised how inaccurate the stereotypical picture is nowdays of a grandmother sitting in her rocking chair with a cuppa tea and some knitting. Apart from the fact that some girls become pregnant at a very young age, making their mothers very young grandmothers, people seem to take much longer to grow older nowadays. Grandparents are NOT all fuddy-duddy old people in nursing homes. I know plenty of men and women in their 50s who have become grandparents, meaning that they could well end up spending half their entire life with grandchildren.

In an era where many grandparents are financially assisting the upbringing of their grandchildren on a regular basis, it is absolutely right to give them formal recognition under the Children Act. And when I say financial assistance, I don’t just mean help with things like school fees and clothes. Grandparents provide hours upon hours of free childcare services to  parents, which would otherwise have to be paid for in the form of a nanny or babysitter.

Under the current law, grandparents have to have leave of the court to apply for contact. It is absolutely right that we finally recognise the huge contribution grandparents make to a child’s upbringing. To be honest, I am amazed this has not been introduced earlier. I just hope the Tories remain true to their word.

I just have one caveat with regard to the Tories’ proposal to make local authorities prioritise grandparents as foster carers when the parents are unfit to care for their children themselves. In such a situation, I still think it is important to treat every case individually. Of course, the grandparents should always be considered as an option, but in some circumstances it will not be appropriate to give them priority over alternative foster carers.

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The Telegraph reports on a recent survey conducted amongst women (two-thirds of which are mothers), which has found that 74% of women would support being allowed to take a 6-month ‘maternity leave’ from work, even if they are not pregnant.

Maybe I’m being thick, but wouldn’t this be overly generous to all those women out there who choose not to (or indeed can’t) have children? Maternity leave is anything but a holiday. It is a time for a mother and baby to bond, without the interferences of work to get in the way- the theory being that those first 6 months of a baby’s life are vital in its formation of relationships with its parents. In my last job paralegalling in the City, my boss went on maternity leave halfway through my one-year contract. Whenever she called me after the birth of her son, she was either exhausted from a night without any sleep, or covered in baby sick. Contrast that with 6 months of leave for a woman with no children. She is free to do whatever she likes, be it taking a course in photography or going on a trip around the world.

Of course, every woman has the right to choose whether or not to have children, and obviously some women are physically unable to have children whether they want them or not. But that does not mean they should have the same rights to paid leave as a new mother should have. In fact, to do so would be to give them an unfair advantage. 6 months maternity leave is very different from 6 months where you’re free to do whatever you like.

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