Council wins adoption rights battle against neglectful parents

Edinburgh City Council wanted to have the children permanently adopted by a new family.

Council wins adoption rights battle against neglectful parents ScotCourts

A sheriff has heavily criticised two parents who fought a “cruel, cosmetic and insincere” court battle against Edinburgh City Council to stop their children being adopted – despite a catalogue of parenting failures and a history of neglect.

The parents, who can only be referred to as JL and LT, fought Edinburgh City Council in the courts to prevent the local authority from obtaining a “permanence order”, which grants councils the authority to permanently settle looked after children with a new family, against the wishes of their birth parents.

According to Sheriff T Welsh QC, the two girls, NTT and EST, were given a “very bad early upbringing” by their then teenage parents.

The father, JL, is a domestic abuser and drug dealer who enacted violence on his partner in full view of the children and used their home to store heroin and crack cocaine.

He fought for the children to be allowed to return to the care of LT from a prison cell in HMP Glenochil, where he is currently serving a sentence for drug dealing.

The mother LT, was said by Sheriff Welsh to have “cut a tragic and pathetic figure in court” as details were read of the children’s neglect at her hands – and of her lies to council social workers regarding the status of her relationship with JL.

The court heard how during social worker visits, the children’s home was found to be “unhygienic and cluttered”, and there were numerous police reports detailing incidents of JL’s violence within the flat.

On one occasion, when EST was just 21 months old, the child was found alone in the street, inappropriately dressed for the cold February weather which NTT, the eldest daughter, described as “snowy and chilly”.

When EST was returned to the household, LT told police she did not even know that the child was missing from the home.

Sheriff Welsh’s judgement read: “Her own expert witness explained to me that LT is more of a ‘big sister’ figure to the children than a parent and she is incapable of parenting the children at present.

“Attempts have been made to teach LT parenting skills but she either does not cooperate or cannot give effect to the advice.”

The children’s mother was also found to have lied about her relationship with JL for over two years – as she admitted she lied to social workers about the nature of their relationship in order to delay permanency planning for the children.

During this time, she even engaged in a domestic violence course, despite continuing the relationship with JL, which Sheriff Welsh described as “wasted work”.

The court also heard that LT had “inappropriate people” in the family home, and EST has even had to have teeth removed due to the neglect of dental hygiene while in her mother’s care.

However, the most damning evidence presented to the court came from the children themselves, now aged seven and five-years-old.

Speaking to a legal representative in April, NTT described her early life living with her mother.

The legal representative, known as a curatrix ad litem in Scots law, wrote: “The curatrix ad litem asked the child if she can remember when she lived with the natural parents and she indicated that she can, and that what she remembers is ‘daddy J fighting L and mummy shouting’.

“When the curatrix ad litem asked the child what she saw, the child replied that she was scared and frightened and her sister was crying.

“The child confirmed that she cannot remember how often she saw this, but that she was too scared to ask the natural father to stop.

“The curatrix ad litem asked the child if she remembers anything else about the natural mother and she replied that she remembers having a can of fizzy juice with her tea, and she remembers that her sister escaped and the police found her.

“The child went on to say that she tried to run away lots of times because she was a bit frightened of the fights, but her sister did run away and the police found her.

“The child suggested that her sister ran away when it was ‘snowy and chilly’, and that she was ‘so lonely and crying because she was all alone’.”

After the incident where NTT was found in the street, the two children were placed into foster care, where they were given structure and boundaries for the first time.

Summarising the evidence given by a social worker, Sheriff Welsh wrote: “Although experienced, the foster carers found it challenging looking after the girls when they moved in.

“Both children displayed very unsafe behaviours, especially EST. This included running onto main roads, swinging from ceiling light fittings, climbing onto furniture and emptying bottles of liquids.

“EST was scared of males and for a long time would not permit her male carer to be involved in her care.”

Edinburgh City Council has now found prospective adopters for the two girls, which, according to expert witnesses, is probably the last chance for the children to be adopted due to their age.

Giving evidence to the court, LT said she “has matured considerably and deserves another chance” to look after her children: “I believe that removing me from my children’s lives would be like ripping a part of their heart out.

“The children love spending time with me and the information I receive is that the children are always excited about coming to see me.

“NTT and EST are not young children. They are children who are aware of their circumstances, who are aware that they do not live with their mum, and therefore I think it would be extremely sad for them to be aware that their mum is out there looking for them and wanting them to live with her, but that the court has said ‘no’ to this.”

The children’s father also gave evidence, saying he was now in custody and clean from drugs, and although he is “not ready” to be involved as a parent, LT should be given a chance to raise the children as the best place for them is with their mother.

However, in his judgement, Sheriff Welsh of LT: “Sadly, I have reached the conclusion that to place these children back in her care would be seriously detrimental to them because of her inadequacies as a parent, her inability to learn how to parent and her propensity to lie to promote her own interests.

“There is a further danger that she would re-introduce them to JL who is, in my judgement, dangerous and violent.

“She told [a social worker] that she lied about being in a relationship with JL to delay the permanence process.

“She put her personal interests above those of the children.

“There is a real danger that LT would put herself first at the expense of the children.

“I am not persuaded that she has changed or is capable of change.”

Speaking of JL, Sheriff Welsh wrote: “To begin with he gave very plausible evidence about what he wanted for the children in relation to a good supportive family, a good education and a happy life, something better than he had, he said.

“But in cross examination his true character emerged. He was hostile and positively aggressive to counsel. His body language told a very different story.

“In my judgment, his violent propensity manifest when questioned about his past behaviour which he did not deny. I have no doubt he said, in chief, what he thought the court wanted to hear.

“He said he thought LT should be given a chance to bring up the children as a single parent.

“In my judgment, his opposition to this application has nothing to do with the best interests of these children and everything to do with his relationship with LT.

“He came over as dishonest and violent.”

In deciding to grant Edinburgh City Council’s application for a permanence order, Sheriff Welsh also restricted the birth parents’ contact to writing a letter to the children once a year: “I shall grant the applications in terms of section 80 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007.

“I shall make an order in terms of section 82(1)(e) of said Act that there should only be annual, two-way, indirect letterbox contact with the inclusion of no more than two photographs, and said letters and photographs to be passed on to the children in a manner and at a time deemed to be appropriate by the current carers.”

Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson

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