From The Sunday Times

May 31, 2009

Mother ‘too stupid’ to keep child

Rachael, who recently celebrated her daughter's third birthday

Daniel Foggo

A MOTHER is taking her fight to the European Court of Human Rights after she was forbidden from seeing her three-year-old daughter because she is not “clever enough” to look after her.

The woman, who for legal reasons can be identified only by her first name, Rachel, has been told by a family court that her daughter will be placed with adoptive parents within the next three months, and she will then be barred from further contact.

The adoption is going ahead despite the declaration by a psychiatrist that Rachel, 24, has no learning difficulties and “good literacy and numeracy and [that] her general intellectual abilities appear to be within the normal range”.

Her daughter, K, was born prematurely and officials felt Rachel lacked the intelligence to cope with her complex medical needs Baby K was released from hospital into care and is currently with a foster family. Her health has now improved to the point where she needs little or no day-to-day medical care.

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Rachel said last night: “I have been totally let down by the system. All I want is to care for my daughter but the council and the court are determined not to let me.

“The court here has now ordered that my contact with my daughter must be reduced from every fortnight until in three months’ time it will all be over and I will never see her again.”

Rachel has now lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which has the power to stop the child being given to another family. She has also applied for a judicial review of the adoption order.

Her attempts to fight Nottingham city council’s adoption of her daughter have been hampered because her case was taken over by the official solicitor, the government-funded lawyer who acts for those unable to represent themselves. He was brought in to represent Rachel’s interests because she was judged to be intellectually incapable of instructing her own solicitor. He declined to contest the council’s adoption application, despite her wish to do so.

After the psychiatrist’s assessment of Rachel, the court has now acknowledged that she does have the mental capacity to keep up with the legal aspects of her situation. It has nevertheless refused her attempts to halt the adoption process.

John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, who is campaigning on Rachel’s behalf, said: “The way Rachel has been treated is appalling. She has been swept aside by a system that seems more interested in securing a child for adoption than preserving a natural family unit.”

From The Sunday Times

May 31, 2009

Court takes child of ‘stupid’ mother

Daniel Foggo

WHEN Rachel celebrated her daughter’s third birthday three weeks ago the little girl was a picture of happiness. Yet for her mother it was a bittersweet occasion.

Rachel had to squeeze in the celebrations with family court hearings in the morning and the afternoon. The judge was to decide whether to reduce Rachel’s contact with her daughter in the run-up to her adoption in three months’ time.

The verdict came back days later. “The judge said I should have my contact with my daughter reduced from once a fortnight to once a month, with the amount of time going down from an hour-and-a-half to just five minutes,” said Rachel.

“Then, when she is with the adoptive family, that will be it. I will never see her again.”

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The 24-year-old single mother has never been accused of physically or emotionally harming her daughter, who for legal reasons can be referred to only as K. Even those set on taking her away concede that she harbours nothing but love for the girl.

She has been denied the right to keep her only child because she has been deemed to be mentally incapable of caring for her. She is simply “too stupid”, it was decided.

Rachel protested and secured a solicitor to give her a voice in the family court. But by the time of the crucial placement hearing her pleas had been silenced. This was because her “stupidity” had been used as a means to deny her something else: the right to instruct a lawyer.

Instead, the official solicitor was brought in to speak for Rachel. Alastair Pitblado, the government-funded official, is appointed by the courts to represent the interests of those who cannot make their own case, such as mentally incapacitated people.

In Rachel’s case it was decided that her interests were best served by agreeing with Nottingham city council’s application to have her daughter adopted.

Rachel’s protests over her treatment were dismissed. The official solicitor had acted “entirely properly” in capitulating to the council since Rachel’s case was “unarguable”, the Court of Appeal ruled.

The decisions of the family court and the appeal court relied upon reports drawn up by a psychologist whose verdict that Rachel had low intelligence and learning disabilities had led to K being put up for adoption and the appointment of the official solicitor.

Rachel’s “fundamental learning difficulties”, said the appeal court, meant “whilst [her] love for her daughter is not doubted, her capacity to care for her independently is seriously deficient”.

However, according to a new report by a leading psychiatrist, Rachel is far from deficient. He said she had “demonstrated that she has more than an adequate knowledge of court proceedings”.

“She has good literacy and numeracy and her general intellectual abilities appear to be within normal range,” he wrote in a report.

“She has no previous history of learning disability or mental illness and did not receive special or remedial education.

“Rachel fully understands the nature of the current court proceedings, can retain them, weigh the information and can communicate both verbally and in writing.”

The psychiatrist’s report, ordered by the court last year to assess whether she could continue to represent her case for continuing contact with K, was a reversal of the previous expert’s opinion.

While it was accepted by the family court as evidence of her legal astuteness, it has cut no ice with the family court judge in respect of her ability to look after her daughter.

In a separate study last year, Rachel’s overall IQ was rated at 71, although her processing speed was scored higher at 84. She was categorised as “border-line”, one level below low average intelligence. Someone with Down’s syndrome would typically have an IQ of 50-60. The IQ of an “average” adult is 90-109.

Now Rachel is pinning her hopes on a last-ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but time is running out. Once K has been placed with her adoptive family, any realistic hope of Rachel seeing her again will vanish.

Rachel’s potential to be a sufficient parent was first placed in doubt soon after her daughter was born prematurely in 2006. “She had breathing problems and needed operations on her bowel, eye, heart and throat,” recalled Rachel.

Social workers were sceptical about Rachel as a mother. They were “concerned” that initially she was visiting K in the hospital for only a couple of hours a day.

When K was released from hospital she went straight into care and a psychologist was appointed to assess Rachel. “[Rachel] has a significant learning disability, and she will always need a high level of support in caring for [her daughter],” the psychologist wrote.

“If she were not receiving this support she would pose a high level of risk to [the girl’s] wellbeing, which is not due to any desire on her part to hurt [her daughter], but to her limitations.”

Rachel’s brother Andrew and their parents all offered their services but were rejected for reasons varying from being too old to having played truant from school.

Andrew, an articulate 27-year-old, said: “The guardian that the court appointed for K even said that I have learning difficulties, although she had never met me. These people are ridiculous. What’s worse, the judges overlook it and still think they are credible professionals.”