May 31, 2009
Court takes child of ‘stupid’ mother
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.”
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
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
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.”