Judge Orders Social Workers To Hand Back Newborn Child Taken From Hospital At 4am

A newborn baby was illegally snatched from its mother by social workers in the early hours of yesterday morning. Officials claimed the 18-year-old mother was unfit to care for the child because of mental health problems.

{mosimage}But hours later a High Court judge ordered the infant to be returned immediately, saying the social workers had acted beyond their powers.

Mr Justice Munby told the officials that they “should have known better”.

The troubling case follows complaints from parents that social workers have taken their children for adoption without good reason, and suggestions that families are being broken up to meet bureaucratic targets.

Last night campaigners welcomed the ruling and praised the mother’s lawyers for their prompt action to reunite the baby with its mother.

The child, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was born healthy at 2am yesterday.

Later Ian Wise, appearing for the mother, referred to as “G”, told the High Court in London that the child was taken from her at about 4am without her consent.

The child was removed after staff at the hospital were shown a “birth plan” prepared by local authority social services.

The plan said the mother, who had a troubled childhood and suffers from mental health problems, was to be separated from the child, and no contact allowed without supervision by social workers.

In his ruling, the judge ordered that the local social services authority and NHS trust “take the necessary steps to reunite mother and baby forthwith”.

The mother now faces a legal battle to remain with her child. Mr Wise said she intends to fight to keep her baby. The judge described the situation as “most unfortunate”. He said no baby can be removed simply “as the result of a decision taken by officials in some room”.

Removal can be lawful only if a police officer is taking action to protect the child, or there is a court order in place.

The judge said doctors and midwives at the hospital could not have been expected to understand this and acted as they did when faced with “a bit of paper” with the birth plan.

He said: “On the face of it, what was done was without lawful authority. The professionals involved in this case should know better.

“You cannot remove children, short of immediate murderous intent (situations where a child is in immediate danger), except by lawful means, which means either by a police officer or court.

The judge added: “There is no suggestion in the documents shown to me so far that the mother is posing a risk of exposing the child to immediate physical attack and physical harm.”

The ruling was made shortly after midday, and mother and baby were reunited 46 minutes later.

Last night the mother’s solicitor Stuart Luke, from the firm Bhatia Best, said she faces the prospect of an application by social services for an interim care order, which he said would be vigorously contested. It is likely to be heard this morning before local magistrates.

Adoption targets were brought in seven years ago, when Tony Blair was trying to persuade social workers to find adoptive homes for more children.

The then Prime Minister set targets to raise the number of children being adopted by 50 per cent to 5,400 every year.

He promised millions of pounds to councils that managed to achieve the targets. Some have already received more than £2million for successful adoptions.

Campaigners say the number of babies under a month old being taken into care and then adopted has risen from 500 in 1997 to 1,300 a year. Last year a BBC investigation discovered more than 100 claims of miscarriages of justice by parents whose children were taken by social workers for adoption.

The Radio Four Face the Facts programme quoted social workers who admitted they are under pressure to take children because of Whitehall targets to increase adoption.

Last night Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has been campaigning against inappropriate adoption of babies, said: “Councils are in a big rush to take babies at a very early stage because it is makes it easier to break the attachment that naturally forms between baby and mother over time.

“This case illustrates again how the system is not working in the interests of the children or the families, it’s working in the interests of the bureaucracy.

“What’s unique about this case is not the unlawful removal of a child, but that some lawyers have sufficient backbone to make the right application to the court to have the child returned to its mother.”

Mr Hemming added: “There are financial rewards – a fund of about £35million – for getting children adopted. Admittedly, it has been proposed that adoption targets are scrapped on April 1, but clearly there are still problems.”

Layton Bevan, co-founder of Families and Social Services Information Team, a support group for families frustrated by social services’ actions, said: “It’s obscene the way some social services can take children away from parents without the proper paperwork.

“We are aware of this happening in hundreds of cases a year through the sheer incompetence and organisational failure of social services departments.

“If they need to meet adoption targets they will do it by taking children from vulnerable families.

“Worryingly, the social services involved seem to have no accountability and ride roughshod over the law and the parents and children involved.”