A child’s ‘best interest’ and the State

A terrible case of injustice against a family has come to light in the UK. It highlights how the State can act in a totalitarian fashion once it, rather than parents, gets to decide what is in a child’s best interests. 

The case involves a couple whose three children were taken away from them a little over four years ago. They were taken away when doctors examined one of the three children and discovered a number of fractures on his leg. They decided these had been inflicted by one of the parents. Social services intervened immediately and the children were quickly adopted out to another family. 

It now emerges that the parents probably did not assault their child. Doctors now concede he may have been suffering from scurvy which can be caused by a lack of Vitamin C. A family doctor advised the parents to give their son soya milk which lacks that Vitamin. 

Following this development, the couple went back to court to try and regain their child. The judge refused citing the best interests of the children. He said they were now settled with their new family. At the time of the adoption in January 2005, the children were two, three and five. 

There are several aspects to this case. First of all, was the State right to remove the children in the first place? The answer is yes. If the State had good reason to believe the children were at risk of physical violence, then it had to act as it did. 

Should it have let them be adopted by another family so quickly? Probably not. As this case proved, mistakes can be made and the State should be very slow to decisively sever children from their families. 

Was the Judge right to leave the three children with their new family? Definitely not. There is a question of natural justice here. A great injustice had been done against the parents. Their children were unjustly removed from them. Now they are unjustly not being returned. The ‘best interests’ of the child argument does not work here. The judge simply cannot know that it is in the best interests of these children not to be returned to their natural parents. Nor can he know how these children will react in years to come when they learn their natural parents tried to retrieve them. Those children rightly belong with their natural parents. 

Unless a child’s parents are guilty of abuse or neglect it has to be left up to them to decide what is in that child’s best interests. To give this power of judgement to the State under other circumstances confers upon the State the right to interfere in the most intimate decisions of a family at the say-so of a social worker, a teacher, a therapist, or some other employee of the State. 

This is already happening in other countries such as Canada. It represents a colossal expansion in the power of the State and the opportunities for abuse of this power are equally colossal. It destroys any notion of limited government. It extends government into the family in a totally unacceptable way. 

Of course, what is also distressing for the parents, apart from being denied the return of their children, is that they will never be entirely clear of the taint of guilt. The judge says he now accepts they ‘probably’ did not abuse their child. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? 

In Ireland, children’s rights groups want the State to be given more power to decide what is in a child’s best interests. This case should serve as a warning to those tempted to agree with them. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that in Britain children are often left with their parents when it is categorically known the child has been subjected to ongoing physical abuse /or neglect. In some of these cases it is only in extremis that they finally remove the children into care, and sometimes not even then. Think of the Baby P case. Why, then, did social services act so decisively based on one suspicion of abuse in this instance?