If a parent has parental responsibility and no one cares, what remedies do they have?


I am very grateful to the mother of Shayla for giving me permission to post this. I shall call the child murdered by Matthew Scully Hicks (MSH) by the name her mother gave to her at birth. It is one of the sad and poignant features of many in this case that at the time of her death Shayla was known by at least four different names, which made it difficult to find relevant records about her short life. Page 15 of the Review notes that ‘at the point of her death it was difficult to get the information about when she had seen medical professionals. This was due in part to a number of different IT systems and that S was known by four different combinations of her birth and adopted name.’

Another more poignant issue is her mother’s belief that, had she been told of Shayla’s injuries when in the care of MSH before the making of the adoption order and when she still had parental responsibility, her baby would still be alive. The mother may or may not be right in that belief. But now, sadly, we shall never know. 

What rights do parents have to know their child has been hurt? Even if the parent isn’t caring for their child? Even if there is no chance the parent ever will?

In brief, S was injured on several occasions in the care of MSH before the adoption order was made. Shortly after the adoption order was made he assaulted her again and this time she died. The mother was never told about any of these injuries despite retaining parental responsibility until it was extinguished by the making of an adoption order. She remains of the belief that had she known, there would have been something she could have done to stop her daughter’s death.

Other parents have told me online, and in person, that the same thing has happened to them. That their children suffered sometimes really serious injuries whilst in foster care but they were never told. Just what is going on here? Why is parental responsibility apparently so carelessly ignored when children are looked after? The clue is found in the Review at page 15:

the child while still legally a child looked after, was considered an adopted child and so this shaped the way professionals shared information.’

I suspect what we are seeing here is the logical conclusion of the mantra that ‘adoption is best’ and that ‘children need to be rescued’.  If a child is seen entirely in isolation from his or her parents, if those parents are seen as unsuitable or undesirable then it is hardly surprising that their legal rights are not seen as something worthy of much attention. But this is wrong. It hurts both parents and children.

Even if parents cannot care for their children, by reason of circumstances within or without their control, it is rare to find a parent who doesn’t care about them, who doesn’t have knowledge about their child. Even the very ‘worst’ ‘monster parent’ still has something to offer, even if it is only some sense of identity or history.

I do not think what appears to be widespread negation of parental responsibility when children are looked after is acceptable and it says profoundly ugly things about our society.


The review of Shayla’s death.

The only written document I have seen relating to these proceedings is the Extended Child Practice Review C&V CPR 04/2016 (‘the Review’) which was commissioned by the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Regional Safeguarding Board on the recommendation of the Child and Adult Practice Review Subgroup in accordance with the Social Services and Well Being (Wales) Act 2014 Part 7.

What happened between September 2014 and S’s death in 2016.

At page 4 the Review sets out what it is has done and who has been seen in order to complete the work. I note that both the mother and the maternal grandmother were interviewed and the Review explicitly recognises how difficult and emotional it has been for both.

S was placed in foster care in November 2014. A care and placement order were made in May 2015 and S was placed with MSH and his husband in September 2015. The adoption order was made in May 2016 and she died shortly afterwards. MSH was convicted of her murder in November 2017.

The Review sets out the care planning for S at page 6 and concludes it was appropriate; all the evidence suggested that adoption would be in S’s best interests.

MSH and his husband were first approved as adoptive parents in August 2013 and had their first child placed with them in October 2013. The first child was adopted by them in April 2014. They were assessed again in February 2015 and approved in July 2015. In September 2015 the Agency Decision Maker approved the match between S and the adoptive parents and she moved to live with them.

The Review sets out at page 7 that they had access to key documents about this assessment process and considered it was ‘robust, detailed and comprehensive’. All the evidence suggested this would be a positive outcome for the child. There is no mention here of any member of the assessment process or any social worker being related to MSH’s husband. If this is true, I would expect comment.

The Review then considers S’s placement with the adopters. In November 2015 she is taken to the GP by one parent, it is not clear which (reference is made to ‘dad’ or ‘father’ rather than ‘primary carer’ which would have clearly identified MSH) and found to have a fracture to the bone at the end of her left leg. However she is seen only by a Registrar who was not overseen by a consultant; in fact she had two fractures of two different bones in her left leg and this was not discovered until after her death. The doctors, unaware of the second fracture, find the parents’ description of what happened to fit with the injuries found and a cast was put on S’s leg.

In December 2015 MSH texts the Adoption SW to say S has a large bruise on her forehead. The Adoption Review makes no reference to that bruise. Five days later a health professional notes (presumably) another bruise to her forehead and eye. The health professional does not tell anyone else.

In March 2016 MSH telephones 999 to say S has fallen though the stair gate at the top of the stairs, does not lose consciousness but vomits. S goes to hospital for 4 days. Medical professionals accept MSH’s explanation. S is then seen by a GP for a ‘unilateral squint’. A referral is made but she dies before this can take place.

In May 2016 S is seen by consultant neonatologist for routine follow up and no concerns identified. Later than month MSH calls 999 to say S is limp, floppy and unresponsive. He gives different explanations about what happened. S never regains consciousness and died in hospital with bleeding on her brain. The police arrest MSH.

The Review does identify some serious flaws in these procedures:
a. The bruise(s) to S was not recorded and not considered at the Adoption Review
b. S was not taken to the GP until 5 days after the ‘accident’ that led to the fracture of her left leg and in fact a second fracture to the top of her left leg was identified after she died. It was considered highly unlikely for any child to break two separate bones in one accident and had the second fracture been found at the time, ‘concerns would have undoubtedly been raised and child protection procedures instigated’.

The Review notes that immediate organisational changes were made.. I note at page 15 the Review comments ‘the child while still legally a child looked after, was considered an adopted child and so this shaped the way professionals shared information.’

The Review comments on the mother’s views in the following terms:

The Birth Mother shared her concern that it was several months before she was informed of her child’s death. She indicated that she would have preferred to have been informed of her child’s death by somebody that was known to her. Following being informed, she felt she received information from several sources in an ad hoc fashion. Understandably the emotional impact of the child’s death on the birth family has been very significant.’

However the Review does not appear to make any substantive comment on these issues and how they could be dealt with better in the future. I would have liked to see at least some discussion of that.

At page 12 the Review identifies what they have learned from S’s death. A key point appears to be that although MSH, his husband and some of the extended family knew that MSH was under stress caring for two children, this information wasn’t shared with any professionals and only became clear in the criminal proceedings. The Review notes that ‘the overall presentation to the agencies was one of a happy and united family’.

It is clear that MSH was viewed through a ‘positive’ lens and there was nothing throughout the adoption assessment process that could have indicated MSH would injure and kill S. However, as the Review concedes, this ‘positive lens’ led to a minimisation of concerns about S’s injuries, 2 incidences of delay in getting medical treatment to her and MSH informing the HV he had sought GP advice about a bruise when he had not. The Review comments that ‘… with the benefit of hindsight, the monitoring and review of children placed for adoption can be strengthened by ensuring that safeguarding responsibilities are given due emphasis’.

The mother would have liked to have been part of that process to ensure that S was safe. But she was never given any opportunity.

The ‘Key Learning’ identified is set out at pages 14-15 – no discussion of failure to provide information to those who hold PR

  • When children are seen at hospital, Paediatricians are key professionals in recognising the possibility of injuries being caused deliberately
  • Professional judgements should be based upon consideration of all the evidence available rather than individual events
  • Professionals need to ensure the details of a child’s injuries are recorded as significant events.
  • Each agency has a professional responsibility to ensure that they are aware of all the significant events in a child’s life. – no one agency or worker held all the relevant information about S.
  • Adoption reviews should provide opportunities for robust professional scrutiny and challenge – a holistic understanding of the child’s story was not gained
  • The recording and retention of information received via text and other messaging services are an increasingly important source of information.
  • Learning after S’s death – this was made more difficult by the fact that it was difficult to gather all the relevant information due to different IT systems in use and S being known by up to four different names.


I note again a failure to refer to the lack of provision of information to those who have PR.

The overall conclusion of the Review is that some systems and practices should be improved but that there was no information during the assessment stages of the parents that could or would have predicted what happened to this child.

This is true but rather skates over the concerns in the body of the Review that the significance of some of this information was missed; either because it was unknown (the second fracture) or because it was not seen in its proper context – serious bruising and delays in taking S to the GP for example. The reason for this is given as that the adoptive parents would inevitably be seen through a positive lens, as adoption is inevitably seen as a positive thing for a child. Thus as the Review concedes there was a ‘lack of professional curiosity’ regarding S’s experiences.

I am concerned about this.  There were two categories of information that were not given to the mother.
a. information that S had been injured and suffered a fractured leg in the care of the adoptive parents prior to the making of an adoption order and while the mother still had parental responsibility (PR).
b. Information about S’s death which occurred after the making of the adoption order, thus extinguishing the mother’s PR.

Information withheld while the mother had PR

The mother was never told about her daughter’s injuries. The failure to inform her was a breach of her continuing Article 8 rights as a holder of parental responsibility. The local authority may argue that this breach would be seen as proportionate and lawful given regulation 45 of the Adoption Agency Regulations 2005, which disapplies section 22 of the Children Act 1989 and thus removes the local authority’s duties to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the parent and take them into account when coming to any decision about the child who is subject to a placement order. However, asking about wishes and feelings is not the same as providing information.

I do have to accept that it is likely that even if the mother had been told about S’s fractured leg, I do not think this would have made any difference to the LA approach as the significance of that injury was that there were in fact two fractures and the second was not found until after S died. I can speculate that if the mother had been told about the bruising and raised complaint, this might have pushed the various agencies into looking more closely at the overall picture painted by the bruising and late presentation to the GP. However, I suspect that absent any information that MSH was struggling to cope – which was not shared by MSH or his husband with any agency – that the mother’s intervention would have made little difference as there was no evidence before the LA to challenged the ‘positive lens’ though which the adoptive family were seen.

However, whether or not the mother could have ‘done’ anything with the information, I do not think is the relevant point here. She still had PR. She should have been told. Parents in this situation should have a remedy pursuant to the Human Rights Act for ‘just satisfaction’.

Is Article 8 ECHR extinguished after adoption? I don’t think so

After S’s adoption, the convention wisdom of the family courts is that all Article 8 rights fall away and thus the mother was no longer seen as anyone with any relevant interest in S’s life or death. This may be the current view of the courts –see Seddon v Oldham MBC (Adoption Human Rights) [2015] EWHC 2609 (Fam) but in my view it is based on a misunderstanding of what is actually protected by Article 8 – protection of family and private life encompasses protection of psychological integrity.

A sound mental state is an important factor for the possibility to enjoy the right to private life (Bensaid v UK para 47). Measures which affect the physical integrity or mental health have to reach a certain degree of severity to qualify as an interference with the right to private life under Article 8 (Ben-said v UK, para 46).

I imagine that the mother’s distress arising out the circumstances of her daughter’s death and the failure of other agencies to provide her with any timely information, would bring this case into the necessary degree of severity of harm.  An adoption order did not change the fact that S was the mother’s daughter and at some point in the future, had she lived, may have sought her out. The pull of biology is recognised as strong and important for most and is reflected in such initiatives as life story work and the Adoption Contact Register.

If the law does says that the mother had no right to learn of her daughter’s death because an adoption order ‘wiped out’ her Article 8 rights, then in my view the law is wrong and should be challenged.

It is my very firm view that no law should be permitted to stand that is capable of imposing such a cruel situation upon any parent, no matter their previous failings and no matter that their child has been adopted. I suspect the problem here is what was identified by the Review at page 15:  ‘the child while still legally a child looked after, was considered an adopted child and so this shaped the way professionals shared information.’


17 thoughts on “If a parent has parental responsibility and no one cares, what remedies do they have?

  1. Tim Keirman

    Firstly, thank you for the article and I think that is an interesting point in regards to the just before adoption and furthermore post adoption death of a child. This was a very sad case indeed. Can I clarify whether the other child that they were looking after was the sibling of Shayla? I thought that was the case but am happy to be corrected? I thought article 8 rights did end on adoption. I am sure that many parents, despite whether it was consensual or non-consensual adoption, would always want to know that their child is safe in the hope of one day seeing their child again(although not all parents do or will see their child again).

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I can’t comment on the sibling point – i am sure there will be reporting restrictions around that child regardless of sibling status to keep identify secret.

      Article 8 rights do end on adoption – that is current law. I think its wrong. Article 8 encompasses right to private life as well as family life. That means identity etc.

      1. Tim Keirman

        I can because I would not ask the question if the source was not publicably available and I certainly do not breach any reporting restrictions. Unfortunately, I was slightly distracted by a pest last night which we have both come across. Thankfully, I think it was my error, since I had read the care proceedings in this case and the media reports both locally and nationally where I think the word siblings might have been used in the sense of adoptive ones. I do understand what you mean but if you look at the numbers of people using letterbox contact, for example, the figures are not great at all. I did a project last year and have figures more or less for 90% of England, 100% for Wales and 90% for Scotland. There are parents that seem to give up after a period of time in even writing albeit that it is not an enforceable thing which means that some adoptive parents choose not to engage in indirect contact. In this case, I think the delay of 7 months in informing them of the death of the child was really poor. I think, regardless of whether the parent(s) has lost their child in either contested or uncontested means, many would want to know that their child is, for the minimum, safe and alive. So, I have to ask the question then, how can Article 8 issues be changed so that there is still secrecy within the closed adoption system that we have whilst also ensuring that there is not a delay in informing the parent of the death of their child? If that did change, should the death of either parent(depending on the circumstances of the case) also be told to the child as well?

          1. Tim Keirman

            There is one single mention of adopted sibling on page 12 of the review and that is all. It does not say that they had parented C to a standard that meant that their skills were already shown to be good with a young child. That is a little strange really considering the review could have looked into any maltreatment of C but did not since only Shayla had injuries and ultimately died in the care of Scully Hicks.

        1. Angelo Granda

          The system is not worth saving whilst it remains secret and ‘closed’.
          No matter how the procedures are changed the LA’s will simply abuse their powers and breach human rights as they do now ( child exploitation of all kinds).
          Please note,readers,that many children placed for adoption are not actually adopted; they remain in the hands of the ‘system’.
          Often the parents aren’t informed as would be appropriate.
          This post is mainly around parents not being
          Informed when their children are killed or if they die.It is also wrong and contravenes human rights of children if they aren’t placed or when are reclaimed from adoption into the power of Social Services as was tried with adoption P. You may remember that no-one even dreamt of informing the natural Mum!

        2. Nanasam

          Tim the child was not shaylas sibling, grandmother had siblings but deemed “assessment failure” offered no support no nothing. The vale and Cardiff have a lot to answer as it seems there taking these babies with no PPO or court orders. Then going to court applying for interim with “out to adopt ” . They are bluntly offering these babies to friends and family via “inhouse ” . I had no solicitor was not involved with cardiff local Authority. Had a call 12 hrs before birth of grandchild, naming a putive father without DNA then twin tracking. What I would appriciate if shaylas mum can clarify or had her eyes on “paperwork” an documents especially from ADM and TM?
          As a parent with full custody rights and parental responsibility never involved with any family proceedings they took my son through without service of documents to myself and not asked permission for DNA. How can a child have a twin track/ 2 care an placement before a final hearing. The local authority wanted procedings completed before the birth? No section 47 no pre birth assessment carried out and allocated social worker never met and unqualified and unregistered and uni was looked after social worker? In other words she also sustained injuries from 26th october 2015 age 6 weeks no medical records only communication to a trainee. Took 24 hours for safeguarding team Dec 2015 with facial injuries to move files and her. Why didn’t the judge pick this up ? We were not told of proceedings until December by time solicitor got papers as xmas/new year shut “buisness days an bank hols shit) only 6 days before hearing at 20 weeks, the solicitor disappeared. I put applications in before another placement was done on Feb 2016 to revoke care order before any placement took place. Its only the second solicitor who we had to pay even though a “child” was getting legal aid but not in my name as a parent and primary carer for 23 yrs . This was dismissed as a parent with full parental responsibility I had a legal right to know about injuries this was before we met her Nov 2015 then bruising started happening, the CEO and adm who was assistant director of local Authority has also gone registered in different part of uk.
          Now we have a stage 2 investigation is happening, id be happy to speak with mum/Nan live in same area . In 1 C2 application which is for parents its professionals names on it. Signing a A65 stopping parents obtaining files and has address my granddaughter never lived at. There are many names who have no bearing on the case and I feel this is what happened in shaylas mothers case.
          Thank you for sharing this and so sorry for your loss to the mother.

          Tim boy was 3 an half an had him 3 years , I can assure you her siblings are well and unconditionally loved where they are and want for nothing. They failed this family and a independent investigation has to happen as kept all coraspondance denying me SAR files as none existed and court procedings the judge ordered to add us to proceedings and never did instead made “children ” party with no guardians,litigation friend or advocate. Advocate was told on first day when he come to our home by a trainee social workers no longer needed as he sent us a letter.. all cost making out fully rep is a “white wash” can see it in statements. mother and grandmother would have a case against the local Authority where knowing 2 infant’s and others were injured and regulations were purposely “overseen”.

    2. Samantha cordy

      Tge boy isnt Shayla sibling Tim. Siblings live with grandma and have since very small she is a loving grandmother to them al and shayla should have been placed there and yes she would still be here today had the locals authority carried out adequate assessments. The couple had a little boy already in there care before shayla was placed”

  2. looked_after_child

    – Beyond words, beyond belief of anyone who does not have experience of this cruel system. The law has created a very real and harsh cage with lots of mini compartments each holding a parent, a child, a grandparent apart – bonds of love mean nothing.
    The only reasons for this as the norm ( not special cases only to the extent necessary to keep a child safe) I suspect are pragmatic – it suits the needs of all the peripheral players -the social workers, the people who hold the budgets, the people who allocate the budgets, the people who make a living from this system (maybe because they once cared?)

  3. Angelo Granda

    Q.I. Article 8 rights as a holder of parental responsibility. Can the LA disapply section 22 of the Children Act 1989 thus removing its duties to ascertain and take into account the wishes and feelings of natural parents ( with p.r.) when coming to decisions regarding welfare of a child in foster-care? If so.how can they justify it ?

    Q.2. If they did dispense with their duties ,stop inviting natural parents to LAC Reviews, make no attempt to keep them informed about the child’s welfare and fail to send them any news of the child’s medical and educational issues, would they be criminally responsible for infringing the terms of a full care order?

    Q.3. Do you happen to know whether the LA has a duty to send copies of medical assessments ,clinic letters,school information etc. to natural parents of children in foster-care?

    Q.4. I realise you are a barrister not a doctor, but please do you know whether doctors have a responsibility to contact natural parents with p.r. and keep them informed as to health issues of such children? Likewise , are school supposed to keep them informed?

    Hope you don’t mind ,i know you are busy .

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      No LA cannot misapply any statutory obligation. But you need to distinguish between duties and powers. One is mandatory the other discretionary. Section 22 however IS a duty and I made successful application on behalf of a foster carer when he was not informed of decisions relating to his foster child.
      Question 2 – I highly doubt criminal liability would ever apply. But it would be breach of HRA potentially.
      Question 3 – for routine matters I don’t think so but for more serious issues, the parents retain PR so need to be informed and consulted.
      Question 4 – No, I doubt there is such a duty on a doctor to take pro active steps but if any person with PR requests information about a child, the doctor should provide it. Same with school

  4. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, Thanks for the advice.
    Please clarify one thing specifically for me if you can. The terms of an FCO are that the L.A. named on the order shares parental responsibility with the natural parent/parents who must be kept informed and consulted as to all welfare decisions regarding the child/children also named on the order are they not?
    Whilst i am not a lawyer,i understand section 22 and section 39 are to be considered and discussed periodically and the parents are to be enabled to discuss the care-plans through the LAC Review system every six months.
    Therefore are you saying it is not a criminal offence to ignore Court orders? I can’t help but comment that VH was sent down for three years when she apparently contravened a COURT ORDER.
    I do understand that L.A.’s are allowed to countermand parents and have the final decisions on welfare issues but
    where they decide to exclude parents altogether from LAC planning meetings, they should surely be obliged to discuss that management ( welfare) decision fully with parent/s first.
    So, is it just a potential contravention of the HRA or is it contravention of an explicit court order which can result in imprisonment? I would appreciate more advice about this particular question. Thank you ,in anticipation.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      A breach of any order is a contempt of court. Contempt of court can lead to a prison sentence. However that is only for the most serious of breaches. VH seriously breached a non molesation order by getting in the car with her daughter who was terrified. That merited a prison sentence in the context of her other behaviour. Not inviting parents to LAC meetings is certainly bad practice and possibly HRA breach but I can’t see anyone going to prison for it.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Thanks for that, Sarah. I suppose it depends on whether or not there is evidence of basic criminal ‘intent’ . Even when there is no malice involved if aims are illegitimate it is potentially criminal. Of course,to demonstrate intent a criminal investigation will be required and that will never happen when the malpractice is covered up. The complaints system gets parents nowhere and the Police ignore it, even the Courts do!
        C’est la vie!
        If one goes through a red light and a child is killed, is that criminal intent? One will not have knocked the child down with malice but one has deliberately broken the law which is criminal intent. Similarly ,if professionals break the rules and cross the line, i think they should be brought to book for it. There are too many autistic children ( and mentally disabled children e.g. downs syndrome) confined in residential homes for life. No-one benefits except the private care-providers.

        1. ?Angelo Granda

          Another analogy.

          Robin Hood would ambush wealthy travellers and rob them to feed the poor.
          However he was an outlaw and faced serious punishment probably the scaffold because of it.
          His basic aim was not bad but by forming a gang which targeted and shot arrows into the hearts of other human beings simply because he perceived them to be bad was disproportionate action, completely beyond the pale.
          Stealing ( venison from the King’s hunting grounds) and killing are objectively wrong.

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