Tag Archives: Latvia

The woeful state of our debate about child protection, Part II: Hemming and the Latvian case

John Hemmings address to the Press Conference in Riga, Latvia.

On 31st August John Hemming uploaded onto YouTube a video.

I mentioned this on Twitter and expressed the hope the Latvian authorities are getting information from sources other than this. John Hemming has asked me to explain why I am concerned with what he says in his video.

What’s my problem? Summary

What’s wrong with this video? In general, to conduct the debate about the child protection system in this way, using inflammatory language, offering assertions as fact, displaying confirmation bias throughout and simply ignoring anything which might not support your argument simply underlines for me the very sad fact that the state of debate about our child protection system is woeful. It is embarrassing that we cannot do better.

It is all the more tragic because John Hemming does make some good points. He is right to point out that until recently LA were NOT aware of their obligations to inform other States that their citizens were facing care proceedings and the removal of their children. But that has been addressed and dealt with.  John Hemming should get credit for making a fuss about that, because it is important.

However, whatever good he has managed to do has, in my opinion, over many years been sadly submerged under a pile of ill informed and inflammatory assertions.  This does not promote debate or aid greater understanding or help children. Rather it drives proper debate further underground and the children are left to suffer in a system which is arguably not fit for purpose. 

If he is going to set himself up as an expert advising the Latvian authorities, I hope he will take the time to explain further to them his role as a ‘champion’ against the child protection system, and in particular his links with Ian Josephs and the ‘mums on the run’ network. 

I think the Latvian authorities ought to be fully informed about the background and activities of someone who proposing to ‘assist’ them in actions against another State. It is then a matter for the Latvian authorities whether they think they will be helped or hindered. For my part, I would urge them to act with extreme caution before accepting uncritically John Hemming’s views of the child protection system.

Particular problems.

It’s about a 5 minute video. This is what he says just 31 seconds in:

The Government sets targets to destroy families.

Why frame your argument in this way, right at the outset? Is this kind of inflammatory language remotely helpful in promoting debate and understanding between two States? Is this really what he thinks is the purpose of the child protection system in England? If that is what he really thinks, does he accept that he is going to need to provide some pretty clear evidence in support of such an astonishing allegation?

At 36 sections he says that the LAs act wherever possible to remove children from their families’ Again, an inflammatory statement which is not a reflection certainly of the current law that makes it crystal clear that adoption is the option of last resort.

He references a recent case which I won’t identify here as it seems that the whole purpose of this video is to encourage the Latvian authorities to put pressure on the Supreme Court to consider an appeal in this case. An interesting way to mount a legal challenge, using ‘interesting’ in the sense of ‘utterly inappropriate’.

He makes particular assertions about the state of the evidence in this case, claiming that the only real independent evidence was a core assessment, which was ignored because the SW Managers put pressure on to get another child to meet their adoption targets. It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court make of this assertion.

He refers to statistics which show that ‘obviously’ a LA was biased because they have targets to increase adoptions ‘year on year’. Is he going to discuss with the Latvian authorities the efforts made by the Transparency Project to unpick and analyse his statistics? It clearly is not as obvious as he would wish to maintain that the Merton KPIs are irrefutable proof of a Government set target to ‘destroy families’.

I don’t disagree that the current ‘push’ for adoption is concerning – and I note this particular blog post with serious concern – but after years of searching, I haven’t been able to find clear or indeed any proof that the Government is setting out to ‘destroy families’. There are obviously problems in the system which we need to deal with urgently – but deliberate, malign targets of destruction are not one of those problems. See the ‘Forced Adoption’ post for further discussion.

The more time we waste posturing about issues which don’t exist then the less time we have to deal with the problems that clearly do. What does John Hemming have to say for example about the clear and stark regional differences about rates of children taken into care? The Merton rates are tiny; about 12 children a year are adopted or subject to a SGO. You are much more likely to be taken into care if you are a child in Blackpool. Why is this? Why isn’t John Hemming interested in this?

Could it be, a cynical voice inside me utters, that it is just more ‘exciting’ to set oneself up as an advisor to the Latvian government and enjoy the accolades that attach to such campaigning, rather than actually care about and do something about the depressing and mundane realities of inequality in our society? Not as much press interest in the latter I suspect.

The debate at the Transparency Project is here. John Hemming has been asked a number of questions about his statistics which at the time of writing he has failed to answer. I am particularly interested in his assertion that he has statistics from 1995 which will prove that there are ever increasing numbers of young children being taken into care and subsequently adopted. I would like to see this evidence.



As Claire Fenton Glynn commented on Twitter about John Hemming’s video.

Claire Fenton-Glynn ‏@CFentonGlynn
@SVPhillimore A number of fundamental errors of reasoning. There are definitely flaws in English system but this clouds productive debate.

Please. We simply have to do better. We are educated adults. We are surely capable of a debate that reflects all the nuance and complexity of the current problems we face.

I have to believe that but at the moment I am seeing precious little to reassure me from any source.

Forced Adoption: We need to talk about this

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

The Latvian Intervention

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all. 

Owen Bowcott, writing in the Guardian in March 2015, described the situation:

Latvia’s parliament has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families.

The extraordinary intervention by foreign MPs in the way social services take children into care comes as the Baltic state has been granted permission to give evidence during an appeal over the case of a six-year-old girl who has been removed from her mother. It is due to be heard this month.

Other eastern European countries have also raised concerns about British adoption procedures, sometimes in cases where children have been born to mothers who have been trafficked into the country for the purposes of prostitution. In one case, Nigeria also expressed concern.

The child at the centre of Latvia’s intervention was first put into care in 2012 after being found at home alone, aged 21 months. Both her parents are Latvian; her father remains in their homeland.

The mother, according to an earlier judgment, had previously been found drunk, walking barefoot with her daughter in a buggy in the middle of a road in the south London borough of Merton.

The mother disputes the local authority’s assessments and the allegation that she was inebriated; she is now challenging the adoption of her child. Her lawyers have complained that the six-year-old was put in non-Russian speaking foster care which has delayed her language development.

Challenge in the courts

The mother has made various legal challenges to every stage of the adoption process. The Judgement of one such challenge in 2013 is here. Her most recent challenge has also failed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

Of note are the conditions in which the child was discovered at paragraph 6 of the judgment. This was described by a Latvian politician speaking on the Today programme on 13th August as a ‘mistake’ made by the mother and that ‘we all make them’.

I then heard a whimpering sound from a door directly in front of me. Once I had opened the door, I saw a room. In the left-hand corner of the room was a wardrobe and there were toys all over the floor. In the right-hand corner of the room against the window was a double bed that looked very soiled. On the wall beside the bed was a large area of damp and the wallpaper was coming away. There was a very strong and overpowering smell of urine and faeces in the room. I saw the child curled in an almost foetal position on the bed lying on a pillow. She sat up when we came into the room and she was holding an empty pink bottle. I went towards the child and she stood up and came towards me. I saw that her clothes were wet and that she was wearing a nappy that was falling off between her legs. Once in a different room, I could see that the child’s clothes were wet and she was shivering. The strong smell was coming from her and it was clear that she had not been changed or cleaned all day. I removed the child’s nappy to find dried and fresh faeces. The nappy was so swollen with urine that the child was unable to walk properly. There were also dried faeces on the child’s body and her skin was soaked in urine that had leaked from her nappy and gone through her clothes.

England and Wales needs to bring itself into line?

Part of the mother’s argument was that the law in England and Wales is simply ‘out of step’ with the rest of Europe:

“Most countries in Europe do not have a policy of “forced adoption.” As they do not, then the jurisdiction of England and Wales needs to be brought further in to line with the rest of Europe.”
This is elaborated by the mother in her skeleton argument with the assertion that if this case had been heard in another European jurisdiction, then a different solution would have been found. She says that other European countries have a greater understanding of familial ties, whereas in this country, she says, too little weight is attached to the child’s biological, national, ethnic and cultural inheritance. She says that this country should consider that it may be causing or permitting too many children to be adopted, and is out of line with the rest of Europe. Whilst accepting that there is a margin of appreciation, she says that this country is so far out of step with the rest of Europe that it needs to bring itself into line. She refers to the observations of Mostyn J in Re D (Special Guardianship Order) [2014] EWHC 3388 (Fam), [2015] 2 FLR 47, para 35, and to what Holman J said in A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] EWFC 47.

The President responded to this argument at paragraph 80:

I am acutely conscious of the concerns voiced in many parts of Europe about the law and practice in England and Wales in relation to what is sometimes referred to as ‘forced adoption’ but which I prefer, and I think more accurately, to refer to as non-consensual adoption. Manifestations of these concerns are to be found both in the Borzova Report and in the letter from the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia to which I referred in paragraph 39 above. I refer also to the fact that at its meeting on 19-20 March 2014 the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament considered and declared admissible a petition by LB making allegations about the local authority’s behaviour in the present case. It would not, however, be appropriate for me to say anything more about that particular matter.
I refer in this connection to what I said in In re E (A Child) (Care Proceedings: European Dimension) Practice Note [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] 1 WLR 2670, [2014] 2 FLR 151, paras 13-15:
“13 Leaving on one side altogether the circumstances of this particular case, there is a wider context that cannot be ignored. It is one of frequently voiced complaints that the courts of England and Wales are exorbitant in their exercise of the care jurisdiction over children from other European countries. There are specific complaints that the courts of England and Wales do not pay adequate heed to BIIR and that public authorities do not pay adequate heed to the Vienna Convention.
14 In the nature of things it is difficult to know to what extent such complaints are justified. What is clear, however, is that the number of care cases involving children from other European countries has risen sharply in recent years and that significant numbers of care cases now involve such children. It is timely therefore to draw the attention of practitioners, and indeed the courts, to certain steps which can, and I suggest from now on should, be taken with a view to ameliorating such concerns.
15 It would be idle to ignore the fact that these concerns are only exacerbated by the fact that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent … Thus the outcome of care proceedings in England and Wales may be that a child who is a national of another European country is adopted by an English family notwithstanding the vigorous protests of the child’s non-English parents. No doubt, from our perspective that is in the best interests of the child – indeed, unless a judge is satisfied that it really is in the child’s best interests no such order can be made. But we need to recognise that the judicial and other State authorities in some countries that are members of the European Union and parties to the BIIR regime may take a very different view and may indeed look askance at our whole approach to such cases.”

The law of England and Wales is NOT incompatible with the ECHR

But what is very clear is that the UK laws are NOT incompatible with the ECHR. The extent of the UK’s violations of the ECHR is set out in this helpful infographic from Rights Info.  It is ironic to find ourselves criticised by, for example, Slovenia –  which has the highest number of violations of fundamental rights of all members of the Council of Europe. Only 3% of cases bought to the European Court involve the UK.

The President commented at paragraph 83 of his judgment:

The second point is that, whatever the concerns that are expressed elsewhere in Europe, there can be no suggestion that, in this regard, the domestic law of England and Wales is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations or, specifically, with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There is nothing in the Strasbourg jurisprudence to suggest that our domestic law is, in this regard, incompatible with the Convention. For example, there is nothing in the various non-consensual adoption cases in which a challenge has been mounted, to suggest that our system is, as such, Convention non-compliant.

Sanchia Berg described the reaction of a Latvian politician:

Latvian MP Ignor Pimenov, said he found it hard to understand how a country “with high moral standards” could act in this way.
He believes this is not a unique case and said he had been contacted by several other Latvian women in the UK whose children had been taken into care.
“I can see there is something behind it… but families have been ruined,” he said.

What do we need to do?

Recent posts on this site and elsewhere have highlighted the current levels of ignorance about what actually happens here and abroad. What is not controversial is that there are children who need to be rescued from their parents and that there are state officials who either do not understand or misapply the law. The failures of the latter do not negate the need to protect children or render all parents blameless.

Do the mistakes or even deliberate malice of some individuals mean that there is a conspiracy to ‘snatch’ children from blameless, loving homes and ‘put them up’ for adoption? We have argued ‘no’. But there are many who disagree.

As a society we have an urgent need for better and more honest debate about this.

  • What support are families getting or should they be getting, to reduce the need for their children to be ‘rescued’ ?
  • When and how should the state intervene to carry out this ‘rescue’?
  • What should be the consequences when the state get it wrong? What redress could or should parents be given?

As Joshua Rozenberg commented in the Guardian:

This is not a case about whether the Latvians have been denied jurisdiction over one of their citizens. This is a case about what is in the best interests of a seven-year-old girl who was born in England and rescued from what a judge described as “appalling” neglect. Until she grows up, it must surely be better for CB to stay just where she is.

The current state of the debate, based on hyperbole, inaccuracy and massive distrust,  is unlikely to assist any process of reform, particularly not when politicians in other countries are now adding their critical voices and their refusal to accept the initial judgments of the UK courts.

There is a danger that the pendulum will swing again, back to focus on the ‘rights’ of parent, with the consequent loss of understanding or appreciation of what some children suffer. The ‘family’ is not always a haven of safety and security.

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all.

EDIT – appeal to Supreme Court refused and Adoption Order made.

The judgment of Moylan J in October 2015 made an adoption order and brought these proceedings finally to a close. He set out at paragraph 8 the reasons why the Supreme Court had refused the mother’s application to appeal. They held her appeal had ‘no prospect of success’ commented that it relied upon the following as facts:

i. In March 2010 the mother left CB alone at home in a disgusting condition and Merton began to accommodate her. The circumstances of that incident were fully investigated by the District Judge in July 2012 who disbelieved the mother’s account. He decided that CB should be placed for adoption and that the mother’s consent be dispensed with.
ii. The mother brought two unsuccessful appeals against his orders. In the present proceedings the mother is not entitled to challenge the District Judge’s findings nor, by her addendum ground, the conclusion in the second appeal that Merton had been entitled to hold the adoption panel meeting on 9th March 2012.
iii. In view of her contentions that Merton was trying to meet a higher target for adoptions and was therefore “biased”, the mother should note that it was the court, not Merton, which took the decision to authorise the placement of CB for adoption.
iv. In May 2013, following the dismissal of the second appeal, CB was placed with the prospective adopters. So she has lived with them for almost 2½ years. She last saw the mother in March 2013.
v. The adopters would have understood that the path to CB’s adoption was clear. Instead there has been a prolonged challenge to her placement with them, supported with all the authority of the Latvian State. The pressure to date on the adopters, and indirectly on CB, is obvious.
vi. Moylan J accepted evidence that CB was at risk of significant emotional harm if removed from the adopters. It is not arguable that it would be in her interests to be removed from them at this late stage and to be placed wherever the Latvian Court might direct.
vii. The loss of CB’s national and cultural identity is a substantial factor and was rightly weighed by Moylan J. He held however that it was outweighed by other aspects of her welfare and this court would not disturb his assessment.