exposing the dark side of adoption
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Court takes child of ‘stupid’ mother


Daniel Foggo

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.”

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* Mother ‘too stupid’ to keep child

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 lawyer.

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 daughter adopted.

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.”

2009 May 31