There were two cases last week which addressed whether a child would be placed in the care of family abroad. Both cases highlighted that it is crucial to consider the relationship a child has with their prospective carers, and whether relocation is in their best interests.
The first case, Re M, was decided on 11 June. Two children had been placed in foster care from a very young age, and their other six siblings were either in long-term foster care placements or adopted.
The foster carer, Y, had applied to adopt the two children. However, their parents believed the children would be better placed with the father’s sister, who was based in Belgium. The two children had only met their aunt on one occasion. At the first hearing, the Judge decided in favour the aunt and said that the benefits of living with a family member would outweigh the disruption suffered by the children at first. This was despite the children having lived with Y since they were months old, and they were still seeing their family through the assistance of Y.
Upon appeal, it was decided that placement with a family member should not override placement with an unrelated primary carer just because they are directly related. The initial decision was therefore overturned. What is interesting in this case is that the fact that the aunt was based in Belgium did not seem to be the deciding factor in where the children should live. Many people may look at this case and think that the aunt would be discounted because she lived so far away, and yet the decision ultimately came down to what was in the children’s best interests. Whichever country that may have been in, did not have a strong influence on the decision.
The second case, which was heard in April but only published recently, was of a child whose father had sadly killed the child’s mother. The boy had fraternal family in the UK, and maternal grandparents living in China. In the circumstances, the maternal grandparents understandably argued that the boy should move to China to live with them. However, the boy had only ever met his grandparents once and they did not speak English.
Perhaps controversially, it was decided that the child should live with his father’s sister, with whom he had a strong relationship. The father’s sister had also recognised that her brother was a liar, and that he was guilty of killing the child’s mother. In these circumstances, the decision was made firstly because the child’s grandparents, although very wealthy and able to provide a good quality of life for the child, spoke no English and did not have a strong relationship with the boy and secondly that the child had a strong relationship with his fraternal aunt. It was argued that to disrupt the child’s life even further, after such a tragedy, would be damaging to the child. Therefore, again, although the distance of China was a factor, ultimately it was the relationship the child had with his family that would be the deciding factor. As in the first case, it was the child’s best interests at the heart of the decision, and not that a foreign country was involved.
To conclude, if you are involved in a situation where a child may be relocated abroad to other family members, it is important to remember that it is not the distance that is important, but what is best for the child’s welfare.