For many people, their most enduring family relationship is with their siblings and, as a High Court case illustrated, family judges bend over backwards to keep brothers and sisters together when child abuse raises its ugly head.
The case concerned a four-year-old boy who was admitted to hospital with various marks and bruises that were agreed to be non-accidental. After both he and his three-year-old half-brother were removed from their mother’s home and placed in foster care on an emergency basis, the local authority launched care proceedings. The mother and her partner denied having inflicted the older boy’s injuries, but a judge found that one or other of them was responsible. Suffering from disabilities, neither of them put themselves forward as carers for the boys.
The father of the older boy had formed a close and loving relationship with his son and wished to welcome him into his home. However, the father of the younger boy had played an important role in the upbringing of both children, viewing each of them as his son, and wanted them to come and live together with him and his partner. Both fathers and their partners were described as impressive witnesses by the judge, who praised their commitment to parenthood.
However, the judge noted that the boys were emotionally very close to each other, never having spent a night apart. Living in separate households would have a profound effect on them and their welfare demanded that they live together with the father of the younger boy and his partner. Although they already had three children to look after, the judge was confident that they had the commitment and support to meet the challenge of giving the boys a permanent home.
The judge recognised that his decision would come as a painful blow to the father of the older boy and his wider family. However, his parental responsibility for his son was formally recognised and he would have a vital role to play in the boy’s future life. Arrangements would be put in place to ensure that they saw each other regularly.