The Daily Mail reported yesterday that a ‘Nurse’s one-year-old son is taken from her care after she let him sit in a Bob The Builder toy car that was ‘inappropriate’ for his age’.

There are 1,200 comments on the article.

What the heck? Do the family courts really take away people’s babies because of bob the builder toy cars?

Nope. They do not. The Daily Mail article is misleading, and below is a bit more information to help those who might have been worried about this news article, to understand a bit more about it.

The source

The article is based upon a longer judgment that has been published on the BAILII website. That judgment is freely accessible to anyone interested in finding out more and you can read it here : SCST v O, A & U V [2018] EWFC B24 (17 May 2018). The Daily Mail don’t link to the judgment, because that would make it obvious that their new article is a distortion of the facts.

It’s a shame that the judgment that has been published refers to an earlier judgment that papers to give more detail about the background of the case, but that first judgment isn’t publicly available.

The headline

If you read the headline closely you will notice that the newspaper use the word ‘after’ in rather than ‘because’. The Daily Mail (and other papers) do this a lot –  if you read the headline literally it means that the child was removed AFTER the child sat in a toy car, which is factually accurate – the child sat in the car and at some point later in time the court made a decision. But what most readers will take from the headline is that the mother letting the child sit in a toy car was the REASON that the child was removed (as if the word was ‘because’). The headline isn’t strictly inaccurate but it is misleading. The car incident was not the reason, and it wasn’t even one of the main reasons that this little boy couldn’t live with his mum.

The article itself

There is a bit more information in the article, which makes it clear that there was more to it than the headline suggests, but it still isn’t accurate if you compare it to the judgment.

The article begins with repeating the headline and then setting out that there were concerns about basic parenting skills, that the woman had not fed the boy appropriately and had not changed his nappy appropriately.

How can a nurse have such low intellectual ability that she is unable to look after her children?

The headline and first line of the article emphasise that the mother is a qualified nurse. She is also reported to have a low level of cognitive ability. This is confirmed but otherwise unexplained in the judgment – one would not normally expect someone who has qualified as a nurse to have such low levels of cognitive ability that she could not parent her children safely, but there are a number of possible explanations for this. It’s a shame the published judgment doesn’t help us understand this oddity.

The Daily Mail make a point of saying :

To qualify as a nurse a student usually takes a degree course for which they generally need an A Level in biology or another science.

Courses are made up of work placements, lectures, exams and practical tests. 

which seems designed to cast doubt on whether the mother can really have suffered from the intellectual difficulties the court said she had. We think that the need for a degree and an A level in a science subject is the current requirements for nurse training in this country, when it may be that the mother qualified as a nurse elsewhere or many years ago when / where requirements were less demanding (we don’t know the mother’s country of origin or age).

It is also possible that the mother had an acquired brain injury (car accident, assault etc) or some degenerative or other condition that affected her ability after she qualified as a nurse (e.g. early onset dementia, brain tumour). Some severe chronic substance abuse can affect cognitive ability. These aren’t mentioned in the judgment, so this is really speculative – but the simple fact is we just don’t know and nor do the Daily Mail. Whilst we might like an explanation to this oddity the judgment will have been written mainly for the benefit of the people involved rather than for us, and those people will already know the background to the mother’s difficulties (which may be in the first judgment) and don’t need it spelling out again.

We do know from the published judgment that the court had held a fact finding hearing, and that both parents had findings made against them. We don’t know what these were – but they seem to have included domestic abuse and physical injuries to the child. It is clear from the judgment that there is some history of domestic abuse and conflict between M and the father of the older two children, and that the court considered that the children had been harmed by being exposed to this. From the judgment the children were continuing to be exposed to arguments between the mother and the father of the older children even at supervised contact, and that although they were ‘deeply distressed’ the mother did not accept her behaviour had fallen short.

It is also clear that findings of were made against the mother and the father of the baby, and they included that he suffered physical harm at the hands of his father which his mother failed to protect him from. It appears from the judgment that they are no longer in a relationship.

Again, the parties to the case already have a judgment setting out exactly what findings were made so the judge hasn’t set them all out again in the judgment just for our benefit, so we won’t know the fine detail unless or until the court publishes the earlier judgment (we’ve checked and we can’t find it but it may appear in due course).

What is clear from the judgment we do have is that the mother had been assessed by a psychologist and had a low enough level of ability to need a specialised assessment (a PAMs assessment, which is typically used where parents have learning disabilities) – that assessment showed a range of concerns including :

‘Feeding, Child’s Healthcare General, Child’s Healthcare Hygiene, Parental Responsiveness, Development: Stimulation visual, Development: Stimulation Motor, Development: Stimulation Language, Guidance and Control, General Safety, Safety in the Kitchen/Living Room, Safety in the Bedroom, Safety in the Bathroom, Safety Abuse, Relationships and Support’

A further problem was that the mother didn’t really accept that she had these difficulties with her parenting, so it was difficult to help her improve.

There is a passing reference to a Bob The Builder toy car in the judgment. Although the Daily Mail do state in their article is that the reason the social worker was concerned about this was that there was a potential risk of the baby falling if the mother lost control of him, this is buried towards the end of the article, below various images and video clips of Bob the Builder and the reality is that many readers will have been so worried or distracted by the headline and first few lines of the article that they won’t have picked up these details further down.

It is clear from reading the judgment that this Bob the Builder car ‘issue’ is just one example of various safety concerns that the judge has picked out to illustrate a broader point, and as we’ve described above this was far from the only concern.

The breadth of the issues, and in particular the fact that there were previous findings of harm to the children, including the baby, are not captured in the Daily Mail article, and we think overall it creates a misleading picture of why this baby was not able to live with his mum.

What we will do now

We are going to try and post a comment on the Mail article with a link to the judgment and a comment with a link to this blog post. In our experience these don’t get published but fingers crossed.

We are also going to ask the Mail to amend their headline and article to make clear that the child was removed for a broad range of reasons. If they don’t make an amendment we will consider escalating the matter to IPSO (press regulator).

We will update this post if we get a response, if our comment is published or if the original judgment is eventually published.

Feature pic : Erica Minton on Flickr (Creative Commons licence – thanks!)