In cases where parents abusing alcohol or drugs they are usually denied custody or contact with their children.
We consider a recent case of W (A child: care proceedings) (2017) in which it was found that a positive drug test should not influence the outcome of a care case.
The case concerned a child who subject of care proceedings for the duration of his life.
The local authorities involvement in the case was due to the mothers past history of difficulties with drugs.
At the time of the final hearings all parties involved were in agreement that there were significant signs that the mother had turned her life around.
The consideration for the court was whether the child should be placed in the care of his mother who had difficulties with drugs.
As part of the court proceedings the court had commissioned hair strand testing for drugs. The mother had claimed that she was now drug-free and had turned her life around. This was supported by one of the three tests which were undertaken as this showed no traces of drugs.
However the other 2 tests showed the hair contained levels of a metabolite of cocaine which was in contrast to what the mother was claiming.
In order to address this issue, the court commission a report from a trichologist (a hair specialist).
The hair specialist was of the opinion that the metabolite of cocaine is a substance found in the environment, and accordingly, the results could be explained as a result of contamination.
The judge in this case stated that “First, taken at its height, my concern was that these results could at worst indicate only a low level of cocaine consumption. Would it in these circumstances be proportionate to separate mother and child?”
Despite the report from the hair specialist the local authority sought to maintain its primary case that the mother may in fact, be someone who has ingested drugs despite her claims to the contrary.
However, following the report of the hair specialist and in a display of realism it presented an alternative plan for child’s future.
The local authority was of the view in the making of a supervision order and, under that supervision order, a return for the child to the care of his mother. This return would involve intensive support from the local authority and social services.
In making the decision the judge stated: “Having accepted Dr Rushton’s evidence, it would not, in my judgment, be in child’s best interests for him to be in any form of care other than care provided by his mother. A supervision order is the right result”.
The judge also had the task to decide on how much time if any the father should spend with the child. The father had supervised contact with the child for a long while, regularly once each week. The father has also had substance abuse difficulties in the past, and there are a number of concerns about him regarding violence and a criminal record.
Nevertheless, it seems to the judge that the focus of his attention should to be towards the fathers behaviour around the child.
The judge was of the opinion that there is no suggestion that any of the father’s past difficulties have surfaced in the context of the time he spends with the child. There have been about ten months during which the father has more than proved himself.
The judge concluded that the father should maintain contact with the child. It was agreed that the father has contact for four hours every two weeks. The judge also ordered the local authority to remove supervision at the latest of 12 weeks from making the order. In the judgement the judge stated: “the child should be spending time with his father in natural surroundings, rather than the artificial surroundings of a contact centre”.