Family feud hinders return of Nigerian girl

Further investigation is necessary before decions can be made on the long-term future of a Nigerian girl living in foster care, a family court judge has concluded.

Leicester City Council wanted to take 11 year-old ‘A’ into long-term care but this plan was opposed by her mother, ‘M’, who proposed that she and her daugher should instead be allowed to leave the country and travel to Alabama in the United States to live with an uncle. Alternatively she asked the court to set aside earlier findings regarding the suitability for her own parents back in Nigeria as carers for A.

A’s father also opposed the plan to take her into care. Instead he wanted to look after his daughter himself, with his new partner, also in Nigeria. The mother was too mentally unstable to be trusted with the girl he insisted.

A had originally been taken into care in 2015. She had run 999 herself, despite her young age, and complained that her mother was hitting her and shouting at her. The mother was arrested and detained under the Mental Health Act.Later Mwas discharged into communtiy care but was still not well enough to look after her daughter.

A first came to Britain in 2013 after M relocated here to study for a PhD. The girl travelled on her father’s visa but the latter did not stay long, quickly returning to Nigeria following a row and leaving A with her mother.

Later, during the progress of the mother’s mental illness, she insisted that the father was dead, telling this to both A and social workers from Leicester City Council.

In the High Court sitting at Leicester, Her Honour Judge George noted the mother’s history of mental illness.

“M has had mental health difficulties since 2006. She suffered from post-natal depression after A was born. In the UK she had 2 episodes in the autumn of 2013 and then a relapse in June 2015 which precipitated A coming into care. Her diagnosis is schizo affective disorder… it is apparent that the episodes of mental ill health in 2013 and 2015 occurred at times when M felt under pressure and stress.”

M contnued to show little insight into how her behaviour had affected her daughter, blaming her for calling the Police when she complained about life with her foster carers and said she wanted to come home.

Judge George said M’s evidence was “self-centred and lacking in an awareness of what needs to be considered for A.”

“Just as she came to the UK in 2013 without A for 5 months and seemingly without there being any clear plan or agreement with F about what employment he would undertake when he came to the UK, the current proposal to live with A in the USA is founded on M’s desire to advance her education and research prospects rather than any thorough and well-thought out consideration of A’s needs. M’s plan would involve A going to another foreign country to live with a family member she has never met and with whom she has no relationship.”

The Judge noted that M’s parents had been dismissed following an earlier assessment of their parenting abilities but believed this had been too hasty and that a further assessment was necessary.

“A has recently seen her [maternal grandparents]s and enjoyed their company. She lived with them for about 5 months before she came to the UK. She has said she would be willing to live with them in the UK but not in Nigeria. They are well-educated people who have raised 4 children of their own. They want to care for A and keep her within the family. There would be significant cultural benefits for A if she could be brought up in Nigeria by family members. She has a special place in the family as this couple’s first grandchild.”

The situation regarding the father was more complex. M’s parents were at loggerhead with him, believing him to be a “perpetual drunk” unable to keep a job. He and the mother were actually cousins and the grandparents’ dislike of the father was routed in suspicions that his mother (the paternal grandmother) may have killed her own husband and his mistress.

Giving evidence to to the court, A herself, recalled the Judge, had come across as “an intelligent, bright and smiley girl.”

She was unambiguous in her wishes.

“She was clear that she wanted to remain in foster care in the UK. She wanted to see her mother regularly and to spend 4 weeks with her in the summer holidays whether she was living in Nigeria or the USA. She does not want to go and live with her mother in the USA. She does not know the uncle in Alabama. She does not want to return to Nigeria and live with her father. She did not see much of him when they all lived in Nigeria before coming to the UK. She had enjoyed seeing her [materinal grandparent]s recently.”

Nevertheless, an eventual return to Nigeria would be in A’s best interests the Judge concluded. This would avoid the risk of placement breakdown and alienation from her family and cultural heritage, including the loss of her native Yoruba language. But before any return could take place it was essential that the family resolve the bitter divide between the grandparents and the father, Judge George declared. In addition, further assessment for grandparents’ parenting abilities was necessary.

The Judge concluded:

“The court is very conscious that delayed decision-making is bad for A. She has been in care for over a year already. The assessment of the [maternal grandparent]s and the work recommended by [Nigerian social worker] Mr Nwoye to heal the rift in the family or at least to address it to the extent that it poses no risk to A could and should have been happening during the last 6 months. It now needs to take place urgently.”

Read the ruling here.

Photo of traditional Yoruba beads by Jeremy Weate via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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