(European Court of Human Rights; 18 December 2008)
The parents of the seven children were blind and neither of them was in work. The family occupied two two-bedroomed State owned flats, but there were no drains or hot running water. Four of the children were taken into state care on the basis that the parents were unable to provide adequate care. Some support was offered to the family after this, but a request for gas to be installed was rejected on the basis that it was not possible, and that neighbours had objected. State workers warned the parents that conditions would have to improve if the other three children were to stay in the family home. Particular complaint was made of the children being dirty, and wearing dirty clothes, being hungry, and being left alone. Eventually, care orders were made in respect of the remaining three children on the basis that the parents were unable to provide the children with proper nutrition, clothing, sanitary environment and health care, or to ensure their social and educational adaptation. The parents appealed on the basis that no danger to the children had been established, and that it was impossible for them to provide better conditions for the children because of their blindness. Their appeal was dismissed. The parents claimed that the decision to take the children into care had breached their right to respect for family life under Art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If a decision to remove a child from the family home was explained in terms of the need to protect the child from danger, the existence of such a danger should be actually established; the mere fact that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment did not on its own justify compulsory removal. Nor could the parents' precarious situation justify removal, as this could be addressed by less radical means, such as targeted financial assistance and social counselling. The parents had agreed that it might be good for the children to attend special educational establishments, such as boarding schools, but did not accept that it would be beneficial to restrict the children's access to the family home during the holidays and at weekends. Although relevant, the authorities' reasons for removing the children were not sufficient; there had been insufficient evidence to support the claims of the authorities; there had been no in depth analysis of the extent to which the reported inadequacies related to the parents personal qualities, or to financial difficulties and objective frustrations, which could have been addressed; and at no stage had the children's own views been sought, including the eldest, aged 13 at the time. There had been a violation of Art 8.