Pedro Proença – one of the Portuguese lawyers who travelled to England in a bid to help an ever increasing number of Portuguese families recover children from the enforced care of British social service – has told TVI24 that pro-bono efforts have at last borne fruit.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has guaranteed that it will be giving special attention to these cases, evaluating them one by one”, he said.
“If cases of real abuse by the British authorities are detected – processual failings or illegalities by the courts and social services – the Portuguese government will step into alert the British government”.
The news is a red-letter day for so many Portuguese emigrés struggling to recover children removed and even placed for adoption on what they claim were totally spurious circumstances.
Portuguese media ‘woke up’ to this scandal in 2014 when five Portuguese children were taken from parents whose pleas for help at the time fell on deaf ears.
Carla and José Pedro joined a protest taken to the European Parliament in which McKenzie Friend campaigner Sabine McNeill made a passionate speech that has since become a landmark in this agonising struggle.
Since then however many more Portuguese children have ‘disappeared’ into the British care system – and the Pedros are still battling for theirs. Hundreds of immigrants to the UK are in a similar agonising predicament, but in cases involving other nationalities governments have already stepped in.
Nationally, TVI24 has been fighting this issue with its documentaries “Love you Mom”, all of which are freely available online.
The four episodes so far have stressed the fact that “many mothers are told they will never see their children again, if they speak to the press”. Criticism over the (lack of) support given by Portuguese consulate authorities has also been highlighted.
Thus this latest news is what campaigners were aiming for. Said Proença yesterday: “We hope it will result in more children being returned to Portuguese families”.
Natasha Donn – Algarve Resident
PHOTO: the Pedro children, all still in care, with their mother who has vowed never to give up in her battle to get them back.
On the European Dimension of Forced Adoptions [in secret family courts – against the will of the parents]:
- Human Rights and Family Courts – a report by Christopher Chope MP for the Council of Europe in 2012;
- Social services in Europe: legislation and practice of the removal of children from their families in Council of Europe member States – a report by Duma member Olga Borzova for the Council of Europe in 2015;
- Draft Mission Report and Recommendations – a report by the Chair of the EU Petitions Committee after a Fact Finding Visit to London in February 2016.
The Report makes the following 15 recommendations:
1. Relevant statistics should be collected in order to offer a better overview of the issues related not only to non-consensual adoptions and binational cases but also more generally to family law, enabling comparisons between the EU Member States;
2. National family courts should systematically implement the Vienna Convention of 1963 on Consular Relations and articles 15 and 55 of the Regulation EC n°2201/2003 (Brussels II a) at the earliest stage of the child care proceedings and make sure that embassies or consular representations are informed in a timely manner of cases involving their nationals; specific detailed guidelines should be provided for a more efficient implementation of these provisions;
3. The Committee would like to draw attention to a statement by the European Court of Human Rights in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33,  2 FLR 332, para 134:
“family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and […] everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to ‘rebuild’ the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing. However, where the maintenance of family ties would harm the child’s health and development, a parent is not entitled under article 8 to insist that such ties be maintained.”
4. The Committee would like to draw attention to the risk of subjective interpretation of the grounds for decisions for adoption without parental consent which could emerge from a repeal of the Human Rights Act of 1998; the ECHR (i.e. the right of children to a fair process and the right to respect for family life) will no longer underpin decision-making in courts or local authorities;
5. More attention and appropriate policies should be dedicated to the prevention of care proceedings through monitoring and early warning procedures and the provision of suitable support to families.
6. The timescale of care proceedings (currently 26 weeks max.) should be considered a minimum in order to allow for the proper handling of each case and to ensure that the parents and /or relatives of the child have been given sufficient time to make proposals (on who could be the carer of the child for instance) or any required changes before the adoption is declared definitive;
7.The authorities should ensure that the quality of the social services does not suffer from the budgetary cuts implied by austerity measures (for instance the increase of files to be handled in average by each social worker can have negative effects in the capacity of a proper assessment of individual cases) and that the decisions on proceedings involving custody should be free of any excessive legal pressure, as well as it should not be affected by any financial interest of private parties, such as adoption agencies;
8. Social workers should be given more training on the specific issue of adoption without parental consent;
9. More comprehensive free legal aid schemes should be supported and enhanced all along the care proceedings with the aim to prevent any sort of discrimination;
10. The national authorities and charities involved in care proceedings should ensure that parents are better informed from the very beginning of the proceedings with adequate support to parents with literacy disabilities, including providing all of them with explanations regarding all the legal procedures that they will face, the decisions which may be taken with regards to the future of the child and the consequences, if any, of these decisions, especially in cases relating to section 20 of the Children Act of 1989;
11. In the case of parents who do not speak English, the provision of all the necessary information on the decisions to be taken and their consequences in their own language, or in a language they understand fully, must be ensured; as a first step towards this goal, the telephone helpline service should be made available in several languages;
12. The authorities involved in care proceedings should ensure that parents who have been victims of domestic violence, either as a child or as an adult, or who were themselves taken into foster care, are in no circumstances automatically considered to be at particular risk of causing future emotional harm to their own children; any kind of re-victimisation should be avoided;
13. Social services should ensure the prior identification of potential foster families of the same cultural origin as the child to be placed in care;
14. Solutions which would enable siblings to stay together should be prioritised; if no such solution is possible, every possible measure should be put in place to avoid the complete separation of siblings;
15. The Committee would like to promote the guidelines drafted by the Commission on “coordination and cooperation in integrated child protection systems” which should be kept in mind at every stage of the care proceedings by all services involved.