In 2015, eight-year-old Joe was taken away from his mother, Molly, following her short admission to hospital and his distress over this. He was later placed under a special guardianship order (SGO).

He was removed, not because Molly couldn’t care for him, but because he had very complex undiagnosed special educational needs (SEN), causing behaviours that were wrongly thought to result from the fact that his mother was a single, physically disabled parent.

For the next four years, Joe continued to live with Molly half of the time, whilst his special guardian held overriding parental responsibility. This meant that Molly was not able to make decisions to support Joe’s welfare or continue to seek assessment of his SEN. From shortly after the SGO was issued, Joe said he wanted to go back home to his mother full time. However, Molly had been twice misadvised that there was no legal pathway to apply for this. 

Joe’s relationship with his guardian deteriorated and he gave up attending school, eating properly and caring for his hygiene. He suffered complex educational and emotional problems. He was prevented from spending time with Molly and even telephone contact was limited. Ultimately he was diagnosed with the SEN Molly had first raised ten years previously.

Molly lives on state benefits and requested legal aid but was not eligible. 

When Molly applied to Advocate, she felt desperate, saying: “I am in danger of losing contact with my son, and I am fearful that my voice will not be heard at a hearing. This could be due to my weakened physical state through my neurological condition, through the stress of not saying what I need to say when questioned under pressure, or simply being perceived as a disabled person.”

Advocate found barristers Aaqib Javed from Spire Barristers and Craig Richardson from 5 Pump Court to help Molly with advice, drafting a position statement and representation at the final hearing to have the SGO removed. They were successful and Joe and Molly now live together full time.

Molly Says: Craig and Aaqib gave us recognition and support to navigate a system that had been stacked against us as a neuro-diverse, single parent family with disabilities. To have help for our voices, strength and capabilities to be recognised and heard was instrumental in enabling us to rebuild our lives as a family. Joe and I are both thrilled he is home.

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