lona, 20, came to Britain from Hungary two years ago to make a
better life for herself, and has worked as a hotel chambermaid. An attempt to get a late abortion brought her to the attention of children’s social
services. She told social workers that she and her partner did not have the financial means to look after their daughter and were prepared for her
to be taken into care and adopted in Britain.
The parents wanted nothing further to do with their child, Annuska, but they did want the best for her and opposed the local authority’s plans to return
her to Hungary for adoption or to be looked after by another family member. They didn’t want relatives in Hungary to know about their child or for
her to know about her origins and history.
They firmly believe the better life they sought for themselves in Britain should be available to their child. But Hungary regards all children born to
Hungarian parents as its nationals and demands the right to decide the fate of those who may be subject to care proceedings or adoption in Britain.
Annuska’s case is far from unique. Across the UK, children’s ervices have seen growing numbers of complex child protection issues among families from eastern
European countries since their accession to the EU.
“Free movement of workers and their families within the European Union has led to many children living, permanently or temporarily, in countries of which
they are not nationals. Inevitably, some of them will come to the attention of the child protection authorities because of ill-treatment or neglect,
or the risk of it,” Lady Hale said in the supreme court this year in a case of two young
Roma girls over whom Hungary wanted jurisdiction.
Until a few years ago, cases of migrant parents voluntarily giving up their children were virtually unknown. Frank Feehan, QC, a barrister and family law
specialist, is fighting Ilona’s case to have her daughter adopted in Britain. He
says: “Relinquished baby cases number about 20 or 30 a year. We had never heard of these cases a few years ago.” Cross-border care and adoption cases
now number hundreds a year, he adds, “almost always from EU accession states”.
Poverty is a common factor. Migrant workers come to escape poverty but find they cannot do so even when they find work. Karen Goodman, professional officer
at the British Association of Social Workers, says she is seeing more child protection cases among children of eastern European parentage as a result
of poverty and domestic violence, as well as cases like Annuska’s where parents are actively giving up their children to UK authorities because they
do not wish them to grow up in their home country.
Cultural and religious concerns are also a factor. Alexandra Conroy Harris, legal consultant for child placement charity CoramBaaf, says social workers
became aware of “relinquished children” cases at the time of the first wave of migration from Poland in 2004. If women had unwanted pregnancies, “as
Catholics they would not go for terminations. This way [putting them into care] they did not have to tell their families back home”, she explains
Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, which provides legal guardians in care cases, warns against the “charged implication that parents come here
to offload their children for adoption” as a misuse of EU migration arrangements. He says “relinquished children” are a small proportion of foreign
child protection cases. Still, he concedes that the growth in cross-border care proceedings poses big problems for the local authorities concerned.
Should children taken into care be fostered or adopted in Britain, or returned to their parents’ home country?
EU regulations, the best interests of the child are the priority,
and the “best placed” jurisdiction for those interests to be decided is usually where the child is habitually resident, unless they have a particular
connection with another member state (such as their homeland). Best interests may include considering ethnicity and ensuring children maintain links
Acknowledgement: Original Article: Guardian Society pages