Shabnam wants her baby back – Eastenders

Suds Law is no stranger to the inaccurate portrayal of both the care system and foster caring in Soapland, and in Walford in particular.

Eastenders latest legal inaccuracy has got resident soap legal pedant, Rebecca Finnigan’s dander up and she has come out fighting.

Does anyone remember Phil Mitchell being approved as an appropriate carer for Lexi?

The recent storyline involving young Jade was no exception unfortunately.

Jade was the child conceived in a nightclub toilet cubicle during a drunken fumble between Shabnam Masood and Deano Wicks.  Shabnam concealed her pregnancy and left baby Jade on the doorstep of a kindly auntie in the hope that the aunt would raise her, but instead Jade was placed into foster care with Shabnam being the only one aware of her true identity.  Now the truth is out about Jade’s parentage, there are no shortage of people wanting to look after her – her father Deano, grandparents Shirley and Buster, and Shabnam the mother who abandoned her.

Shabnam confidently announced earlier this week that she was going to “get residency” of Jade. Call us legal pedants if you will, but there is no such thing as “residency”.  If she was to live with Shabnam, it would be under a Child Arrangements Order, or even a Care Order (given the history of the case).

This is not the only aspect of the storyline which would suggest the writers had not done their research or taken proper advice from a social worker or legal expert.

The modern focus is very much on finding permanence for a child in terms of a placement, where that placement cannot be with the child’s family.  A long term and a secure placement can come in many forms – adoption, a special guardianship order or a long term foster placement.

No one knew of Jade’s parentage until now, so her parents could not have consented to an adoptive placement for her.  However, the court could have dispensed with the need for parental consent and made an order to allow Jade to be adopted.  Similarly, the court could have made a special guardianship order for Jade and dispensed with the need for parental consent.  So there are arguably much better alternatives to long term foster care in terms of achieving stability and permanence.

What we do know about Jade however is that she suffers with cystic fibrosis.  It could be that her condition has made her more difficult to place with a suitable long term carer and that is why she is living in long term foster care.

It is unfortunate that this has not really been mentioned, and the impression given in Eastenders is that an abandoned child will languish in a foster care placement with an unscrupulous carer until such a time as her birth family comes back for her.

The other aspects of this storyline which rings alarm bells are:

–  The speed with which direct contact between Masood and his granddaughter was organised once he had contacted social services.  We would perhaps expect that work should have been done with Jade to help her understand who she was and this newly surfaced family member, not to mention background checks on Masood and steps taken to establish that he was in fact telling the truth!

–  Shirley’s certainty that she was going to achieve Jade living with her and Buster, given her track record of caring for her own children.  Not to mention the criminal investigation that Deano was under.

–  Perhaps most worryingly was the dodgy foster carer who seemed to circumvent the authority of social services altogether and took Jade for contact with her paternal birth family, and was even bribed to take a hair strand sample from her for the purposes of DNA testing.

The portrayal of the care system and foster carers in Eastenders is inaccurate at best, downright damaging at worst.

Over my decade-long career I have come across some truly remarkable foster carers who have made an immense difference to the lives of children who have been neglected and abused, and have put their foster children as their foremost priority.

I have also known foster carers who have nursed children with very severe disabilities.  No one would question their commitment, their passion and the love they provide to some of the most vulnerable children in society.  The way they have been portrayed in soap is unfortunate and unfair.

If you need advice about issues relation to children or any other family law issue details of specialist solicitors can be found through Resolution or the Law Society. Myself and my colleagues within the Divorce and Family Law department at Canter Levin & Berg are as ever happy to oblige.

Rebecca Finnigan is a member of Resolution and the Law Society’s Advanced Family Panel.

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Rebecca Finnigan

Rebecca is an accredited member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Law Panel. She is also a member of the solicitor’s family law association Resolution.

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