The evolving nature of the story of baby Gammy, the twin with Downs Syndrome born to a Thai surrogate mother, and commissioned and paid for by an Australian couple, shows the boundary between truth and lies in a child care case is hard to establish. The motives of all three parents – the Thai surrogate and the Australian parents – have veered according to media reports between compassion, rejection and abandonment of Gammy by the Australian couple once they knew about his difficulties, a risk of the twin who remains with the Australian couple being groomed for abuse by the Australian father who apparently has a past criminal record for sexual offences and manipulation of the truth by the Thai mother for financial gain. Over £120,000 was raised to pay for the medical treatment Gabby needs. Who knew what, said what and did what quickly became impossible to be convinced about. And when confusion reigned, the media disappeared leaving no one much wiser.
Various aspects of the Australian couple’s back story show that services like surrogacy badly need further regulation and that anyone approved and/or endorsed by the State in any way needs to be screened and assessed for parental capability. But the case also shows the limits of transparency in the hunger for sensation. Most child care cases are too multi-layered and complex to be simply portrayed. While there are some indisputable facts in cases, most ‘facts’ are open to dispute, either about what happened, who was responsible or what the impact was. Separating out truth from fiction is an everyday professional requirement for social workers, Cafcass practitioners and judges - indeed for all assessors in a case. The key principle of establishing a fact or evidence on the ‘balance of probability’ in family proceedings rather than the test of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ applied in criminal proceedings, is an important one for the general public to grasp. It shows that despite the yearning for simplicity and someone to blame, most cases start and finish ambiguously. The main point in family cases is the emotional and psychological damage being inflicted through bad parenting and its lasting impact and effect. A better starting point in many cases would be to assess the damage to date – to a child and also to adults made vulnerable by abuse, neglect or conflict - and then to identify ways of limiting its lasting impact.