HER HONOUR JUDGE NEWTON
|IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989/|
|THE ADOPTION AND CHILDREN ACT 2002|
|AND IN THE MATTER OF: B (A CHILD)|
|Re: B (A Child)|
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____________________Counsel for the Local Authority: NOT KNOWN
Counsel for the Mother: NOT KNOWN
Counsel for the Father: NOT KNOWN
Counsel for the Child: NOT KNOWN
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- THE JUDGE: I am concerned with A, who was born on 24th January 2009, so A is now 5.
- A’s mother is B and her father is C.
- The local authority’s key social worker is D and A’s CAFCASS guardian is E.
- This is an application by F for a care order issued on 30th October 2013 and for a placement order issued on 24th February 2014.
- The parents have attended this morning for an issues resolution hearing. Each of them with, if I may say, considerable bravery, has recognised that the evidence would be very likely to preclude me from agreeing that A could return to their care. Whilst they would prefer that I made a care order and declined to make a placement order, they do not formally challenge the local authority’s plans for A. Ultimately, their position is that they do not formally consent but nor do they oppose the applications. In such a very unhappy situation, that is a process of reasoning which I hope I understand
- A was removed from her parents’ care very early in life. There was a thorough process of assessment in the course of care proceedings, which were allocated to me. In October 2009, by consent, I returned A to her parents’ care subject to a supervision order. That order lapsed in March 2011. After a period where A’s care was entirely satisfactory, the situation began to deteriorate, probably coinciding with the point at which C made the decision to seek employment outside of the home.
- The threshold criteria are set out at A4 of the bundle. I will not distress the parents by repeating the details in the course of this judgment. It is clear that by 10th October 2013, A had been assaulted by her father and that home conditions were very poor indeed. It then emerged that A had made various complaints to teachers and staff at school about previous assaults upon her and incidents of violence occurring between her parents. Those earlier complaints were unfortunately not referred to Social Services. I find that the threshold criteria at s31 of the Children Act are clearly established
- Since October 2013, A has been placed with foster carers where she has thrived. Various assessments of family members have been undertaken, alongside careful assessments of the parents. Unfortunately all of those assessments have proved negative.
- The local authority, recognising the likely difficulties in finding an adoptive family for A, are prepared to undertake a concurrent search for both prospective adopters and long term foster carers.
- In practical terms there are, in effect, three potential options for A’s future: a return to the care of one of her parents; a care order enabling the local authority to place her with long term foster carers; or a placement order enabling the local authority to search for prospective adopters.
- My starting point must be that the best place for any child is with a parent or, in default of that possibility, with a member of the extended family unless there are strong welfare grounds to prefer an alternative. In weighing the three options A’s welfare must be my paramount concern. I have reminded myself of the welfare checklist at section 1(3) of the Children Act.
- In terms of the application for a placement order again A’s welfare remains my paramount concern and in this exercise I must consider her welfare throughout her life, applying the provisions of section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the welfare checklist. If I were to conclude that a placement order accords with A’s welfare I will then have to decide whether her welfare requires me to dispense with the consent of her parents to the making of such an order.
- It is trite law that I must be satisfied that any orders I make are a lawful, necessary, proportionate and reasonable response to A’s sad predicament. The granting of a care order, let alone endorsing a plan for adoption, represents a drastic curtailment of the rights of these parents and of A under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which can only be justified by pressing concerns for her welfare. However, in construing both the Convention and domestic law I have the assistance of the decision of the Supreme Court in Re: B (A Child)  UKSC 33 followed by a number of decisions in the Court of Appeal. Those cases firmly re-emphasise that a placement for adoption is a “very extreme thing” and “a last resort” to be approved only when nothing else will do. Both domestic and Convention law do require a high degree of justification before adoption can be endorsed as “necessary”, the term in the Convention, or “required” in the Adoption and Children Act.
- Applying those legal principles I am entirely satisfied that it would not accord with the welfare of A to be returned to the care of either of her parents.
- The more difficult balance lies between the granting or declining of the application for a placement order. A has had an extraordinarily difficult start to life. She deserves the opportunity of a stable, secure and permanent home. The disadvantages of foster care are carefully enumerated in the guardian’s analysis which I accept. For a little girl of 5 the prospects of her being a child of the state, the responsibility of this local authority, for the next 13 years is not an appealing one. Foster carers may be overtaken by all the ordinary vicissitudes of life, they may decide to cease fostering, local authority policies may change.
- Adoption is no panacea and I recognise that, inherent in such a placement, there will be losses for this little girl. Particularly significant will be the loss of direct contact with her parents and also with her 7 half-siblings. O, born in November 2008, has already been adopted.
- However, weighing those disadvantages against the prospects of a carefully selected and suitable adoptive placement, in my judgment its is A’s need for stability and security which must predominate. I am satisfied that a placement for adoption accords with A’s welfare throughout her life. Indeed, the position really is so clear that I must dispense with the consent of her parents to the making of a placement order on the basis that her welfare requires me to do so.
- I will direct a transcript of this judgment at the joint expense of all of the parties. I reserve any further applications in relation to A to myself unless geographically that is inconvenient for any prospective adopters. I will grant local authority leave to disclose any relevant documents from these proceedings to prospective adopters.
- I hope that if, in the years ahead, A comes to read this imperfect extempore judgment she will appreciate that, whatever their difficulties and shortcomings, both of her parents loved her very much indeed. They wanted the very best for her and the fact that they have not contested these proceedings is a reflection of their realism and their love for her, which is very much to be commended.
- B and C, I hope the local authority will be able to give you details of some of the independent support services which are available out there. Now may be too soon but, in time, I hope you will be able to take advantage of professional help to begin to cope with all of the dreadful things that have happened to you.