The Court of Appeal has overturned care and placement orders for a one year-old child, saying the judge had not fully considered the impact of adoption.
S (A Child) concerned a woman in her 20s with “mild” learning difficulties. Her daughter, called ‘K’ in case reports, was placed for adoption by the local authority, and she appealed, initially acting as a litigant in person. The child was placed with prospective adopters just a couple of weeks after the mother filed her appeal, but the local authority later apologised for this, claiming it had been an oversight.
At the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Black noted:
“[The local authority] recognised that this was not in accordance with good practice and apologised unreservedly, explaining that it had not been their intention in any way to thwart [the mother]’s appeal. Fortunately, the prospective adopters had been warned about the appeal before K was placed with them.”
The mother had suffered from depression and had no fixed address. She had two other children. The oldest had already been taken into care and the second placed under a care and supervision order.
Her appeal in the case of K centred on the claim that the original judge’s order had been “disproportionate”.
Lady Justice Black highlighted a lack of coordination in the local authority, with the adult social services department supporting the mother’s appeal while the children’s department opposed it.
“At the heart of the problems in this case has been the division of [the local authority]’s work between adult social services and children’s services. Both were, of course, involved with M and her children but they did not work together or form a consistent view of the case. The judge was rightly critical of [the local authority] for this and said that lessons needed to be learned from the case.
She also referred to criticism of the local authority by the original judge:
“…not least because on four occasions they had applied for the removal of K from [the mother]’s care only to abandon each application on the day, which was very upsetting for [her]. [The original judge] considered that [she] had been given mixed messages.”
However, said Lady Justice Black, the judge had not given due consideration to the gravity of adoption in his conclusions. She referred to the recent Supreme Court ruling Re B.
“Re B is a forceful reminder that orders such as the judge made here are “very extreme”, only made when “necessary” for the protection of the child’s interests, which means “when nothing else will do”, “when all else fails”, that the court “must never lose sight of the fact that [the child’s] interests include being brought up by her natural family, ideally her parents, or at least one of them” and that adoption “should only be contemplated as a last resort”.”
The original judgement “does not convey any real sense of these considerations”, she observed, and did not contain “sufficient recognition that the orders that the judge was proposing to make were of huge consequence for M and K and were only to be made as a last resort.”