The Court of Appeal has set aside placement for adoption orders for two children in a family of five.
In Re A (Children), a family with five children came to the attention of social services, thanks to “a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, chaotic parenting, children who were seen to be out of control in the home and inadequate hygiene.”
All five of the children were boys, aged between five and 12. The parents agreed to the two eldest going into long term foster placements, but a decision still needed to be made in relation to the two younger children.
At the family court, Her Honour Judge Kushner highlighted the importance of contact between the five siblings, saying that if potential adopters for the two youngest would not agree to them seeing their brothers at least twice a year, adoption would not be in their best interests. She went on to specify other attributes for potential adopters, as recommended by a court-appointed psychologist.
“a) two in number;
c) free from attachment difficulties of their own;
d) experienced carers;
e) fully appraised of the children’s background, attachment difficulties and placement needs for the duration of their minority and willing to undergo specific training so that they will be able to cope with M in particular;
f) there must be no other children within the home
g) ready, willing and able to promote direct face to face contact with their brothers…preferably four times per year but at least a minimum of twice per year.”
The local authority appealed, arguing, amongst other points, that the “judge was wrong in law in purporting to define an inflexible, indivisible list of attributes of prospective adopters … in such a manner which interferes with the discretion of the local authority in its role as adoption agency, and falls outside the definition of roles, as between the court and the local authority.”
At the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice McFarlane, Lord Justice Laws, and Lady Justice Gloster said the judge’s approach had been properly centred on the welfare of the children. However, by adding conditions she had gone beyond the boundaries separating the role of local authorities and judges:
“…it was not open to the court to seek to limit or exert direct influence over the choice of prospective adopters under a placement for adoption order.”
The placement for adoption orders were set aside, although the two boys remained in care. The court noted:
“If prospective adopters are identified, then it will be open to the local authority to make a fresh application to the court for an order authorising placement for adoption under [Adoption and Children Act 2002, section 21].”