Adoption plan to proceed as judge rules alternative is too risky

Children | 16 Jun 2014 1

The adoption of a two year-old girl is to proceed after her parents failed in a legal bid to regain custody.

In The Borough of Poole v Mrs W and Mr W, the girl, referred to as ‘SR’ was taken into care shortly after her birth under an emergency protection order.

Such orders, issued under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989, provide protection to children thought to be in immediate danger.

Her mother’s three older children had also been taken into care in similar circumstances and SR was thought be at risk of harm.

Care and placement orders were issued for SR, allowing her to be to formally taken into care and placed with a new family. The judge was initially reluctant to make this ruling, insisting that the parenting abilities of SR’s mother and father be properly assessed.

SR was placed with prospective adopters and shortly afterwards, the parents lost an appeal against the care and placement orders.

Sir Mark Hedley, sitting as a High Court judge, said:

“The position now appeared to have been entirely settled, so far as she was concerned.  The prospective adopters would be entitled to make their adoption application and would be entitled to assume that there could be no further opposition to it.”

However, SR’s parents applied for permission to appeal the orders, and although this was  initially refused, they were eventually granted permission to appeal the judge’s refusal of permission.

Considering an application for the formal adoption of SR, Sir Mark noted that her parents’ had made significant lifestyle changes.

“If we come up to today’s date, everybody accepts that the parents are in a very different position indeed to the one that they were [during the earlier hearings].  They enrolled themselves in university courses….They have set up their own home….and they have established for themselves all the appearances of a stable lifestyle in which studies are accommodated and part-time work ensures both that they have control of money and also their ability to live independently.  Moreover, the mother has completed and benefitted from therapies which were designed to address the emotional dysfunction which she recognised she had.  The father has clearly benefited from involvement in a domestic violence course and the very fact that he saw it through is good grounds for optimism and it has been not without its benefits to him.  Both the parents are able to give an articulate and compelling account of the progress that they have made.”

He continued:

“Everybody agrees that there are only two possible outcomes in this case.  Either an adoption order is made with resultant devastation to the parents and their families or a rehabilitation order is made with subsequent devastation to innocent prospective adopters who took this child under a placement order without a hint, so far as they were concerned, that the thing could ever blow up on them.”

The risks to SR if a process of rehabilitation with her birth parents failed were too great, the judge declared.

“If the rehabilitation were unsuccessful, everybody agrees that would be a disaster for SR.  Of course, no one can actually predict what would happen if the rehabilitation were unsuccessful but all the realistic possible outcomes merit the description ‘disaster’, so far as SR is concerned.”

A process of rehabilitation with her birth parents would be “a second breaking of secure attachments and an attempt to make a third set of attachments.  It would involve the burning of all boats, because the prospective adopters would not be available to her, in the light of a breakdown in rehabilitation and she would have to start all over again.”

Sir Mark concluded:

“In the end, I have reached a clear conclusion that there is only one route which will sufficiently safeguard the welfare of SR and that is the route of adoption…All those matters when drawn together, in my judgment, require that adoption be provided as the way of securing her welfare and therefore require that the court dispenses with the parents’ consent.”

Read the full judgement here.

Photo by Jim Crossley via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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    1. Peter Leevers says:

      Mrs W’s three elder children were not taken into care ‘in similar circumstances’. They were removed into police protection as a result of a minor injury, which being obviously accidental played no further part in proceedings that were based on expert opinion of mother’s personality. There were no findings of harm – the care threshold, evidenced by mother’s dysregulated mood as a lone teenage parent, was agreed. SR never went home from the hospital of her premature birth, thus was never looked after by her parents. Hence the lower court’s caution. The four girls are all now adopted and legally separated from each other, as well, of course, as from their parents. My view is that the time and turmoil involved in opposing adoption under the 2002 Act make it impossible for parents, however fit, to win. I cannot find a case where they do!

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