The parents of a 20 month old toddler have failed in their bid to overturn care and placement orders for her.
Re D (Children) concerned a teenage couple described in the judgement as “vulnerable”, with “significant” learning difficulties. They married shortly before their case reached the Court of Appeal.
Despite being just 19, the child at the centre of the case, ‘SSD’, was the mother’s second. She had previously given birth at the age of 16 after being raped by her father who is now in jail for the crime.
That first child, JD, was taken into care. The mother spent some with the boy in a mother and baby foster placement, noted Lady Justice King at the Court of Appeal, where she was assessed by social workers.
“The assessment concluded that whilst the mother was gentle and loving towards JD, she was unable adequately to care for him even with the support of the father of SSD.”
During the care proceedings, a child psychologist concluded that the mother lacked the capacity to instruct solicitors to act on her behalf, although at the time she was still legally achild. The Official Solicitor – an officer of the Supreme Court who represents the interests of children – therefore acted on her behalf, consenting to the adoption of JD.
Despite this, the mother gave evidence during the proceedings expressing opposition and telling the Judge “how much she wanted to care for JD.”
By that point, the mother had already formed a relationship with the father-to-be of SSD, her second child, who was born in October 2013. The local authority did not take long to intervene. Lady Justice King explained:
“The local authority inevitably had serious concerns in relation to the mother’s ability to parent SSD in the light of her inability to parent JD.”
Just a few weeks after the birth of SSD, a District Judge ordered that the couple’s ability to care of their new child be formally assessed at a residential unit in Kent. Around a fresh assessment of the mother’s capacity to litigate was undertaken and that concluded that she did in fact have capacity.
To the reported “deep distress” of the mother, the parenting assessment was negative. The residential centre concluded that “notwithstanding her great love for SSD, she would be unable to care for her even with the support of the father.”
SSD was placed in ‘interim’ (temporary) foster care while adoption proceedings began.
Care and placement orders were eventually made for SSD in April last year. The mother appealed, alleging that the court had not properly assessed whether or not she had the capacity to litigate on her own behalf, and insisting that she wanted to look after her child herself.
Her case reached the Court of Appeal after an initial adjournment. SSD had by that point been with her adoptive parents for more than a year. According to Lady Justice King:
“It is common ground that SSD is settled, happy and completely attached to her prospective adoptive parents.”
Despite this, the mother applied for permission to appeal ‘out of time’ (past the legal deadline), saying she had not really understood the nature of the proceedings and “what was being decided on her behalf”.
But the Court of Appeal ruled against her. Everyone involved in the case to date had acted “with good faith”, declared Lady Justice King, and the ultimate outcome would have been the same whether or not the mother had been granted litigation capacity.
“SSD is now 20 months old and has been in her adoptive placement for over half her life. Her future needs urgently to be secured.”
The judgement is available here.