A couple who had expected to adopt a baby boy they had fostered have been excluded from the ongoing care proceedings.
The boy in question, referred to as ‘T’, was born in November last year. His mother had agreed to give him up for adoption as she was unable to do care for him herself. He was placed with the foster parents, ‘Mr and Mrs X’, the day after his birth.
Mr and Mrs X had already been approved as potential adopters by the local authority, a type of arrangement known as an ‘early permanence placement’. The local authority began care proceedings shortly afterwards and an initial care order was made by the court.
It was not until January, however, that T’s father was established by DNA testing. The man in question, however, stated that he did not wish to take on a parental role, suggesting his parents instead. They were twice assessed as ‘kinship carers’ by social workers from the local authority, and both assessments were positive. As a result the local authority decided to abandon plans to allow Mr and Mrs X to adopt T and instead place him with his paternal grandparents under a special guardianship order. Both T’s parents were in favour of this new care plan.
However, Mr and Mrs X were unwilling to be sidelined and sought formal leave to go head and apply for an adoption order anyway. They were granted this, as were the grandparents when they formally requested permission to apply for the special guardianship order. Both applications were then consolidated into a single case.
Both the local authority and T’s father objected to the decision to allow Mr and Mrs X to proceed and they were subsequently granted permission to appeal.
In the Court of Appeal, Sir James Munby summarised the appeal case.
“[They claim that] Judge Troy was wrong to give Mr and Mrs X leave to apply for an adoption order. Their application was premature and should not have been considered until such time as the court had determined that T’s future welfare required his adoption rather than a family placement.”
Counsel for Mr and Mrs X, meanwhile, argued that weight should be given to the status quo in which T was cared for by the couple and had reportedly formed an attachment to them. But Sir James was unconvinced.
“The truth is… that, putting on one side Mr and Mrs X’s role as … foster carers, and, I emphasise, without in any way wishing to belittle or diminish all that they have done for T, this is a case where there has been an unexceptional period of time caring for an unexceptional child in an unexceptional case. This, in my judgment, is not an exceptional case justifying any departure from the general approach. For the reality is…that the ‘status quo’ and attachment on which Miss Scriven and Miss Fottrell placed such emphasis do not differ significantly from what is found in the many similar care cases where a child has been successfully fostered for a short period.”
It was not a case, declared the President, in which the local authority was seeking an adoption order, and therefore not one in which the usual requirement on the family courts to consider all realistic alternatives applied.
“For these reasons, the appeals of both the father and the local authority must, in my judgment, be allowed…The care proceedings should continue without Mr and Mrs X being parties.”
Sir James concluded by noting the enormous strain placed on Mr and Mrs X” by the proceedings. “Anxiety and anguish was etched on their faces as they sat before us” he explained.
T (A Child : Early Permanence Placement) is available here.