A four year old girl should be adopted by the family she has lived with for most of her life, the High Court has ruled.
The case concerned ‘W’, who was born in November 2012. She has three older siblings – a sister and two brothers, referred to the in the judgement as ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’. The latter three all live with their father under the supervision of social workers, following care proceedings launched by Brighton and Hove City Council. They have “extensive and now unregulated contact” with their mother.
W, meanwhile, has been living with prospective adopters for more than three years, albeit on an interim basis. The adopters applied to formally adopt W.
The father had earlier objected to Brighton and Hove City Council’s application for a permanent care and placement orders for W. An initial attempt to appeal against this ‘out of time’ (past the legal deadline) failed but a later attempt succeeded and a rehearing of his case was rescheduled for 2015, on the basis of inadequate analysis by the Judge. A further hearing was ordered.
At the subsequent hearing the Council announced that it had changed its plans and it would no longer seek a ‘public law’ order formally taking W into the care system. Instead it would leave the court to choose between the adoption order sought by the family looking afer W and reuniting the girl with her father. A Judge ruled in favour of the father but remarkabily, this too was overturned on appeal and a further rehearing ordered.
The convoluted case finally came before Sir James Munby, President of he Family Divison, last month, and his judgement has now been published. Sir James was asked to approve the Council’s desire to withdraw its public law proceedings and rule on the couple’s ongoing wish to adopt the lilttle girl.
At the High Court, the veteran judge said:
“This is a very complex and worrying case. It is, I think, by some margin the most difficult and concerning case of its type I have ever been involved in.”
He could see little value in continuing the public law application so formally approved the Council’s request ot withdraw.
Turning to th question of adoption, Sir James concluded that the removal of W from her life with the family who wished to adopt her in order to live with her family would be much riskier and more emotionally disruptive than simply leaving her where she was.
“My overall conclusion is that there is a very high probability of fairly immediate, and significant, levels of distress and trauma and a very real likelihood – just how high it is impossible to predict – that the placement would be put under such pressure that it might break down, which if it were to happen would carry with it a more than fanciful risk of catastrophe.”
Despite the father’s strong parenting skills, W had no relationship with her birth family and it was unlikely that he would be able to make a meaningful connection with her now.
He therefore approved the family’s adoption application, formally dispensing with the father’s objections. Unusually however, he left the door open for contact between W and her birth family, doing so on the basis of a consensus amongst experts involved in the case that contact would benefit her “psychological wellbeing – her ability to understand her status as an adopted person.”
W’s new adoptive parents were free to make their own decisions and arrangements regarding such contact.
Read In the Matter of W (A Child) here.
Photo of Newcastle upon Tyne by Rob Bishop via Wikipedia