A baby born to a young woman in uncertain circumstances should be adopted, the High Court has declared, and the father need not be informed.
In a case described by a High Court judge as “very exceptional”, she had presented herself at a hospital one day, saying she felt unwell. Doctors quickly determined that the woman, from an unidentified ethnic minority, was in fact 29 weeks pregnant. She told a social worker that her fiancé was not the father of the child. Instead she had had a “one night stand after clubbing” and had not seen the man in question since.
The baby was born prematurely about a week later, suffering from a heart defect which required surgery. The mother agreed to have the infant taken into care and placed for adoption straight away. In the form consenting to this she declared that she wanted no future contact with the child and furthermore that she had no contact details for the father.
Unexpectedly she later changed her story, saying that the father of her child was in fact her fiancé but still insisting that she could not look after the child and wanted it to be adopted.
Pressed to why she wanted nothing to do with the baby and for the father not to be told, the young woman said news of the birth could result in “grave consequences for her from her family and in the community within which she lives.” She feared ostracism or even physical violence if her family or surrounding community discovered that she had sexual relations outside marriage.
In an email she explained:
“I really love [the baby] and it really hurts me not to be [the baby’s] mother because I can’t look after [the baby]. If my family find out, they are going to kill me. I wish [the baby] could find the family that [the baby] deserves. That’s why I want [the baby] to be adopted.”
The local authority began formal care proceedings. A Cafcass officer assigned to the case was unable to have a face-to-face meeting with the mother but did manage to speak to her on the phone. She told the court:
“[The mother] has made it clear to me that she does not with to have any contact with her child. She has also made it clear that she does not wish for any correspondence to be sent to her, to attend meetings or to be kept up to date on [the child’s] progress. She also does not wish for any of her information to be made available to [the child] when [the child] grows up.”
In the High Court Mr Justice Holman said that, under current law, before a child can be adopted “both genetic parents, if known, must be identified, located and made aware of the circumstances.” In addition, family courts must properly investigate whether or not the child in question could be cared for by other members of either parent’s family.
But in rare circumstances exceptions can be made the judge continued. He explained:
“I am satisfied on the facts and in the circumstances, as I have briefly summarised and described them, that this is, indeed, one of those very rare and exceptional cases.”
Attempting to identify the baby’s father or informing the mother’s family would not be in the child’s best interests he declared. The mother’s “desperately painful and dreadful decision” clearly demonstrated why this was the case and it was “unrealistic” to think otherwise. Neither the maternal or paternal families had any actual relationship with the child – and even the identity of the father was in considerable doubt.
Meanwhile the mother had given no sign of changing her mind regarding the adoption.
Consequently, the Judge declared, there would be “a freestanding order or declaration, in terms which counsel and the solicitor for the guardian will shortly draft, to the effect … that neither the local authority nor the guardian need take any further steps to seek to identify or locate the father of the child, nor to give any notice of these or any future adoption proceedings to any member of the maternal or putative paternal family.”
A local authority vs the mother and another can be read here.
Image by Crystal Marie Lopez via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence