A toddler is to be adopted by a much older cousin despite the fact that they will only be guardians to his two older brothers.
The case concerned an 18 month-old toddler referred to by the pseudonym ‘Liam’. He lived with foster parents, one of whom (the judgement does not specify which) was his cousin.
Care proceedings began shortly after he was born. He is one of four children.
His two older half-brothers also live with the couple, under a special guardianship order. Aged five and six, these two have a different father to Liam, whom they see regularly. Liam’s father, by contrast, is not involved in his life and has no parental responsibility.
A dispute arose as to whether Liam should be adopted by the couple as they wished or placed with them under a special guardianship order like the older brothers.
In the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Peter Jackson explained:
“The local authority argued for a placement order for Liam as a step to adoption by the Smiths, while the Children’s Guardian (for all three children) argued for special guardianship so that the three boys would be treated alike.”
The local authority saw Liam as a suitable candidate for adoption given his young age, while it envisioned special guardianship for the older half-brothers because that is the usual choice when a child who is unable to live with their parents is placed with an extended family member. Following a “judicial remark” last year, it then changed tack and looked at adoption for all three, before reverting to its initial plan and seeking adoption only for Liam.
Special guardianship orders for the older brothers were duly issued in March, with an additional stipulation that contact with their father be supervised. The Judge at that hearing noted that:
“…these boys have a valuable relationship with their father that made adoption inappropriate.”
But the Judge made a placement order for Liam, paving the way for his adoption by the couple. The boy’s legal guardian appealed the decision, arguing that the Judge had had a “preconceived notion in favour of adoption” and had believed a young child like Liam had a legal right to a specified parent.
The appeal was dismissed. Lord Justice Peter Jackson explained:
“Standing back, and considering the present case, I can understand why the arguments advanced by the Guardian led to permission to appeal being granted. On the somewhat unusual facts, it seems to me that there were respectable arguments to be made for either form of order…The Recorder (Judge) may also have given the impression, by repeatedly referring to special guardianship as a ‘lesser’ order, that she regarded it as an intrinsically less good order.”
His Lordship continued:
“Liam has a right to respect for his family life, but that does not mandate any particular outcome. All that said, my conclusion is that the Recorder’s decision comfortably withstands the critique it has received. She was in my view entitled to view the enhanced security of adoption as being precious to Liam and to Mr and Mrs Smith. The fact that the placement is not, and may never be, disputed by his parents removes an additional reason for making an adoption order, but does not deprive adoption of the advantages it will bring to Liam, not only now but throughout his life.”
Read the full ruling here.