Adoption and the court timetableSally Beaumont
In this new age of striving to complete all care proceedings within 26 weeks, are we putting off potential adopters in circumstances where we are told in the press that numbers are dwindling anyway? A recent Family Court decision in an adoption application would suggest that we might be!
Care proceedings were commenced in respect of a child, L, who was born in March 2014. The proceedings concluded with the making of a final care order and placement order on the 28th August 2014. At the time of L’s conception, the parents were very young, and the father had not informed any of his family about the mother’s pregnancy, or indeed, about L’s existence. Care proceedings progressed, and whilst pressure was put on the father to disclose the existence of L to his family, he did not do so. Within the 26 weeks allowed, no family member was assessed as being a suitable long-term carer for L and the only option left was for the child to be placed for adoption.
Care and Placement orders were made
L was placed with prospective adopters in September 2014. In December 2014, the father finally informed his family about the existence of L and they immediately contacted social services to express a wish to care for the child.
The Adoption order application
On the 8th January 2015, the prospective adopters applied for an adoption order. The father applied for leave to oppose the adoption order under section 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (‘ACA 2002’). He asserted that there had been a ‘change in circumstances’ since the placement had been made (pursuant to section 47(7) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002) and set out that the child’s welfare was the paramount consideration for the court when looking at his application. In addition, he applied for a direction for an assessment by an Independent social worker to assess the suitability of members of his family to care for L.
Paternal grandfather positively assessed
The paternal Grandfather was positively assessed and the report recommended the making of a Special Guardianship order in his favour. This was supported by the local authority and by the children’s guardian.
Mr Justice Baker accepted the application made by the father, despite the prospective adopters seeking to argue that because the child had already been placed with them, the correct application to have been made would have been one for permission to apply for a special guardianship order under section 29(5)(b) of the ACA 2002, which would have meant that the court did not have to consider a change of circumstances or have the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration for the court. Baker J suggested that to accept the submissions made on behalf of the prospective adopters would have been accepting a device to get round the approach set out in statute (as explained in Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions)  EWCA Civ 616, and in Re B-S (Adoption: Application of s47(5))  EWCA Civ 1146), and he granted leave to the father to oppose the adoption order, which resulted in the prospective adopters withdrawing their adoption application.
Prospective adopters withdrew their application
It was evident that the whole case was a devastating blow for the prospective adopters who had formed a bond with the child and who had not been informed that there might be any prospect that the child would not remain with them permanently.
Whilst Mr Justice Baker made it clear that the moral of this story was that local authorities must strive to identify potential family members with whom a child could be placed at a very early stage in the proceedings (and well within the 26 week timeframe), irrespective of any comments made by the natural parents to try and conceal such family members, it is cases like this which make me question whether the system is now letting down with one hand, a category of people it is seeking to encourage with the other; namely prospective adopters? With a much reduced timeframe for the completion of cases, it must surely be right that there is a greater likelihood for problems such as this to arise in the future?
Sally is an experienced family lawyer dealing with all aspects of complex and challenging care cases. She has been in practice since 1999.
Contact Sally’s clerks
Carrie Hoyles on 0113 213 5209
Claudine Cooper on 0113 202 8604