Taking children from their birth parents and placing them for adoption is a last resort that will only be permitted by family judges where their welfare absolutely demands it. The Court of Appeal forcefully made that point in granting a troubled mother what was likely to be a final opportunity to prove her parenting abilities.
The case concerned two young children, one of whom was on the autistic spectrum and particularly vulnerable. They came to the attention of social services early on in their lives due to concerns about their parents’ abusive relationship and the mother’s consumption of alcohol. Matters reached a head when the mother was found heavily intoxicated on a park bench with her distressed and neglected children strapped into a pushchair beside her. After a local authority launched care proceedings, orders were made placing the children for adoption.
The mother later sought permission to apply to discharge the placement orders on the basis that her circumstances had changed significantly since they were made. She produced evidence that she had abstained from alcohol for about a year. She had undergone cognitive behavioural therapy and instruction on how to look after an autistic child. Having ended her abusive relationship with the children’s father, she said that she was focused on being the best version of herself. Permission was, however, refused by a judge.
Upholding her appeal against that decision, the Court noted that adoption results in the permanent severing of ties between a child and his or her birth parents. Such an outcome was only to be countenanced in exceptional circumstances. The risk of harm to the children if returned to their mother’s care had to be balanced against the benefit to them of maintaining their relationship with their birth family.
The judge had set the bar too high and his evaluation of the mother’s change in circumstances was flawed. Her prospects of showing herself capable of caring for her children effectively were more than fanciful. There was evidence that she had taken ownership of her difficulties, accepted the validity of professionals’ concerns, sorted out her financial difficulties and avoided entering into another unstable or abusive relationship. The Court granted her permission to apply to revoke the placement orders and directed an urgent hearing of her case.