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Comment on Re W

Date posted: 14 April 2016

Re W (Adoption Application: Reunification with Family of Origin) [2015] EWHC 2039 (Fam)

 

The case concerned a two year old girl, the youngest of four children, who was made subject to care and placement orders as a baby. The older three children were cared for by the father under a supervision order. Sixteen months prior to the hearing the child was placed with prospective adopters and the child was doing very well in their care. The father was granted permission to oppose the making of an adoption order and his appeal against the care and placement orders was upheld and those orders set aside.  The District Judge had made scant reference to the threshold criteria when setting out reasons for making the order. It was finely balanced.

 

The adopters were seeking an adoption order for the child. Expert evidence said the child should return to live with her father and siblings. The welfare issue for the court was whether the child should remain with her current carers, who wished to adopt her, where she was settled, or return to the care of her natural family.

 

The court refused to make an adoption order and ordered that the child should return to her family of origin. The judge believed the father had the ability to support what would be a “difficult and distressing transition in the short term”.   The recent case law in the area of adoption required that she be reunited with her family, as the facts did not amount to “nothing else will do” other than adoption.

 

Whilst the child was settled and thriving with the prospective adopters for the majority of her life, this could not be a reason for her remaining there and when balanced against her welfare for the rest of her life. Her welfare in the long term was the most important factor.

 

The Judge was very critical of the local authority and the Guardian. The older children were not represented and their views had not been ascertained.  There is clear case law that sets out that children should be made aware of applications about siblings potentially returning home and their wishes should be given regard to.  The Judge had to assume in this case that the children wanted their sister to re-join their family, but was clearly very unhappy about how the case had been prepared and run by the local authority.   The Judge was very scathing and used phrases including “misleading, damaging, and inaccurate” to describe some of the local authority’s actions, and “seemingly belligerent behaviour and oppositional stance..” which left the court unconvinced they would support the reunification positively.

 

There’s no doubt that the Judge will have found the decision in this case immensely challenging and complex. It was the correct decision for this child. Adoption is increasingly put forward in final care plans now that we have a 26 week court timetable in care cases. There is often insufficient time to allow parents the chance to improve their parenting skills or remedy the issue that lead to the issue of proceedings.

 

This case, amongst others, shows that the court is taking seriously the recent case law that demands that adoption is a last resort and all other avenues need to have been exhausted.

 

Comment prepared by Patricia Beckett, partner in our family team.