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New Guidance in Adoption Cases - Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146

02 Oct 2013, 16:30 by Priya Bakshi

Labels: adoption, barrister, care, children-act, court-of-appeal, direct-access, lawyer, legal-services, public-access

The Court of Appeal handed down a unanimous judgment on 17 September 2013 and gave guidance on the approach to be followed in cases involving adoption, and clarified the test for granting leave to oppose an adoption order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 47(5)

In Re B-S the mother, M, had two daughters. Living in vulnerable circumstances, the children were removed from M's care in February 2011 and were subject to a final care and placement order in October 2011. Contact between M and her daughters ceased in December 2011 and the children were subsequently placed with prospective adopters. M applied for leave to oppose the adoption order under section 47(5) on the ground that there had been a change in circumstances since the care and placement orders were made. M had left her abusive partner, met her present husband who was serving in the armed forces and with whom she had another child, and of whom the local authority had not issued public law proceedings and had in fact written a positive assessment.

Although it was acknowledged that M's circumstances had changed, Parker
J refused M permission to oppose the adoption because in applying the welfare test it was found that it was entirely improbable that she would succeed in having the children returned to her.

McFarlane LJ subsequently granted M permission to appeal against the
refusal to grant her leave to oppose the adoption of her children. M's appeal was ultimately refused on all grounds. The judgment gave clear guidance on how to approach adoption cases. 

(1) There should be proper evidence from both the local authority and
from the guardian addressing all the options possible and there should be an analysis of each option. In particular there must be an analysis of the pros and cons and a fully reasoned recommendation. The judge should also evaluate all the options and undertake a global holistic and multi-faced evaluation of the child's welfare taking into account all the positives and negatives of each option. A proper focused attention to the specifics should also be given. 

(2) Under section 47(5) the court has to ask itself two questions: has there been a change in circumstances; and if so, should leave to oppose be given.
Where there has been a change in circumstances, the court would then have to consider: the parent's ultimate prospect of success in resisting the adoption order if given leave to oppose; and the impact on the child if the parent was, or was not, given leave to oppose, bearing in mind that the child's welfare is paramount. 

(3) Following the recent case of Re B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 33, the appellate court should intervene whenever the judge was wrong. In the instant case the judge's refusal was not wrong. The judge accepted that M's circumstances had significantly changed, gave regard to the welfare checklist and recognised that the children's interests were paramount. Attention was drawn to key facts and therefore the judge's conclusion was not wrong.

 

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Family Care Proceedings - a risk of future harm

26 Sep 2013, 17:39 by Priya Bakshi

Labels: adoption, appeal, barrister, care, court, direct-access, family-law, interim-care-order, judge, lawyer, public-access, supervised-contact

The case of Re B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 33 concerned an appeal made by parents to the Supreme Court in relation to a final care order made under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989. 

Both parents suffered from psychological problems. The mother had been diagnosed with somatisation disorder and a psychiatric condition involving the deliberate fabrication or exaggeration of symptoms. She had had significant difficulties in her life early on, having been abused by her step-father. She also had criminal convictions relating to fraud and dishonesty. The father too had a history of criminality and drug abuse.    

The child, A, was removed from her parents at birth and placed in foster care under an interim care order.  While the child was in foster care, the parents frequently had supervised contact with her, developing a positive and committed relationship. The question was not whether the child
had suffered harm attributable to the parents' care but whether the child was likely to suffer significant harm due to the risks posed by the parents. The local authority's plan was adoption for the child.

The trial judge held that the parents did pose a risk to the child. The bond formed between the A and her parents was not doubted. However if the child was placed in her parents' care there was a risk of significant harm to A caused by the mother's somatisation disorder and her psychiatric condition, and that A might grow up to copy her mother's behaviour. It was also found that the father was not capable of protecting A from harm. Therefore in weighing up all the factors, a care order with a view to adoption was needed to prevent such harm to A. The Court of Appeal upheld that judgment.

The Supreme Court too agreed with the trial judge by a majority of 4:1 and dismissed the parents appeal, concluding that the threshold conditions for making the care order had been satisfied in this case. The Supreme Court dealt with a number of issues.    

Before a care order is made the judge has to be satisfied that: (a) the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm; and (b) the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care likely to be given to the child if a care order is not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to the child, or to the child's being beyond parental control. A common sense approach should be taken to the meaning of ‘significant'. ‘Likelihood' was confirmed to mean no more than a ‘real possibility'.

The causation required is only as between the care and the harm but in
this case the character of the parents was relevant to each stage of the
inquiry. 

Article 8 of the ECHR is not engaged when the court assesses whether
there was ‘significant harm'. It is engaged only once the court determines whether or not a care or supervision order should be made.  If the decision is that adoption is necessary, or that a child should be placed under care with a view to adoption, a high degree of justification is needed under Article 8. Adoption must be the last resort and all other options must be explored. 

The appellate court must approach cautiously in overturning the trial
judge's decision; the test is whether the decision was ‘wrong' (not ‘plainly
wrong'). Further, where Convention rights are engaged, the appellate court is not required to determine afresh issues; it is only required to review the
lower court's decision.

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Adoption of child - biological father not informed of birth

04 Jul 2008, 17:14 by Joseph Neville

Labels: adoption, children-act, family, social-services

In family law, where a mother puts her child up for adoption the Adoption and Children Act 2002 requires that the court examine certain factors to ensure that the adoption would be in the child's best interests.

The recent case of Re C v XYX County Council concerned a 19 year old mother who had become pregnant after a one night stand. She had only discovered the pregnancy at a late stage and did not believe she could care for the child. She therefore left the child at hospital following its birth, indicating that she wished for it to be adopted.

In many cases the father or the mother's extended family would be the first point of call to care for the child. Here, the mother would not identify the father to social services or the court, nor would she disclose the pregnancy and birth to her family or allow them to be contacted. She identified reasons why she felt that her family would not provide suitable care.

At first instance it was held that social services were under an obligation to inform themselves of as much information about the background of the family and father as they were able.

On appeal it was held that such enquiries were only to be undertaken where they were in the best interests of the child, and this would only be so where they genuinely further the prospect of finding a long-term carer for the child without delay. In this case it was more important to look at the effect of delay in placing the child with a long term carer. There was therefore no requirement for social services or the court to inform the mother's family or indeed the actual father of the child, who remains unaware that he has a child at all.

Written by Joseph Neville and Rebecca Fitton-Brown, Barristers at New Walk Chambers, specialising in Family Law.

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